The last few months have created opportunities for deep reflection on the direction and trajectory of our historic and beloved nation, for those who worry deeply about the future of young men and women, ill prepared to face and compete effectively in the modern world.
These concerns have only been heightened by the worldwide pandemic of COVID-19 which laid bare and exaggerated the already existing and worsening inequalities in our society.
In the 1980 US election, Ronald Reagan famously asked Americans” are you better off now than you were 4 years ago”?. In Ghana, right now, the real question for voters is if we are better off now than we were eight years ago. This is because in a period of eight years we have experienced the best efforts in governance that both be NPP and NDC have to offer the people. It doesn’t look good; it’s not pretty. The current discourse leading up to the December election is at the level of an elementary school playground fight .Who needs an airport in the Cape Coast-Elmina area? What Ghana needs is a rail line along the coastal belt from Aflao to Elubo. The first phase should be from Accra to Cape Coast.Can you imagine the impact on tourism and local commerce in the Central Region? The whole line should be part of a regional vision of rail from Douala to Dakar.
One does not have to be an economist to understand that unless we escape from the neocolonial paradigm of our economy we are truly doomed as a nation. Both parties have failed to implement policies that would make this possible for the benefit of future generations of Ghanaians.
They have run out of ideas for true nation building and simply borrow money instead of investing in the capabilities and the promise of citizens for sustained economic development.
This is a truly difficult election because for the first time in the 4th Republic, Ghanaians are definitely considering the few alternatives that are available outside of this failed duopoly, which has created a self-serving political class at the expense of the electorate.
They have created a culture of politics that is defined by subpar performance and also sadly, an increasing risk of societal violence because of a vigilante culture and the failure to resolve once and for all, the prospects of young people through sustainable employment within a country that is so truly blessed with vast resources. Crime is rising instead of employment.
During the recent controversial re-registration exercise by the electoral commission, many long-standing residents of numerous communities were challenged not by the police, but by party goons who had positioned themselves at registration sites to determine who were indeed qualified to register to vote in different communities. The president says he was unaware of any issues with the army or the party thugs. He would be in a distinct minority or he has rose colored glasses. It is not so long ago that NPP party thugs raided a courthouse to snatch their members to freedom, thumbing their noses at the rule of law. There have of course, been other acts of violence by similar groups owing allegiance to the NDC over the years.
The EC registration exercise left out Ghanaian diasporan voters who live around the world, representing thousands of legitimate voters who return home every four years to their constituencies to cast their ballot. In that regard, there is no difference between a Ghanaian living in Togo, Burkina Faso, Côte Ivoire, the Netherlands, Canada or the USA.
No arrangements were made outside the borders of the country for these citizens, even though we have embassies scattered around the world that we support with taxpayers’ money. We are still unable to support online voting for our global citizens who return upwards of $5 billion a year to our economy. Peer states such as South Africa and Kenya have offered such opportunities to their citizens for many years. We like to pat ourselves on the back for doing precious little.
We seemingly have the COVID-19 pandemic under control through a multi-faceted effort led by the current administration, in spite of blatant politicization of the public health effort. Our saving grace may not be the government’s efforts and the lackluster adherence to the protocols by the population because of poor enforcement, but to the simple fact that roughly 90% of infections were asymptomatic. This may be due to the fact that Ghanaians may have in the past been exposed to a similar coronavirus, conferring a higher degree of “natural resistance” to COVID-19 than is apparent in societies in the west where the asymptomatic rate ranges between 30 and 45%. This means that with the case count of 45,000 only 450 people would have been symptomatic. With fatalities at 280 it means that indeed without natural protection, our true mortality rate is over 50%. It further underscores the reality that strong prevention interventions remain the best protection for our citizens.
It is ironic that following the 1966 coup d’état which overthrew the Nkrumah administration, over 300 state-owned enterprises including factories in the country was shut down by the military National Liberation Council (NLC) government, a proxy of the progenitors of the NPP. Sadly, the NLC was described in years later in declassified CIA documents as “pathetically pro-Western”. This is when the neo-colonial economy fully took hold and we have not recovered since.
Equally important is the difference between the Rawlings’s AFRC putsch and the PNDC intervention. The former was a crisis intervention which took place in a country already engaged in an electoral campaign for a return to constitutional rule.
There was no cogent reason for overthrowing the PNP government of Dr. Hilla Limann on December 31, 1981 by the PNDC. No single member of that government was ever prosecuted for any wrongdoing. So, what was the purpose of overthrowing the government which within two years had restored Ghana’s reputation from a pariah state to a level of recognition closest to what obtained during the first republic. At the time Limann was overthrown real minimum wage in Ghana was US$5.00 per day. In no time, after PNDC it dropped to US$1.00 per day. There, you have it.
The PNDC government, the immediate ancestor of the NDC secured from the IMF terms for assistance on conditions that were worse than had been negotiated by the government they had overthrown. State assets were also rapidly divested at fire sale prices to cronies and never really produced for the market or created real jobs.
Modern day violence in politics grew out of the violent military culture of the PNDC and was continued within the NDC. Distant violence in Ghanaian politics of significance is a child of the National Liberation Movement (NLM) which was essentially a terrorist organization supported by the UP, the political ancestor of the NPP. They love to talk about the Preventive Detention Act (PDA) but never take responsibility for the terrorism that necessitated the promulgation of that law which was used to restore order in the young independent state, which they vowed to destroy in the name of a tribalistic and federalist ideal. We have to learn to call a spade a spade in Ghanaian politics.
Though the president makes noises about his reputation as a supporter of democracy and provides assurances against that background for a peaceful election, many Ghanaians have been disenfranchised by this registration process. There was little need to expose citizens to great health risks to purge a voters’ register that needed little purging. Besides, he had won the election fair and square, using the existing register.
What Mr. President seems to forget is that he won the last election on the backs of independent voters who were tired of the NDC and the apparent large-scale institutional corruption and resultant poor governance. Paradoxically, there is also a sense that the political milieu is more reminiscent of the repressive Rawlings era, which ended when Ghanaians truly began to breathe the air of freedom during Kufuor’s presidency.
Soon after taking office, he poked a stick into the eyes of these non-NPP voters who had guaranteed his victory by beginning a misguided, blatant and petty rewriting of Ghanaian history, particularly around the contributions of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. We must be reminded that struggles for freedom always involve teams of people. However, there is always one successful leader of the team that achieves the final result. In every society that icon, as imperfect as they may be is venerated. Dr. Kwame Nkrumah is an international icon and choosing to diminish his contributions within the borders of Ghana is a futile exercise.
JB Danquah’s contributions are what they are. He was a defeated politician and usually they whither away on the pages of history.
Now, the Agyapa Royalties controversy. The idea itself is not new but again the manner of implementation has begged for greater transparency and less nepotism. Nepotism has been the emblem of the Akuffo-Addo administration, though he pointlessly denies it in a Trumpian manner. This has been expressed in the form of a bloated government with over 130 ministers and indeed many unqualified appointees to the boards of important institutions, weakening already dysfunctional establishments. The urgency arises from the fact that “Ghana Beyond Aid” government is perilously close to defaulting on our debts.
Agyapa Royalties is supposedly 51% government subscribed with an IPO of 49% in US$ for Ghanaians to invest by purchasing shares. When the IPO is launched, good luck if a Ghanaian living in the country gets their foot in the door. All of this is occurring against the background of numerous scandals involving feeding frenzies for the chosen few from AMERI, through PDS, Aker Oil, Oslo real estate and others. The self-dealing and influence peddling clearly breaches many of our laws. Does the Special Prosecutor see all this? And the popular and respected Auditor-General on forced leave…another story for another day.
The government has failed completely to arrest the serious environmental degradation that has been born out of uncontrolled small-scale mining by both Ghanaians and nebulous Chinese facilitated by a cabal of self-interested chiefs and local politicians. This failure again is shared with the NDC which also when in government, was unable to resolve this issue. Members of both administrations appear to have profited financially from this destructive enterprise.
We are already experiencing negative climate change in adverse rainfall patterns and extended heat waves, as a result of massive deforestation occurring in conjunction with this uncontrolled large scale, small scale mining.
No coherent policy has emerged on the abuse heaped on the environment by plastic products from both the NPP and NDC governments. These have worsened floods in the cities, cost human lives and continue to destroy our beaches and the rich ecology of our oceans.
We witnessed the Year of Return with all its pomp and celebration and now Beyond the Return is up and running. Philosophically, every Pan-Africanist supports this initiative. However, missing from the target populations are first- and second-generation direct Ghanaian descendants in the diaspora. These are the young people who have strong cultural ties to the nation, who are schooled and trained in the modern knowledge economy and are already oriented to Ghana and should be supported to return and contribute along with those whose ancestors were sadly torn from our soil over 400 years ago. We are missing the low hanging fruit, which is ripe and ready to eat.
Probably, our greatest problem is the constitution of the 4th Republic. Many experts and practitioners of politics agree on its many deficiencies. These include the continued implications of an indemnity clause and the gutting of parliament for cabinet appointees, which deskills and weakens the house. Yet neither of the two major parties have been able to at advance the process of reform by including parliament itself. A deficient constitution disenfranchises all citizens and diminishes the nation.
We must envision government from the point of view of the citizen whose life depends on and is shaped by the actions of government. The current political climate is not citizen focused but wholly party focused. The major parties have become large tribes who now, by their numbers impose policies that do not serve the development of the nation and the sustainability of the democracy itself.
At this coming election and in the years immediately following, Ghanaians will have to invest in new political parties or entities to refashion a citizen focused culture with servant leaders who do not need land cruisers, ex-Gratia benefits and the like in order to loyally serve the country and the interests of Africa.
There is a need to escape our current dystopian politics for a new day. Voters must closely examine independent candidates and viable smaller parties, uncorrupted by the behemoth of graft, who may intrinsically have the voters’ interests at heart and not the large party machineries that must be fed with the resources of the country in order to provide governance at a great cost to all of us. Such as our state of mind and such is the mind of our state.
T. P. Manus Ulzen is Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at the University of Alabama, Annual Visiting Professor at the University of Cape Coast School of Medical Sciences and author of “Java Hill: An African Journey” – A historiography of Ghana
He is Interim Chairman of the Progressive Alliance for Ghana (PAG) a social & economic justice movement. www.proalliancegh.org -"Forward Together"