In December last year, the university of Ghana debate society took part in the Pan African Debate Championship and fortunately, I was one of the speakers chosen to represent our premier university. The whole experience was exciting. We got to see the land which gave the world Madiba, tasted Pap and learned firsthand that “…not every black south African is xenophobic”. Prior to our trip down south, the rainbow nation was never of particular interest to me save the time Asamoah Gyan broke the collective hearts of all with an inkling of pan Africanism and when the barbarity of 2008 couched in uppity language as xenophobia struck our sensibilities as humans. To me, South Africa was simply that country which had gone through years of institutionalized racism and come out of it with a frail grey haired man the world admired.
The ten days I spent in the largely black and relatively less developed province of Limpopo has informed my understanding of the power structure between races and guided my appreciation of the reality of discrimination. But more pertinent to this article is how my sojourn awakened me to student activism in the truest meaning of the word.
In Ghana, we have seas of men (lately women who are no longer just comfortable with the Gen Sec position and women’s commissioner) parading themselves as Moses to the plight of students. They first come with corny whatsapp messages urging students to “…study hard, pray more and dream big”. Then they start ending their messages with their names and some motto in the pidgin language. The denouement usually is when the messages come with “XYZ FOR PRESIDENT”. They go about campaign season promising milk and honey and once the voting software declares them victor, they play Politician 101.
Now it will be unfair to group all student activists and politicians in the same bracket. We have had a few who distinguished themselves from a pool talkers and asserted themselves as doers and walkers of the talk. In a bid to avoid the painting of this post in political colors, either blue white and red or red white and black, I will refrain from mentioning names but we will all agree that a couple of names stand out with their chests boldly emblazoned with service to students. But the fact that this post stands the risk of being read through ideological lenses is the more reason why I write this post.
To gain the keys to the office of student leadership, it has become an unspoken must to be painted with the brush of a political powers. National level politicians see the potency of the student front and scheme to have student leaders as their puppets. For it is in the interest of a ruling government to keep students off the streets during times of lecture strike and subsidy removals. So most, if not all student leaders have some alliance with political parties. The degree of influence these politicians exert over student leaders varies but nonetheless, it exists in some measure. It might be the reason why we never have a unified front when calls are made to hit the streets for protests against UTAG (University Teacher Association of Ghana) strike. Maybe that is why our voices never get heard when calls for a new voters’ register is the predominant theme running through newspapers.
This is why the student front in South Africa excites me. For even though a majority of the people in the country are ANC supporters, protests against the establishment still sees droves of people thronging the streets. Both Ghana and South Africa saw student led demonstrations during times of oppression. Student agitations against the SMC’s austerity measures largely laid a propitious ground for the AFRC overthrow that followed. In SA, the iconic Soweto Uprising cannot be forgotten by anybody who has an inkling of the struggle to bring down the apartheid system. But the difference here is, students in Ghana no longer have that largely unified front being shown currently by students down south clamoring #WitsFeesMustFall.
Even though we heard the disgust of SRC candidates at the skyrocketing rates of tuition and accommodation fees increase, academic user bill went up by more than 22% for a regular humanities student and not more than a whisper was heard from those elected to the Union Building of Ghana. The same could most likely be said of SRC presidents around the country. Contrast that with the proposed 10.5% increase in fees at the Witwatersrand University which gave birth to the #WitsFeesMustFall. Of course a minute number deemed it unworthy of their time, but overwhelming numbers took to the streets of Johannesburg with a common cause of protesting the increasing luxurious trend tertiary education is becoming for the poor. Soon the trend became #WitsFeesWillFall and now it is #WitsFeesHaveFallen, once again showing the potency of the student movement should it have one voice. #RhodesMustFall, the protests against edifices and structures symbolizing and glorifying the colonial and apartheid past of the country is another example of how student voices in South Africa have challenged the establishment and gotten the powers that be to kowtow to legitimate student demands.
More impressive once again is the non-partisan nature of the protests. Attempts to own the protests by political parties are vehemently rejected. But even more applauding is the fact that these protests are not necessarily started by the most popular faces of student activism. It can easily be sparked off by the mundane tweet of the average student. So maybe all the blame should not be heaped on our student politicians in Ghana. We the so called Common Floor Members equally have it in us to ask Aryeetey for a reduction in our ever increasing fees.
But maybe that will only happen once student activists and leaders stop conveying a Messianic character to us through their campaign slogans. When they stop couching their mottoes’ in words which assure us that “it’s gonna be alright” once they come to office; encouraging us to fold our arms in perpetuity and waiting on them to lead the fight for our cause.