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Opinions of Saturday, 4 March 2006

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

In the Land of ROPAD

Ghana?s parliament appears to be in permanent atrophy. The issue of whether diasporan Ghanaians should vote in future public elections and referenda created so much acrimony that parliamentarians of different parties appears in permanent malice, moved more by emotions than reasoning. Ghana?s parliament appears to have been sucked into the yawning energy of whether diasporan Ghanaians should vote that the legislature appears paralyzed after the bitter debates and demonstrations that ensured. At the centre of the bad blood was the Representative of the People (Amendment) Bill, dubbed ROPAD, which is expected to give diasporan Ghanaians the right to vote outside and inside Ghana. Like children set free to play, ROPAD set the ruling National Patriotic Party (NPP) and the main opposition National Democratic Party (NDC) in a frenzy of demonstrations and counter-demonstration, with some clashes with the police resulting in some injuries.

Ever since Ghanaians said they want democracy and moved out of years of one-party autocracy and long-running military juntas they have worked the democratic currents. The political parties have worked the rule of law and human rights tenets to nurture their emerging democracy. In these strides, Ghanaian politicians believe, in some sort of metaphysical feelings, that they are sowing the seeds for a broader continental culture of democracy and ?culture of rights,? where values of democracy and human rights are entrenched in the development process. Confident, Ghanaians have allowed the Toronto, Canada-based Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) to train their journalists in human rights and democratic reporting. Some African countries have rejected this. These democratic openness and good feelings are born out of the fact that Ghana is praised globally as a leading centre of democracy and human rights in the West African sub-region, grounded on the value that Ghana was the first nation in sub-Sahara Africa to gain independence from colonial rule.

Armed with this democratic value, Ghana?s democracy and rule of law in the sub-region, as the ROPAD debate demonstrated, despite sometimes their awful nature, is so much cherished both locally and globally that the World Bank parachuted newly elected Liberian parliamentarians to come to Ghana to learn one or two practical democracy principles at work from Ghanaian parliamentarians. No doubt, Ghanaians are so democratically confident, almost eighteen years into their nascent multiparty life, that in ROPAD they want their brothers and sisters in the diaspora not only to vote in future public elections and referenda but also participate in the decision making of their country. Diasporan Ghanaians, who conservatively number around 2.5 million, say they contribute around US$1.5 billion annually to Ghana. Other contributions come in the form of businesses and development ventures. Would it be wrong to allow Dr. Emmanuel Tuffour, a Ghanaian-American medical internist, who established the Aniwa Medical Centre in Kumasi and which has been contributing immensely to Ghana?s health sector, to vote in Ghana in public elections and referenda if given the greenlight by Ghana?s parliament as enshrined in Ghana?s 1992 Constitution, as proponents of ROPAD argue?

ROPAD demonstrates how Ghana?s democracy is developing ? it seek to amend a 1992 (PNDC law 284) that restricted diasporan Ghanaians from voting anywhere in the world during public elections and referenda in Ghana. Proponents also say that PNDCL284 conflicted with Article 42 of the Ghanaian Constitution, which gives every Ghanaian of 18 years and of sound mind anywhere in the world the right to vote. Opponents of ROPAD argued, using the same democratic reasons, that there are administrative, legal, logistics and geographical distance that have to be resolved before ROPAD could operate so as to avoid democratic troubles such as vote buying and rigging which sent states such as Liberia to civil war. Proponents countered that there is no cause for alarm since apart from many countries which diasporans vote during public elections of their countries, West African states such as Burkina Faso and Senegal diasporans have franchise and have been voting during public elections of the countries.

On streets, roads and pathways, and across the plains of Ghana, ROPAD revealed that Ghanaians? are concerned about an overheated democracy and its consequences. Ghanaians spoke of how Rwanda, Cote d?Ivoire, Liberia, and Sierra Leone had descended into flames because of the wrong-headedness of the ruling elites in failing to adhere to their innate democratic characteristics. Ghanaians recounted how their independence from British colonial rule in 1957 ushered in the first multiparty system in Africa but was aborted because of the ruling elites? weak grasp of democratic characteristics, seeing Ghana oscillating, for the good part of her almost 50 years corporate existence, between autocratic one-party regimes and military juntas. That such sense of history is guiding the masses and the ruling elites, as seen in ROPAD?s acrimonious debates and demonstrations, bode well for Ghanaian democratic health and development process. While Ghana?s first President, Kwame Nkrumah, was democratically impatient, making him abort Ghana?s initial multiparty system for the one-party system in the face of democratic challenges, the incumbent President, John Kufuor, who has seen all the rough-and-tumble of Ghana?s political life, is not so, demonstrating matured democratic characteristics.

Despite widespread poverty and some aspects of their culture that are inhibiting them and that needs urgent refinement in their development process, Ghana?s emerging democracy tells other Africans that the African don?t have to be educated in the Western sense to be democratic. That there are huge democratic characteristics embedded in the African culture that needs to be awakened as part of Africa?s broader democratic evolution, as we see in Botswana. Drawing from within their cultural values, in ROPAD Ghanaians revealed that democracy can be simultaneously joyful and painful, driven by their history, innate values, hardwork and sacrifice. Perhaps more ROPADs will be a deepening lesson in democratic education for Ghanaians.



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