Feature Article of Thursday, 22 November 2012

Columnist: Kabu Okai-Davies, PhD Creative Communications

Democracy for Sale: The Ghanaian Experience

In practicing politics in Ghana, one fact stands clear, Ghanaian politics has become irrevocably linked to the idea of money as a means for public participation and persuasion. Gone are the days when leadership in Ghana and the contest to become a Parliamentarian was driven by ideas of independence, self-government, Pan-Africanism and socio-cultural dreams about self-reliance and human self-emancipation.

Politicians who are driven by ideas about human rights, national education, social-transformation and development, with a strong thirst for a new kind of forum where the contest of ideas, dreams and visions would be the central focus of discussion; will be hard pressed to find such a space.

Unfortunately, Ghanaian politics has become more a determinant of facts based on the needs of the intestines than the intellect.

In essence Ghana’s democratic credentials though it appears to be stellar in the eyes of the international community and in academic circles around the world, the harsh reality is that, the relationship between politicians and the people, to a large extent is based on money.

The electorate feels they are trading their votes with the politician and they need something in exchange for the vote. It is a kind of political bartering system whereby a candidate must carry large amounts of cash, distributing it to voters in order to win their commitment to vote.

However, this does not also guarantee that the candidate who distributes the most amount of money shall become the one to win. This of course happens even in mature democracies as well.

Nonetheless, what is significant in the case of Ghana is that, the demand on politicians to dish out money, make large donations and contribute to imaginary courses and especially non-productive activities like funerals are a real fact of Ghanaian politics.

From a historic perspective, it is a troubling development, knowing very well the price people paid to lead and make social and political changes in order for people to vote. Very often, I try to educate people within my constituency about the stories behind the writing of the Magna Carter, the French Revolution, the American Revolution, the Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s Liberation Movement, not to even mention the struggle against Apartheid.

Yet, here we are, Ghana, we won our independence without much bloodshed, made many transitions from authoritarian rule to civilian rule into a 4th Republic. Now people find it acceptable to sell their right to vote. If the world knew that Ghanaians sold their votes to the highest bidder, auctioning off large communities and therefore our politics is not about principles but about political profiteering, how would the world redefine Ghana’s democratic credentials?

Of course the violence that has plagued many African countries such as Kenya, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Mali, and the crisis of the recent Arab Spring has not visited our shores. Ghana continues to enjoy a relative level of national peace despite some sporadic incidents of sectarian violence, tribal conflicts, and episodes that are related to poor law enforcement cases; Ghana is a peaceful country.

Ironically, Ghanaians show their sense of violence in the arena of oral contest. Ghanaians will violate every form of verbal protocol when it comes to discussing issues of politics. The use of abusive language on the streets, insults, curses, insinuations and open quarrels has come to define public discourses.

Violence in Ghana is a spiritual contest, not physical and democracy is not about policy, it is about profit. As a practicing politician who is also researching on the process of democratization in Ghana, it must be made clear that Ghanaian democracy is clearly a form of plutocracy by default.

Hence, candidates are often elected on sympathy, apathy, indifference, indecision, favoritism, tribalism and who happens to belong to a party that has money or individual candidates with money.

This is why the institution of Parliament has not evolved to become an arena for the debate of real ideals about national development or a forum for the discussion of policy formulations. Parliament in Ghana is not a theatre for the display of oratorical skills and the dramatization of philosophical opinions about national agenda. Candidates enter Parliament by default of a swing in national mood or constituency excitement about a candidate or a party. Eventually parliamentarians to a large extent are sitting ducks who act as defenders of party positions in opposition or serve as rubber stamps for ruling party propaganda.

On paper, Ghana is practicing Parliamentary democracy with a Presidential system of government; as it appears so constitutionally and legally.

But in practice, in a moral context, Ghanaian politics is about winning for the sake of winning and it has become so polarized between two dominating political parties – and a host of smaller parties – whereby the party system itself is a mechanism for campaign and winning.

Beyond each election, the noise ceases and the whole country goes to rest. The winner takes all and there is no evidence of continuity, after there is change. These underlying factors and a series of socio-cultural realities has created a society of very disillusioned citizenry, such that, the majority of voters consider it their democratic right to demand money or recreational services from politicians in the lead up to elections. The saying goes, when the politicians enter Parliament or the Party is in government they forget those who voted for them. So the electorate is unabashedly demanding and will keep asking for a stipend before they engage with any politician, regardless of the Party. In this case the candidates who gives the most money, food or supports community programs before the election, is most likely to win.

This crisis facing our democratic dispensation is also a result of illiteracy. Educational standards have dramatically fallen since the sixties, high unemployment and the absence of political and civic education to enlighten the masses as to why we are practicing democracy. Though all politicians and political parties are to be blamed for this problem, to a large extent, our society itself has to be held responsible.

On the other hand, it has to be noted from a historic perspective that, in the transition from PNDC authoritarian rule to NDC democratic governance, the research and evidence shows the following. For fear of being rejected by the electorate because of its authoritarian and military oriented origins, the PNDC/NDC government injected so much money into the system creating a highly inflated political and economic environment. In this case, the 4th Republic was launched on a monetary platform that has today shaped and continues to define the nature of Ghana’s political narrative.

Political opponents were considered enemies and the so-called enemies also had to find ways and means to raise money to engage in this financial war of attrition, in which we now find ourselves. The first misstep in the lead up to the 4th Republic was for an incumbent Head of State and a ruling Junta to transform itself into a political machine, co-opting all the other parties such as the CPP into its fold and legitimizing itself as a democratically elected government, already in power.

Today the idea of incumbency has become a precondition for a second term and parties that are seeking to win elections must build a financial war chest as a means for contesting in a political system that is highly monetized. What needs to happen now is to de-monetize our politics through civic education, voter awareness, public education programs in schools and tertiary institutions. We must develop a new political culture that is based on speeches, debates, oratory, authorships and professional experience of politicians before they are even vetted to contest at the primaries. Otherwise, Ghana will continue to be on a political treadmill that will never lead the country to the promised land of development.

Kabu Okai-Davies, PhD Creative Communications

Senior Lecturer, Africana Studies,

African University College of Communications

CPP Candidate Korley Klottey