The war drums are throbbing again. And those in the political arena are dancing to tunes they’re familiar with, the consequences of which they may not have imagined. Perhaps, they know but they simply do not care.
It is about four months to yet another crucial election, and the security analysts are tolling the alarm bells. It would have been good to brand them as unreliable prophets of doom because Ghana has scaled this hurdle many times unscathed. However, we cannot downplay their warnings.
The success of our democracy can be likened to the man whose palm kernels have been cracked for him by benevolent spirit. We have been at the tipping point chaos a number of times in the past, but appear to have be restrained by providence. We must, therefore, be both humble and cautious.
Within this period every four years, tempers often flare through the roofs as the major parties struggle to gain control in this winner-takes-all contest. It is a time when poisonous tongues unleash venom. The peace industry grows. Hate and inciting comments fill the atmosphere. And some of the acts of violence that are threatened are carried through. Thankfully, they don’t explode beyond the constituencies and polling centres they are hatched. In the past, they did not take a national character, like those that happen in other African countries.
Our elders say when your neighbour’s beard is in flames, you either have yours shaved or you keep water by it. It is difficult to say whether Ghana has taken enough preventive measures against election violence. We may have just been lucky.
In 2012, when the presidential election dispute ended up in court, there were acts of violence before then. Some media houses were targeted and journalists assaulted by members of the losing party. We cannot be complacent.
It has been thirty-nine (39) years since Ghana witnessed a military takeover of a democratically elected government. In a continent where the slideshow of political upheavals is an unending ritual, this can be said to be a monumental achievement.
As I write this, the military has taken over power in Mali and do not seem to listen to calls on them to hand over power to civilians. Nations such as this make Ghana stand tall.
Since 1992, when Ghana returned to civilian rule, the nation has held seven elections and changed governments without slipping into an abyss of violence. For observers from afar, this means that our democracy is maturing, and we ought to be role models for others on the continent.
For those who live in Ghana, however, election years are often characterized by uncertainties. We do not know what the outcome would be and whether or not we will escape violence in large proportions. The reason we seem to be growing but not maturing can be found in the fact that we have not paid enough attention to the commitments we made when we, together with other member states of the African Union (AU) signed and ratified the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG).
Our democracy has been reduced to elections and is treated as a distinct event without taking into considerations the other provisions of ACDEG that should make democracy complete. The acrimony and desperation that is built in-between elections tend to undermine the democratic principles and end up being the monsters that threaten to devour us before during and after elections.
A lot of what needs to be done to secure Ghana’s democracy can be found in Chapter 5 of ACDEG, which tackles the “culture of democracy and peace”. This chapter contains Articles 11, 12 and 13. Ghana appears to have done very well with the first one, but finds itself lacking in the second and third equally important articles.
Article 11 enjoins state parties “to develop the necessary legislative and policy frameworks to establish and strengthen a culture of democracy and peace.”
In the area of legislation and policy frameworks, Ghana never finds itself lacking. The quality of the legislation can be criticised, but as far as our democracy is concerned, countless legislations on policy and democratic institutions have been built.
We have the Electoral Commission, which the constitution and the Supreme Court have insulated from any form of control or manipulation. We have a judiciary that has been made independent by the constitution. State institutions such as the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) are supposed to guarantee individuals whose rights are violated the right to be heard and protected against powerful individuals and state intuitions.
In terms of laws governing our elections and the conduct of public and civil service, they abound. But the existence of legislation alone cannot make a difference if they are not vigorously enforced and implemented.
This is perhaps why, in Article 12 of the Charter, “State Parties undertake to implement programmes and carry out activities designed to promote democratic principles and practices as well as consolidate a culture of democracy and peace.”
This article does not end there. It goes on to commit state parties to four actionable points:
1. Promote good governance by ensuring transparent and accountable administration.
2. Strengthen political institutions to entrench a culture of democracy and peace.
3. Create conducive conditions for civil society organizations to exist and operate within the law.
4. Integrate civic education in their educational curricula and develop appropriate programmes and activities.
I have said that Ghana’s democracy is growing but not maturing because we have not strengthened our democratic institutions. Our governance is anything but transparent. It took two decades of active civil society campaign to get the Right to Information Act passed. A year after its passage, however, some state institutions are using disingenuous reasons to deny those who invoke the law to get public information.
The MP for Ashaiman in the Greater Accra region, Ernest Norgbey, had to go to court when the Electoral Commission refused to give him information request on procurement related to the voters’ registration exercise. He won his case.
The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) is currently battling the National Communications Authority (NCA) because the NCA is charging outrageous cost in order to release information on radio stations the NCA shut down under controversial circumstances. Notable among these radio stations were those that were aligned to the main opposition (National Democratic Congress) NDC and being very critical of the government.
Integration of civic education into the curricular of our educational system would have been the surest way of inculcating democratic values in the citizenry right from their childhoods. But the Covid-19 pandemic exposed the disturbing fact that the National Commission on Civic Education has been starved of funds and when the pandemic broke, it didn’t have any vehicles to take part in educating the public.
The major topic for the past couple of weeks has been the running battle between the government and civil society organisations, which have incurred the displeasure of the government for questioning securitization of Ghana’s gold royalties. This acrimony does not portend well for our democracy.
A very important article in Chapter 5, which is found weakening in Ghana’s democracy is contained in Article 13 of the Charter, which states:
“State Parties shall take measures to ensure and maintain political and social dialogue, as well as public trust and transparency between political leaders and the people, in order to consolidate democracy and peace.”
Transparency and trust are important ingredients lacking in Ghana’s democratic soup. Going into this election, the main opposition party does not trust that the Electoral Commission will be a fair referee. This has always been the case in the history of Ghana but recent developments at the election body have heightened suspicions and mistrust.
In the 2016 election, the Chairperson of the Electoral Commission was appointed by then incumbent President John Mahama, who was contesting that election. The long serving Dr. Kwadwo Afari Gyan had retired and as the constitution required, the President had to get his replacement. This did not sit well with the opposition parties at the time.
When the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP), led by Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo won that election, the Chairperson of the Electoral Commission was removed from office on the basis of procurement infractions.
So we are going into a second successive election in which the incumbent president and participant appointed the referee and some other commissioners. Add this to the fact that the police and the security services have not been independent of executive control and cannot be trusted by the average Ghanaian to act fairly without looking behind their shoulders and you will understand why there is rising tension.
The recent voters’ registration exercise was characterized by some violence and in some instances shootings that led the the loss of lives. The deployment of the military, which the main opposition NDC said was targeted at intimidating the Ewe ethnic group loyal to that party, has not helped tensions.
Discrimination of any form is frowned upon by the Charter to which Ghana has signed and ratified. Our constitution and all laws in Ghana frown against it. But if it is banned in the books, it is yet to be seen in practice. The national cake is still shared mainly based on which party one belongs and not who merits a bite. It is something we must address in order to reduce the stakes in the election.
The Covid-19 pandemic has altered the nature of campaigns in Ghana. There have not been huge rallies but the atmosphere is heated up already. The Electoral Commission, amidst protests from civil society organisations, the major opposition political party and other interest groups, has compiled a new register for this year’s election.
The manifestos of the two winnable political parties – the NDC and NPP – are replete with promises that voters find suspicious. It is said that when the iron-plated throat grants passage to a sharp knife, it should be concerned how the delicate anus would expel it. But the political parties don’t seem to care much about the implementation of the promises.
The debate and competition on infrastructure records appear to have given way to social interventions. It is free this or free that. Promises to restore or increase allowances and provide free services are given without much depth in the funding sources. The voter knows whoever wins cannot implement all that his party is promising.
The post-Covid-19 trauma of the economy will be a convenient excuse when they are held to account for their promises.
This notwithstanding, it is still legal in Ghana to make outrageous promises, and the political parties are not backing down in this fierce competition to outdo one another. For the voter, it gives a sense of direction as to what each party has in mind even if the certainty in the implementation cannot be guaranteed.
A major positive for Ghana going into this election is the role of the media. The vibrant media landscape has over the years policed the electoral process. The media monitor closely and often report from the polling stations, constituency collation centres, as well as the national headquarters of the Electoral Commission. The Multimedia Group has often accurately called the winner of the election.
The vigilance of the media leaves little room for manipulation or intimidation at voting centres. Social media have their flaws but they add up to the transparency of the system. Unlike some African countries, where shutting down the internet at such crucial times is common, it doesn’t seem authorities in Ghana will attempt any such thing.
The safety of journalists remains a concern in recent times, but generally the atmosphere is free and the political parties have often resorted to the media to address their grievances in elections and are expected to cooperate with journalists in 2020 too.
All looks set. But one thing is not certain. Peace and security are not guaranteed, and the main political actors must work extra hard to restrain their supporters and conduct themselves in a manner that will keep the nation in one piece before, on and after December 7.
Ghana cannot afford to join the list of nations that have failed the African Union. Member states have to conduct themselves in a manner that will give the continental body the opportunity to focus on development, and not conflict resolution.
Above all, it is in the utmost interest of politicians that our democracy is secure. It is said that hounds of the same owner do tear the game apart. We all belong to Ghana and must protect it.
In Mali today, medical doctors are still working. Teachers are working. Other professionals and civil servants are still needed. But career politicians cannot function in this chaos.
Our elders have thought us that the antelope and the lion may have their differences but they must not set the forest that shelters them ablaze, because they have a lot to lose.
This article is published under ‘The Africa We Want’ project which is Mobilizing Civil Society Support for Implementation of the African Governance Architecture and is being implemented with funding support from the European Commission.