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13.05.2005 Feature Article

Democracy And Its Risks - The Case Of Ghana

Democracy And Its Risks - The Case Of Ghana
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Dr. Nkrumah once said that the people of Ghana preferred “self-government with danger to servitude in tranquility”. The question is do later leaders of Ghana realize the full implications of what the pioneer meant by the “danger” involved in running a country?

Education has away of confusing people sometimes. There is a school of thought among some Ghanaians who may have taken such courses as Economics, especially those who live or have lived in the West, that the best path for Africa is a society where government is relegated to the backdoors and letting everybody do their own thing. The notion is that governmental bureaucracy is a major interference in entrepreneurship. Some even argue that government should not be involved in building roads, sewage, health care facilities, public toilets, and even schools. Some even dream of pulling enough money among clubs to build public highways.

This writer partially understands the feelings that may have led such people who have given up on “the art of self governance” as a public requirement for any civilized organization. There is a caution if we want to live happily in a civilized society without rules and laws, without a government. The reason I agree partly is that the preponderance of evidence point to the fact that our governments in Ghana have become a major hindrance in Ghana's societal development. Our Ghana government has become a huge conglomerate of taxing and spending fiefdoms, a money-sucking leach that does not invest the public funds collected to help the society. Our government has become a play-toy for the politicians and leaders and top civil service executives who, after election or appointment, see only opportunity to live luxury lives, take advantage of loopholes in existing colonial benefit packages, and can literally steal money without any consequences. Our government has also created long bureaucracies that interfere with business establishment, do not change with time, and are set up only to collect taxes and in some cases facilitate bribery. On the other hand, needed infrastructure for business, including water, stable electricity that meets minimum line voltage, reasonably priced communication infrastructure, are not provided. Ghana Telecom still charges C1,800 per minute even for 2 or 10 second misdial or calls, whiles competitors have at least per second billing. Medium and large corporations such as Banks have to have their own electricity plants, while small businesses cannot compete against cheap imports due to high costs.

Despite these handicaps in our administrative and judicial systems, we have to be careful to think of living without government. In fact this is what is happening now in many cases. Private sewage and garbage or trash collection fell behind is only beginning in the cities, and garbage is literally dumped in open lots in most neighborhoods in Ghanaian cities and towns. People burn trash and smoke-out their neighbors without fear. Worse, gold and other mining companies dump toxic chemicals in rivers without consequences. There is current debate and concern about plastic bags from sachet water, but nobody seems to go deeper to examine our society and find viable and workable solutions. Politicians only talk, shout, and threaten sometimes. It does not work.

These failures may even encourage some to read and hear of positive things one can do without any government. There is an article posted on May 7, 2005 on the Internet discussion forum, in the online by Carol Pineau, a very positive article about Africa and Western media, but one which may lend this school of thought some support. Carol writes that in Somalia, even without a government in the last decade, people have been able to build a society where businesses are thriving and competing, including three airlines and cheaper cell phone companies. Whiles this may be positive, there are many people in the world today who would NOT want to live in societies where there is no order, no rules, and no government, such as Somalia.

This write believes that there is a role for government to play in our lives. There is enough evidence to show that our governments, legal and illegal military regimes, have been weak. However, it is left to the people in the society to participate in shaping the course of events. Democracy may seem to be adequate, but we should remember that the practice may not be so simple. For Democracy to work effectively, it demands some executive leadership planning, communication, management. It also needs peoples' participation.

The motivation to write this article came from the article by Charles Manu on GhanaWeb of May 7, 2005 titled: RISK MANAGEMENT in the Context of Public Sector Reforms.

This is an excellent article, but it seems it was written as a presentation or technical paper, as opposed to a needed practical system or procedure that we need urgently to adapt as a nation or organization under a leader. We read:

"Apparently the Government is making attempts to build a team of exceptional leaders to drive change and lead the Public and Civil Services to new levels of excellence via the 'revamped' charters. The public sector agencies are currently undergoing a comprehensive change management program by implementing the said charters to achieve the required results in an efficient and cost-effective manner - thus making the organizations more business-like, accountable and outcome driven. This approach to make in-roads to a more sound and pervasive framework would require a 'cultural change' within the organizations and this too will take some time to achieve"

As academicians and people who lived and managed under the kind of changes we have seen in the Western societies, change management is an important aspect of leadership. Like many systems and institutions set up by any government, there has to be a strong leadership input in seeing that a vision or national Goal such as risk management is well implemented. If such an institution becomes another haven for corrupt politicians, the society suffers. People are left to be at great risk of even war, famine, communicable diseases and more. As many are aware, such societies live without water, electricity and other services as existing systems break down without maintenance and management. We should not kid ourselves with big words that are only good for collecting foreign loans. Risk management can be done by government without borrowing money.

In reality, any such goals, such as risk management, are part of the vision of the leader. Some writers have indicated the need to establish institutions in Africa as a solution; however, hardly is this factor of leadership mentioned and understood. Man was created before any such structures or systems were built. Good institutions come only as the effective implementation of the vision(s) of a leader or leaders. Assuming there is a government and a leader, one will need an effective organizational communication, not only to inform, but also to disseminate the vision, its relevance and importance to the organization or nation. A “learning organization”, as is called in the leadership and change management literature, needs to be created. This is what carries on the vision and continues to carry on the culture of ethics, discipline, risk management, planning, security, and maintenance of public and private property. A good example of the missing link in organizational culture is the observation that one makes during travels. Anybody who has traveled to Europe, Africa, North America and many of Asia will not help but notice that Africa is the only continent where houses and government property do not have landscaping to stop soil erosion. It is a shame on our leadership.

On the specific topic of risk management, we must note that this is not for one department of the nation, but for the whole nation. As such we have to put the change leader as the President. So far as we know, this part is being ignored or handled poorly. Our President has not made a strong effort to communicate this vision to the society. As such the cultural change that one needs to make the implementation feasible and workable is not happening. “Revamped charters” in the civil service structure, as they call them, are fine. However, without leadership, this will not become an embedded culture that can continue after the current leader.

Some many remember the case of the fire accident that occurred at Makola market in the 1980s. It was reported there was no water in the hoses of the fire station, which was next door to this very crowded African market. One may remember the results. Similarly some may recall the incident that caused more than 100 deaths during the Accra Sports Stadium disaster a few years ago. Again there was no plan for emergency escape. Recently in 2005 there has been a fire accident that has taken many lives at the Tema Oil Refinery.

Where is the Plan?

My exploratory study of Ghana, taking me 3 trips in the last 15 months shows that many things, even some with good intentions, are poorly planned or not planned at all. A good example is the speed bumps erected across all roads in the Madina and other such crowded areas of Accra. They are built so high that they scratch the bottom of the oil pans or sumps (as they are called in Ghana). Last month, April 2005, the oil pan for my Van was punctured in the Madina East Legon area. It cost me about C2 Million, the monthly salary of a middle class worker. In the repair shop I heard that this is a common occurrence. Anybody who has sat in an Engineering classroom knows these speed bumps were poorly designed. It is causing several millions of dollars of damage every year. Were Ghana to be a country where people pressured for their civil rights, many law suits would be filed against the Accra Metropolitan Assembly and the government (making some lawyers rich). There are more we can cite.

This writer agrees with the conclusions of the author Charles Manu, that: “This approach to make in-roads to a more sound and pervasive framework would require a 'cultural change' within the organisations and this too will take some time to achieve. Risk management is not static but dynamic and needs to be reviewed with time”

It is quite obvious that if our society is to minimize many societal risks, hazards, and provide security for its nationals, an embedded culture needs to be established through education, knowledge sharing, and organizational learning. This is what first Premier Nkrumah meant when he implied that we preferred danger. It meant we can handle it! Through cultural change, our people will then know and accept as part of life such things as health hazards, environmental risks and where to report them. People will also soon be able to adopt the culture of such things as planting grass and lawns to stop soil erosion, creating public parks, covering gutters and eliminating standing water to reduce mosquito growth and malaria. These are day-to-day cultures in most civilized countries. Of course the ideal situation will be for the government to ban the open sewage or gutter system.

We can also create a better communication and feedback system between citizens and government. Until recently, in 2005, government phone company did not have a Directory assistance. Most houses do not have phone lines, a basic tool for emergency reporting and communication. Our leaders need to try better to create a society with better systems to reduce the many hazards and risks, diseases and their spread, food contamination, water contamination and toxic dumping risks. In short, we need a better learning organization for mutual protection and development. There is a role for government beyond tax and spend self-centered activities. Let's try to do better. Kwaku A. Danso, President/Chair, Ghana Leadership Union (NGO) Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.