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Opinions of Monday, 13 July 2009

Columnist: Atta-Boakye, Ken

The Change Factor in Ghana’s Development: “The People’s Voice”

I would plead with readers to bear with me as I attempt to dwell on my previous teaching background in Ghana High Schools to explain the Change Factor in Ghana’s development that has characterized the articles I have posted on Ghanaweb recently: namely, “The January 2009 Political Change” and “Towards a Better Ghana” It could be inferred from the comments and feedback from these articles that change from the bottom-up was misconstrued by many readers. Some even said that I was totally wrong because change should be top-down, since it was people in the higher ranks who ought to change. Again some few friends also questioned my conceptual framework, inferring that a top-down approach might be a more appropriate paradigm. I appreciate all your contributions. I maintain that it is rather simple, however. Allow me to explain further.

Either of the two is correct: Top-Down or Bottom-Up. At this point change is a relative term. I would want to emphasize that it depends on the context and how we look at it. The key idea is a change to bring in a better option or alternative. For example, we would want changes in a non-performing Parliament, we would expect changes to a 1992 Constitution that was fundamentally flawed, we would expect change away from selfish leaders, and above all we would expect to change our clothes if we out-grow them. The issue at stake then is how do we achieve these changes? When the change emanates from the leaders in the higher rank it is a change from the top-down. This might be easier and less expensive. But if the desired change finds its genesis and orchestration from the people- the rank and file (grass-root)- it is a change from the bottom-up, the proverbial poor man’s change.

The soldiers of change, especially in the bottom-up category, usually end up as scapegoats, like whistle blowers; yet their sacrifices are honorable, desirable and commendable. A feature which remains an objective of the ‘Voice of the People’

A change from the top-down seldom happens. It is a hard nut for the leaders to crack. It is like the leaders attempting to stab themselves from behind. A case in point is our 1992 Constitution that allows public executive officers, MP’s, Ministers to purchase cheaply the two-year old state cars which they used for the efficient running of their jobs. These cars are sold to them at the book value. They are cheaper then. If you and I wanted a similar used car we would go to the car dealers to buy it at a cut-throat price. You see the system has created two markets but people from the rank and file have no access to the cheaper markets.

This should change but the benefactors (the legislators) wouldn’t propose a law to change it. In law, Judges recuse themselves from cases they have vested interests in: why should executive officers purchase their own used-cars? Is it not a double standard? There should be an open market for all. Another scenario is the provision that makes MP’s as board directors, ministers, etc. in public establishments. Elite Ghanaians, what happened to fairness? Are the MP’s the only people with brains to run the nation? The Center for Democratic Development (Prof Gyimah Boadi) has addressed most of these issues but ‘the powers that be’ don’t care. Our outfit would join in the fight against these unprogressive practices.

It is just natural that people would not act against their own parochial interests. The MP’s would not make laws to cut their fringe benefits or perks. They would not reduce their unreasonable benefits from a constitution flawed at birth. (Recall the hand-picked NDC sympathizers for the 1992 draft constitution and the indemnity clause, etc) Though the public has raised concerns about the Presidents ex-gracia awards, yet the Parliament approved of it when they saw they too gained a good deal from it. Self-interest is paramount with our leaders. Think of Hon Alban Babgin using his position and influence in the government to purchase 18 state tractors cheaply. Did he reflect on ethical character of leadership being the Majority leader in Parliament? What about 5 cheap tractors for Hon Mahamah Ayiriga-Presidential Spokes-person? They are using state resources to secure permanent NDC election victories in the North.

We would be living in a fool’s paradise to expect changes to trickle down from the top. President J A Kufour talked about making changes to the constitution but it became mere lip-service. President Atta Mills has also mentioned it but let’s wait and see. Why would the parliament enact legislations against their self-interests? Power does not relinquish power voluntarily- it must be compelled to. The responsibility of compelling power to live up to standards of good governance is an essential requirement of civil society and the concerned members of the electorate. After all one might argue that there are many provisions in the constitution that were made exclusively to ingratiate the powers of government at the expense of the layman. The constitution supports them and they have the upper hand. In short the MP’s and the elites have more rights guaranteed by the existing constitution than the common man. If the common man wants to equalize the playing field, it must wrestle it from the elected leaders. The two markets for the purchase of vehicles is a typical example.

Change from the bottom-up usually has something to do with national agenda. Sometimes it is the change that ‘the powers that be’ refuse to effect. It is not the half-truths, lies and the spin of politics that have characterized politics in Ghana. People from the bottom and the grass-root organizations consider the change beneficial to the nation and as such employ every means to accomplish it. Such changes are for the advancement and the progress of the nation. They are about resolving and improving national problems of poverty, education, employment, health care, security and the economy. They are always perceived to rectify anomalies in the constitution and bring about justice and fairness to all. They examine policies and question the rationale behind them.

Typically the change challenges the vested interest of the leaders and put them to task. Once the change is for the good of everybody and the nation people from the rank and file will put their lives on line for it. Recall the 1995 ‘Kume Preko and Sie Me Preko’ demonstrations against the Value-Added Tax (VAT) in which 4 people died. Though it was peaceful the NDC regime didn’t treat it as such. Again, recall how the masses defeated the Achampong Uni-Gov through their voting rights. There was a referendum and the people voted ‘No’ to Uni-Gov. that purported a combined administration of the civilians and the military together. Change from the bottom-up is always collective action from the rank and file with able leaders spearheading the affairs.

Our judgment on change as outlined above is clear and realistic. Make no mistake about it we are not asking for unlawful strikes and riots. Demonstrations even if peaceful usually turn into violence under a power-drunk government. The Iran issue is a typical episode to recall. That is why I wouldn’t recommend it at this point. Our respectable Kwasi Pratt with his CJA is towing the demonstration line but has not accomplished much. Sometimes he barks too much without setting targets, making him ineffective. We are thinking of a new organization to be called: ‘The People’s Voice’ We expect it to be extremely innovative and proactive. Practically it would link up with other organizations of like-minded civil society organizations and work together with them. Our action-oriented strategies would include effective campaigns, petitions, press conferences, civil disobedience, organized boycotts, and voting rights campaigns. We would campaign against the MP’s who oppose and refuse to vote for the legislations that further the interests of the common citizen.

The change factor from the bottom-up simply implies: “if the mountains would not come to Mohammed, Mohammed would go to the mountain itself” The people will effect the change. It was this same principle that then Senator Obama impressed on the American people during his campaign for the Presidency. His message was clear. He campaigned against entrenched power system in Washington that had forgotten the plight of the average American; heavoided gimmicksthat played on the ignorance of the electorate. He zeroed-in on the unreasonable disparities between the remuneration of corporate CEO’s and “main street”- as well as the Wall Street Stock market culture of greed that crushed the economy. These were practical and objective issues that touched the hearts of the people. The Akans have a proverb that says ‘no one turns his back against a good cause’ The people accepted his message as ‘a soldier of change’ and he won the Presidency.

Our new movement has identified some organizations and entities in the nation that have the vision and the dream to move the country forward. It is for the lack of follow-ups and continuity in what they do that have prevented them from achieving their goals. We plan to team up with them to put partisan politics aside and work towards positive changes that can move Ghana forward. As a catalyst we will strive to impact Ghana politically, socially and economically. We only need to demonstrate we are credible. Some of these known organizations include: Ghana Youth Council (GYC) in DC, CDD, CJA, Think Tanks, Donor Nations, Talk Shows, Students, Chiefs, Opinion Leaders, and the Media. It will be no easy task. We encourage those who have passion to help the development of Ghana to chip in their contributions and personal networks. Meanwhile we appreciate the support we have received so far, even when the details were merely in the gestation stages.

I want to assure the brother who suggested that we get in touch with the Ho “Back to Roots Project” executive that we shall surely contact them. Thank you.

As I put this article up in the public domain for review, I’m not oblivious of the Ghanaian mindset of a paradigm shift. The task is hard and complex. But the Serenity Prayer is my Hope: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.” Reinhold Niebuhr.

‘The People’s Voice’

No Bias

No Bull

‘The People’s Voice’

Power to the People

(The author studied Organizational Leadership and Management (OLM) and believes that if we put our minds together we can achieve the impossible and the unimaginable. You may, please contact the author to participate in this progressive national endeavor)

Ken Atta-Boakye, 703 441-6522, attaboakye@yahoo.com