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Feature Article of Friday, 14 May 2004

Columnist: Ofosu-Appiah, Ben

Is Our Democracy Half Full or Half Empty?

About a quarter of a century ago Ghana was a military dictatorship on a downward slip to economic and political doom. There was massive plundering of the national coffers, infrastructure was in shambles, there was shortage of almost every conceivable item on the market, standards of education had deteriorated, and poverty among the masses of the people was very high. Now the country is a democracy and by the end of the year, we will have held our fourth general elections under the fourth republic. The first in the history of this country.

But poverty still reigns supreme among Ghanaians today and people are increasingly finding it too difficult to afford a single decent meal a day. Unemployment is nearly 50% as young graduates are left on their own, public schools are a dismal failure, corruption in and out of government stinks to high heavens, the moral bankruptcy of political leaders and their lack of vision are so abysmal that even a blind cannot fail to notice it, our hospitals are graveyards, and where often the financial bottom line of the hospital gets more attention than a patient's pocket line. Ballot snatching, intimidation of political opponents, voter registration fraud and voting fraud are all unfortunate part of our democracy. Hello, Is this glass half empty or half full?

Ghanaians are proud of being a democracy, on the other hand, they cannot hide their revulsion for the political leadership and the political system that keep them in perpetual poverty. Ghanaians have a love - hate relationship towards politics and politicians. While we love the label democracy, just being democratic is not enough. Our democracy must be responsive to the needs of the people. In other words, they should benefit directly and tangibly from it. Just guaranteeing the rights of the people in a constitution however important that is, is simply not enough. Those rights must translate into better standards of living for our people.

Having observed previous election campaigns in Ghana, I have come to the conclusion that as a rule of thumb, neither the politicians nor the media has a very high regard for the intelligence of the Ghanaian voter. Many political parties and politicians who can afford have turn their political rallies into something like entertainment shows and distribution of small goodies and making of empty and ridiculous promises. The media by and large, seem to condone this practice and actually participate in the political circus. Is it the case that the Ghanaian voters are not interested in political issues and platforms but are solely attracted to political events by free food and drinks, and sweet but silly promises? If this is the case, then no one is to blame but the politicians who have created that cheap vote getting methods. Principled politicians attract voters with issues on their merit and don't rely on bread and butter politics.

So what is the point of it all? Ghanaians love democracy and fought hard for it. They brought pressure to bear on the PNDC dictatorship to return the country to democratic rule. But how much has really changed? Not nearly enough, most people would say. But did anyone really believe that democracy would automatically end poverty and corruption plus political chicanery in Ghana? Democracy doesn't make people good or wise. It is just a better tool than any of the available alternatives for choosing people who are supposedly wiser and better to run our affairs. Sometimes the choices in a democracy are not great; nor do the voters always get it right. But it offers a better range of choices than the average dictatorship offers. The contest for the presidency this December boils down to the incumbent JA Kuffour (NPP) and John Atta Mills (NDC). A close outcome is predicted. Without an automated vote counting system, all votes are counted manually. The cost of processing the votes in this archaic manner is not only time consuming but also susceptible to all kinds of electoral frauds. Vote watching and protecting tallied votes by credible international observers and representatives of all political parties should be given top priority by all concerned. A truly free and fair elections that is kept honest and peaceful will add credence to the fact that Ghana is gradually maturing as a democratic country if not in substance but only in principle.

I urge all political leaders in the country to join hands in front of God and the people of Ghana to say with me this prayer for a honest and peaceful elections in December 2004. "Grant us, O Lord, the perfect expression of the people's will in this elections. Give us the humility to accept the true outcome, whether it goes for or against us, so that defeat be glorified by grace and victory be tempered with modesty, Amen". Hopefully, voters will get it right come this December. Many of us would like to see a new breed of Ghanaian politicians who represent a new hope for Ghana. The current breed have no vision for the country but that doesn't mean the system is not good, it is the problem of those who operate it. The glass is half-full.

Ben Ofosu-Appiah.
Tokyo-Japan.
The author is a social and political commentator and a corporate trainer based in Tokyo, Japan. Your views, and comments are welcomed.

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

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