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Feature Article of Saturday, 12 January 2013

Columnist: Ashong, Nii Tettey

Countdown Of Another Struggle For Meaningful Democracy

Countdown Of Another Struggle For Meaningful Democracy And A Working Government – Illusion Or Realism

I’m one of the proudest Ghanaians; indeed amongst the very, who expresses a glamorous optimism in this country as a potential candidate for “the next big thing in Africa. I believe especially, in our highly cherished bust that stands tall in the gallery of Africa’s achievers of sound democracy and good governance. I may not be old enough to lay emphasis on the many strides this country has made, but particularly, our specialty of becoming the black star of Africa and foundational proponents of an African Unity, enunciated in the idealism of Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah; as well as our many more contemporary achievements, makes me believe that Ghana is the envy of many African countries and a special place to call a country.

And like we do every four years, Ghana has just come out of an election that supposedly was to have become the most challenging in our history so far; owing to the new experiment of a biometric electoral system and the sudden political engineering that took place on the field of the ruling National Democratic Congress having lost their leader prior to the elections. We may hardly forget the aggressive pursuit of pure partisan political clientelism or the populist, possible – impossible FREE SHS arguments that inundated the platforms of almost all the political parties that contested in the elections. As I have arguably maintained, the only problem the NDC had with FREE-SHS was that they were not the ones talking about it, and though the N.P.P had in their leader, a traditional brand name in Ghanaian politics, obviously far experienced, a sophisticated activist and a highly respected legal luminary, he seemed too coquettish in his appeal for votes from the Ghanaian people especially in espousing his banner message of FREE SHS, quality healthcare and transformational leadership. Nana Addo - though an orator par excellence - was literally terrible at speaking to the hearts and conscience of the most critical Ghanaian minds. However, he was terrific at electrifying the masses and proving that he was fit to be president, he has run a campaign that would in the future become a model for this country. He could easily have become our new President. But his opponents who were better at a few things obviously did those things right. The NDC was unbeatably strategic at throwing the JM brand in the faces of Ghanaians –old or young- obviously not without their vulgar advertisement of “the evils” in Akufo Addo, his NPP and their FREE SHS. The NDC has had the most impressive electoral machinery and a machismo inspiration of winning their elections at a good cost. The truth is that though many of us, even prior to his becoming the vice-president expected that someday John Dramani Mahama would be president, I never particularly thought that it may come this fast, at least not before an Akufo Addo presidency, which sits in a trance of legal gymnastics right now –The battle of the Lord to the courts. I may possibly speak about it later and hey, I learnt that mischief from my NDC friends.

Most importantly, the elections are over; it would be utterly cynical on my part to think otherwise. We have just sworn in a new president and Ghanaians have new expectations. Until the court in the reasonably unlikely event invalidates John Mahama’s presidency to make Akufo Addo the president as sought in his reliefs to the Supreme Court, many well meaning Ghanaians would still chant their incantations on President Mahama’s government to fulfill their campaign pledges and make life better than they came to meet. I am particularly demanding over these two critical necessecities of a new government (Mahama led or a dreary possible Akufo led) – A MEANINGFUL DEMOCRACY AND A WORKING GOVERNMENT. Through everyday discussions, social commentary or on official platforms, many lovers of Ghanaian politics attempt to propose a myriad of governance strategies, critical visions, programs and policies that political leaders need to espouse, they talk about priority areas and others that they are confident can make this country work, whilst others are at their best criticizing the bad choices and practices of governments or policy positions that need to be eschewed if Ghana is to be made better. Some are experts; some are past politicians and political scientists but there is an amazing number of ordinary Ghanaians who like me, feel that this country should and can be made better whatever it takes. “That democracy and the rule of law should never perish from the earth” and that governments must work to add more meaning to the practice of democracy. But just like human beings, this country falls sick many of the times if it had not been sick since independence. Why do I say so? Corruption is still pervasive; there are lazy civil and public servants, many more roads are not motorable, there are industries that have been run down for years, there is an uncountable number of Ghanaians who live all their lives in tattered penury, people still drink water from the same source as their animals, there are schools under trees, there is an increasing number of joblessness that even graduates are not spared, governments still lack proper planning and we still keep bad leaders though we have had a lot of them. This is not time to point accusing fingers, but I just wanted to give you an idea of how sick this country is and what my expectations of the new government that would lead this country in the next four years would be. In assuming the doctor’s role, I have prescribed particularly in this article that our democracy needs to be made meaningful and our governments must stop sleeping on their jobs. A meaningful democracy in my estimation, assumes that institutions of government function effectively and are strengthened, citizens are highly engaged in the governance process, the powers that be are distributed equitably and finally, the public goods are allocated with authority, equality and with the urgency that characterized the campaigns. These samples seem simple yet they are the basic duties that many governments have fumbled with. Why? Because the power of the people that elected them are taken with a pinch of salt. Afteral, there is always a way out of the elections and there are world banks that would produce the votes even if “goats” are made candidates. That is another fundamental problem of the citizenry and an affront to a meaningful democracy. So it’s clear that just as Ghana needs responsible leaders, we as citizens have a role to play. However, what is most critical to me now and to the health of this country is the kind of leader we have put in place and how able he is or would be in translating our dreams and aspirations or simply put; the very things we need as a country into reality. That makes democracy meaningful. Courts or no courts, we probably may have elected a leader with such potentials in the just ended elections, but how many of such leaders haven’t we seen? And as to whether he sole the elections or not, I have always maintained that “when two major political parties in Ghana accuse each other of rigging an election, it seems to me like two prostitutes fighting over a “stolen client”.

So I can say on authority without any apologies or royalties to any political grouping that what we need is a better Ghana. Oh yes! We need a better Ghana because the Ghana we have had is just a little better than bad. So I require of our President, whoever is at post: with all due respect Sir, if indeed the sword you wield is the genuine symbolism of the people’s power as you claim you won in the just ended elections, then with the cleanest of conscience, “hold it firmly” I pray, and don’t let anybody snatch it away from you because a meaningful democracy is as terrible as dictatorship if your legitimacy becomes a tidal wave. I challenge you to make appointments on merit and not on mere party gratifications, appoint the finest of people to state institutions irrespective of their political sympathies, and in so doing cherish the technocrats like you cherish your presidency. You must develop a relish for inspiring every side of our nation and give even the youngest child in Ghana a sense of hope. In showing that you are in charge of this country, you must sometimes be docile as a lamb yet manifest the courage of a lion. You must cherish the ideals of our democracy: freedom and justice, the rule of law and due process. Punish useless people in your government and sack the corrupt if proven so. Your government communicators must desist from baseless arguments and defences. Your ministers must be honest to show acceptance for their weakness even if it may cost you the next election. In deeds and in speech, you must show transformation in every sector of government, use our resources valuably and grow our economy.

Most critically, the power you hold must ultimately benefit the people, they may not have voted based on your promises or they may not even have voted for you at all but they still have expectations of you. Don’t flaunt economic figures in their faces. Rather, regulate the critical sectors aptly and religiously commit yourself to relieving the plights of our people through your fiscal policies whilst creating an environment conducive enough for business growth. In so doing, Ghanaians must buy their commodities at reasonable prices, drivers should be able to afford their fuel, long queues to buy LPG are an eye-sore, incessant power outages can be really annoying. Our roads must be fixed; our schools must be taken off the streets, hamlets and villages must be connected to the national grid and sources of water. Also, give proper incentives to farmers; provide affordable housing and make Ghanaians sleep in those houses in peace. These are the elements that make governments thrive and make democracy meaningful. It’s about choices, it’s about priorities, and it’s about genuine commitment. With a team that would not sleep on the job and citizens like me who are ready to participate and support every constitutionally elected government by criticizing constructively and shunning long, unproductive talks, Ghana would be on its way to realizing our long held dream. Finally, meaningful democracy would require that separation of powers is a reality and not a façade and that well-thought, time-testing and innovative policies and programs are put in place to benefit the people and put the country on an attractive pedestal. I may get tired of writing but I would never get tired of envisaging a country that works and can secure my future and that of my children. With my firm believe in justice, I can only hope that the president enjoys his full tenure and account to the people accordingly after his four year mandate. Start work and start real good.

Nii Tettey Ashong, KNUST

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