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Opinions of Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Ghana Election as Regional Democratic Test

By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong

The impending Ghana December 2008 is test for the West African region as it struggles for democratic consolidation. Seen as the sub-region’s democracy star, the Ghana December election is a trial for a region which stability is still suspect as last month’s military coup in Mauritania and the coup attempt in Guinea Bissau reveal. Despite the fully-steamed democratic activities in Ghana, the latest United Nations assessments of the health of Sierra Leone and Liberia stabilities say democracy is shaky not only in these two countries but in a sub-region that is hungry for democracy and stability for progress.

West Africa has a stake in the impending Ghana elections not only as a tranquilizer in an edgy sub-region but to radiate as the region’s oasis of democratic phoenix from the ashes of foreign ideological battles, civil wars, dark spiritual practices, frightening one-party regimes and senseless military juntas. Successful December Ghana elections will therefore send positive democratic signals to the rest of West Africa. When the ruling National Patriotic Party presidential candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo, a former Foreign Minister, for the December elections toured the West African region after he was elected as his party’s flagbearer some months ago, it was to touch base with the shaky region that democracy is possible in the sub-region.

With most of her almost 51 years existence ruled by military and autocratic one-party regimes (the only exception where there was civilian administrations are the years 1957-1966, 1969-72, 1979-81, and 1993 to present), Ghanaians have come to the conclusion that democracy is better than the imperially threatening 6-year one-party systems and the 21-year-old mindless military juntas that dominated their hot political landscape and effectively stifled genuine development discourse. Like the rest of West Africa, the on-going 16-year-old Ghanaian democratic dispensation has not come about easily. Straddling and breathing over the on-going democracy had been the Gen. Joseph Ankrah military regime (that overthrew the President Nkrumah administration in 1966. The coup was actually done by Generals Emmanual Kotoka and Akwesi Amankwah Afrifa and Gen. Ankrah picked as head of state) to Gen. Akwesi Afrifa military junta (that toppled the Ankrah regime in 1969) to Gen. Kutu Acheampong military regime (which overthrew the Prime Minister Dr. Kofi Busia/President Edward Akuffo-Addo administration in 1972) to Gen. F.W.K Akuffo military junta (that overthrew the Acheampong regime 1978) to the long-running Flt. Lt. Jerry Rawlings military regimes (that overthrew the Akuffo and Dr. Hilla Liman regimes in 1979 and 1981 respectively).

In some sort of weird metaphysics such depressing Ghana coup-infested attitude was copied by other West Africa states (the Jerry Rawlings coups, despite its senselessness and baselessness, inspired coup making in other West African states such as Liberia and Sierra Leone, and eventually send these two countries into explosion) give the hope that an equally logically positive and consolidated Ghana democratic growth will be copied by other West African states. The reason is that ever since its birth some 51 years ago, Ghana, under its first president, Kwame Nkrumah, has prided and projected itself as the “Black Star of Africa,” radiating ideals and hope, foretelling the “African Personality.” The December elections will be the fifth multi-party polls in Ghana since it embarked on its present democratic path. In some metaphysical charm, other West Africans see the impending Ghanaian elections as good omen, in a region of many bad omens that will massage them positively and awaken in them their latent democratic values that have for long been buried in the heap sand of instabilities, unfreedoms, poverty, dark spiritual practices, intolerance, civil wars, misunderstanding, political insanity and intellectual servitude.

As democratic institutions grow and the Economic Commission of West Africa (ECOWAS) increasingly encourages democratic enlargement, not only are freedoms increasingly opening up but also the media of various suasions, from the Accra Daily Mail and Statesman, which lean toward the ruling NPP, to Palavar and The Lens that tilt toward the main opposition NDC, are painstakingly driving the democratic process. This is against the backdrop of a Ghana which democratic roots are shallow, spiritualists swinging in the political arena that blur the superstitious electorate from thinking about issues objectively, politicians not properly connected with the electorate, insults commonplace, and illiteracy inhibiting democratic expansion.

As the challenges of democratic growth dawn, 16 years on, some politicians are still learning the nuances of democracy, some letting loose years of one-party and military mentality, but are quickly called to democratic order. Jerry Rawlings and Boakye-Gyan, ex-military dictators, utterances remind Ghanaians of the dark days of military juntas – unfreedoms, threats, harassment, fear, and all that one can feel about dreadful Stalinism. They sometimes let Ghanaians feel that their on-going democracy is “war,” war among the competing political parties. But Akufo-Addo reminds them, democracy is “not war,” neither is it wailing or commotion or intimidation but fuller participation of everybody, especially in discussing progress – here ideas outweigh commotion.

As the December elections near, Ghanaians are learning that the nurturing of democratic growth, based on their social and historical peculiarities, is as difficult and sometimes complicated as extricating themselves from long years of frightful military juntas and colonially bullying one-party system. Akufo-Addo, who was one of those in the forefront of the pro-democracy movement, will attest to the struggle. For, there are still some, mostly in the political Left, who do not believe in democracy as vehicle for progress despite what the country went through during years of troublesome military and one-party regimes that saw the country closed to freedoms to resolve its development challenges.

By being realistic of her tortuous political history and West Africa’s shaky instability, the December Ghana elections is as Ghanaian as it is West African, with the region and its peoples not ducking the hard choices at the heart of Ghana’s democratic growth – how to balance competing values for democratic growth and help inspire and spread democracy to other West African states. That’s the task of the “Black Star of Africa” as democracy hope.

kakos064@uottawa.ca>