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Opinions of Saturday, 23 February 2008

Columnist: Agbodza, Kwami

Making Sense of Political Ideologies in Ghana

The dogmatic positions various political parties in Ghana are quite clear and mostly confusing. How do we as ordinary people make sense of all these old dogmatism? Perhaps we need to demand clarification or do the thinking by ourselves.

Generally speaking, socialism is regarded as an economic system in which the production and distribution of goods are controlled substantially by the government rather than by private enterprise, and in which cooperation rather than competition guides economic activity. There are many varieties of socialism. Some socialists tolerate capitalism, as long as the government maintains the dominant influence over the economy; others insist on an abolition of private enterprise. All communists are socialists, but not all socialists are communists.

Additionally,iSocial democracy is refered to as a political ideology that emerged in the late 19th century out of the socialist movement. Modern social democracy is unlike socialism in the traditional sense which aims to end the predominance of the capitalist system, or in the Marxist sense which aims to replace it entirely; instead, social democrats aim to reform capitalism democratically through state regulation and the creation of state sponsored programs and organizations which work to ameliorate or remove injustices purportedly inflicted by the capitalist market system. The term itself is also used to refer to the particular kind of society that social democrats advocate. While some consider social democracy a moderate type of socialism, others, defining socialism in the traditional or Marxist sense, reject that designation.

Finally,Conservatism is a term used to describe political philosophies that favor tradition and gradual change, where tradition refers to religious, cultural, or nationally defined beliefs and customs. The term is derived from the Latin, com servare, to preserve; "to protect from loss or harm". Since different cultures have different established values, conservatives in different cultures have differing goals. Some conservatives seek to preserve the status quo or to reform society slowly, while others seek to return to the values of an earlier time, the status quo ante.

The NPP claim to be conservative, the NDC identify with social democracy, the pro-Nkrumah parties claim allegiance to socialism. No matter how I try to put these parties in separate groups of their own political ideologies, I find many other things overlapping in the groups. Honestly, I believe all governments can realistically only adopt two main sustainable strategies to achieve development, either tax the people and spend the money to carry out development programmes or ignore the programs and hope the people would never need them from you and if they need it someone else would do it. Maybe IMF world bank etc. In adopting any of the points I have made, prudence and elimination of waste and corruption is vital.

Is it very clear how these various ideologies impact on our overall political journey? Dr Kwame Nkrumah was a socialist, he believes government in a poor country or call it a developing country must take significant responsibility in the welfare of the citizenry. These belief is evident in the set of policies he introduced to achieve national development. He established state farms to employ and feed the people; he also used it as a watershed for agro-industry in Ghana. The constructions of major infrastructural projects to facilitate rapid national development were all part of his broad agenda. Significantly, the nature of the agreement for the construction of the Akosombo hydro electric dam was very interesting. Dr Nkrumah signed a bilateral agreement with Edgar Kaiser of Kaiser Industries (The original owners of VALCO) for the building of the dam , in return VALCO will be built and consume significant portion of the 912MWe to be generated from the dam, why? because we could not find the £130 million to pay for the project. Do you think that deal was a capitalist move or just common sense?

The NDC also believes in social democratic principles which are not far from socialism. During the period of NDC administration, new and innovative but difficult fiscal decisions were mad. Academic user fees were introduced, GETFund was lunched, and VAT was introduced all with the aim to reduce the reliance on foreign donors. We also witnessed major development projects accomplished through bilateral and multilateral agreements. There was heavy investment in projects aimed at achieving social justice. Schools were built by the state to educate the citizenry; hospitals, roads, for the first time in the history of Ghana a deliberate effort was made to diversify Ghana’s energy source from the over reliance on hydro power to the provision of energy by thermal means. Significant amount of funding of these projects were from outside the country, some from independent organizations or call it private sector.

Some state owned enterprises were privatized, strategic ones were maintained, and institutions such as Agricultural Development Bank (ADB) are a unique example. The ADB is providing a unique service to the agricultural sector which employs the vast majority of our people. Privatisation and nationalization are all necessary for coherent development of any society, what is most important is the timing and the significance of the assets involved. The NDC introduced toll collection on strategic roads in Ghana to raise funds for maintenance and expansion of road networks, the NDC also started piloting proposals to roll out a nation-wide National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), all in line with the party’s social democratic ideological perspective. For me most of the policies adopted by the NDC largely fall in line with their overall ideology of social democracy, however, whiles it is very evident that NDC made a lot more effort to reduce Ghana’s reliance on international money for national development, the NDC could not completely avoid them at this stage. This is why it is very ironical that that the NPP which used to criticize the NDC for over reliance on international money has so far contracted more internal funding than any other government in the history of Ghana. Is there a clear picture of social democratic principles evident under the NDC? I will say yes ,but I will leave you also to deduce your own conclusion.

The NPP on the other hand labels themselves as a conservative party with a broad slogan of property owning democracy. Some of the common features of the NPP could have been a slim government(Less ministers etc.), the dependence of the private sector as the engine of growth. But frankly speaking, how does the private sector become the engine of growth if the basics ingredients of those ideas are lacking. Major infrastructural assets such as motorable roads, railways, reliable telecommunication, reliable energy supply, water supply systems are still underdeveloped. The cost and condition of obtaining credit is still higher than what the ordinary person can afford, this is partly because the fundamental demand by the financial institutions is a proof of collateral security in a society where probably more than 70 per cent of the people have no proof of ownership of a landed property. Even if the interest rate is very low, it will be difficult for the 70 percent to borrow. For me, it is clear that various governments’ right from the days of Dr Nkrumah to the present day NPP administration practices a mixture of ideologies or at least policies that are perceived to be outside of their traditional modus operandi. The ideologies are just vials to some of the political groupings. Why will a conservative NPP government go ahead to buy VALCO and Ghana Telecom and at the same time preaching the slogan of private sector as the engine of growth. Why a conservative government would be interested in doing something called school feeding programme instead of empowering the parents to be able to put in their children’s lunch boxes. Why would a conservative government borrow money to distribute to selected people in the country pretending to solve poverty instead of using the money to create jobs and skills training for the able bodied people? Is this a hand out to buy their vote during an election year? How sustainable is this programme going to be? I do not believe the NPP is practicing anything close to their political ideology, I am not even sure if it is possible for them to do so in the climate of a developing country. Now, what then is the point for telling us they are conservatives?

For me, the real issue is not being dealt with effectively, there is no guarantee that any single political ideology is a panacea to resolving all the socio economic and political challenges in Ghana, however, some ideologies are more realistic than others. In a developing country, the state must champion the overall development agenda through direct involvement in the provision and maintenance of fundamental services until such time that the private sector has built up enough capacity to complement and even champion development efforts. If you declare property owning democracy without the requisite purchasing power of the people, you are going to fuel corruption, drug dealing and all the associated negative socio economic and political challenges as we are witnessing in Ghana now. In any case under which conservative ideology is it stated to spend $50million on building a presidential palace instead of using it to supply portable water for the people? The next time any political party tells you what their ideology is, ask them to translate that into how that ideology is dealing with or intend to deal with unemployment, lack of portable water, inadequate education and health facilities, curbing of lawlessness, the drug menace in your area. By so doing, we may be getting closer to making sense of political ideologies in Ghana.

God Bless us all.

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