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Opinions of Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Democratic Glows from National Awards

The row that engulfed the award of national honours that was instituted to 244 persons for their distinct services to Ghana reflects the country’s growing democracy and the growing philosophy of inclusiveness against the backdrop of the 56 ethnic groups that form the Ghana nation-state.

Ghana’s democracy is rocking and Ghanaians can debate their issues without any strings to the extent that even President John Kufour considered controversial Ghanaians such as Kojo Tsikata, a former National Security Adviser who deemed unfit for national award because his human rights violation and his long-running disturbances of the nation-state.

Ghanaians can talk openly now, as the ever growing FM stations country-wide show, they can participate through the increasingly freer and enriched mass media in national affairs without fear of intimidation, harassment, disappearing or being killed as was the case during 21 years of military juntas and 6 years of one-party regimes. Ghanaians could not express themselves openly and critically as possible on issues that affected them dearly. The on-going 16-year-old democratic dispensation has made Ghanaians enjoy the immense benefits of democratic values – freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of political choices and all the other freedoms that grease progress.

It is in such freer democratic atmosphere that for the good part of Ghana’s 51-year existence Ghanaians have become openly interested in those among them honoured for their unique services to the state. Whether some of the honourees weren’t deemed fit for the awards, as some say of Kojo Tsikata or some rejected the honour on varied grounds, democracy has allowed Ghanaians the platform to discuss issues revealing their agreements and disagreements without fear of being killed or disappearing as was the case 20 years ago.

And this has made the government, opposition parties, civil society and the mass media engaged in healthy democratic dance for the good of Ghana. Backtracking from earlier statements and that engendered critical statements such as “self glorification,” Information and National Orientation Minister, Asamoah Boateng, said the 244 names on the list for the National Awards had included President John Kufuor and ex-President Jerry Rawlings for reconciliation reasons in the climate of higher thinking and traditional wisdom.

Minority Leader Alban Bagbin rejected the national awards on the grounds that “I am just serving the nation by virtue of my position as Minority Leader in Parliament. This alone does not deserve a national award.” From within Kufour’s own ruling National Patriotic Party, Member of Parliament, Kennedy Agyepong, in questioning why Kufour should honour himself, wondered why Andrew Awuni, Press Secretary to the President and Presidential Spokesperson, should be “honoured simply for serving as the Press Secretary to the President for barely two years.” Nii Moi Thompson, an economist at the University of Ghana, thought the National Awards was so cheesy that he launched his own “Heroes and Heroines Award of Ghana.”

That’s democracy at work. After years of profound crisis of intellectual unfreedom (especially during the almost 20 years of the PNDC/NDC rules where the regimes were prone to intolerance and fanaticism), against the backdrop of traditional Ghanaian humanistic debate, learning and philosophy, the national debate about the National Awards reveal the Indian Nobel Prize-winning laureate Amatya Sen reasoning that development necessitates the unblocking of foremost sources of unfreedom – “poverty as well as tyranny, poor economic opportunities as well as systematic social deprivation, neglect public facilities as well as intolerance or overactivity of repressive states.”

So how healthy Ghana’s democracy is seen in the sparks generated by the National Awards row. As Sen would say, the National Award noise is part of development in freedom, “where one need not choose between social welfare indicators – food, healthcare, clean water, etc – and freedom,” and thus making democratic freedom a key driver of development, especially in Ghana where the country went through 21 years of mindless military juntas and 6 years of one-party regimes.



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