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08.03.2003 Feature Article

Why Ghanaians will never trade democracy for anything

Why Ghanaians will never trade democracy for anything
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On 6th March 1957, Ghana made history as the first country in Africa, South of the Sahara to re-gain independence. But we all know that the path to development has not been easy. It has been fraught with many problems, including coup d’etats, corruption, mismanagement and the disruption of our treasured culture. We do not need to forget the painful past but to learn from it in our effort to change the future. On 28th December 2000, another history was made when a government was changed through elections. Two years later, there is still goodwill towards the government in spite of economic hardships. This article reflects on some of the encouraging things that have happened, which seem to signify the dawn of a new age.

In my village, where some of my school-friends have embraced christianity, they likened the election of NPP to the Old Testament story, where Jehovah redeemed the Jews from Egypt. The freedom, which has prevailed since NPP took office, has empowered Ghanaians such that they feel safer to criticise Mr. Kuffour compared with Mr Rawlings. People do not look over their shoulders when they criticise Mr Kuffour since they know that nobody will threaten them.

There can be no development except there is peace. Ghanaians certainly differ in their definition of peace and freedom. A truck driver once said to me: “Doc, I am still poor, but nowadays I can say what I like, and go to bed without fear”. He told me a story, when at the (P)NDC time he wrote in front of his truck that “Ghana is Hot”. On reaching a barrier, he was asked to explain what he meant. He asked the soldiers if they were strangers and did not know about the intimidation and hardships. The soldiers became angry and they warned him to erase the writing. He erased it, but wrote “Still Hot”. The next day a soldier who had seen the previous full inscription seized his truck for a week, and was only released due to the mediation of a prominent CDR. He continued “At present if I choose to write ‘Ghana is Burning’ no security official will be interested in me”.

The freedom fostered by NPP is a strong reason to get it re-elected next time. The intimidating phrase “Do you know who I am?” which was often heard from officials prior to NPP era is now extinct. There is a feeling that political intimidation has ceased. In 1997, I was strongly warned for going to the aid of a market woman with a small child who was beaten by soldiers because she was selling in front of Tudu Transport Station. The revelations at the National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) explain the intimidation, which ruled Ghana. I believe that NRC can help achieve lasting peace if it does not only become a therapeutic medium for people to get rid of their emotions, but seek justice for those who have been seriously wronged.

Indeed, NPP is not chosen to pursue freedom only but to promote economic recovery. In the past, many Ghanaian businesses were made to suffer because their owners had different political beliefs. There was even an appeal to the public to boycott the products of opposition entrepreneurs. During an NDC business tour to the Netherlands in 1997, I asked the then Deputy Finance Minister (Amissah Arthur) why Mr Rawlings asked for the boycott of Appiah Menkah’s soap. He replied that Mr Rawlings, as a citizen of Ghana, was expressing his personal opinion. I know that Mr Kuffour, on the other hand, will do everything he can either as a citizen or President to promote Ghanaian-based enterprises, irrespective of their political persuasions.

About two weeks ago, I attended a meeting in The Hague where some investors were discussing whether or not to invest in Ghana. I emphasised that if I should choose a country in West Africa, where progress is set to continue it is Ghana. I did not quote World Bank or IMF Country Reports, but talked about the mentality of Ghanaians and the evolving political and legal structures. I was asked about the prosecution of NDC ministers at the Fast Track Court. I said that a government minister was the first to be jailed. It is a fair process, which allows for effective legal representation. Obviously, the judicial system is still evolving, but quite fast.

In the state of the nation’s address, Mr Kuffour outlined the economic achievements and future plans of his government. One of the impressive things was the health insurance scheme, which has been piloted in over 20 districts. Based on my experience, I am all too familiar with the plight of the rural people who are denied healthcare because of its cost. It is one of the areas, which if solved, can dramatically transform the lives of the rural folk. The other day, Mr Esseku, the NPP Chairman challenged the opposition to tour the countryside to acquaint themselves with the achievements of his party. I do hope that they take up the challenge and report with feedback, which can help the government improve upon its programmes.

I desire to add that economic recovery requires dedication and discipline to develop and implement practical policies. As the elders say, “wisdom does not reside in the head of one person”. In the past, ministers had believed too much in the rightness of their own views that they refused to listen to others. There are so many successful people at Kantamanto and elsewhere whose expertise is never tapped because they do not have the required degrees. Government should try to reverse the trend and consult the people, especially those we believe have nothing to say. It might be revealing.

Government can sustain increased revenue if it is able to keep public expenditure under control. I have heard reports that ministries are scaling down costs, and I pray that the momentum will be maintained. The need for cost effectiveness, which led to the reduction of subsidies on fuel, should certainly motivate government to reduce the expenditures of state enterprises and institutions. To promote productivity within the ministries, it would not be a bad idea if the government were to publish a League Table relating to the productivity of ministries, where high-performing ministers could be rewarded. If there are competitions for a Best Farmer, Teacher, Cadet, Student and etc, then the public may also like to know the Best Minister.

Corruption is the evil of African development. In 1999, Ghana was the 10th least corrupt country in Africa. In 2001, Mr Kuffour came with the concept of zero tolerance. By 2002, Ghana has attained the 6th position in the fight against corruption in Africa. Indeed, charity begins at home. If government live by example, the public will imitate. We should aim at overtaking Botswana, the least corrupt country in Africa. I believe that will happen, but we need to work on it. Here, the media, universities and the civil organisations can play their role.

Politicians should be constantly aware that the rural folk, teachers, labourers, waiters and all those who put them at office deserve better treatment as well. Thus, as Parliament decides on the benefits for politicians it should also reflect on its responsibility to the electorate. Integrity is an essential requirement for development.

The other day I read an article of a co-founder of Ghana Democratic Movement who said that ministers and other government officials are becoming arrogant and complacent. It is not within my capacity to challenge his experience. My only appeal is that the President and his officials and ministers should reflect on such feedback and reports and learn from them. As the saying goes “the one who is cutting a path does not realise that it is bending behind him”. Open-mindedness is the key to coming to terms with one’s inadequacies and transforming them.

A fair-minded critic attended Mr Kuffour’s meeting with Ghanaians in London on 24th February. After the meeting, he rang me and said, “Kwasi, If Kuffour continues like this, he will easily win the next election”. I replied, “I have believed that since he took office”. Long Live Democracy in Ghana!

Kwasi Boahene (The Netherlands)

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