Feature Article of Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Columnist: Sarbah, MacLean

Has Ghana's nascent democratic success come to stay?

From my personal experiences in the United States and Europe, the mere mention of Africa conjures up images of a continent bedeviled by chronic political unrest and God-forsaken conflicts. Political instability has been a specter that has haunted Africa for a considerable amount of years. While some of these perceptions might hold true, it is reasonably fair to argue that countries like South Africa, Ghana, to mention a few, have, in recent times, been beacons of hope for Africa. In an era where it is hardly an exaggeration to say that political instability has deprived Africa of its rightful place on the economic development bandwagon, it is tellingly satisfying that Ghana has been, thus far, an oasis in the desert of lost hope. When viewed in historical context, this represents, to a great extent, a major breakthrough in African political democracy. It is no wonder, then, that Ghana’s name has been trumpeted worldwide as a model of African democratic success. We do not rejoice at the pitfalls of our neighbors; rather, we offer a sincere plea to them to help rid Africa of the negative journalistic coverage.

While these accolades that Ghana has garnered are well-deserved, it would be foolhardy of me to string a conclusion together about Ghana’s arrival at the democratic table, based on five successive peaceful elections. Five successive peaceful elections will not, in my humble opinion, all of a sudden put Ghana in the ranks of monolithic democracies. This trend has to be sustained for the world to be convinced of our stiffened resolve to be regarded as an exemplary nation. It is worth mentioning that our beloved country is not without its fair share of problems. While I acknowledge the ubiquity of tribal, religious and ethnic differences, it will suffice to say that Ghana has done a great job in nurturing its tribal differences into a national pride, that has been quite beneficial in ossifying peace in the country. As election 2012 draws closer, the onus lies on the people of Ghana to cling very tightly to the tenets of democracy that have put us on the path to development (economic success, if you will). We require a buy-in to the fact that if we let avoidable flaws rear their ugly heads into our fledgling democracy, we will, undoubtedly, be knocked off our democratic and economic perch. Recent political brouhahas in the Ivory Coast and other countries, should serve as cautionary tales to the people of Ghana.

Even though my hope for Ghana has never been on the wane, I am cautiously optimistic about our ability to make our recent trend of peaceful democratic elections a come-to-stay phenomenon. This begs the question, "Can we live up to our billing?" With the discovery of oil in the country, there is no shying away from the fact that the future looks bright for Ghana. Nevertheless, this future, hinges greatly on the ability of our leaders to effectively manage the resources. Before even thinking about managing the resources, there must be a national recognition of the fact that peace and political stability are, enormously, the founts of economic development. We know, full well, that a mention of the reasons for Africa’s failure to spring to economic stardom will not be complete without a look at ineffective and oft corrupt leadership. Our leaders must accept, wholeheartedly, that the future of our dear nation depends on them. There is a crying need for sacrifice and pruning of proclivities for using public office as a conduit to embellish their own pockets.

As president Obama bluntly pointed out on his visit to Ghana, " So I believe that this moment is just as promising for Ghana - and for Africa - as the moment when my father came of age and new nations were being born. This is a new moment of promise. Only this time, we have learned that it will not be giants like Nkrumah and Kenyatta who will determine Africa's future. Instead, it will be you - the men and women in Ghana's Parliament, and the people you represent. Above all, it will be the young people - brimming with talent and energy and hope - who can claim the future that so many in my father's generation never found.” The economic behemoths like the United States, Germany, Switzerland, etc., got there as a result of sacrifice and hard work on the part of their leaders and citizens alike. We must know that the dogmas of the past are woefully inadequate to the changing present. It is palpably sickening that, for far too long, there has been a wanton disregard for the needs and wishes of the citizenry.

If pre-election campaign utterances are anything to go by, we can say that there is a tell-tale sign that some candidates see the election as a winner-take-all contest. We must consider the advisability of our collective need to maintain peace in the country. This view is very much in consonance with Obama’s warning, “To realize that promise, we must first recognize a fundamental truth that you have given life to in Ghana: development depends upon good governance. That is the ingredient which has been missing in far too many places, for far too long. That is the change that can unlock Africa's potential. And that is a responsibility that can only be met by Africans.” And rightly so, I urge our leaders to steer clear of tribal politics and the propagation of divisive messages. If this is not heeded, we might fall into the category of the Biblical example of Moses seeing Canaan (economic prosperity), but never really setting foot in its land. I am far from being a prophet of doom. Neither am I a know-it-all. I am just an ordinary citizen who shares in the struggles and successes of my dear nation.

For all I know, my views might be too "pipe-smoking"; even so, I feel a need to air them. What is very assuring, though, is the fact that, with the advent of modern technology (Facebook, Twitter, to name a few), our people cannot be taken for a ride. A look at recent events in North Africa should provide our leaders with worthwhile examples of the power of our people to rectify the status quo. The world awaits Ghana’s elections with keen interest. In all likelihood, Ghana will prevail. Let us keep hoisting that "peace flag" we have become so synonymous with. Let us shoulder the task of making sure that the elections are free, fair, and transparent. Let us make violence and unrest suffer a diminution. We implore the various political candidates to peacefully concede defeat in the event of a loss. We are a people with a common nationality and a common destiny. This is a test of our democratic fortitude. After all, we are all involved in building our “Motherland.”

God bless our homeland Ghana!