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Opinions of Sunday, 13 September 2020

Columnist: Abdullai Abdallah

Are we doing politics wrong?

There is no denying that Ghana (and Africa at large) has been dealt a bad hand throughout history.

From being subjected to slavery to colonisation all the way to the not so rosy epoch of postcolonial struggles, with numerous coup d’etats and wrangling to establish democracy. Now the dust has settled. A brave new world was promised by our founders when we were finally unleashed from the shackles of our ‘masters’. Now we say we are free. But are we really? A question for another day!

After all these, here we stand, a republic state. Chosen democracy as our form of governance; some say it was imposed on us. Either way it a remnant of our colonial past. Was it the best choice? This can be best answered by how far we have come even since we adopted this system. Great African empires existed and were quite successful without this systemic democracy we have today. Looking at the current stance of Ghana in the world one cannot help but wonder whether we made the right choice. Condemning democracy( party politics) in its entity would be too harsh. Taking the queue from other countries with simile experiences as ours progressing enormously, makes that argument redundant. Take Singapore, for instance, having gained independent after we did yet have been able to progress, surpassing us greatly.

This calls into scrutiny the systems( or whatever semblance of) we have. One such establishments I find sordid is our political space. It appears the policies and promises of the various political parties are somewhat haphazard not following any well defined course. I believe this is due to the relegation to the background of the idea of political ideologies. To make my case, we will consider the major political parties and how they have gone about in ruling the country.

Undoubtedly, among the major political parties right now the CPP is the oldest. Formed by no less an individual than Kwame Nkrumah himself. The CPP has had its term in ruling this country. With Nkrumah taking the realms after the independence struggle up until 1966 when he was overthrown.

The CPP claims to be a socialist party. Socialism is a system in which the population collectively owns and controls the means of production and distributes the end result equally. There has never actually being an idyllic socialist state( what is known as Utopian socialism), but there has been various variations of socialism practised all over the world. In this system, the government believes it should have control over majority of the economy and usually discourages the capitalist free market system. I believe these viewpoints contributed to the eventual overthrow of Nkrumah.

Socialism has a susceptibility to be skewed toward communism. And this must have been construed to be the case when Nkrumah introduced the one party system. We have to consider the policies and projects of the CPP government and see whether they align with its political viewpoint.

The era of the CPP was one in which a new country was just born so a lot was at sake. Being a socialist administration, it funded national industrial and energy projects. Some of these industries can still be seen today and the Akosombo dam was a major energy project. It also developed a strong national education system: two universities, one at Cape Coast and the other at Kumasi were established to bring the total universities in the countries to three. This feeds into the socialist agenda where there is the believe that everyone should have an equal opportunity to thrive.

Public corporations and state institutions were put up to oversee these projects which also provided employment. Free education and healthcare were provided to deprived areas. This is a classic socialist move. Other projects included: constructing an international airport, building of the Harbour and new township of Tema, a progressive housing scheme among other very important interventions.

Nkrumah and his government took the development of the country head-on. All these were intended to move Ghana to an egalitarian and socialist society. So how did they measure up? Pretty well I would say. Most of the projects were tailored to suit the ideology they ascribed to and they seemed never to lose sight of their values. Now we fast-forward to the fourth republic.

Ghana’s fourth republic polity has been dominated by two parties. The NPP and the NDC. Both have had a fair share in ruling this country.

Let’s start with the NDC: to do a proper dissection of the policies of these governments, we need to know the ideology they ascribe to. NDC claims to be a social democratic party, a milder extension of socialist ideas. This political system is mostly juxtaposed with the Marxism-Lennism

system( which is more inclined toward communism). Social democracy believes to an extent the ideas of socialists. The dichotomy comes with social democracy allowing more capitalist participation in the economy. This participation should however be highly regulated by the state.

And yet there is some strong conviction that certain services should be the sole prerogative of the state. Now let’s look at policies: The NDC introduced the VAT and tolls taxing system. This is in line with socialists ideals of taxing the people more to help the state undertake projects and reduce public debt. NDC governments have also done well in the area of building schools to cater for the educational needs of the populace. Which is supported by the E-block school put up under the Mahama administration.

Other projects including hospitals and roads were heavily invested in. The NDC also introduced the Savanna Accelerated Development Authority (SADA) to help bridge the development gap between the Northern and Southern sector. GETFund was also the brainchild of the NDC. Free uniforms and sandals were given to students. They attempted to introduce progressively free SHS education, which is a clearly socialist move to provide equal opportunities for all. So how does the NDC fair under my books. They manage to put up some socialist interventions. However, they have been heavily criticized for their handling of these social interventions. A typical example is how the SADA was handle by the government and how it finally collapsed. Great policy but the implementation and handling let them down. There was a lot of bashing on how the NHIS was handled under NDC governments. There were privatization of some state institutions. Granted, it was claimed to be strategic moves but that’s giving too much power to the private sector hence capitalism.

The NPP claims to be a conservative party. Conservatism is a term used to describe political philosophies that favour tradition and gradual change, where tradition refers to religious, cultural, or nationally defined beliefs and customs. The term is derived from the Latin, com servare, to preserve; "to protect from loss or harm". Since different cultures have different established values, conservatives in different cultures have differing goals. Some conservatives seek to preserve the status quo or to reform society slowly, while others seek to return to the values of an earlier time, the status quo ante.

Considering the definition alone we run into a wall if we try to fit it within the Ghanaian setting. The term, conservatism, implies that there is something that needs to be conserved (practices, values, cultures). However, considering that Ghana is made up of diverse ethnic groups this idea of something holistic being preserved cannot thrive. In countries with conservative parties, such as the USA, there is a strong believe by many that the ideals of their founding fathers should be maintained hook, line and sinker. Also the need for religion in state matters is held high by these individuals. These are people are said to hold conservative views. In Ghana we do not have a lot of people who hold these views. It would have been applicable if all citizenry identified with a single national image. To be fair, perhaps NPP’s conservatism is the one that seeks to guide us to a gradual change for the better as indicated in the definition. Let’s look at what a conservative system of governing should look like.

Conservatives usually encourage a capitalist economy. Where the citizenry are empowered to catered for themselves with little government interference. It also involves property owning democracy with a take-all-you-can mentality. Conservative states usually encourage small government sizes for minimum oversight of the economy. The private sector is viewed as the engine of growth and is given all the necessary support to flourish. The health of the economy is very dear to conservatives. Reduction of taxation plays right into conservative moves.

Considering various NPP governments: for starters, the largest cabinet the nation has ever seen is under an NPP government. Very commendable initiatives were put up by NPP governments. The national Health Insurance scheme(NHIS), the school feeding program, recently the zongo development agency and the almighty free shs. These initiatives are laudable but they are far from conservative ideas.

In fact, the idea of free education is a flagship socialist idea which is actually practiced in socialists states like Norway and the likes. Obviously the NPP has had greater deviations from their ideals among all the political parties that have ruled this country. Why? One might ask

I will attempt to reason out some justifications. The first of which is very understandable and if that is really the justification they can be pardoned. Ghana is a developing nation, so the argument is that the very systems and facilities are not yet in place to be able to accommodate a capitalist economy. There are insufficient companies and corporations that can drive the economy. So for now even if the government is a conservative one it has to take charge and put in place the needed infrastructure, facilities and systems for businesses to be created and flourish then subsequently it can ease out and allow capitalism to run its course. This is a possibility. The other possibilities are rather scary and gloomy. First, it could be these policies are promised during campaign times just to attract voters. This would imply a haphazard way of making promises with no set long term goal in mind. For instance, there were a lot of issues raised concerning this free shs policy. Issues having to do with relevance, cost and the holistic approach of implementing it but it was implemented anyway.

Was it just for optics? Was it carried out because it really garnered support from voters regardless of political ideology or feasibility? Your guess is as good as mine. The final possibility is that these governments are taking advantage of the general apathy of the citizenry toward this issue. Most Ghanaians are not concerned with holding governments to follow the ideologies they flaunt.

Most people do not even know these ideologies. So these governments could just be taking us for a ride doing what they think will win them the next election. Do I know the reasons behind these deviations? I can only guess. Do I know for sure the best political and economy system for the country? I cannot impose my views on you. But what I do know is that if we continue on this undulating path where we do not stick to certain ideas for the long term development of this country we will continue to be stuck where we find ourselves.

Principles and ideas should be what our country is governed based on. I dream of the day political parties in Ghana will come to voters with strong convictions which could then be metamorphosed into a long term development agenda to see the country into the future as is done in the developed world. But till then, we can only hope that our many missteps will somehow land on the right path. So looking at all these, I ask again “are we doing politics wrong?”

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