Feature Article of Thursday, 24 January 2013
Columnist: Sophism, Yaw
The Danger Of Ethnocratic Democracy: Ethnic Favoritism, Nepotism, Cronyism & Capital Control, And Political Evil
Ghana has experienced an uninterrupted cycle of democratic elections since 1993, when Rawlings transitioned from military rule to a pseudo-democracy. Despite the relatively great democratic accomplishments we have chalked up, compared to other West African countries, our democracy still remains fragile and our challenges have been compounded by the ethnic divides that seem to threaten the stability of our nascent republic. The ethnic politics in Ghana poses obstacles to the realization of our national stability and democracy.
In this article, ethnicity is defined simply as a group of people closely related by their shared experiences such as language, common heritage, and common traditions. In Ghana, ethnicity is defined mainly along these lines. There are many ethnic distributions or distinctions in Ghana: about hundred distinct ethnic groups, some of which combine to make up larger groups. The larger ethnic groups are the Akans, a category which includes the Asantes, Fantes, Brongs, Akims and Nzimas, the Mole-Dagbanis in the north, and the Ewes, Gas, and the Adangbes in the south.
Research in social science, especially in political science, and experience have shown that ethnicity is crucial in political matters, since it affects the democratic stability, institutional design, economic growth, and individual wellbeing of nation-states. Ethnic divisions can also threaten the survival of democratic institutions as well as the legal and economic structures of nations. The politicization of ethnic divisions destabilizes nation-states thanks to an outbidding effect that results from one or more ethnic parties that may poison the political system, leading to a spiral of extreme bids that destroys competitive politics. Ethnic parties usually appeal to voters as champions of the interests of one ethnic category or set of categories to the exclusion of others, and make such appeals (rather than workable public policies) central to canvassing for votes. An ethnic party may also cater to the interests of more than one ethnic category, but do so only by identifying one common ethnic enemy to be excluded.
Realizing the destabilizing tendency of ethnicity in nation-building, the first president, Kwame Nkrumah, kept ethnicity at bay by ensuring that a Ghanaian was employed in government institutions as a Ghanaian irrespective of his or her ethnic background. Unfortunately, his predecessors have not followed his wise decision to ensure ethnically diverse government. The recent selection of ministers by President Mahamah has generated a huge debate among Ghanaians on the internet: http://sil.ghanaweb.com/r.php?thread=8804098. It is ironic and disappointing that a man who has been preaching about unity has come up with such an ethnically skewed list of executive members.
The purpose of this article is to raise awareness of the problem of ethnic politics that has characterized our national polity, and of its consequences for our nominal democracy, as well as to offer modest suggestions with a view to creating a stable and democratic system of government. The aim here is not to apportion blame to any particular group or groups, for all are guilty, but rather to awaken people from their political slumber. It is high time we all saw the long-term implications of the ethnopolitical course we are charting for our nation.
The present ethnocractic democracy in Ghana, where representatives of certain ethnic groups hold disproportionate numbers of government positions in relation to the total population of the country, and use them to advance their political and socioeconomic status, is deleterious to the political stability and lasting peace of the country. In Ghana and many other African nations, the beneficiaries of ethnocratic government use their positions to acquire illegal wealth to the neglect of other groups, through bribery, corruption, and kickbacks from government contracts or purchases.
Electoral systems that promote the formation of political parties along ethnic lines deepen and heighten ethnic conflicts, while political parties that serve multiple interest groups—not just a few groups of similar political persuasions and ethnic affiliations—endure. In the current so-called democratic dispensation in Ghana, which ethnic group or groups control government posts or positions, wealth or fortunes depends on which political party is in power. This situation gives the excluded groups little incentive to support the system. It may also lead to violence since excluded groups are more willing to take risks than the beneficiaries.
In Ghana, ethnic identities have become political instruments that our politicians use to gain access to power. The highly centralized nature of political power in Ghana makes the situation even worse, especially in the presidential elections. What ethnicity does in the body politic is to help secure an advantage in the competition for power, as ethnicities are employed as social identities to solicit votes. Politicians remind their people that the allocation of resources tends to follow ethnic lines, and that elections are the time for deciding who will allocate those resources. Ghanaian politicians and intellectuals know that most ethnic conflicts in Africa are the direct results of inequities and unequal distribution of resources and positions among the population, yet these same politicians continue to engage in ethnic politics. For centuries, political theorists have viewed political parties as dangerous, divisive, and subversive of political order and stability, as well as injurious to the public. The situation is worsened when partisan politics is combined with emotional factors like ethnicity. Nowhere are these fears more clearly realized than in sub-Saharan Africa, where ethnicity is used as the main tool in soliciting or canvassing for votes, instead of good public policy. Michel Foucault said, “For centuries, humanity had been what Aristotle had said we were: a natural animal with a political situation that it had to work out. But now we are an animal whose politics put our very natural survival into question.” Hannah Arendt, a perceptive thinker on the philosophy of politics, observed that “Politics can make people who would never normally be capable of cruelty to others, become actors who play significant roles in vast schemes of human annihilation.”
Alan Wolfe in his book, “Political Evil,” maintains that the best way to deal with the evils confronting the 21st century people is to stop talking about evil in general and focus rather on political evil in particular. Wolfe defines political evil as “the willful, malevolent, and gratuitous death, destruction and suffering inflicted upon innocent people by the leaders of movements and states in their strategic efforts to achieve realizable objectives.” While we cannot prevent all evils, we stand a better chance of reducing the amount of political evils, if we can reflect on our political decisions and actions. Some people have argued that Ghana has passed the stage of ethnic or civil war. Modern men always think of themselves as somehow in a situation better than that of the people before them. Yet the Holocaust would have been unimaginable to people living during the 18th-century European Enlightenment—until it happened. It seems that modern men do not understand the nature of evil or how to resist it. Zbigniew Herbert describes evil as the “dense and dark material” of history. Yet mankind does not seem to have better understanding of what evil is and how to prevent it. Andrew Delbanco notes that “a gap has opened up between our awareness of evil and the intellectual resources we have for handling it.” Why is it hard for us to understand the nature of evil and find ways to stop it? Instead of taking time to reflect and ask critical questions in a contemplative fashion, the Ghanaian politicians and their apologists use political campaigns to inflame tribal sentiments and engage in partisan fights. The questions we should be asking ourselves in this situation are: Why have our political party campaigns turned into fights and occasionally into death? How long can our democracy survive given the ethnic composition and power of the two dominant political parties? How can we as a people conduct politics and political discourse in polite and dialogical fashion? And why can’t we accept the skewness of the sharing of economic opportunities and benefits among ethnic groups resulting from a change of political power as a problem and correct it? I am amazed at our unwillingness to recognize the ethnic favoritism, nepotism, and cronyism and capital control in our polity and to tackle the real cause of this political monster. The main causes of political conflicts in Africa are nothing but the distribution of economic benefits and positions that comes with any change in political power. To many people, the outcome of elections has become a matter of life and death. Larry Diamond, a professor in political science and sociology at Stanford University, eloquently writes:
When most of the opportunities for advancement in life are controlled by the state—and when those opportunities can mean the chance to get rich—it is difficult to get politicians to play by the rules of the democratic game. If they will lie, bribe, embezzle, smuggle, and misuse power to accumulate an illicit fortune, they will also stuff ballot boxes, and steal votes, buy electoral officials, intimidate the opposition, and murder rivals in order to gain or hold on to power.” Instead of African intellectuals and politicians accepting ethnic politics as a national problem that needs to be confronted, they use it as a political tool—laying the problem at the doorstep of a rival party or the government that is in power. I think people from both sides need to accept it as a national problem that must be confronted by all, in order to initiate healthy debates on the issue instead of always using the logic of “two wrongs make a right,” that it is all right to do something bad because another person did it first. I suppose this attitude, like racism, is something you never recognize until you are on the receiving end. Take for instance, the accusations from the two major parties. During the PNDC and NDC regimes, Ghanaians who were unsympathetic to these two regimes felt left out of most sensitive positions in the country. People complained that important positions and scholarship awards sending people to study abroad were distributed based on ethnic favoritism, nepotism, and cronyism. The NPP came to power and the other side felt left out. Yet no one from either side is ready to accept the fact that ethnic favoritism, nepotism, cronyism, and capital control is a national problem and not a party problem. Now we have the NDC party in power with a northerner (Mole-Dagbani) as president, and he also has decided to pack his executives with northerners.
Instead of an intelligent conversation on the issues, we hear only accusations and counteraccusations. I do not think the present political system with parties formed along ethnic lines can be sustained for long. Let us find a political system that can work for us instead of the wholesale importation of other countries’ political systems, especially as those systems may not be applicable to us, given our level of social and cultural issues. I think we need to start a national dialogue on these issues with a view to addressing them. We should not delude ourselves into thinking that Ghana has passed the stage of ethnic violence. Almost all the ethnic groups that committed the most horrific violence against one another lived harmoniously side-by-side for centuries, until one day something struck like lightning and set them ablaze. We should never underestimate our human depravity and propensity for evil. We need to create a democratic system where all citizens and members of government can own the government instead of wanting to own a part or a piece of it. In an ethnocratic government, everyone thinks only of how he or she can get something for himself or herself, or members of a certain ethnic group, instead of taking the whole country into consideration. We have to foster the social cohesion necessary for social, political and economic reforms. The degree of social cohesion will determine the strength of the foundation of the economic, political, and legal institutions we build. Government’s ability to build better institutions, implement better policies, and alleviate fundamental problems will all depend on our social cohesion. Judith Maxwell, formerly the head of the Economic Council of Canada, describes social cohesion in this manner: Social cohesion is a process of building shared values and communities of interpretation, reducing disparities in wealth and income, generally enabling people to have a sense that they are engaged in a common enterprise, facing shared challenges, and that they are members of the same community. Positive changes or reforms will not grow out of mere political rhetoric; they require a conscious attempt on the part of our leaders to establish democratic institutions to better control corruption, deliver the public good instead of private ones, and ensure ethnic compromise and fair distribution of economic resources and positions, barring ethnic affiliations, cronyism and nepotism. The crucial question now is: how do we make our political systems both stable and democratic? We can do this by creating a political system that espouses nationalism instead of ethnic divisions. There should be a basic sense of nationalism among all Ghanaians. This can be reinforced by adoption of a few national symbols. We need to devise a business-like approach to politics where talents and skills are appreciated and rewarded instead of distributing positions along ethnic lines. We should also learn how to agree to disagree on important issues. Most importantly, we should seek to strengthen our democracy by ensuring that local people, who know their neighbors better than the president does, are allowed to select their own leaders. How can we talk about democracy when the people at the district levels can’t be trusted to select their own leaders and hold them accountable?
Further, we need to promote dialogue among the various political factions and conduct summit diplomacy among the elites, as well as considering the idea of proportionality in the distribution of public goods, services and resources among the various ethnic pillars. It is also high time we learned to depoliticize critical issues and accept the government’s right to govern. In addition, there is the need for the political parties to seek votes along non-ethnic lines, perhaps among organizations such as teachers unions, trade organizations, workers unions, farmers, artisans, religious organizations and other grassroots groups. The parties should also start using surrogates who are discrete, gentle, polite, intelligent, wise, and cautious in their utterances, instead of using people of questionable character whose utterances can inflame matters.
I Believe Everyone Does Well When Ghana Does Well!!!