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Opinions of Thursday, 30 August 2007

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Democratic Growth, Democratic Living

Once a playground of military juntas, autocrats, and one-party apparatchiks, Ghana has experienced its share of Africa’s rough-and-tumble politics including executions of some military politicians. But for the past 15 years since multiparty democracy was instituted, more flowing from Ghanaians’ innate traditions and convictions, the democratic field is more and more getting excited and being fertilized. The media is growing and getting freer. Human rights organizations are on the upward swing and Ghanaians protest against certain national issues openly and freely. Women are increasingly being empowered. Multiethnic marriage is booming, containing any potential ethnic strife that could derail the democratic process – the incumbent President John Kufour, an Asante, is married to a Fante, Theresa.

The judiciary is gradually more re-tooling itself and opening up to alternate dispute resolutions driven by Ghanaian traditional laws. There is open critical debate of national issues. Traditional values are being encouraged nationally as a fodder for progress with the inhibitions within them being discussed openly. The police service is innovating itself. The military is getting attuned to constitutional order and so is fine-tuning national security to contain the heat emanating from the democratic process. Political parties are getting more eclectic members, including well-qualified candidates ever more entering their parties’ flagbearership. And the international community is constantly praising Ghana’s emerging democracy.

It is in this flourishing democratic life that the Convention Peoples Party, a minority party formed in 1949 that ruled Ghana from 1957 to 1966 under first President Kwame Nkrumah, that at a point appears dying, getting prominent Ghanaians entering its flagbearership. The entering of prominent pathologist Prof. Agyeman Badu-Akosa and economic development expert Dr. Paa Kwesi Ndoum has prompted Mr. George Aggudey, the 2004 presidential candidate, who is seeking to retain CPP’s flagbearership, decrying people who did not show any interest in the party now rushing to lead it. Another minority party, Peoples National Convention, viewed variously as sleepy and as a regional party and which has been under the clutches of the medical doctor Dr. Edward Mahama, has seen Dr. Yakubu Saaka, a professor of political science and a former Third Republic Deputy Foreign Minister, entering the PNC’s flagbearership to challenge him, and in the interim energizing the slumbering party.

The democratic growth and its ensuing democratic life is getting so good, despite pains from the economy, that Mr. Odoi-Sykes, a former chair of the ruling National Patriotic Party (NPP), which has record some 19 candidates vying to win its flagbearership, remarked recently that initially it was difficult to attract people to field parliamentary and presidential slots but now there are too many candidates for the comfort of the party. As Ghana’s 2008 presidential and parliamentary elections close in, the developing democratic field look like children set loose to play. Former United Nations chief scribe, Mr. Kofi Annan, and good number of Ghanaian traditional rulers, have advised some over excited politicians to be civil.

Prof. S. K. B. Asante, a leading policy-maker, has been unhappy with some of the politicians’ theatrics, describing “some presidential aspirants” as “living in fantasy world.” Signs of democratic frustrations sometimes breeze around. “Democracy had come to stay in Ghana but remained fragile enough to require a mature, strong, steady, visionary and knowledgeable political leader to protect it,” Prof. Asante thundered. Frustrations or not, the growing democratic process is selecting its own leadership in an on-going process as the various political parties conventions show.

As Ghanaians enjoy democratic growth and increasing well-qualified people enter the democratic process, not only are Ghana’s democratic life being enriched but Ghanaians’ socio-economic and cultural tribulations are increasingly being opened for scrutiny more than before – thanks to globalization and transnational Ghanaians, the vibrant mass media, and the expanding democratic institutions. The rising numbers of politicians are aware of the socio-economic and cultural challenges facing Ghanaians. The test is how well the politicians have thought about Ghana before thinking of entering politics. Life in most places is still tough. Sanitation is a big health issue. Crime is becoming a big national security dilemma. Ghana’s policy-making and bureaucratizing still does not incorporate traditional Ghanaian values as happens in Southeast Asia, thus cutting off large chunk of Ghanaians, in a participatory sense, off the development process. There is still schism between traditional and neo-liberal Ghana 50 years after colonial rule, and this has impacted on Ghana’s greater progress negatively.

In 2006 Ghana ranked 136th out of 177 countries ranked on the United Nations Human Development Index, which data measures global human well-being such as living a long and healthy life, being educated, and having a decent standard of living. More critically, paradoxically, despite a few months ago an international survey revealing that Ghanaians are one of the happiest people on earth, a surveys of 1,130 Ghanaian adults conducted in April and 500 in June this year by www.ghanaweb.com shows that over 70 percent of say they would “move abroad if they could, and 1 in 4 say they would even do so illegally if necessary.” The growing democracy challenge Ghanaian politicians to reverse this worrying national mood - it is like you have been wounded so much by your family that you want to abandon it. While more well-qualified politicians bode well for Ghanaian democratic life, the life of the politician in a developing democracy and struggling economy could be very stressful compared to the no-party military and one-party regimes of yesteryears. Of Ghana’s 50 years of corporate existence, according to www.ghanaweb.com, there have been multiparty democratic practices for 16 years, brutal military juntas for 21 years, and autocratic one-party governments for 6 years. All these roller coaster political swings saw Ghanaians enjoying less accountability and fewer freedoms in their political lives that it suppressed and dried the democratic life for long time. In the face of economic pains and the challenges that democracy poses you got to have fortitude to enter Ghanaian politics, which sometimes cascade into citizens unloading their pains and frustrations on the politicians by insulting and cursing them.

Some politicians have been complaining of excessive demand by their constituents to alleviate the biting poverty. In this sense, those who enter Ghana’s developing multiparty democratic life cannot help but divulge who they really are – good or bad - to the judgments by demanding Ghanaians. As soon as Prof. Badu-Akosah announced his entry into the CPP flagbearership one of Ghana’s leading private newspapers, “The Ghanaian Chronicle,” quickly reported that he is a womanizer and partially likes alcohol. Such exposal comes at a cost - psychological, moral and even physical. The elected presidential candidate for the main opposition National Democratic Party, Prof. John Atta Mills’ health has been the subject of constant talk in political circles and the mass media. Dr. Edward Mahama, leader of PNC, is reported by some of his party members as being autocratic and having weak sense of democratic characteristics. And while the socio-economic demands of politics drain the politicians’ vitality, with Ghana’s contending traditional and neo-liberal dualities hovering at the background, there is no need to feel sorry for them – after all they entered on their own volition. In a country which certain aspects of its paternalistic culture blindly hero-worship its “Big Men,” politicians bask in power, glory, recognition, and sometimes, as Ghana’s first President, Kwame Nkrumah, and top pro-independence campaigner, Dr. J.B. Danquah, reveal, historical immortality. This reimburse for any pains in the democratic arena. More so, as some politicians demonstrated in 2004, there is always the door if they can’t take the heat. It is this double-edged dimension of Ghana’s growing democratic life that makes it both refreshing and disquieting.



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