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Opinions of Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Columnist: Fredua-Kwarteng, Y.

Appropriate Presidential Leadership for Ghana

Recently, most Ghanaians, particularly those in the diaspora, have riveted their attention on leadership as a cardinal factor for Ghana’s development. This crop of Ghanaians attributes the continuous economic and social deterioration in Ghana to weak, corrupt political leadership. Nonetheless, the leadership discourse is fixated at the conceptual level without any empirical grounding. That is, the discourse is based on descriptions of what is judged to be suitable courses of action for political leaders to take rather than a universalistic code of morality or ethics that should regulate the entire political leadership in Ghana. In this case, the prescriptive courses of action for our political leaders are detailed and lengthy. And often empirical supports for those prescriptions are based on the economic success stories of Singapore and Malaysia. However, there is much more to the transformative leadership in those Asian economic-Giants than what is reported in the literature.

Second, the leadership discourse often ignores historical, political and cultural contextualization. In other words, a leadership discourse is strikingly incomplete without references to contexts. To illustrate, prior to their transformation Malaysia and Singapore had social structures and institutions deeply rooted in Confucian ideology and ethos that emphasized personal discipline, respect for authority and collectivity, hard-work, commitment, productive life, and personal responsibility. Buddhism, the religion of a vast majority of the population of those countries, uses sophisticated analytical tools to explain the purposes of life, family, community, and values required in human functional relationships. These conditions facilitate the transformation of those countries. Though those countries were colonized by the British, they did not abandon their Confucian heritage. We did. We are trying to imitate every thing Western: literacy, life style, education, and religion. But the prevailing philosophy in those countries, including Japan and South Korea is this: Western technology but Asian spirit. The average Ghanaian is more interested in espousing Western life style than acquiring Western technology and adapting it in his/her social milieu.

However, I am not suggesting that Buddhism is superior to Christianity- the professed faith of many Ghanaians. Christianity is also a discipline faith, requiring a productive and responsible life. For example, Apostle Paul in one of his letters advised Timothy not to provide food and other sustenance of life to idle, lazy bums (the emphasis is mine). The Bible also teaches about fair wages and fair output of labour. Unfortunately, these features of Christianity are hardly stressed by the clergy in Ghana, many of whom flout the laws of the country and engage in activities and behaviours that can, at best, be described as anti-development. I am laying a strong emphasis on context as a quintessential factor in the exercise of political leadership for two main reasons. First, context as a determinant of leadership practice makes comparison between political leaderships in different periods increasingly complex. In fact, regardless of

how we define leadership—a process of influencing, a way of inducing compliance, a form of persuasion, an instrument of goal attainment, a negotiation of power relationships, a means of establishing structures, affection of interaction, context is extremely important to leadership approach and analysis. Indeed, context is a criterion that is used to judge and rationalize the appropriateness or the inappropriateness of political leadership in a specific situation. The doyens of Malaysia and Singapore may fail to affect the same transformative changes in Ghana, if we were to invite them to take over the political leadership of Ghana whose contexts are different from those in which they worked to create changes.

The third factor that underlies the leadership discourse is that it puts morality and ethics at the front and centre of its prescriptions. Some of the moral and ethical standards indirectly call for enormous personal sacrifices on the part of our political leaders. I know from my observation of Ghanaian leaders that most will not be able to stand up to those high moral and ethical bars. However, leadership, regardless of its purpose, context, or approach, is invariably defined in terms of enactment and interpretation of values. From my perspective, values are criteria for making judgement, preference, and choice. Throughout recorded and oral histories, great leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela were all imbued with values. For instance, King was imbued with the values of commitment to human needs, tenacity of purpose, peace, non-violence, transparency, honesty, and social justice. Mandela also was committed to democracy and a multicultural South Africa, where both Whites and Africans lived together in peace and harmony. Gandhi, on the other hand, was concerned with social justice, the process and goal of eliminating racial inequalities, domination, and oppression.

Finally, culture is a missing variable in the leadership discourse. Leadership is more or less a cultural product. Cultural is simply the enduring patterns of thinking, feeling and acting prevalent among a group of people. As a manifestation of cultural product, leadership is constrained or facilitated by culture. Take the concept of government for an illustration. An overwhelming number of Ghanaians regards government as a separate, “foreign entity” that can be robbed, abused, and lied to without any moral consequences. This culture has its colonial roots and history. But we will leave that issue alone, since it is not germane to our discussion. As well, the culture of elevating political leaders to the status of demi-gods, showering excessive adoration on them, and hero-worshipping them is deeply entrenched in Ghanaian society; so is the culture of a leader as the boss and above the laws of the land. Thus, the leadership discourse has not turned any attention to followship characteristics that promote the kind of political leadership we have in Ghana. Followship practices and behavior characteristics are part of the problem or solution to the leadership crisis in Ghana.

Leading in a Context

Contemporary social, economic, and political contexts in Ghana requires a different leadership form relative to those in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Some national problems and issues are quite enduring and they continue to follow us into the 2000s. For instance, despite our fifty years of nationhood we still have inter-ethnic and inter-tribal tension. The next president should develop resources, strategies, and plans to build a united nation-state devoid of ethnic/tribal favouritism, isolationism, and marginalization. There are other national issues such as mass unemployment and under-employment, unproductive public service sector, corruption, and sanitation that require solutions in order to move Ghana forward. Thus, the next president should have the skills, knowledge, and abilities to mobilize human and material resources to find solutions to those problems. I, for one, do not expect the next president himself to work out the nitty-gritty details to solve those problems. On the contrary, I expect that he would define goals to achieve in solving those problems, the principles or values that would guide the search for solutions, along with effective mechanisms to implement and monitor the solutions.

Given the present context, problem-solving should be an important skill, knowledge, and ability required of the next president. An effective problem-solving function requires good communication and interpersonal skills. It also requires appropriate skills, emotions, knowledge, and abilities to share power with others. Since the next president could not single-handedly solve all the problems and issues in Ghana, he would have to practice distributed leadership for instrumental and moral purposes. Excessive concentration of political power in a single hand was a learned behaviour from our former British colonial masters. It is contrary to the distributive leadership characteristics of our traditional chieftaincy institution. Contemporary Ghanaians want a president whose presence could be felt in every nook and cranny of the country. This president would take up a leadership of any emerging problems or issues, whether it relates to inter-tribal conflict or natural disasters. Also, this president would communicate to and with Ghanaians often, tour different parts of the country frequently, and visit schools, colleges and universities instead of touring foreign countries for purposes that do not benefit the collectivity. Running such a transparent government would not feed the rumour mills in the country and would avoid mass political discontent. Further, Ghanaians are learning the principles and rationalities of democracy at an exponential rate. Consequently, the next president would have to take measures to sustain and deepen Ghanaians’ evolving sense of democratic values and institutions. This offers a great historic opportunity to transform Ghanaian muddled understanding of what government is and what it does. Though this is a herculean challenge for the next president, the task would be simple (not simpler) if he conceptualized the problem as one requiring a

long-term solution. One ambitious long-term solution is to decentralize the ministerial headquarters to the regional capitals as a way of bringing government closer to the people. It would also ease off pressure on the crumbing infrastructures, reduce traffic jams, and help solve some of the sanitation problems in Accra. Yet another solution is to empower the people at the district level to elect their own district chief executives and all members of the district assemblies. At the moment, the president essentially appoints the district chief executives and 30% of the members of the district assemblies. It should be noted that democracy is not only about the right of participation in decision and policy making, but also a process of instilling responsibility in people and allowing them to take their destiny into their own hands. Democracy is equally about being responsible for the outcomes of decision and policy making. In this respect, democracy is both ethical and developmental as well an aesthetic human value. Allowing the people at the district level to elect their own district chief executives is a means of instructing them in civic responsibility and accountability. Their own elected district chief executive would be accountable to them on his/her stewardship and the people would have the right to remove him/her from power, if they found his/her performance unsatisfactory. Therefore, the district people would have the responsibility of electing a suitable person who would work hard to satisfy their needs and champion their future aspirations at the district level. Such decentralization is not for political matters alone, it includes administrative responsibility for financial and human resource functions. Consequently, the letter and spirit of developmental democracy is antipodal to the operation of government from the centre. I know from my sociological observations in Ghana that the centre invariably knows next to nothing about the exigencies of the peripheries.

Furthermore, leading in the present context also requires a deep knowledge of history. History is simply a sense-making medium with an eye to understand human nature and institutions, particularly factors that have shaped the present and likely to configure the future. The next president should take history seriously- the history of what his predecessors did right and the history of what they did wrong. He should learn from both their successes and failures. He should continue with projects and programs his predecessors started that are popular with the people and that will contribute to the economic and social uplifting of the country.

Finally, globalization has made access to all forms of technology easier than before. This is a great opportunity for the next present to take advantage of and use it to develop our vast natural resources to satisfy both local consumption and export. Nonetheless, this is not possible given the national focus on classical liberal art education. Now, Ghanaians need presidential leadership on vocational and technical (technology) education. In fact, Ghana needs more electricians, plumbers, carpenters or wood technologists, cost accountants, auto-mechanics, computer programmers and analysts, food scientists, and building

technologists than lawyers, administrators, sociologists, historians, and anthropologists. Over the years, Ghana’s colonial education system has evolved in such a way that liberal art education is perceived to be superior to technical/technology education. The next president would have to work harder to transform this debilitating colonial mentality. A few solutions are available to accomplish this. However, the first step is to set up a commission, headed by a non-educator, to evaluate degree programs offered in public-funded universities in terms of their usefulness to the nation and recommend for elimination those that have outlived their national usefulness. It should also make recommendations for new degree programs that would meet national development goals. The second step is to implement a national apprenticeship program as the presidential educational review committee recommended. A mass national education campaign about the desirability of technical education for national development would be needed, along with occasional moral ministration from the political leadership.


Contemporary leadership studies attempt to separate leadership as a practice from leadership as a theoretical concept. This artificial dichotomy is unhelpful, especially in a country like Ghana that is facing a political leadership crisis. We can not understand leadership either as a discourse or practice without factoring in context; nor can we understand leadership without studying leaders. That said, political leadership in Ghana should be firmly grounded in clearly articulated values whose operation will uplift the country from its present social and economic anomie. Indeed, competition for the presidency in the next elections should be based solely on values and interpretation of values. We should say good-bye to a political leadership competition based on ethnicity, parental heritage, social class, and dynasty.

Y. Fredua-Kwarteng, Northern Territories, Canada.

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