You are here: HomeWallOpinionsArticles2018 11 13Article 700379

Opinions of Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Columnist: Kwadwo Agyapong Antwi

Two forces that will shape Ghana’s democracy in the next decades

Thursday November 8, 2018 - a young student, in her first year at Senior High School, was fatally knocked down by a taxi on the Adenta highway.

This tragic incident sparked perhaps the quickest and most spontaneous demonstration in the history of Ghana.

Car tyres were burnt and the highway was made impassable by thousands of young people who thronged there to render their displeasure at the government for failing to complete footbridges which had been abandoned for almost a decade.

They blamed government inefficiency on the estimated 200 deaths which had occurred on that small stretch of road in 2018 alone.

Before the day was over, a release was issued from the government, to the effect that work would commence on the footbridges in a week. This was perhaps the quickest response to the display of “people power” in the 25 years of our 4th republic.

What made this incident an even more historic one was the fact that, unlike many of the previous demonstrations we’ve witnessed in the country, the protestors were overwhelmingly ‘bipartisan’ - and their inspiration was not politically motivated. Just a group of young people who expect better from their government.

Anyone who underestimates what happened at Adenta is oblivious to the new forces that will shape our democracy in the next decades: millions of young people (many of whom are poorly educated and lack economic opportunities); the power social media puts in their hands to organize quickly and spontaneously; and a government who just ’revealed’ to them the most effective way to hold leaders accountable.

Ghana’s 30 million population is incredibly young (more than 57% are below 25 years) and growing rapidly. The UN estimates that by 2050 Africa’s population will double from the current 1.2 billion to 2.4 billion.

Whereas I wouldn’t want to delve into the debate on population growth and economic development, there’s no doubt that this expansion presents new and daunting challenges for the continent.

History tells us that humans, like other natural resources, can be a blessing or a curse to a nation depending on how those resources are utilized. We are on the verge of a massive social shift from this population explosion, which will present challenges we’ve never been confronted with before.

After 25 years of democracy, and having had the opportunity to test the leadership of the two dominant parties, Ghanaians are learning quickly that perhaps none of the political parties, left on their own, has the internal will and commitment to act right and in the interest of the people.

What happens in a democracy (and in any other form of governance for that matter) is that when people get frustrated with the internal mechanism for promoting their welfare, they naturally resort to ‘external pressure’.

In the past, there were two major limitations to the application of this ‘external pressure’: restrictions on information flow and fewer number of frustrated people.

The first restriction is largely eliminated due to the power social media puts in the hands of people: allowing them to organize spontaneously and in real time. The second is only projected to get worse as the youth population spirals out of control, and opportunities become more limited, even for the educated ones.

Nothing presents a greater threat to our national security than the interaction of these two forces, especially as they operate in an atmosphere of wide economic and social inequality.

Today, anyone, no matter how ‘inconsequential’ can wake up in the morning and by evening manage to marshal an ‘army’ of frustrated youth for a common purpose.

In the past, the greatest threat to a politician had been the prospect of another party wrestling power from them. In the future it will be pressure from a ‘party’ of young people across the political divide who want a better life for themselves and their families. Until the necessary foundations are built today, their expectations will be beyond the capacity of politicians’ ability to fulfill.

Across the horizon is the impending collision of two worlds, living side by side but distinctively different - that of the minority who are living in a bubble and shielded from the harsh realities of life and the second, who in their millions, are getting increasingly desperate.

Due to the close alignment of political and economic power in our part of the world, our politicians happen to belong in the ‘bubble group’; which largely alienates them from those they represent, given them reason for resentment.

The new Ghanaian won’t be taken for granted in the future - they sent a loud and clear message at Adenta. Our leaders, from their quick response to the incident, unwittingly incentivized this ‘spontaneous external pressure’ - they gave an assurance that this strategy works.

People respond to incentives, and anyone who doubts that it will become a blueprint for many more to come, unless the right interventions are made, is taking a walk with Alice in Wonderland. A strong middle class is crucial to the survival of any capitalist state.

A nation that denies the poor of their happiness, sets them up to deny the rich of theirs. The slumber party is almost over folks, and we only have a small window of opportunity to turn it into a sweet dream or a menacing nightmare. So, what can we do today to adequately prepare for tomorrow?

First, we need to wake up to this new realization and get to work on building a foundation of accountability, which enhances economic development for all. There’s the need to restructure our economy in a way that facilitates social mobility and ensures that opportunities are not restricted to the so-called accident of birth.

That those who are willing to work hard (especially those who invest in education) see positive returns for their hard work. Such a comprehensive strategy should be delivered alongside a social incentives scheme which controls population growth.

Secondly, we ought to ‘think rural not urban’. Even though the temptation is to invest resources in urban development, it is important to stem the tide of unsustainable rural- urban migration by ensuring that economic opportunities are provided in the hinterlands.

A way to achieve this is to give incentives to companies who locate in rural areas, and by increasing access to social amenities that improve the general welfare of rural dwellers.

Finally, our leaders need to live more modestly and let their lives closely reflect the reality of those they represent. Much of the fuel for the anger of citizens emanates from the ostentatious lives they see their political leaders live.

Politicians ought to demonstrate to the people that their interest is paramount, and hopefully, we can build a future we can all be proud of.