The IEA in Ghana is organising two presidential debates as part of their general programme of supporting multi party democracy in Ghana, but it is fair to comment on whether these two debates are adequate for the monumental task of deepening multiparty democracy in Ghana. I would argue that at least 10 or more debates are required before the elections in December 2008.
The IEA has over the years provided support to political parties, assisting them with building party structures, with educational and training programmes to make the electorate aware of party policies and in some cases providing vehicles to assist the campaign of some the major parties.
It has to date steered clear of ideological issues on which it was founded and has tried to create an environment for buttressing of multi party democracy. The fact that it wants to sponsor presidential debates is very laudable and must be applauded by all who wish issues to be discussed in full view of the whole country.
Since the IEA is really intent on deepening multi party democracy in Africa it must endeavour to also encourage political parties to move away from the politics of identity and tradition to the politics of values, ideas and ideals and promote the politics of competing policies that are relevant to our developing country. It will require more than two debates between the presidential aspirants for them to tell us how they intend to engage in the political, social and economic transformation of the country.
It is true that most of the political parties have developed their manifesto and testaments or whatever name they call their policy direction documents and that these would be translated into leaflets and pamphlets and brochures and may even be posted to websites and blogs and what have you. Some of these will even be translated into our local languages and will form the basis of slogans, mottos and catchphrases that would be used to woo the people to vote for the parties, but at the end of the day what is required in the presidential elections is for the aspiring candidates to come out and tell us all exactly what they wish to and will do for the people of Ghana.
We need that opportunity for them to be questioned about their intentions and for them to tell us how they will translate what looks good on paper into reality for us the people.
Two debates targeted at the north and south of the country at best provides a lopsided view of the country. Why not have one debate in the east and another in the west? The fact is that there are 10 regions in the country and no region is more important than the other, though there are more constituencies in the the in the metropolitan areas than there are in the rural areas. These debates should be used to signal the whole country that no region would be left behind as has often happened in the past.
Giving the debates a regional focus and would enable the candidates to discuss what they will do for each region as well as what they would do nationally and help them to contextualise their responses to the issues facing the country in a way that will be relevant for each city, town, village and hamlet. Holding the debates in each will rightly confirm to all that their region also matters and will help disseminate the views of the parties across the country in a more meaningful way.
Our presidential system of government calls for the president to govern on his own and select his own ministers; this is why we are asked to vote for him or her directly. We must therefore know what they stand for, their party manifesto is not enough – we must know what policies, programmes and projects will be implemented to transform the country and how these will be implemented.
The IEA must have an interest in free and fair elections in Ghana and must do everything possible to ensure that the process is as transparent at the elections are, it must therefore charge its newly formed committee to come up with modalities for debates in all 10 regions on Ghana.
This will give all in the country the opportunity to experience the candidates themselves rather than the broad identity of the parties and also provide for comparing and contrasting as to who is the most credible of all the candidates.
Ade Sawyerr is partner in Equinox Consulting, a management consultancy that provides consultancy, training and research services and focuses on formulating strategies for African Caribbean Asian and minority ethnic, disadvantaged and socially excluded communities. He also comments on political, economic and social, and development issues. He can be contacted through www.equinoxconsulting.net. or by email on [email protected]