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Opinions of Thursday, 5 April 2012

Columnist: Plange, Paa Kwesi

Elections 2012 must be based on issues.

By Paa Kwesi Plange (

The sustainable development of any country depends largely on the depth of practical knowledge of its political actors. It is out of this well of ideas that the political actors develop great policies and implement them for the short, medium and long term benefit of the citizenry.

Issues, ideas, policy alternatives on health, education, shelter, food security, national security, energy, mass transit etc feed political discussions in countries that are development oriented.

Regrettably in Ghana, campaign stump speeches both in the past and even in recent times have been high on form and very low on substance. With Elections 2012 on the horizon, we are duty bound as the electorate to demand an issue based and development focused campaign from the political parties who would be seeking our mandate to run our great nation for four years.
What is a great nation?
Great nations are defined by the size of their army, the size of their population, geographical location, advancement in science and technology, economic industrialization and the level of political leadership. After 55 years of independence the easiest route Ghana can take to become a great nation i.e. to have the ability to influence nations across the world would largely depend on the quality of political leadership in this country.
The quality of leadership provided by Lee Qwan Yew in Singapore is an amazing example of how a small city state was able to transform itself into an important actor in the global system. Love him or hate him it took the visionary leadership of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah to catapult Ghana into a great power within the global system at the time.

As we approach election 2012 we need to take stock of the caliber of political leadership available in this country and to ask ourselves whether this generation of political actors in Ghana have the capacity to lead us out of the endemic poverty in our country.

But before we go any further let me quickly share some theoretical perspectives on development with you. There are several perspectives that explain the concept of development but I have chosen to focus on three of them and they are Economic, Social and Political.
Economic Perspective
Sir Arthur Lewis explained development in terms of the structural transformation of the economy. This required a change from a purely subsistence stage to a productive, highly industrialized stage represented by high production and mass consumption. He describes a poor economy as one that is largely dominated by rural agriculture and unskilled labour.
In order to surmount this challenge, Sir Lewis argues for an increase in mechanized inputs to transform agriculture from the subsistence stage to a high production stage. The accumulated surplus from this sector should then be re-invested to expand the base of the economy and the rest invested into a fund which would serve as seed money to be utilized to shore up the economy in the long term.
Later other economic scholars defined development in terms of a country’s annual growth rate which was pegged between 5-7 percent annually. In the 1960’s the United Nations bought into the theory that defined economic growth on the basis of a country recording growth percentage of 5 percent upwards. Interestingly several developing countries including Ghana have posted high growth rates in the past but never quite developed. This led scholars to call for the dethronement of the economic perspective.
Social Perspective
The social perspective unlike the economic perspective called for an interrogation of the conditions of the people on the ground as a measurement of a country’s development. To interrogate the conditions of the people on the ground, Dudley Seers states that it is important to find out what had happened to poverty, employment and inequality in the country. He concluded that if these questions are satisfactorily answered then development can be said to have occurred.
Political Perspective
Political scientists have also shared a viewpoint on development. They view development in terms of life sustenance. They seek to know whether the people have the wherewithal to provide for themselves the basic necessities of life such as food, clothing and shelter. They want to know whether the people view themselves as self-respecting members of the society, whether they suffer discrimination due to status differences and whether this puts them in a disadvantaged position.
Finally they seek assurances that the people in the country are free from any form of servitude i.e. are they in a state of mind that connotes fear or freedom, are the people victims of governmental manipulation, exploitation etc and do they lack the ability to make informed choices and decisions or are they being systematically ostracized from the electoral process due to lack of access to information?
Even though most people tend to be quite dismissive of the importance of theories we cannot run away from the fact that theories provide intellectually sound explanations and analysis of phenomena. And there’s the rub. As the campaign heats up we want to be riveted by intellectually articulated issues rather than the usual insults and highfalutin promises the political actors shove down our throats while on the stump.
For example we want those auditioning to be President of Ghana to tell us about their plans for the economy and how they intend to transform it from the current agrarian, subsistence stage to a highly mechanized and high production stage. We are fed up with the readymade, highly flogged rhetoric that our politicians spew about adding value to our raw materials when they come to power.
Our politicians are fully aware that no country ever developed by exporting their products in their raw state. When they come to power we don’t see any significant movements towards making value addition possible. I use the word significant advisedly because at least in the area of agriculture we know of the Youth in Agriculture programme under the NDC government. Even for this programme not much has been done to add value to what is being produced under this programme.
It is a credit to the government that such the Youth in Agriculture programme has been rolled but the challenge is that three years into the programme it is yet to fully take off because it hasn’t been able to convince the youth to trade the busy urban streets for the farmlands of rural Ghana. However going forward, we need to develop policies that have continuity built into them. In other words our policies must be generational and contiguous in character so that they are not truncated once there is a change of government.
What has changed so far?
The real wealth of a country comes from value addition and not subtraction as has been the character of our economy since we encountered Don Diego D’Azambuja and the early explorers that came to the Gold Coast over 300 hundred ago. This has to be addressed. We want the debate leading to election 2012 to be about how we can significantly alter and transform the character of our economy going forward. We want to have a serious discussion about how we can wean ourselves from the IMF and the World Bank. Can it be possible? Can we begin to take total ownership of our economy by making the decisions here in Ghana and not take directives from Washington or Paris?
The way we have transacted business with the rest of the world has to change and quick too if we are to change the fortunes of our people. The days when the world saw Ghana as a provider of their raw material needs should not be countenanced any more. We have to encourage our political actors to move the body politic to a higher level of thinking that promotes our interest at all times. To think that we have endured over 300 years of a trade relationship which has benefitted our trade partners more than us should worry all of us.
Another cause for worry is our penchant to quote economic growth statistics as evidence of growth in the economy when majority of the people are still poor, unemployed and illiterate. Neither can we depend wholly on the endorsement of our economy by the Bretton Woods institutions. Until these high rates of growth percolates in concrete terms to the level of the ordinary person as Dudley Seers intimates, we cannot take the statistics they churn out serious whatsoever.
Since the inception of the 4th Republic political actors in this country have not missed the opportunity to talk up macroeconomic stability. Positive macroeconomic indicators such as low inflation, low lending rate and a positive exchange rate of the cedi in relation to the major currencies have been cited to indicate how well the economy is doing. Going back to the days of the PNDC, choice phrases like enabling environment, ready for takeoff, gateway to West Africa, Ghana is a haven for foreign direct investment etc were the order of the day.
Today’s politicians speak glowingly about the upward trajectory of Ghana’s rate of growth and have utilized it for political capital in their campaigns. Our brothers from the World Bank and the IMF have not helped matters that much. Their prescriptive solutions for the economic malaise of countries on their program have tended to worsen than remedy the situation. But the unkindest cut yet is the behavior of our leaders who never miss the opportunity to quote these officials as and when it suits them.
We would rather want our leaders to address the bread and butter issues such as national health insurance, the duration of Senior High School, mass transit, corruption in the public sector, energy, and the state of the utilities in the country and other very critical issues of national importance. These are the issues on the table and we are sending notice to them that we would not accept rhetoric of the past. Rather we are ready to assess them on the basis of measurable facts they present. We are so flustered about the semantics and the campaign elocution.

Manifesto Politics
The political terrain in Ghana is quite accustomed to the phenomenon of manifesto politics where political parties package high sounding policies they are aware they cannot prosecute on attaining political power. Once they are unable to implement the manifesto policies on assumption of power they offer the lame excuse that state policies are different from manifesto policies. Didn’t we know that all along?
Because of our highly partisan nature we have tended to defer to the opinions of our political leaders and that is regrettable. However I think the electorates are wide awake now and would not support any soft peddling of issues during this campaign season. The era of handing easy passes to politicians is untenable and should be consigned to the past. In its place we want to provide a rigorous intellectual interrogation of the policy alternatives they proffer going forward.
The role of the media is very crucial in providing leadership in this direction. As impartial arbiters the media must shape public discourse in the buildup to the elections. The media should strive to make this campaign a campaign based on issues and not about personalities. Political actors who have gained notoriety for making comments that raise the political temperature in the country should not be encouraged to come on media platforms. To say it crudely, they should be barred if they consistently flout the terms of engagement.
If this is implemented with the endorsement of the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) and the National Media Commission (NMC) we could end up having a very healthy debate that would focus on issues. We have come very far in our journey as a nation-state and the least we can expect from our political actors is a campaign that focuses on issues.
We want to see our political actors initiating plans, programmes and policies that would significantly alter the lives of our people. We have had an earful of campaign stump speeches, highfalutin party manifestoes that do not synchronize with overall national policy and gargantuan propaganda and the sooner we move our campaigns away from form into substance the better it would bode for all of us.
Election 2012 should focus on how we can eliminate poverty in this country. This country is poor because for so many years because we haven’t been smart enough to reverse our position of weakness in global trade. For those who are angling for the job to lead us out of poverty they should be able to tell us how they intend to do this.
And to be able to do that we need to ensure that this election becomes an issue based and development focused election. We cannot afford to have anything else.

*The writer is a freelance journalist and also the Executive Director of the Center for Investigative Reporting Ghana.

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