Kofi Akosah-Sarpong looks at the long road to Ghana's December 7 general elections and concludes that the rough-and-tumble democratic path has laid the foundation for democratic growth
The road to the December 7 general elections in Ghana has come in a one-step-forward, two-steps-backward kind of way, sprinkled with political accidents, political and self-imposed exiles, corruption, deaths, hopes and fears, violent coup detats, twisted visions, emotions, brutal military juntas, firing squads, anguish, bloodshed, unrealistic economic planning, economic hardships, ignorance, mistrust, tribalism, assassinations, violence, deadly intrigues, war mongering, hatred, and all that have made the democratic journey a painful enterprise. All these demonstrate that Ghana's long democratic journey, like the histories of democratic countries the world over, is as primitive as it is despicable, mired simultaneously in pains, chaos and refreshments. However, all these attributes, too, have simultaneously laid the foundation for the on-going democratic growth and fast awakening Ghanaians innate traditional democratic values.
In the midst of overwhelming military regimes entangling Ghana's democratic growth, democracy, no doubt, has been struggling since the founding of corporate Ghana some 50 years ago. Ghana has created four constitutions to now and out of the four three has been suspended; the 1956 constitution was suspended in February 1966, the 1969 constitution was suspended 13 January 1972, the 1979 constitution was suspended 31 December 1981, and the 1992 constitution being operated now. In this regard, Ghanaians have seen meandering democratic administrations in the years 1957-1966, 1969-72, 1979-81, and 1993 to the present only. In a measure of good omen, democratically elected presidents/prime ministers are increasingly coming from all corners of the country: Dr. Kwame Nkrumah from the Western Region, Dr. Kofi Busia from the Brong Ahafo Region (his non-executive, ceremonial President Edward Akuffo Addo was from the Eastern Region), Dr. Hilla Limann from the Upper East Region, Jerry Rawlings from the Volta Region and John Kufour from the Ashanti Region. The same pattern is reflected in the presidential candidates for the December 7, 2004 general elections: John Kuffour from the Ashanti Region, Prof. John Atta Mills from the Central Region, Dr. Edward Mahama from the Northern Region and George Aggudey from the Volta Region. In the 6 multi-party democratic elections since 1957, the first won by social democrats (or Nkrumahist tradition) – the conservatives/capitalists (or the Danguah-Busia tradition) have won only two and the social democrats four. Like all births, Ghana's democratic life started when Ghanaians fought various battles against the British colonialist for freedom, choices and rule of law; the most remarkable being in Kumasi when the city was sacked in 1874. In the 1920's and 1930's a number of political parties, more regional and ethnic based, struggling to achieve independence arose, none of these nor the pro-independence outfit, the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), which was formed in 1947, were nationally based. In 1948 the Secretary-General of the UGCC, Kwame Nkrumah, a philosopher and theologian, broke away due to the fact that the UGCC had ignored the goal of the number of workers, appears too slow and too conservative. Nkrumah then founded the Convention Peoples Party (CPP), inclined to Marxism/Socialism. With new constitution, in 1951 the CPP won the general elections, winning two-thirds majority. Nkrumah, detained for agitating strikes against the British colonial interests, was released to become the leader of the government. In March 1957 Ghana gained independence, the first African country not only to achieve freedom from European colonizers but also to practice multiparty democracy in Africa. From this split of UGCC came Ghana's core two main democratic traditional political values: Danguah-Busia, a conservative-capitalist group (or center to the right), and the Nkrumahist traditional, a social democrats (or center to the left). Even the ensuing military regimes that emerged have shown tendencies of either of these two values. There was powerful opposition to the CPP from not only traditional chiefs and big farmers but also the Ghana Congress Party that merged with the other opposition parties to form the big United Party (UP). With democracy on the march, a lot of political accidents occurred – Nkrumah escaped two assassination attempts, some of CPP development projects were boomed to destruction, political bigwigs like J.B. Danquah, a lawyer of the UGCC, were jailed by the CPP. In 1959 Dr. Kofi Busia, a sociologist, as leader of the UP, felt his life threatened and fled Ghana to England. With politics gone wild and violence swelling, the CPP enacted the much contentious Preventive Detention Act in 1958 and in 1968 Ghana declared a one-party state by the CPP. Corruption began to grow; reckless spending boomed, unpaid debts and expansion of Nkrumah's personal guard into a brigade were seen as subverting the democratic process, a key Ghanaian innate traditional democratic value. In 1966 Nkrumah was toppled violently by the Generals Emmanuel Kotoka and Akwesi Afrifa, and Ghana, for the first time, tasted a no-party military junta under the National Liberation Council (NLC) with Gen. Joseph Ankrah as the head of state. With democratic campaigns swinging, the NLC, after three years in power, organized general elections and the Progress Party (PP), conservative and capitalist, led by Busia, won in 1969. Barely two years in power the PP was overthrown by Lt. Col. Ignatius Kutu Acheampong and his National Redemption Council (NRC) in 1972. Hardly six years in power, as democratic campaigns gathered steam and economic distress mounting, fellow senior military officers relieved Acheampong from power in 1978 for reneging several times to return Ghana to democratic rule and organizing phantom Union Government referendums meant to revert Ghana to one-party system. Gen. F.W.K Akuffo replaces Acheampong (he had metamorphosised his NRC into Supreme Military Council) with little change. Meanwhile, the long-running corruption, moral decadence, brutalities, lack of freedom and choices and the rule of law, and democratic agitations were building up big time. The inability by Akuffo and his Supreme Military Council (11) (1978-1979) to handle all these democratic desires saw junior officers stage Ghana's second violent coup on June 4, 1979, seeing the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) formed under Ft. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings. Still, democracy was on the match and forced the AFRC organized general elections six months after taking power and Dr. Hilla Limann, a diplomat and political scientist, elected president in July 1979. Scarcely two years in office, Limann was overthrown by Rawlings in second coup on December 31, 1981 and ruled with his Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC).
For twelve years, the PNDC, drawing from Ghana's democratic and economic failures ruled, shifting from their initial image as Marxists/Socialists to World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (key faces of free market system) supported Economic Recovery Program in 1983. In all these Ghanaians were mounting pressure on the PNDC to democratize and out of these democratic struggles came a National Commission for Democracy set up in January 1985 to chart the democratization of Ghana's much battered and treacherous political system. Reports of attempted coups was a frequent feature. Still, drawing more from Ghana's failed security history, the PNDC hatched perhaps the best security system that Ghana has seen and that virtually saw it security proof not only throughout its 12-year stay but also guided Rawlings's two-term National Democratic Congress (NDC) civilian administrations that started in 1992 ended in 2000.
In 2000 candidate John Kufour and his National Patriotic Party (NPP) won the presidential from Rawlings' NDC (privately the NPP believes it won the 1996 presidential elections but was computer-rigged by Rawlings' NDC). Much of Ghanaians regarded Kufour, a lawyer, businessman and administrator, as coarse and faintly who has danced a bit in the bumpy Ghanaian political scene. Over the past three-and-half years Kufour has proved to be a complex historical surprise, surviving in the hot Ghanaian political climate where Nkrumah, Busia and Limann could not. Kufour, who has the best index of experiences as public figure among all those who have ruled Ghana, appears to have mastered the security game, putting potential forces of instability on the defensive. As he increasingly works to “secure the state,” as he phrases it, Kufour is drawing from the history of instabilities and democratic stasis, apparently immune even to West Africa's winds of instabilities, of Ghana and increasingly opening up the democratic process. This is increasingly deepening his historical size and democratic force.
But Andrew Aryee, a Ghanaian-Canadian political analyst at Canada's Department Oceans and Fisheries in Ottawa, though he thinks Kufour is pre-matured to judge, believes Kufour “inherited a more stable political environment” compared to Busia and Limann. “Everything was put in place for him [Kufour]…Kufour didn't come after military regimes like Busia and Limann, and so don't have to look after his shoulders as seriously as Busia and Limann despite the unpleasant security situation in West Africa...One party [NDC] handed over power peacefully to Kufour and his NPP. Kufour is building on what Rawlings left, Busia and Liman have to start afresh.” Aryee makes a case that aside from bad economic climate such as fluctuations in world cocoa prices in the last quarter of 1960s and the Gen. Afrifa led Presidential Commission devaluing the cedi, thus making the cedi not powerful, Busia wasn't concerned with security as Kufour is now “because there was no precedent that anybody will aim to topple him though he tried to disarm the army because of growing unrest...Just like Limann, in Busia's time there was rumour of coup plotting but he downplayed it. ”
Aryee sees three factors that have helped not only Kufour but also Ghana's democratic march. The first is a solid constitution, and then the formation of political parties and the ensuing smooth transfer of power and the on-going rural infrastructures development. “What Kufour inherited is by far the best in Ghana's democratic history compared to Busia and Limann,” Aryee argued. “Both Busia and Liman were preceded by military regimes. Busia inherited so many problems. When Limann came to power Ghana hadn't had democratic government since the 1970s and the military including Rawlings were over Limann's shoulder,” a latent threat to Limann and his Peoples' National Party (PNP), and worsened by the PNP's deadly intra-party conflicts that eventually brought it down.
Part of the reasons for Ghana's democratic accidents is blamed on a long culture of inexperience in nurturing democracy. Aryee argues that Busia and his group had no experience despite their impressive academic credentials. “Ghanaians expected this group to have developed Ghana democracy highly but their inexperience undermined them and Ghana's democratic growth,” said Aryee. “The same problem occurred under Nkrumah and his group and was worsened when Nkrumah slowly centred immense powers in himself – President-for-Life, for instance -- declared a one party state and abolished all political parties.” Part of the best way to solve the inexperience problem in Ghana's democratic growth is as they do it in Canada: “organize orientation programmes for the new, in-coming executives and parliamentarians.” Still, Aryee explains that Limann was out of touch with Ghana, and it took him too long to make decisions. “Limann's budget was even defeated in parliament. That shouldn't have happened because of the history of military coup detats and flashed a sign that Limann's PNP was not capable in a democratic setting…The AFRC and Ghanaians were expecting Limann, with his PNP having majority in parliament, to continue with the reforms initiated by the AFRC but they couldn't make decisions because of fierce in-fighting within the PNP…This was in an atmosphere of strong opposition led by Victor Owusu's Popular Front Party (PFP) that was not letting up,” reflected Aryee.
As Ghanaians head to the polls on December 7, they are increasingly being reminded by both the media, politicians and the elites that the exercising of their inherent democratic rights today have come in no easy ways, Ghanaian politics has known many oscillations – the pendulum swinging between brutal military juntas and democratically elected regimes; they have sometimes occurred through blood, sweat and tears, naked stupidity, inexperiences, disorientation, intolerance, inability of Ghanaians, especially the elites, to awaken their innate traditional democratic ethos to meet emerging democratic challenges, and economic hardship.
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