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14.08.2003 Feature Article

The Painful Truth of African Democracy: Reflections from Liberia to Ghana

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Much have been said by other writers from within and elsewhere about the cost of political mayhem and its consequences. But the discourse will have to go on till formidable and sequential steps aimed at addressing political issues are framed up. It is on the fringes of such discourse that we in this world will so gladly help to deepen politics and political thoughts.

Efforts on the global transition, which heralded the 20th Century and the call for effective discourse and social integration gainfully, support the processes to democratise political institutions. In the global village there appears nothing like sovereign states. States will have to shape in and tow the line of others or shape out to face its isolation. Countries like Myanmar (formerly Burma) and North Korea which respectfully tried to perpetuate military institutions and dynasty kind of administration rather than follow the global crusade have paid heavy prizes. In North Korea, thousands of well meaning citizens have had to depend on foreign aid but the President had money to celebrate his 60th birthday in a big bang! A national day of festivities was feted on the hungry souls who did express their ecstasy of the occasion but depend on the toils of other countries like US.

There is no patient for countries, which rely on empty excuses to eschew them from the practices of democracy. In 1987, the World Band and the IMF were not willing to give loan facilities to Nigeria, Zaire and Senegal until their governments rectified and followed the world’s drafted guidelines on population control. With brute force and fist of dictatorship Saddam Husein ruled like power is ever permanent. Not much did he know when the law and the world will turn against him and probably, so soon – including those countries who made him what he became. Even when some countries and certain individuals (may be majority) felt US had no moral grounds to oust a president of another country, there were many also who longed prefer his ouster. Such feeling may not have come from the hatred for Saddam Hussein but on a certified truism that the world is changing and fast. Those who fail to change will be changed.

Apart from Fidel Castro who has through a period of 44 years stacked to his narrow political vision and applied a system of governance called communism no other country has had it easy to emulate such feat. Certainly, many around the world know that such communist ideology in Cuba run oppose to United State’s capitalism. Considering the long historical differences which has existed between US and Cuba, efforts by US to oust Castro’s inherent dictatorship will be seen differently by many other countries around the world. In fact, there are still countries that stick to ‘mild’ communist and socialist ideologies on the premise that it is a better ideological concept to capitalism (and the debate still goes on). Besides, there are well-known countries, movements and organisations protesting against capitalism and its proponent, US. For this reason, Castro has enjoyed the freedom and traded his ideological vision to fruition albeit with some meaningful results. Such example of Castro’s is rear these days. Not at a time when many countries depend on IMF and WB with funds by countries which call for capitalism and democracy. The theory from these world’s financial institutions is ‘accept loans, accept capitalism’. This has been the underneath fertiliser for democracy, its growth and the world’s transition.

The march and change towards democracy is going on fast. It is shaping the world as it wants. From one part of the world to another, criminals cannot find respire. Thieves cannot find a place to stand and enjoy their labour. Corrupt and hollow headed self-styled political rogues who are parading, as saviours of the 20th Century and beyond are not free. The blood thirsty, good political and ethnic cleansing ‘chiefs’ of certain countries have the World’s Court on crimes against humanity waiting for them. Such desperadoes have no place in the confines of today’s world. The fact is the change is and has been so deep over a short period of time. That is the cliché, the rolling meshed the surrounds the world today.

In most African countries, the military though with nothing to offer have relentlessly seized power at will. One cannot tell the story of any military ruler in Africa who has risen above the waters and led his country to Jerusalem. They have most times taken over power with the view of reviewing the poor state of political achievements by democratically elected leaders. But that is a funny story, isn’t it?

Until recently when Advanced level and few undergraduate students diverted their careers and joined the forces and the police, Africans are witnesses to the calibre of people who wear the green and black uniforms. So if degree holders, intelligent people with economic, law and political science majors failed miserably to drive a country on sound economic policies, who deceived those soldiers of their ability to rule better? Who told the rebels that when the academe fails to see the outcome of their actions on understanding the world and shape their countries, they could do better? Who cajoled those people in believing that they can read the labour laws and comprehend better? Who told those guys that by changing the green uniform for blue suit, they are on their way to convince WTO to change their restrictions for poor African countries? Sadly, in a matter of time, frustration and anger drawing maps on the faces of innocent Africans have often compelled citizens to rise against democratic governments in support of military leaders as saviours.

Why not? For many democratically elected presidents and well schooled individuals on the African continent have failed Africa. Many of these people who have been trained from Universities which are mentioned with pride have themselves and their families to govern when they become presidents. When there is time, they help their children first to study outside. They buy well-furnished houses for their kids to live there on taxpayer’s cost. Then they will begin to talk very long to shoulder the burden of helping the families of their cronies. One year till their tenure is over, they begin to travel all over the world and return with pictures for local television stations to prove how the world see and trust them and NOT how they have governed their respective countries. Elections are few weeks away and so T-shirts, caps, cups, rice etc, would have to be prepared and packaged. The electoral commissioner whose face is not trusted is changed. If that becomes impossible, the constitution is immediately refined to block popular opponents from running. The stage is then set for two things: the incumbency wins or the military takes over. Period!

The pictured scenario has been the motivating reason for military and police to combine and seize power many times. They have pointed with genuine examples of how the academe (educated elite) has mismanaged African States and felt it was time they will help strengthen things. If the educated, the Harvard trained, the so-called scholars could not manage then the innocent people will have to pay a prize for voting them in as leaders. The result? All citizens would have to march through the rest of their lives without laws but for the unseen rules of new military leaders. ‘An animal farm’ has been created in the end for looting.

When Charles Taylor who refused to enter the profession of his name but assumed the presidency of Liberia, the signs were written boldly for the future story of his country. He recruited soldiers from many countries with funding from some developed democratic states in the world, and launched the famous civil war in West Africa. That war raised huge cost to peaceful states in the sub-region, which financed ECOMOG (the name of West African Peacekeepers at that time). There were huge costs in cash and lives. When peace was restored in Liberia most presidents in West Africa who coincidentally are presidents ‘by changing uniforms/dresses’ did not care much. They did not care to vision out the threat Charles Taylor will be to West Africa in the future. For, Charles Taylor came from the same school (rebel to president) as other presidents of West Africa. Seeking presidency was his dream and so president he accomplished in Liberia.

The careless action by leaders who failed to undress Charles Taylor at that time will have to do so later and it has happened. Bob Marley echoed that when he said, he who fights and run away needs to fight another day, and leaders of West Africa are awake to steer another civil war in Liberia.

It was with joy for one to see how people of Liberia who longed for peace welcomed the peacekeepers again. That show of satisfaction and the cry of ‘we want peace, no more war’ should not be taken lightly. It was a message or phrase full of tormenting wisdom. They simply are questioning the failure to have positive, dependable, educated, trusted and selfless patriots to champion the dreams of poor African States. They conveyed the most intuitively uttered wish to see governments run by people who have benefited from their taxes to gain education. They simply questioned the wisdom and the dedication of the academe (or educated elite). They carried the message of Africans about their detest for rebels, selfish souls who launch campaigns for personal interests. They led lonely but powerful African crusade of good leadership, which unfortunately is now the heaven of crooks, thieves and damn criminals who are ever prepared to loot.

The failure of leaders to integrate citizens into governance has always been one of the major problems in Africa. In Ghana, one government after another military regime has failed to include Ghanaians in governance. The benefits, which accrue to practising democracy, have not been sold well to Ghanaians. Even today, there are still many who will support, hail and accept military take-over. This is particularly true when the people are so far from the government. When people do not know what the government is doing and what are the difficulties the government is facing in spite of its significant efforts. When citizens wake up and see no change in days, months and years except the continuous selling of state owned enterprises and assets. When they only read and see the children of the Presidents, Ministers and their friends schooling out there in the comfort of developed countries. When farmers are struggling to pay fees of their wards, one or two ministers are spending thousands of dollars to seek medical attention with per diem at the taxpayer’s cost in other countries. When people do not know what is going on except registering, voting and voting and voting. What is it about democracy that the citizens ought to know or except the freedom of moving round where no one in uniform can lash them? What is it about democracy that will quench people’s frustration to support military regimes?

In his articles dated 2003-04-13 “Leadership, Free Speech, Rawlings' Press Conference and Ghana's Democracy”, 2003-03-20 “The Right of Not Voting and Voting - Clearing the Air” and 2003-08-06 “Government and Governance where lies our limbo?”, all published at this website (read copies at feature articles section, ghanaweb), the writer has been calling for a bridge for the gap between government as an institution and the citizens. This call is particularly important when Ghana made a first jump from a successful handing over of government authority from NDC to NPP.

The NPP government has made many efforts but a government without the people is not government. And so important when citizens do not know well their rights, practices and ways in democratic governance. This is not to say that Ghanaians do not know what democracy entails but to say that citizens will forever support democracy even when governments fail to achieve results than to hail military and rebel regimes in frustration. Furthermore, it is to let Ghanaians appreciate the truth that all ought to support and assist the government in its policy making. That major decisions in the interest of the country should be debated by Ghanaians or by the required institutions while arriving at a common consensus. That people will feel and be felt in decision making processes thus pushing government into governance.

Currently, there is no doubt about the vision and the line the NPP administration is taking. Stated in a previous article, the said efforts by the NPP government to guide the country are highly centralised. The government has pursued both economic and political visions by creating many institutions and offices to support such efforts with little knowledge by citizens. Such characteristic feature is not only keeping the majority of Ghanaians from knowing what the government is doing but it also kills the interest of citizens in democratic participation. With this picture, when the government fails to make meaningful gains to help push the development policies forward, people get angry, frustrated, lose interest and accept military regimes as last resort. At another time, what Ghanaians may do is to keep changing one government to another (say from NDC to NPP, NPP to CPP etc) as a way of trying each party to get the best. Citizens will do this regardless of whether the previous government may have established sound policies to set the platform for good result in the future. They are justified because they have been passive to governance and administration.

The situation in Liberia clearly conveys this message of effective participation of government to Ghanaians and other countries, which are commencing democratic governance. It showed the error of Charles Taylor who centralised government at Monrovia and pursued what he wanted.

It will not be pleasant to see Ghana roll back to the clutches of pseudo-Liberia. Neither will it be pleasant at any time in the country’s history to welcome any rebel leader nor military-turn president. That system which has characterised almost all the States in West Africa should be washed away.

As a country, Ghana and Ghanaians have no excuses to fail in deepening the present democratic system. But of course, Ghana cannot have the result of the good government it wants thrown to the country from Heaven. Citizens need to work for it and consolidate the progress and achievements through discourse mechanisms. That was what Charles Ghankay Taylor and Liberia lost and has to pay for it.

Sadly, the victims of all these chaos and failure has been the most innocent ones, you and me!

I welcome criticism and comments. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Kwame Atta Kaytu
Kwame Atta Kaytu, © 2003

The author has 21 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: KwameAttaKaytu

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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