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Opinions of Sunday, 1 February 2009

Columnist: Otchere Darko

Sound Or Silly Ideas?

Politics in Ghana from 1949 has gone through rough and antagonistic moments and developments that have left behind wounds that refuse to heal, despite the long period of the country’s political history. This situation is not unique to Ghana, though. Such developments have formed the basis of partisan politics in countries like America and Britain where the gradual management of such political developments laid the foundations for the creation of the sound and credible bases on which the two most quoted and copied modern democracies strive. In America, the gradual development led to the solidification of the two-party system that characterise their current democratic dispensation. In Britain, the long time bi-partisan political system that predated modern British democracy gradually changed and developed into what today has become a three-party system, with the third party usually playing a power-balancing role, rather than being able to form a government.

Ghanaians who are old enough to have gone through Ghana’s political developments from 1949 know how tumultuous the road has been. It is not the purpose of this article to recount the rough road. What it is interested in doing is revisiting TWO IDEAS that developed along the long rough road and which failed to catch on, but which, nevertheless, still continue to lend themselves to relevance at various moments in time in the political annals of the country. I have decided to raise those two ideas and to invite Ghanaians to enter into a form of polished and controlled debate as to whether those ideas were, and continue to be, sound and relevant to Ghana then and now; or whether they were, and continue to be, silly and/or irrelevant to the Ghanaian situation then, now and/or at any future time. Those ideas were: FEDERALISM which was proposed by a pre-independence party in opposition during the period from early to late nineteen-fifties; and UNION GOVERNMENT, ‘UNIGOV’, proposed and promoted by the second military junta in Ghana between mid and late nineteen-seventies.

The idea of a federal government was proposed at a time when the Gold Coast, now Ghana, was actively seeking its independence from the British, with the country very heavily polarised by two vociferous and antagonistic parties. With the stronger party which was also the party in government at that time being against it, the idea of federalism was killed and buried in its infancy through the first ballot box.

The idea of Union Government was proposed and promoted to Ghanaians by the military junta that was in power in the nineteen-seventies. It was an attempt by the then ‘unpopular military administration’ to seek ways to ‘unite a country’ that had become divided between protagonists of military administration and those who favoured the return of the country to a civilian rule. The anti-military agitators were stronger and the concept of ‘UNIGOV’ was thrown away with the help of an internal coup that offered to return the country to democratic rule.

EVEN THOUGH THE TWO IDEAS WERE REJECTED BY GHANAIANS WHEN THEY WERE PROMOTED AT THE TIME THEY WERE PROPOSED, IT IS CLEAR THAT THE POLITICAL HEAT IN THOSE DAYS WHEN THE IDEAS WERE HATCHED PREVENTED GHANAIANS FROM HAVING PROPER DEBATES ON THEM. IT IS FOR THIS REASON THAT THE TWO IDEAS ARE BEING RAISED IN THIS ARTICLE TO ENABLE THE NATION TO RE-EVALUATE THEM AND DEBATE THEIR USEFULNESS OR OTHERWISE FOR THE COUNTRY’S FUTURE POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS.

I wish to state that in the mid-fifties when the idea of federalism was being proposed and promoted to the people of the then Gold Coast, I was too young to understand anything about politics. I also wish to add that when, in 1977, the idea of “UNIGOV” was proposed and recommended to Ghanaians by the military junta of the day, I was at Legon and was among students who actively demonstrated against it. I was, therefore, one of the Ghanaians who rejected it. Having said these, I strongly feel that the two issues are worth debating now. It is for this reason that I do state below SOME of the arguments people advanced in favour of the two concepts and then do invite fellow Ghanaians to enter into some form of HEALTHY DEBATE about the merits and demerits of both FEDERALISM and ‘UNIGOV’ as proposed for Ghana in the nineteen- fifties and seventies respectively.

Some of the arguments advanced in favour of federalism were that: (1) it takes account of the ethnic and cultural diversity of the country and gives to each locality the opportunity to develop to its fullest potential without interference from central government. (2) Following from one above, federalism lessens the incidence of political antagonism fuelled by ethnic sentiments. (3) It encourages multi-cultural development and helps the country to maintain and enrich its national heritage (4) Federalism also allows effective devolution of political power to local levels and, thereby, it powers local people to be masters of their own destinies and wellbeing. (5) Federalism creates healthy competition among states within the federal unit and this enables each state to develop faster than it would if it was under a unitary system of government. (6) Federalism reduces the drift of local people to other parts of the country and, thereby, helps to develop and retain local skills for local use. *Against federalism, it is said that the system creates duplication and, therefore, it is said to be expensive to run. Where natural resources are unevenly distributed in a country, federalism is also said to be unfair to those parts with scanty natural endowment. These are only some of the argument for and against federalism. But a healthy and well-run debate will bring out the full array of arguments for and against it and provide a more informed basis for endorsing or rejecting the idea.

With respect to the idea of a Union Government, the main argument in favour of it was that it prevented polarisation, whether on partisan basis or along ethnic lines. With unity, wastes arising from antagonism and useless rivalry become eliminated or reduced and the country can then develop more rapidly with one common national purpose.

*The main argument against the idea of a Union Government is that it is undemocratic and can lead to an unlimited abuse of political power. It must be emphasised that the ‘UNIGOV’ idea proposed in the late nineteen-seventies was not the same as ‘an inclusive government’ that may be created by a party in government to open its governmental door to other parties opposed to it with a view to achieving cross-party unity and harmony. So, the ‘UNIGOV’ concept as proposed in the late nineteen-seventies was unique and, therefore, it cannot be said to have a clear parallel in modern democracy.

The two concepts are being put forward, not for purposes of the current government, but for national debate to enable the country to examine them and see whether they contain sound propositions that are relevant for the nation’s future political development to ensure that the country’s socio-economic progress takes place in peace and harmony in the years ahead, and will never be derailed by unpleasant developments that young African democracies tend to be susceptible to.

OTCHERE DARKO

Author of Sound-Silly-Talk (Political Viewpoint and Mind Game) www.Sound-silly-talk.com

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