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Opinions of Friday, 8 July 2011

Columnist: Ablorh, Raymond

When democracy is reduced to elections

As
Hoffman pointed out, democracy is the most discussed and contested
notion of political theory. Nwabueze stressed that “no word is more
susceptible to a variety of tendentious interpretations than democracy.” But, how
ever you define; describe; explain; and, interpret democracy; it’s more of a means
to an end than an end in itself.

It
is a mixture of liberties, choices and responsibilities towards the
actualization of the dreams and aspirations of a people with diverse and
common interests. The end to which democracy is considered a means,
thus, is the meaningful development of those who practise it. And,
elections are platforms in democracies which offer the opportunity for
citizens to choose freely from among varied programmes or policies
presented by several parties or candidates. Elections are governed by
law, both international (human rights) and domestic law. In
international law, the right to vote is a political right entrenched in
a number of legal instruments. For example, the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights (UDHR) provides that “everyone has the right to take
part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen
representatives.” This right is supported by the right to
freedom of peaceful assembly and association. Although the UDHR is a UN
General Assembly resolution and not binding per se, it can be argued
that its acceptance by the overwhelming majority of UN member states has
made it binding as part of customary international law. The
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which is a
treaty binding on states parties, also entitles every citizen to take
part in the conduct of public affairs of his or her country, directly or
through freely chosen representatives, to vote and to be elected at
genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal
suffrage and held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of
the will of the electors. The right to vote and to be
elected thus is entrenched in almost all modern Constitutions and
electoral laws enacted to enforce them. On the domestic level, there is
no single African country where the Constitution does not provide for
the right of ‘every’ citizen to vote during regular, free and fair
elections even though electoral politics has taught otherwise. Elections
have become a political game, but a game that has to be played
according to some agreed rules and principles entrenched in the
Constitution and electoral laws. Certainly, democracy and
election aren’t synonyms. Mathematically speaking, election is a subset
of democracy; or, democracy is a universal set of election and other
democratic activities. The choices that are made during elections are
therefore supposed to be executed through the effective participation of
all citizens towards the ultimate purpose for which they were made. The
ultimate purpose is development. Unfortunately, as
Claude Ake critically observed, “in the hurry to globalise democracy in
the aftermath of the ending of the Cold War, democracy was reduced to
the crude simplicity of multiparty elections to the benefit of some of
the world’s most notorious autocrats who were able to parade democratic
credentials without reforming their repressive regimes.” Africa
is now obviously suffering from the careless propagation of this
jaundiced democracy. One needn’t be a critical observer to see how
African countries, including Ghana- the much praised for her democratic
credentials, have reduced the whole essence of democracy to mere
elections. In Egypt President Mubarak had been always
re-elected by majority votes for successive terms on four occasions: in
1987, 1993, 1999 and later in 2005. In Tunisia, President Ben Ali had
been re-elected in 2009, for a fifth term with 89% of the vote under
undemocratic conditions of gross human rights violations. Ivory
Coast is another example of the danger of a country that has focused
its major efforts on conducting an election than building democracy. In
Ivory Coast in particular, the United Nations devoted a lot of resources
to organizing an election in conditions that everybody knew could not
guarantee a free and fair election. And, we all saw what happened. Of
course, in Africa’s desert of democracy, Ghana is genuinely seen as the
oasis of hope mainly because she has been able to organize elections
for the past two decades without very heavy bloodshed. But, could
Ghanaians say that our democracy has made our education system; judicial
system; health system; and all other systems better? In
the abundance of water, Ghanaians are thirsty. The rainy season comes
with preventable floods which wash away many families with their
properties; but, just open the taps in many parts of the country and if
you’re lucky enough the water company's whistle in the pipelines will
funnily, if not annoyingly blow you some sounds and air. Not a single
atom of water makes appearance from taps in many parts of Ghana even on
the World Water Day. Yes, we enjoy freedom of speech. But,
for what are we using it? Perhaps, to trade rumors; and, insult one
another instead of trading ideas in the supermarket of thoughts which
democracy is supposed to provide towards the solution search to our
seemingly insurmountable problems. Just after one
successful election, harsh latent campaigns for the next seriously
begins with accusations and counter accusations; name calling; rumour
mongering; unconstructive propaganda laden communication, etc, instead
of coming together to ensure the efficient execution of the policy
choices we have made towards the actualization of the dreams and
aspirations of our people. All what opponents of
government needs to do is remind government of the next election date to
stop them from taking and implementing drastic decisions even when such
decisions are in the best interest of the nation. In essence, for fear
of offending the electorates our governments are unable to dress and
heal the rotten sores of the nation. It’s no secret that
just before the 2004 and 2008 general elections in Ghana, street hawkers
who the Accra Metropolitan Authority had spent so much resource to
clear off the streets for sanitary and other good reasons were allowed
to come back to the streets because of obvious fears that they would
vote against the party in government. Our governments are
unable to complete projects commenced by their predecessors, not because
the projects are not useful, but, partly because they have to embark on
new projects otherwise their opponents would campaign against them for
having done nothing new. The consequence is that they continue to waste
the nation’s resources on partly completed projects thereby making the
rich but poor country an unenviable owner of “monuments of waste” to
borrow Kofi Akordor’s expression. According to the results
of the Legatum Prosperity Index (2010), which is a global Index of
wealth and well-being, Ghana ranks 90 out of the 110 countries assessed;
and, 4th in sub-Saharan Africa; while the UNDP Human Development Index
(2010) positions Ghana at 130 out of the 169 countries assessed and 8th
in Sub-Sahara Africa; and the World Economic Forum Competitive Index
places Ghana at 114 out of the 139 countries assessed and 12th in
Africa. Our economic /social prosperity story is thus depressing. The
Legatum Index mentions education, health, entrepreneurship and
opportunity, our economy and finally the level of our social capital as
the biggest drawbacks to the prosperity of Ghana. As of
2010, unemployment rate was 28.4%, the fifth highest rate in the Legatum
Index. A research exercise in 2009 also suggests that Ghana is among
the bottom 15 countries in terms of affordability of adequate food and
shelter.Only one-third of Ghanaians are satisfied with standards
of life and less than a fifth believe that there exist good job
opportunities. The country is hugely reliant on the export of
unprocessed materials and high-tech exports constitute on average a mere
1.4% of total manufactured goods. High fiscal deficits and build-up of
significant debt constantly threatens macroeconomic stability. Furthermore,
only 74% of eligible children are actually enrolled in primary school.
The ratio drops to 54% for secondary school. Even bleaker is the fact
that gross tertiary enrollment is 6%. The result is a marginally educated
workforce; the average worker has only one year of secondary education
and just 0.1 years of tertiary education. In the Ghana
Living Standards Survey (2008 edition), the Ghana Statistical Service
reported that about 31% of all adults have never been to school, less
than one-fifth (17.1%) attended school but did not obtain any
qualifications; while a small percentage of 13.6 possess secondary or
higher qualification. How do we expect the average worker to contribute
to GDP growth when he/she just doesn’t have the requisite skills? Ghana’s
rate of undernourishment is above the global average of 13.5%. Annual
health spending per capital is just $122; 92nd lowest in the Legatum
Index. Yes, when democracy is reduced to elections, it
produces unnecessary political rivalry, animosity, name calling, dirty
propaganda, corruption and the violent conflicts we see in Africa today;
and, not the meaningful development true democracy promises. Certainly,
I can’t embrace Mitchell and Booth “anti-electoralist fallacy” thesis,
which assumes that elections never matter for democratization; because,
in our modern era, you can have elections without democracy, but you
cannot have democracy without elections. However,
I vehemently agree to Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja’s argument that, “ it
would be too simplistic to identify democracy with the holding of
elections since the question of democracy goes far beyond elections to
the realisation of democratic principles of governance and the balance
of social forces in the political community.”

Raymond Ablorh
Writer’s email: raydelove@yahoo.co.uk