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Apr 25, 2009 | Political

Resisting “The New Tyranny” - The Case for “ND-C”

Resisting “The New Tyranny” - The Case for “ND-C”

I vote

You vote

We vote

They profit

(The above slogan is an adaptation of a French student's demonstration poster cited by Sherry Arnstein in her article “the ladder of citizen participation”)

The ensuing chaos and controversies surrounding the appointments of DCE's and the voter apathy witnessed in the Jirapa by-election are two major events that have once again brought to the forefront the call for greater level of accountability and citizen participation in local governance. This calls for a new charter between the citizens and power holders, which I will refer to as –New Deal with Communities (ND-C) that will necessitate a fundamental rethink of the roles of local governors, communities and all other stake holders with social and economic interest. This fundamental rethink of power relations will reshape decision making process to accommodate strategies of greater citizen participation in local governance.

ND-C goes beyond the call for communities to elect their local governors for that matter DCE's; nevertheless electing DCE's is the starting point towards greater citizen participation in local governance. ND-C also calls for a holistic approach to local governance to include capacity building of the communities as well as tapping into local knowledge to deliver services like schools, clinics, sanitation, inter alia - you may call it Community Empowerment.

Power Shared is Power Gained
Arnstein observes that “Participation without redistribution of power is an empty and frustrating process for the powerless. It allows power holders to claim that all sides were considered, but makes it possible for only some of those sides to benefit. It maintains the status quo (Arnstein 1969)

One of the contested issues with Citizen Participation is the call for the redistribution of power. Redistribution of power is not necessarily taking some of the powers of local governors (or power holders) and handing it over to communities, but rather it calls for shifting of the power relations in local governance. Michel Foucault in his book “Power and Subjectivity” observes that power shared in power gained. He explains that sharing power with communities can produce as much acceptance as power holder may wish for. John Abbott in his book “Sharing the city” also asserts that decision making processes are the obvious instance of exercise of power- therefore participation in decisions can be broadened to include groups who are formerly excluded . Abbott further argues that between the continuum process from closed government to open government is the stage of manipulation- a stage that our country finds it self at the moment. This state is what Arnstein referred to as the state of 'non- participation' because the main aim is not to make it possible for communities to participate in decision making that affects them (Communities).

Arnstein observes that manipulation is the stage whereby, “In the name of citizen participation, people are placed on rubberstamp advisory committees or advisory boards …instead of genuine citizen participation”. It also signifies the distortion of participation into a public relations vehicle by power holders. In Ghana the only time we get the opportunity to come closer to participation in governance is when we go to the pools once in every four years. What makes this form of "participation" so invidious is that citizens are engaged in extensive activities during electioneering campaign, but the focus of the power holders (or seekers) is not to engage the citizens in governance but to manipulate the desperation of the genuine interest of the citizens.

Citizen participation- Who cares?
In terms of citizen participation, the constitution of Ghana and the NDC signs from the same hymn sheet. Both identify greater community participation as a tool to ensuring accountability. However their strategy of delivery of genuine participation exhibits fundamental flaws. Giving the President the prerogative to appoint the DCE and 30% of the assembly ((Chapter 20 of the Constitution) is a typical example of what development writers Cooke and Kothari (2000) refers to in their book as the “The New Tyranny”. This type of participation that resists redistribution of power is a cheaper way in which central government seek to increase its control over communities in order to maintain the status quo.

Quoting the NDC's excuse that “the country is not ready to allow greater citizen participation in local governance through election of DCE's”, the last NPP government renegade on its promise to encourage greater citizen participation in local governance. However I should say that, if manifestoes are what we should vote for, the NPP stands far ahead of the NDC in advancing citizen participation in local governance. NPP manifesto for 2008 clearly states under Political Decentralisation that it will “review the administration of the District Assemblies with the ultimate goal of electing all the members of the Assembly as well as District/Municipal and Metropolitan Chief Executives”. Once bitten twice shy, having failed to advance the course of greater citizen participation in 2000 and 2004, it will be difficult to believe that if given the node, NPP will advance the cause of greater citizen participation in local governance.

In less than three years after decades of apartheid, South Africa adopted and implemented grassroots participatory democracy. Therefore the excuse that we are not democratically sophisticated to be engaged in grassroots participatory democracy after nearly two decades of democratic dispensation is an affront to our civility. Greater citizen participation is an essential component of a democratic society to ensure the well being of individuals and communities through active process of empowering communities in contributing to the decision making mechanisms of their communities leading to the creation on inclusive societies. Ruth Levitas observes in her book that inclusive society is the society “where everyone–or every significant group- has a voice and where these voices are heard either through representation on the basis of identity- women speak for women, black people for black people- or indirectly through advocacy groups or voluntary associations… The central question is who and whose interests are represented at any level of government and whose interest prevails.

In our society where demand outstrips resources, community participation can be used as a delivery strategy to deliver projects that responds to the priority of communities thereby eliminating wastage. The people who participate will contribute their ingenuity, skills and other untapped resource and the outcome responds better to the needs and priorities of the communities.

Civic demonstration is a gradual process. It starts from murmuring of displeasure through shouting and finally to civil obedience. The voter apathy at the Jirapa by-election and current chaos and controversies surrounding the appointment of DCE's are indications that the, the frustrations of the citizens is moving from the murmuring to the shouting level.

Mr. President you said accountability awaits you at the end of your term, and I can assure you that if you fail to listen to the call by the citizens to be given the opportunity to contribute in the decision making mechanism at the local level then, you will not take delight in reading your terminal report at the end of your first term. Over to you, Mr. President!

Adamu Abdallah Awudu
[email protected]

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