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21.09.2002 Feature Article

Ghana's Democracy Continues to Mature

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Ghanaians have every reason to be proud of their country. Since 1989, when the last attempt at democracy was set in motion, the country has gone from dictatorial tendencies of an existing government that caused an opposition’s boycott of an election to a current existing government that is so sensitive to public opinion that the president once briefly suspended foreign travel by government officials in reaction to public criticism. No longer does any party believe it can take the electorate for granted. Ghanaians who live in the United States are now seeing the same political posturing occur at home as it occurs here. Americans do not believe it when you tell them how similar Ghana’s political environment is to their own. Ghana’s public officials may not be held to the same performance accountability as their counterparts here in the United States, but behaviorally and financially, their accountability measure is pretty close even though the latter has been at this for 226 years. This week, even Ghanaians abroad are doing their part to sustain our democracy. The two major parties, the NPP and the NDC, both have chapters abroad. While the NDC chapter remains marginally active, the NPP – North America has stepped up its activity level. It’s fourth Annual National Congress of Delegates is being held in Newark, New Jersey from September 20 – 22. Expecting delegates from Houston, Chicago, Detroit, Miami, Atlanta, neighboring New York City, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Seattle, Connecticut, San Francisco, Minnesota from the US, and Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Manitoba, Ottawa, Vancouver from Canada, the host chapter promises to continue the trend of always improving the quality of planning and discussion. The reason why events like these bear significance on the democratic process at home is that it debunks the notion held by some at home that Ghanaians abroad are enjoying life to the fullest without a care of what goes on at home. Many of these delegates spend up to $1,000 of their own money to travel all over North America to discuss ways of helping to mature our young democracy. They have been doing this for four years now. This year, the whole agenda moves from discussion to action. Throughout all this, our media continues to play a huge role. Yes, some of the criticisms are off base, but you would expect that in a process that is still infant. We have seen entities like Ghanaweb, Ghana Cyber Group, Ghana Review International, and a host of others all based abroad, do a tremendous job of reporting perspectives from both sides. The last time I checked that balanced reporting was one of the basic principles of journalism. Mind you, these are entities started by individuals who were “enjoying life abroad,” and who have very little to gain from devoting such tremendous amounts of their own time to contribute to our maturing democracy. Even the opposition, except for one famous loudmouth, is doing a good job of keeping its criticism decent. Kudos go to Allan Bagbin, the NDC’s Parliamentary leader, for agreeing with the government in power sometimes while still keeping his disagreements healthy. The party in power has also been very tolerant of criticisms that sometimes get a bit nasty. The Kufour Administration has bent over backwards to accommodate a former president who treated him like dirt when he was the opposition leader. President Kufuor has shown maturity by including members of other parties in his government. In fact, to a question in Toronto, Canada as to why certain NDC holdovers are still in position as Ambassadors in an NPP government, the president answered that the yardstick for employment is not necessarily party affiliation, but performance. He went on to advise that any government official who fails to do his or her job to protect Ghanaians abroad will be dealt with regardless of party affiliation. All such instances, however, must be documented first before a formal complaint is filed. The most significant show of maturity, however, comes from the Ghanaian population. When a cab driver in Accra puts a higher price tag on freedom than on money; when a market woman in Kumasi is willing to wait because she understands the importance of setting sound political structures before pursuing economic prosperity; and when a party official in Takoradi shows an understanding of protocol, and not rely on his ‘connection’ to get some help, you begin to get the sense that we are on the right track. Many African leaders have been quick to show evidence of economic development without regard to solid political foundation. That is when they quickly build poor quality roads, import tons of foreign goods into the country, and employ every relative of every official at government institutions to do nothing. Myopic minds quickly jump to their praises. They praise them so passionately, they quickly begins to feel no one else in the country can do better than them. Before long, they begin to jail critics because if everyone is singing their praises, the few critics must be motivated by treasonable ideas. Before long, The two year-old roads are filled with potholes because there is no system in place to identify the person accountable to maintaining the road. Before long, the country owes so much foreign debt because. The goods were imported without a system in place to check how to offset all those imports with exports. Before long, civil servants are going three to six months without pay because those government institutions do not generate enough revenue to support their ballooned labor force. In short, sound political foundation must precede economic development. The United States, which is the best available model for democracy, followed this path. Two centuries ago, the founding fathers of this country locked themselves in a building and promised not to come out until they had a constitution finished. The ensuing document, abided by, has guided this country through the agricultural age, the industrial revolution, the civil liberties era, and now the information revolution. Because they paid attention to building a sound political foundation at a time when they had nothing, the United States do not have to worry about many of the issues that we continue to face. Ghana today, in many ways, resembles America of little over two centuries ago. The painstaking measures this administration continues to pursue will pay huge dividends in the future. We should be thankful of a leader who is sacrificing instant gratification for a better future. If we fail to understand what he is doing, we will vote him out in 2004, and set the clock backwards. If we understand, we will continue the course of a maturing democracy, which will inevitable lead to an eventual economic development that will sustain, and not end up being a fly-by-night occurrence.

Jermaine Nkrumah
Jermaine Nkrumah, © 2002

The author has 27 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: JermaineNkrumah

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