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Opinions of Sunday, 4 December 2016

Columnist: Afrifa, Benjamin Kwasi

Ghana will not burn after the 2016 elections

INTRODUCTION

On December 7, 2016, Ghanaians will again cast their ballots to elect a new president and members Parliament. While the fault lines of the election has already been drawn, I predict that the New Patriotic Party (NPP) will emerge victorious in the epic contest and, guess what, “Ghana will not burn.”

Since 1992, Ghana has gone through six successive and albeit successful competitive multi-party elections. The country transitioned from a misguided dictatorship to a promising, liberal democracy. Political power has since alternated between the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and NPP. In terms of political development, Ghana’s democratic trajectory is enviable, at least in African standards. Our past elections were adjudged by international standards as fair and free. Undoubtedly, this record is a significant milestone in the annals of Ghana’s history of elections and political development, Despite Ghana’s democratic accomplishments, we continue to show anemic improvement in our democratic futures and fortunes. One may conflate elections with democracy. However, elections are just one of the vital elements of democratic development. Even though our acclaimed past elections are occasionally marred by record levels of outright rigging and poll violence, the good thing is that the prospect of further democratization in Ghana remains at least positive.
In preparation for the upcoming elections, the major political parties, serving as the beacon of our democracy, have dusted off their rule books on election-winning strategies and have re-aligned their priorities in party manifestos and slogans so as to maximize their chances of winning the coveted 2016 elections with pump and pageantry. The Ghanaian electorate has so far demonstrated keen interest and their participation in the electoral process will allay fears of low voter turnout or apathy. Ghana will stay the course toward political maturity with the upcoming elections. The country is unnecessarily on the edge as the mood and the current political environment is politically vibrant and testy. The sources of unease are several which observers believe are inimical to the security of the country.
In the midst of such an historic election fever, political and rhetorical jabs have been thrown by parties against their threatened opponents. Political observers and pundits have witnessed the interplay of skillful politicians, both inciting and responding to local prejudices and interests as if the world is about to end. Needless skirmishes, provocations, interference, allegations of intimidation and insults using acerbic language from the extreme elements of the various parties have been reported. Credible sources have stated that there is some truth to the charges, although they insist the problem is not as widespread as reported. There may have been some merits to the allegations but the question remains whether that was even necessary. Why has some Ghanaians, because of some elections that probably will not even improve his or her standard of living, resorted to violence in the quest for political power and in the process eschewed any virtue of civility and fellow-feeling? The average Ghanaian often forgets that these skirmishes are elite contestations with no discernible bearing on improving his or her standard of living. Thus, politics is reduced to zero-sum struggle between competing parties. These activities are all manufactured and structured by our enduring political parties whose traditions and claims on the loyalties of the voters has and is shaping the politics of Ghana.

NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT CHALLENGES

Pundits agree that Ghana is at a crossroads having to decide which political and economic development trajectory to embark on. The consequences of the past development policies have manifested in challenges including acute, persistent poverty, re-emergence of diseases, a sustained high unemployment, wide economic and social disparities and malnutrition. It has been quite damaging for our national esteem. The common refrain at public and private discussions is about our seeming paradox of wallowing in abject poverty in the midst of plenty, including most recently the discovery of oil.

The situation has been further compounded by the recent trend to revert to some medieval practices. The promotion of dramatic cures of diseases and disabilities through “miracle technology”; mega-churches of mammoth crowds seeking prosperity by financial breakthroughs; the prevalence of massive, blatant public thievery from national coffers emanating from questionable payments to party “apparatchiks”; armed robbery at homes and on highways that threatens the national security and commerce, blatant disrespect for authority, rule of law and the Judiciary; get-rich-quick schemes known in the local parlance as “Sakawa”; among others.

On substantive policy, the rate of youth unemployment has consistently remain astronomically high, our roads and highways serve as death traps; in a global knowledge society, a segment of Ghanaian children currently attend school under “trees” for lack of educational infrastructures such as classrooms; infant mortality and maternal death are unimaginably high; our traffic laws remain unenforced and when enforced, are undermined by corruption and bribery; armed robbery is a national menace; sections of the country, particularly the North, during campaigns are promised of economic development through “rhetoric” with policies couched in jargons such as SADA, NADA, etc. Certain political processes and government functions remain largely personalized and arbitrary while institutional foundations are quite weak. As a result, abuse of state power continues to go largely unchecked. I’m not an alarmist but I think Ghana exhibit propensity for ethnic conflict. Under the current NDC, politics of identity trumps politics of interests. Political violence, electoral violence and the extraordinary levels of human suffering are just examples of our national development challenges. These challenges are exacerbated by high inflation and confiscatory economic policies, brazen corruption (a la judgment debt settlement, “padded” state contracts, bid rigging and blatant thievery), a sharpened political rhetoric with tribal undertones, and propensity for violence.

A careful review of our Constitution reveals self-inflicted provisions that impede democratic and political development. For example, the ongoing brouhaha and the perceived misbehavior of the Electoral Commission stems from its seeming immunity from any external oversight under the pretense of asserting its independence from control by political parties. As probably the most important body in our democratic development, this should change. The president appoints a significant number of his cabinet members from Parliament. This potential cooptation of the legislature by the Executive should also change. The appointment of municipal and district executives by the President under our devolution of government should be reformed. The inimical Dual Citizenship Law that exclude Ghanaians of dual-nationality from effectively participating in the democratic process and governance of country deserve a second look.

The downturn in the economic and social conditions since independence can arguably be attributed to many causes prominent of which include weak institutional structures; a long period of misguided, dictatorial rule; paucity of long-term planning; lack of consistency in the implementation of fiscal and development policies; profane, unabashed shame and massive looting of the national treasury and the stashing of public funds offshore; wasteful and ostentatious projects of low priority for the country’s development; failure to re-orient our education system, especially primary, higher education for development-oriented doctoral-level innovation, research and knowledge and lack of transparency and corruption in national commercial transactions.

There is a template of cinematic tribal remembrance and reality-construction, a toxic tonic of acute denial, self-delusion and falsification of Ghanaian political history. At the heart of current policies of “hollowness” is self-deception at best and at worst, dishonest and dismissive of the horrific violence and suffering meted out to Ghanaians with ruthless and relentless regularity. In spite of the now contrived harmony, it is clear that our political pronouncements trivialize this tragedy, terror and suffering meted onto Ghanaians. The usual Ghanaian resistance is reduced to passive quiet dignity of a sort, self-discipline under undeserved suffering and humiliation. There are obvious lessons communicated to Ghanaians by our political system and practices. Perhaps nothing is more pernicious and pathetic than attempts to push the political equivalence of development by illusion and camouflage inimical policies with excuses. The current political system is generous without giving justice; inhumane without an equitable sharing of power, wealth and status.

NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT APPROACHES AND GOALS

Since 1992, Ghana has struggled with re-orienting its economy and development paradigm away from its colonial era dependency on cash crops and natural resource extraction. Having gone through several economic development paradigms, a brief respite occurred in 2001-2008 when Ghana achieved lower middle-income country status under former President John Agyekum Kuffour’s Administration and NPP. The Administration, with a renewed focus on private sector development, interspersed its efforts with the implementation of several pro-poor policies and strategic poverty eradication programs to reverse the course of retrogressive statistic of Ghana’s development. According to international reports, the Ghanaian economy grew at a record pace between 5-7% annually between 2001 and 2008.
The goal of development in any sovereign nation is to achieve self-reliance, safety, security and to ensure that the qualitative needs of life of citizens are met. This pre-supposes that the country’s natural resources would be harnessed and appropriately transformed by the application of modern technology into valuable goods and services. A historical review of NPP’s development policies and programs stand on the fundamental philosophy that national development results from two dynamics. One is internal dynamic, determined by the efforts of the country itself and the people, and the other is an external dynamic, which comes from the indispensable advantages drawn from international cooperation in terms of technical and financial arrangements through trade and investments. The internal dynamic is largely propelled by the activities of firms and individuals who actually produce the goods and services. That is the centerpiece of NPP’s policies.

NPP advocates for open market competition as the policy that will promote national development by successfully harnessing market-oriented reforms to improve the welfare of Ghanaians. NPP’s policies offer incentives to engage in wider trade, the ability of Ghanaians to use fully skills and resources and opportunities to increase their income and livelihoods. NPP understands the role of effective public and private institutions in the success of market reforms. Without land-titling institutions that ensure property rights, poor people are unable to use valuable assets for investment and income growth. Without strong judicial institutions that enforce contracts, entrepreneurs find many business activities too risky. Without effective corporate governance institutions that check managers’ behavior, firms waste the resources of stakeholders. Weak institutions hurt the poor especially. For example, estimates show that corruption can cost the poor three times as much as it does the wealthy.

NPP rightly advocates for education reform with a strong emphasis on students and teachers. Ghana with a literate workforce could compete to attract offshore transfer of micro-electronic manufacture as India and China have successfully done. This underscores the importance of mobilizing intellectual capital as a prime factor for national development.
The “incoming” Akufo-Addo Administration and NPP will fundamentally re-shape the process of re-building the country. It will be a clear distinction from the current tense interplay between the two competing visions of the leading parties. My only counsel for the Akufo-Addo Administration is to prepare for a more sustainable, extensive engagement with the security, health, public and educational institutions to ensure public safety, good health, and the development of a literate workforce, a prerequisite for meaningful national development.

The Akufo-Addo Administration should demonstrate that NPP is prepared to engage all Ghanaian stakeholders with contributions from and participation of all Ghanaians that will rapidly restart the country’s reconstruction and preserves but reforms the current bureaucracy and also Ghana’s military and security institutions, especially the Ghana Police in an effort to building a democratic and sustainable police state. Remedial action would be subjectively undertaken judging from the NPP’s policy pronouncements. I am confident that the operational tools and methods of the Akufo-Addo Administration would be assessed against contextual, conventional and successful best practices elsewhere to enable Ghana determine what went wrong, and from which, a repetition can be avoided in our process of national rehabilitation.
The words of the World Bank President, Mr. James Wolfensohn is instructive. In his introductory statement on the 2002 World Development Report, he stated: “where countries are today, affects where they can go. A pragmatic approach to institution building is focusing on what can be done practically [and proactively] rather than on what should be done in an ideal world. Social and political factors affect the pace of change, and sweeping reforms are not always possible. It is important to work on the areas where opportunities present themselves; each step can take countries forward—if correctly designed. And smaller reforms can build constituencies for larger ones.” This underscores the importance of a deliberate, incremental policy process which has eluded our development efforts thus far.

DEEPER NATIONAL QUESTIONS AND ISSUES

Responses to two important questions have so far eluded us. The first is “what is our national identity and what are our shared national values”? The second is “what type of society do we want create and what type of people would we want Ghanaians to become”? In other words, what defines who a Ghanaian is and what distinguishing shared national values do we share or have in common?

Since independence, or probably before it, we have been damaged by the absence of agreement on the essence of what it means to be a Ghanaian. In other words, what common national values do we aspire to achieve? We have rather lurched for narrow political goals from one short-term approach to another with misguided directions, starting from the unnecessary erstwhile, so-called revolution that birthed some of the ongoing problems facing the country. Creating a shared national purpose would enable us to rediscover a clear and confident sense of who we are as a people and country.

Take our current Constitution which is riddled with inconsistencies and missed opportunities. It does not set any clear direction for building a cohesive society with a common identity and shared goals. Take the issue of nationalism. Ghana is a pluralist society with vibrant political, religious, cultural, economic and ethnic cleavages. An Ashanti is much a Ghanaian as a Dagomba, a Hausa, a Fanti, or an Ewe. The question is, why is it that due to our misguided political fortunes, we have retreated to medieval, exclusive identities fueled by ethnicity and religion? Regardless of our cleavage, we should be able to celebrate our “Ghanaianness” which to me is bigger than the sum of its parts.

It should be noteworthy that no matter how many roads we (re)surface, overpasses we (re)construct, how many bridges we build, the number of political institutions we create and economic policies we promulgate, without a national shared values, identity and direction, we’ll continue to wallow in our pity. We should look backward with nostalgia but look forward with a sense of direction and hope.
MOVING FORWARD
Former President Bill Clinton said this on his First Inaugural address:
“Profound and powerful forces are shaking and remaking our country, and the urgent question of our time is whether we can make change our friend and not our enemy. We know we have to face hard truths and take bold steps. But we have not done so. Instead, we have drifted, and that drifting has eroded our resources, fractured our economy and shaken our confidence. Though our challenges are fearsome, so are our strengths. Thomas Jefferson believed that to preserve the very foundation of our nation, we would need dramatic change from time to time. Well, my fellow Americans, this is our time. Let us embrace it.”

In his Second Inaugural Address, he again said:

“As times change, so government must change. We need a new government for a new century, a government humble enough not to try to solve all our problems for us but strong enough to give us the tools to solve our problems for ourselves, a government that is smaller, lives within its means, and does more with less. ….The challenge of our past remains the challenge of our future. Will we be one nation, one people, with one common destiny, --- or not? Will we all come together, or come apart?” “Let us resolve to make our government a place for what Franklin Roosevelt called “bold, persistent experimentation,” a government for our tomorrows, not our yesterdays.”
“So, let’s pledge to end the era of deadlock and drift. It’s time to break the bad habit of expecting something for nothing, from our government or from each other. Let us all take more responsibility, not only for ourselves and our families but for our communities and our country. And so, my fellow Americans, we must be strong, for there is much to dare. The demands of our time are great, and they are different. Let us meet them with faith and courage, with patience and a grateful, happy heart. Let us shape the hope of this day into the noblest chapter in our history.”
The big political divide in the country is now clear. It is over nothing less than the protection of our maturing liberal democracy and the defense of the nation itself. Let us remember the timeless wisdom of Cardinal Bernardin when facing the end of his own life. He said, “It is wrong to waste the precious gift of time on acrimony and division.”

So on Tuesday, December 7, 2016, as you head to your polling station to cast your ballot, I challenge you to have a sense of allegiance, loyalty, law and order and political tolerance. Be vigilant and don’t be fooled by the trappings of electioneering. As I said earlier, be mindful that elections in Ghana has become an “elite contestation” and heed to the local saying that “when two elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers.” I implore you to vote your conscience and because we’ll make the right decision, “Ghana will not burn.”

Long live Ghana
Benjamin Kwasi Afrifa
New York/New Jersey