Did The African Union Get Ghana's Message?
The recent elections in Ghana have been hailed as a successful African story. The praises, appellate and messages of commendations coming from all corners of the globe is an indication that the world is hoping for change in Africa. It is also an indication that the world is expecting something different, different from the way things are done on the continent.
Having experienced political instabilities for most of her modern existence Africa has often been described as a failed continent - a continent where everything is depressing. So it came as a surprise when Ghana managed to conduct one of the best successful elections on the continent. The successful elections in Ghana have indeed opened a different chapter for the continent. It has shown the rest of countries on the continent that there is the need for democracy to be given a chance in Africa. The elections have sent a powerful message to the continent that democracy as a form of government should be widely adopted and practiced by all the countries so that there will always be peaceful means of electing leaders and transferring power from one administration to the other.
I strongly believe that Ghana's elections are sending the following message to the African Union and its members.
That the constitutions of the various African states should stipulate the number of years and number of terms one could occupy the office of president or prime minister. To alleviate the continent from political diarrhoea, poverty and economic melancholy the governments must as a matter of urgency embark on democratic reforms. The years where leaders rule till they die or are chased out of office should be a thing of the past. The leaders should allow free and fair elections to be held every 4 or 5 years depending on what the constitution says. Elected leaders must have fixed term of office and on no account should they try to manipulate the system in order to remain in power. The elections in Ghana which attracted a lot of international commendations around the world are indicating to the rest of Africa that the people want something different. Our image as a continent can improve considerably if we allow democracy to flourish, if we allow rule of law to work, if we embark on a new path-a path where it is possible for the incumbent to lose elections and hell does not break loose, a path where judges are free to dispense justice without fear or favour, a path where members of the opposition are not seen as enemy combatants but as contributors of our democracy and development, and a path where policies and ideas dominate political discussions and elections instead of the whipping of tribal and ethnic sentiments.
The leaders on the continent must realize that the existence of a vibrant democracy is in the best interest of the people and the continent as a whole. The politicians must know that vibrant democracy is a necessary condition if Africa is to come out of her current political and economic misery.
More often than not, lack or absence of democracy, corruption and abuse of power has often been cited by coup plotters as reasons for overthrowing governments in power. To prevent such incursions by the army political accountability on the continent must be nurtured strengthened. That means the three organs of government namely the executive, legislature and the judiciary must first be independent of each other and secondly they should powers that checks and balances each other so as to prevent one arm from amassing too much power. History has shown that a situation where one arm of government amasses power only breeds envy and instabilities. The Judiciary should be given enough powers to investigate allegations of corruption so as to prevent the repetition of corrupt practices that fuelled the wars on the continent.
Additionally, the fourth arm of government that is the media should be enshrined in the constitution and the AU Charter. The mushrooming of public and private media on the continent especially electronic media should be seen as an encouraging development and governments should be encouraged to allow such private stations to be established unconditionally. The freedom of the press must be safeguarded so as to prevent unscrupulous politicians from attacking them and subjecting them to all sorts of negative tactics. The media should be allowed to play its role as the watchdog of the state and every law that will intimidate them and undermine their ability to work should be repealed.
The various institutions of government such as police, military and the ministries should work to promote democracy and development. Rule of Law should be employed by the state. Everyone should be equal before the law. Instances where there are two separate laws for the rulers and the ruled is not only affront to rule of law but affront to democracy and justice. The office of the Ombudsman and other independent bodies should be established to protect the citizens from the state.
That brings us to one of the most important institutions of democracy .i.e. electoral commission. The role of the electoral commission must also be enshrined in the constitution. This office must be independent of the executive branch of government. It must be well resourced so that it can organise elections without any difficulties. The role played by Dr. Afari Gyan in conducting Ghana's election can only be described as excellent. The electoral commission must be impartial so as to prevent the electoral disputes that characterised the elections in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria.
The constitutions of the various countries should guarantee the existence of opposition parties. This will prevent the one party state found in most countries from gaining root. Absence of official opposition not only prevents the people from having a choice but also discredit any advantage democracy or elections may have. Therefore, constitutional and electoral courts should be established in member countries so that matters of political and electoral disputes could be settled amicably. Corruption should be punished severely and every effort should be made track down every penny stolen from the countries.
The African Union as a continental body has a lot to learn from Ghana's elections.
The AU Charter should be reformed, strengthened and implemented to the letter. All regional bodies such as ECOWAS, SADC and the rest should be streamlined to work within the broader framework of the AU. The AU must not be a talking shop anymore. It must not be a gathering of corrupt, despotic and kleptocratic rulers but rather a gathering of true democrats. The AU must be a platform of action and concrete decision making, a platform where issues affecting the people are addressed. This will require strong, determined and visionary leadership. A leadership who share the thoughts and ideas of Nkrumah, Lumumba, Seketuri and Nasser and who are committed to fighting poverty and improving the lots of the people. The AU must have a full time foreign policy chief who will be the mouthpiece of the continent and who will articulate the needs and concerns of the people to the outside world. The AU should establish special bodies of experts who will serve as advisory bodies to the AU. The complete silence exhibited by the AU during the current global financial crisis necessitates for the establishment of such bodies of experts. These bodies may include health, economics, environment, resource, science and technology.
Each country should strengthen her intelligence capabilities so as to ward off the undesirables of the cold war tactics where Africa was destabilised by the west using their intelligence branches and the various African countries should share vital information about what the west is up to. Every effort should be made to prevent arm struggles either within the countries or between the countries.
The days where suspensions are used as a form of punishment for coup plotters should be things of the past. Instead there should be a strong, well funded standing army (Africa High Command) ready to be deployed to any country where the army will try to cease power. Such an army should also be used to crash any arm insurgence that will show it ugly head onto the Africa political scene.
The Pan African Parliament should be strengthened and its decisions binding on all member countries. An African Court of Justice should be established to settle disputes between nations and within nations and its decisions must be binding on all members as well. This court must be the highest court on the continent. It must be modelled in line with European Court of Justice. Individuals could take their case to this court for dispensation of justice. These democratic and constitutional measures will definitely help to reduce conflicts and human rights' abuse which is rife on the continent.
Africans must unite and form a common front so as to make their voices heard on the international stage. We must unite against all forms of propaganda from the rest the world. The positive effect that Aljazeera is having on the world is an indication of what positive thinking could bring to the world. Aljazeera has done well in shaping the world opinion about Islam, Arabs and issues affecting Muslims, Arabs and people of the developing world. To counter the growing influence of Aljazeera, BBC for example has had to close down some programmes in order to launch an Arabic version of the BBC. Africans must know that our coming together will be interpreted differently by many who do not share our interests. As a result every effort would be made to thwart these laudable efforts in order to maintain the status quo of having a north –south divide. We must also know that our effort to change our predicament would meet several challenges among them the huge financial requirement, the human and material resources needed and many others. But we must put ourselves together and start doing something now because a journey of a thousand miles begins with a step.
Finally it is time for the old guard of African politics to leave the scene and give way to the younger generation. There are a lot of Barak Obamas on the continent but they have been prevented by the old guard from making any economic, social and political contribution towards Africa's development. It is very sad that even in this 21st Century these old guards still think they only hold the key to wisdom. Some of these old guards have been in power for more than 3 decades yet they still want to continue to rule. For example Gaddafi of Libya has been in power for 38 years now. Omar Bongo of Gabon 40 years, Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea 28 years, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe 28 years, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt 27 years, Paul Biya of Cameroon 26 years, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda 22 years, Omar Al Bashir of Sudan 19 years, Iddriss Derby of Chad 17 years, Yahya Jammeh of Gambia 14 years, and the list goes on unending. Recently the president of Tunisia has decided to make himself a life president of the country. The presence of such dictators is not only harmful to the image and the development of the continent but a major factor why impoverishment and underdevelopment is prevalent on the continent. Every effort should be made by the AU and the regional bodies to discourage such blatant abuse of power. It is against this background that Ghana should be commended again and again for conducting one of the freest elections on the continent.
Ghana's elections are a straight message to the African Union and its members that democratic reform needed on the continent is long overdue and that the African Union should take notice of it. Let this 21st Century be a century of hope, a century of development, a century of prosperity and a century of peace for Africans and the world.
By Lord Aikins Adusei
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