There are so many things I used to think I couldn’t do without, and now, I have discovered that they are not that important after all. Faced with the reality of a malignant virus, I discover I can do without many things.
On December 7 this year, we, the people of this country have to go to the polls and elect a President and Members of Parliament.
There is no avoiding it, COVID or no COVID. The drafters of our national Constitution did not make any room for manoeuvre. Come hell, come high water, come pestilence, come war, the term of an elected President comes to an end on January 6. Therefore, we must have our elections.
We would be placing elections, therefore, in the category of things we have no choice but to do. And to have elections means we get into full partisan political campaign mode.
The more I think about it, the more I realise that it is going to take a lot of interesting adaptations to the way we do things. It does not look like this virus is going away any time soon, and that means we are going to have political campaigning and elections in the midst of COVID.
Game of numbers
Now, there comes the tricky part. It is a game of numbers, is what they say about elections. The COVID protocols de-emphasise numbers and togetherness.
Whoever heard of social distancing in a political campaign? Whoever heard of not shaking hands in a political campaign? A candidate has to go into crowds and press the flesh and kiss babies and hug whoever comes up smiling.
If you are looking for votes, you don’t stay at one place and you certainly don’t stay at home. You move around the country, and the best photo opportunities tend to come in remote, deprived communities.
Our political campaigns here mean rallies, and the bigger the better; some people make a living by analysing the crowds at campaign rallies, which candidate has the bigger and more enthusiastic crowd. Successful campaigners make good speeches to the crowds, sometimes, they burst into song on the podium.
At a good rally, the type that leaves you feeling that your candidate will win, there would be communal singing and shouting… ONAA PO. And wouldn’t the virus just love such an atmosphere, with thousands of people singing and shouting in one another’s face.
If you are looking for votes, you are advised to look people straight in the face and give firm handshakes. Everything that we do in searching for votes would fall foul of the COVID-19 safety protocols.
Campaign vs safety protocols
On a normal campaign trip with a presidential candidate, there would most likely be about 12 stops in a day. Moving from town to village to city and round the whole country would mean breaking all the safety protocols.
We used to be ever so worried about the length of the convoy, for fear that a long convoy of cars might offend the sensibilities of the towns you drive through.
Now the worry would be how many people in the convoy would be testing positive for COVID-19 at the end of the three-day swing through the region.
When you make 12 speeches in a day for four days, the chances are you would get a sore throat and lose your voice.
Sore throats and colds used to be part of the campaign hazard, today, every time your candidate sneezed or tried to clear his throat, there would be many anxious faces jumping up to say maybe we should abandon the outing.
I wonder what campaigners could offer that would be attractive enough to lure people out to a crowded political event.
It does not matter how well-intentioned and how hard you try, these campaign convoys always run late and I used to marvel at how late into the night, and sometimes in the rain, people were ready to wait to see and hear the candidate.
How many people would do that today and possibly contract COVID-19 while they are about it.
New mode of campaign
The checklist for the logistics before hitting the road will now have to include thermometer guns, and I wonder if convoys would carry their own Veronica buckets.
And what happens when the candidate gets a fever or tests positive to the virus?
Or shall we abandon all the old ways of campaigning and resort to Zoom? Facebook? Twitter? So, do I put my candidate in a room in Accra and in front of a screen and he conducts a webinar or Zoom conference with the public? I wonder if the crowd at Sandema and the gathering at Honuta would have a similar list of priorities.
I know technology is doing wonderful things these days, but I cannot see what has been invented that would make up for a candidate not shaking hands with would-be voters and a screen image instead of the man standing in front of them.
And all the time, everyone would have one eye on the Ghana Health Service website and the figures for the new cases of COVID-19.
Judging from the past weekend experience of the NPP primaries, it would seem that the voting process itself would not pose any dangers as the Electoral Commission was able to arrange things to obey the safety protocols, but once the election is over and the announcement of winners and losers is done, all thought of safety protocols disappear.
The list of goodies that candidates offer would-be voters will now include liquid soap, hand sanitisers, masks, thermometers and testing kits.
I wonder if there will be any need for the T-shirts and scarves and hats that normally characterise our political campaigns if we are all sheltering in place at home.
Since our traders and business people are no longer going in and out of China, are our local designers and printers going to get the job of printing T-shirts?
Since the campaigning is not likely to rely on outdoor activities, I am hoping there won’t be as many billboards and posters on the streets.
I am drawing up my list of winners and losers in the new mode of campaigning brought on us by COVID; fake news manufacturers top the list of the winners, radio and television stations will do well, the big stage designers and builders will be among the losers.
It will certainly take some adjusting to, this masked, quiet, no crowd campaigning, but maybe the messages will be clearer.
By Elizabeth Ohene
A Ghanaian politician and journalist