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Opinions of Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Columnist: Hammond, Daniel

The Façade of Democracy in Ghana

One of the articles that got my attention last week was a news report on a roundtable conference that was organised by the Institute of Democratic Governance on the theme, Ghana’s Democratic Process So Far. Interestingly, the conference was one of the many events that was held to mark the African Unity (AU) Day. The context for the discussion was the African Charter on Democracy, Election and Governance (ACDEG) - to bring the focus of ACDEG to perspective -“ACDEG enjoins AU member states to promote the universal values and principles of democracy and good governance including human rights and the right to development, as well as promote and strengthen good governance through the institutionalization of transparency, accountability and participation.” According to the news report, one leading expert on democratic governance was reported to have stated that Africa must craft its own version of democracy and not necessarily follow the European model. Democracy may not be a perfect form of government, but I doubt if designing our own form of it will remedy our numerous governance challenges. I think the fundamental problem is that Africa has embraced western democracy in form and not substance in several respects. The challenges of democratic governance in Africa are mostly adaptive challenges and these require adaptive solutions; crafting a new democratic model is not the answer. I do not want to delve into the details of Adaptive and Technical challenges. The problems are social and all hands must be brought on deck if we sincerely desire to solve the problems of bad governance in Africa. Can democracy work in a society where there so much disregard for the informal rules i.e., manners and etiquette. I say no, emphatically! I have observed that in countries where democracy seems to work, people have a reasonable amount of respect for both formal and informal rules.
There is something fundamentally wrong with the processes and systems of our democracy and I attribute the problem to the lack of good manners and etiquette in our society. Again, I will say that this is the source of poor governance in Ghana. Many of us are very quick to point fingers at our politician as the source of our problems, but the citizens are equally guilty. We can all do with some good manners! What do I mean by manners? I’m referring basic societal norms based on three simple principles, namely, consideration, respect and honesty. These principles provide the framework for defining all rules of etiquette that exist in every society. Each of these three principles is timeless. These principles transcend cultural and socio- economic boundaries, and apply equally to all no matter ones standing. Unless we begin to reconsider the place of manners in our society, democracy will remain a façade in Ghana.
We cannot pretend that these principles do not matter, disregard them and expect our democracy to work. How can we be inconsiderate of the needs of others and wish that democracy will actually bring about a just , fair and prosperous society? Will there ever be a free, fair and just society for the ordinary Ghanaian when fundamental problems including the appropriateness of a state official’s conduct, is determined by his political affiliations? Crime is unfortunately given political colour and national interest counts for nothing. We may never realize the full gains of the investments in democracy if we continue on this path.
Transparency, Accountability, Good Governance are in fact underpinned by the basic principles of manners, which require one to be thoughtful and respectful of others . Holding elections every four years will not deepen democracy if elected leaders have no respect for the people, the offices and the very institutions that promote democratic ideals and traditions. The Institutionalisation of democracy does not happen in a vacuum. We see nothing wrong with cheating the Ghanaian system. How do we expect the system to work well when we look unconcerned for people to exploit the very system meant to protect all of us? We are being socialised to accept that exploiting the system is normal. As a result, we now undervalue, denounce, discredit the importance of enduring values such as honesty, integrity and hard work in our society. The actions of our leaders portray that it’s perhaps, acceptable to disregard the interest and legitimate concerns of others. National issues are always framed by the interest of the political minority elite. The media is not contributing effectively to combating the erroneous emerging view that partisan interest and not public interest is that which matters. Sadly, this is the message that is being conveyed to the younger generation. The Ghanaian media is too obsessed with sensationalism and promotes too much partisanship and parochialism.
I will suggest that we do some introspection; so far, we have been very complacent by believing that Ghana’s democracy is an example for the rest of Africa as Ghana is able to hold peaceful elections. Perhaps it’s about time we looked deeply at the problems beyond elections and address the causes of discontentment with the processes of democratisation in Ghana. One approach is to go to the basics, i.e. adopt and institutionalize programs aimed at introducing and inculcating good manners in ourselves. We missed the opportunity to do this at the onset of the 4th Republic but there is no reason why we cannot do this now. Let’s learn, practise and teach our children and others in our communities to appreciate the place of good manners in national development . We may even consider running basic courses in manner for all professionals in the formal and informal sectors to re-orient our thinking and mindsets. We must begin to consider deeply the effects of our actions on others. Without consideration for, and commitment to the welfare of others, African Unity and Democracy will continue to be meaningless to us. Scripture reminds us to be peaceable and considerate and to show humility toward all men. By acting with consideration and respect for others, we give meaning to the spirit and traditions of democracy.

Article written by Daniel Hammond