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Feature Article of Monday, 8 December 2003

Columnist: Ofosu-Appiah, Ben

Ghana, Democracy, And The Survival Of The Nation

The need for a stable democratic order in Ghana is widely felt because of its implications for economic development because no meaningful economic development can take place under unstable political conditions. However, there are a number of factors that militate against a stable democratic order in Ghana. It has been argued that one grave obstacle to the survival of democracy is the non realisation of its material conditions. For instance Lipset, argues that "the more well to do a country is, the greater the chances that it will sustain democracy". He argues further that if the hypothesis is tested by the usual indexes of economic development, one finds that the average wealth, degree of industrialisation and urbanisation, and the level of education are indeed much higher for the more democratic nations.

This is a statement of fact, for relatively speaking in Europe and North America where wealth is the rule and poverty the exception, threats to democracy are very minimal. This contrasts sharply with the African situation. There is therefore a strong positive correlation between a strong economy and a stable democracy. What is not clear is, whether a country became democratic because it was prosperous or it became prosperous because it was democratic. England certainly became a constitutional democracy before the advent of industrialisation, prosperity and literacy. It would seem therefore that economic growth is a condition for the growth and survival of democracy but not for its establishment..

In the case of Ghana, it can be argued quite reasonably that one of the factors that militate against stable democracy is the inability of governments to govern in a way that would progressively reduce the level of absolute poverty, backwardness, illiteracy, and diseases among the majority of the people. Governments have failed to do this in sharp contrasts to the level of growing affluence among some in government. It seems that many people in Ghana enter politics with no fresh ideas to help move the country forward but only as means of enriching themselves and ensuring a “positive change” for themselves and their families. It was the great political thinker Aristotle who perceived that the way to build a stable political system is to avoid as far as is possible a system where there is a wide gap of economic inequality. The problem of social injustice has severely undermined social peace and political stability throughout history as various social groups which see themselves as victims have found ways to attack or change governments by force.

Usually when one thinks of democracy, it is the protection of political rights, including the right to free speech and free association that come to mind but the protection of political rights alone is meaningless unless it goes hand in hand with the enjoyment of economic rights. Ghana cannot pride itself as being democratic if a section of the people are ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and economically insecure. It was President Roosevelt (USA) who declared in his 1944 State of the Union address "We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence." Ghana needs an Economic Bill of Rights: the right to a useful and remunerative job......the right to earn a living wage to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation.......the right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him a decent living.......the right of every businessman big or small to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies....the right of every family to a decent home......to adequate medical care......the right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment......and the right to a good education......and the right of every Ghanaian to have three meals a day (zero tolerance of hunger). Governments must work hard to close the hope gap that the younger generation in the Third World face as against their counterparts in the more advanced countries. For example in Ghana, at the moment there is no system in place of absorbing new graduates into the work force yet governments keep exhorting the youth against traveling abroad to seek their fortunes. If they are no jobs for them at home, there is no way one can stem the trend of the brain drain.

Ghana is still a sleepy country with low economic growth rate and very high unemployment rate and inadequate health facilities. The country is well endowed with natural resources but we lack the means to harness these resources and utilize them for economic development. Previous governments lacking an economic and social vision neglected the educational sector of the economy and allowed it to disintegrate to the extent that our schools are now a sorry sight. Primary and basic education are in shambles, and higher education a pitiful sight. Perhaps no one in government today has his children in a public elementary school or a public junior secondary school. They have all sent their kids to private schools and some to abroad for education because they know how deep they have allowed education to sink.. The rural poor who produce the bulk of the nation’s wealth but are under rewarded continue to send their kids to these public schools because they cannot afford the high cost of private school education. The result is that today in Ghana, we are producing two distinctively different societies with the children of the rural poor in public schools unable to read and write while their counterparts in the cities with private school education can read and write and speak good English at an early age. We must give every individual a fair chance to compete. This is a threat to our democracy. How can we develop as a nation if we neglect education? How can we compete in the global economy of today if we don’t invest in people, and in the skills needed in the 21st century. We need to invest in information technology, science education should be given a top priority. History tells us that no country ever achieved developed status by neglecting education.

There is also a strong positive correlation between stable democracy and the degree of literacy enjoyed by a country. The availability of a well informed and well educated citizenry, it has been argued is the single most important factor in promoting democracy. In any state where there is an absence of a critical spirit in the attitude of the citizenry to their rulers, preservation of rights is a difficult matter. This is an unfortunate fact of life in Ghana and it further means that the problem of illiteracy needs to be tackled seriously if democracy is to thrive. One other factor that militates against our infant democracy is sycophancy and fetish worship of authority. It is worthy of note that some Ghanaians have constituted themselves into full time praise singers, sycophants and perennial lobbyists for personal gains. When a leader surrounds himself with such people, he loses touch with reality and begins to live in a fool’s paradise with consequences often disastrous to the country, the leader, and to his praise singers. Politics of patronage is killing Ghana…….you are likely to find this situation in a place where the government is the largest employer, and it controls everything from how much you earn at the end of the month, to whether you have a job at all ! In such a situation patronage is perhaps hard to avoid and it creates a viable atmosphere for sycophants and praise singers to thrive. Everybody thinks his very survival depends on being a member of the ruling government or at least its supporter if he is to survive, no matter what its policies and development agenda are. This kills democracy and a government which unashamedly exploits this situation to its advantage is not democratic and not doing enough to promote democracy.

In this regard, the state media is to be blamed. It has become the fashion of the state media to praise the government of the day no matter how inefficient it is. More recently, it has become the practice of the once very vocal private press to align itself with the NPP government. The Ghanaian press seem tamed by the current administration. They are not asking the right questions. Today’s journalists are not doing enough to deserve the public’s trust. A journalist’s first obligation is to the truth and his first loyalty is to the citizens not to the government. Journalists must maintain an independence from those they cover if they are to serve as an independent monitor of power. Harold Laski, vividly pointed out how dangerous an alliance between the press and the government could be. “Anyone who has watched for instance the way in which newspapers can turn the public mind to the direction of their proprietors desire will realize that an alliance between government and the press might be very fatal to the very heart of democratic government.” Most often people misconstrue an attack on an opinion as an attack on the person. Journalist must provide a forum for public criticism and comment, and must strive to make the significant issues interesting and relevant to public discourse. When critical analysis of government policies are discouraged and pro establishment stories get priority treatment, you sense there is something wrong with your morning newspaper and you start to have the sneaking suspicion that perhaps in certain newsrooms across the country, the first loyalty is no longer to the citizens but to the government. There is a need for Ghanaians to develop a democratic culture that separates offices from office holders and treat dissenting views with respect.

Tribalism is another factor that militates against democracy in Ghana. Most often voting patterns in the country have followed ethnic lines rather than on principles or policies. This factor has its roots in illiteracy, the unfortunate fact is that most Ghanaians prefer to vote for someone from their ethnic area. This ethnic voting pattern has been evident in almost all of Ghana’s general elections; from 1969, 1979, 1992, 1996, 2000 elections.

In the 1969 elections, Dr. Busia, an Akan and his Progress Party won all the seats in the Brong Ahafo, Ashanti, and Central regions and most of the seats in the Eastern and Western regions, all akan speaking areas, while K. A. Gbedema, an Ewe, and his National Alliance of Liberals won all but one of the seats in the Volta region and some few seats in the Eastern region among the Krobos. The tribal pattern of voting becomes even more clear when one realizes that the seat lost by Gbedema in the Volta region was from a predominantly Akan speaking area in the region. Thus the Progress Party’s sweep of parliamentary seats in 1969 led to severe constraints on the workings of democracy. No cabinet minister in the second republic was an Ewe. This produced a situation in which the labels government and opposition effectively denoted the major tribal groups; Akan and Ewe, respectively. The opposition which was dominated by Ewes was to complain about an Akan government’s high handedness towards it. Thus emerged a situation where every government act was interpreted in tribal terms. The opposition leader was quick to point out that the purge of 568 civil servants was an act against the Ewes.

Such ethnic voting pattern showed up again in the 1979 general elections. The fact that the Popular Front Party won 19 of the then 22 seats in the Ashanti region points to the fact that its leader Mr. Victor Owusu was an Akan and more so an Ashanti, and the fact that the People’s National Party won all but one of the seats in the then Upper region reflects the fact the ethnic pattern of voting as its presidential candidate, Dr. Hilla Limann was from the Upper region. The result of the elections therefore produced a situation similar to the 1969 elections. Subsequent elections, 1992, 1996, 2000, produced similar trends especially among the Akan and the Ewe ethnic groups. It is worthy of note that the Rawlings regime particularly the PNDC era was severely criticized for being tribalistic. There was a time the two vice chancellors of the then three national universities were Ewes, the Army commander, the chief of Defence Staff, the IGP, the Air Force Commander, the Governor of Bank of Ghana, the Secretary of Foreign affairs, the Ambassador to the UN, and the Secretaries of all the leading ministries were Ewes. (Read Adu Boahen’s book: The Ghanaian Sphinx). Such situations impede national integration and create political antagonisms which make impossible effective practice of democracy. In the light of the foregoing analysis, it is suggested that in order to ensure a stable democracy, no government should be dominated by a single tribe, distribution of ministerial portfolios should be made as representative of all Ghanaians as possible. We shall be sowing the seeds of our national destruction and heading towards political chaos if certain tribes are excluded from government as happened in the second republic.

Moreover, respect for the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, a fair and impartial Electoral Commission, and an open playing field must be ensured by the government of the day while pursuing policies that will progressively reduce poverty among the general population. The government must also ensure accountability and transparency in all its dealings, fighting political corruption both from within and without the government. Reducing inequalities in our society lies in pursuing a course of social, economic and political development that will reduce poverty, and will assure for each citizen equal opportunity based on the equitable distribution of the economic wealth of the state. Ghana can position itself as an attractive democratic place for US, European, and Japanese multinationals to run their African operations. Currently Ghana ranks 11th from the bottom. Botswana is the most attractive place for these foreign companies to do business in Africa according a UN study. We can do better than that but first the government must commit itself to fighting corruption and improving education and infrastructure. The experience of many countries suggest that just opening markets and introducing tax reforms are not enough to stimulate growth, long term commitment to fundamentals such as education and anti corruption drive are also very important.

Alexis de Tocqueville concluded DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA in 1835, "full of apprehensions and hopes" perceiving "mighty dangers which is possible to ward off, mighty evils which may be avoided or alleviated". The future of democracy in the Third World now is no better than it was then but neither should it be foreclosed. Democracy is a word that excites the imagination and inspires the hope of many the world over. It is a just system of government rightly prized and defended. It is the hope of this writer that Ghana's march to democracy will succeed for the virtues inherent are enormous but much will depend on how transparently the government governs free of corruption and how well it can improve the economic well being of majority of Ghanaians.


Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.


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