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Opinions of Sunday, 19 October 2014

Columnist: Kwarteng, Francis

The Danger of Free Press To Ghana’s Democracy (2)

We concluded our previous discussion on rent-seeking and regulatory capture. Here is where we continue from where we left off:

Also closely connected with political lobbying are kickbacks, bribery, embezzlement, nepotism, organized crime, unholy alliances, and cronyism. All these vices are social and political expressions of mature kleptocracy, the mother of these negative practices. Our contention is that the cosmic soup of Ghana’s modern political dispensation contains all the structural ingredients of liberal democracy though its institutional expression leaves a sour taste of kleptocracy, a dubious political expression sanctioned through constitutional dictatorship, on the tongue of public psychology. On the other hand, that bold constitutional requirement regarding outside funding of Ghanaian political parties offers a form of preventive injunction against externalizing Ghana’s national interest to foreign manipulation. Yet this is exactly what Ghana does in consequence of bad, clueless leadership, hoping we have not forgotten the GMOs and the EPAs just yet. For how long must this go on?

We cannot seem to acknowledge that, it takes a baby nine months to “free” itself from the stranglehold of solitary confinement in the claustrophobic internality of a woman’s body, though, as it is Ghana has consistently failed to replicate this physiological feat in the political and economic arenas, considering the fact that institutional entrenchment of Ghana’s biocracy simply disallows it. It is the case that freedom evolves from social justice, responsibility, proaction, and a country’s leadership to do right by its people, and that anything short of these moral platitudes invites internal disorganization.

An excellent illustration is the easy tendency of Ghanaian leadership to sell off state properties to friends, family members, and foreign interests on the pretext that they either operate sub-optimally or spawn operating losses. Thus, after all these years of “freedom” we still have not have found tried-and-tested techniques impelling us to trust our aggregate longitudinal failures to our innate capacity to undo them, letting the extensive procession of our natural potential to solve problems go rusty. The Ghanaian free press has largely remained silent on this important matter!

The problem is not as light as it seems. And here is why: A segment of the Ghanaian public believes the private sector represents a panacean response to state bureaucracy, or if you like, state managerial ineffectiveness, because, as it has been shown time and again, the private sector also leads to ready channels of financial aggrandizement on the part of politicians and those closest to them. It is not in question that the private sector is an artifact of democratic capitalism and authoritarian (state) capitalism and, as a matter of fact, Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen’s corpus of scholarly work, notably his theory of liberal paradox, and other economic theories such as Pareto optimality, technically, raise serious questions about the practice of capitalism and the internal stability of societies. Of course, these technocratic ideas will not make any remarkable dent in public psychology, overall, if the people’s collective attitudes and mindsets are exactly what they are, that is to say steeped in superstitious absolutism, corruption, and inferiority complex.

Still, the presence or availability of innovative ideas are one thing, quite another to commit to their proactive implementation. However, the absence of judicious application of technocratic ideas in the general context of other variables of development economics to real-world problems may, perhaps, culminate in the retardation of a society’s development. Many corroborating examples exist. Let us not look distantly at Mars. Comparative assessment of Nkrumah’s achievements during his brief presidency in the company of the aggregate achievements of those who came after him, to date, clearly shows a marked differential in the power of technocratic cognition to make societies materially and even spiritually better. And India is not Mars either. We should quickly add that corruption is an endemic issue in India, as Amartya Sen has consistently shown in his numerous technical papers and books, but that has not forestalled India’s scientific and technological evolution..

Most importantly, the central issue for us is not so much a question of the overblown efficacy of the private sector or of the ineptitude of public institutions to arrest Ghana’s escalating problems, as of our sustained inability as a people to push public conscience beyond the habituation of technocratic agnosy. Ghana’s free press has consistently failed to find a link, if any, between technocratic agnoiology and Ghana’s development sociology! A lack of critical management skills may be part of the problem. Here is how we see it: If others can be brought in to manage our affairs, why can we not effectively train our own people to do what those others have successfully done for themselves in their polities? In short, ours is not a society used to taking stock of historical failings and from them squeezing progressive projections for the sole purpose of progressive national organization. In other words we are far behind others in matters of competent management of affairs, especially bordering on development economics.

And what do we mean? India has closely studied the modern history of space missions to outer space in order to fill in where leaders in space technology have woefully failed. India’s inclusion of the idea of resource management in her holistic re-evaluation of the history of space technology has successfully produced the most cost-effective space module for Mars as well as for Martian exploration in the entire history of space technology (See Samanth Subramanian’s “The New Yorker” piece “India’s Frugal Mission to Mars,” Nov. 7, 2013). Where have we gone wrong that we cannot move past the inertia of development? The philosophies of operations research, forecasting, resource allocation, economies of scale, time series analysis, quality control, project management, simulation, and production planning, etc., are designed to facilitate managerial effectiveness while simultaneously adding cost-effective value to raw ideas. Forecasting, for instance, is as much about history as about the future. The philosophy of Sankofa is close by!

That brings up the idea of finding a useful junction between our historical strengths and the advent of tomorrow through the mediating conduit of the present. No society has developed materially and spiritually by leaving behind the best of its history. Yet the story of management effectiveness does not end there. Honesty, team spirit, organizational culture, motivation, confidence, quality leadership, respectfulness, patriotism, risk taking, competitiveness, quality relationships, dedication, and incentivization are central to successful channelization of innovative ideas, and hence, to a society’s technocratic evolution. Of course, these concepts are not easy to derecognize in the larger scheme of management science, group dynamics, and social psychology, more so because it takes more than just technocratic ideas to spawn a society’s material development. Ideas have more staying power than capital. Good ideas are intrinsically capital in disguise. It takes ingenuity to transform creative ideas into capital and material development. Here we are using “ideas” in the context of instrumentalism.

It may be the case that those afore-cited ideas do not have a place in the decisional compass of Ghanaian leadership, which is why gross mismanagement of state affairs has usurped the place of tactical management of state affairs. Meanwhile, a tactical combination of technocratic ideals and practical grounding in business, political as well as economic knowledge appears to be totally absent in the steaming pot of Ghanaian politics. We acknowledge this phenomenal lack across the length and breadth of the country. It does not help the cause of Ghana’s development economics, then, when incumbency tactically discontinues national projects initiated by the opposition while in office because they ostensively fall outside incumbent strongholds. Does this not constitute an unfortunate exemplar of managerial incompetence, political stupidity? Gerrymandering is not very far from the politics of selective regional development due to the constitutional imposition of the winner-takes-all politics on Ghanaians, thus becoming one of the banes of Ghana’s modern electoral politics.

Adding gerrymandering to Ghana’s democratic imperialism yields equality of internecine combustibility which, among other things, barely bubbles at the surface of public psychology. Schadenfreude politics is another social malignancy eating away at Ghana’s democracy, and which Ghana’s free press has failed to decry in absolute or unconditional terms. This is the sad state Ghana presently finds herself. We should do well to recall here Benjamin Franklin’s wisdom for a different contextual twist, of explanatory gloss. In other words, we may want to appropriate Franklin’s carefully-worded commentaries as an instructive metaphor for Ghana’s sad example, in which instance we invoke his fogginess to symbolize the general failure of Ghanaians to acknowledge how widespread the problem of corruption, or social decay, is, and hence, their moral reluctance to initiate collective action against it.

This observation comes against the backdrop of futility of practical solutions when no own dares acknowledge their existential imperatives for the corresponding neutralization of those very problems that precipitated their beingness in the first place? What is so “free” about Ghana’s free press when it does not have the freedom to express itself freely, as it were hamstrung by the constitutional noose of the winner-takes-all political syndrome? Those are standing questions for the Ghanaian ear! Is it not also true that acknowledging a problem, however one looks at one, probably constitutes the best or efficacious form of action human beings can identify with in the general context of acquiring problem-solving techniques?

These are among the many questions we hope the Ghanaian so-called free press diligently addresses. And this great responsibility rests with the hidden soul of responsible journalism. Generally the Ghanaian free press is far from responsible. What do we mean by responsible journalism then? Responsible journalism unapologetically defends the people’s conscience when it is right and criticizes it when it is wrong. Responsible journalism represents the moral voice of the voiceless, the poor and the handicapped, children, and women, and of the generous, philanthropic, and upright. Responsible journalism does not pander to intellectual and moral weaknesses in presenting a case on behalf of the common good. Responsible journalism is also not about timidity and fawning on the powerful.

It is about moral courage, about verifiability, reproducibility, and transparency, and, in short, about the ability to tell the “truth” within constitutional limits and in line with the noble claims of human dignity and humanism, ensuring the “truth” does not stand in sharp opposition to journalists’ conscience in defense of the public interest at all times. Responsible journalism is blind to partisan politics, to ethnocentrism, and to corruption of whatever complexion. Finally, responsible journalism contributes to the ongoing national discourse on Ghana’s “underdevelopment” by calling for strong, visionary, and technocratic leadership, education reform, and creation of enabling environments to harness the scientific, mathematical, and technological gifts of the youth. It means journalists’ advocating a healthy distance between superstitious absolutism (religion) and scientific rationalism, raising children to become more inquisitive about the natural world by questioning orthodoxies and conservatism, etc.

“In just the same way, a couple of hundred years ago,” writes George Orwell in the essay “Marrakech,” adding: “poor old women used to be burned for witchcraft when they could not even work enough magic to get themselves a square meal.” Inferentially, Orwell’s observation seems to indicate a clear-cut delineation between superstitious absolutism and scientific rationalism. Where is the supernatural power of the witch to harm others when that power cannot even afford a square meal to quench the burning hunger of that witch? This is where the inhumanity of witch camps and trokosi come in. Lest we are not misunderstood, we will make it clear again that we live in a society where individuals are free to believe what they want to believe as well as honor freedoms of association without harming the common good. Therefore, the Ghanaian media should lead a national debate where balance is struck between religious excesses and scientific rationalism for the common good.

Questions of human rights or human dignity should weigh heavily on the conscience of those interested in establishing this balance in the soul of social organization. This balance, it may be argued, has direct correlations to development economics and development sociology. Unfortunately the Ghanaian free press has ignored the instrumentalist association between respect for human beings and development economics. The free press also needs to promote collaborations between scientists and technologists in the diaspora and those at home. Where is Ghana’s free press?

The virtual absence of moral interest in Ghana’s free press in these matters is quite appalling, a danger to Ghana’s budding democracy. Indeed, the process of knowledge acquisition is as much a question of individuality as of collectivity. This places a heavy burden on the individual as well as on the collective. Yet the broom is equally stronger than its individual parts. If so, what has become of the element of group dynamics in national organization as far as solving problems go? See, the answer may be shrouded in Franklin’s “foggy weather.” The question is: Where is that “foggy weather”?

Human psychology, we suppose!

We shall continue the discussion in a two-part essay titled “A New Direction For Ghanaian Journalism.”

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