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18.02.2009 Feature Article

Debasing Our Democracy

Debasing Our Democracy

The headlines have been relentless.
“CASTLE VEHICLES SEIZED IN MILITARY-STYLE OPERATION”

“BOARDS OF PUBLIC CORPORATIONS DISSOLVED”
“SERVICE CHIEFS RETIRED”
“POLICEMEN WHO GUARDED NPP MINISTERS TO BE RETIRED”

“NPP SUPPORTERS ATTACKED AGAIN”
“NIB BOSS IN BNI CUSTODY”
“EGBERT LOSES PLACE AS HOST OF GBC PROGRAM”
These are some of the headlines that have graced the pages of our newspapers since January 7th.

Should these headlines be seen in a democratic transition or after a coup?

If you are an NPP member, do not start cheering yet.

Some of these same things occurred in 2001.
Of course that is not a good enough reason for them to occur in 2009.

Surprisingly, most of the same religious leaders and civil society groups that used to achingly plead for peace before the elections and put on the “we pray for peace adverts” have been deafeningly quiet.

It would be nice if some of them have stood up in defense of the Agbobloshie victims. It would be nice if some of them had condemned the excesses of the NDC that I have catalogued above.

The question is “Do we have a democracy or not?
We watched in amazement as a transition process that should be an orderly exchange of information between an incoming government and the outgoing government became largely a continuation of the old campaign or a prelude to the next one. The danger here is that some day, a new government would ask for information from an outgoing government and find members of the outgoing government refusing to provide them with the information they need.

Reminiscent of coups, we have watched vehicles, some belonging to private persons seized on the streets by government operatives without any regard to our laws and applicable regulations.

Boards of public corporations that were duly constituted in accordance with the law have been dissolved as if their very existence was a violation of some law without any arrangements for their replacement. Without regard to whether the NPP did it first or not, is it really in the interest of our democracy for executives and boards of public corporations to be dissolved wholesale without replacement? Even during his term, should a President be able to replace the board of a public corporation that he himself established just for “reasons he sees fit?”

Should the heads of our security services be replaced whenever the party in government loses an election? We should be concerned that if we institutionalize the culture of changing the IGP etc whenever there is a change in government, the day will come when in reaction to these expectations; those who occupy these positions will begin trying to be active participants in our elections to ensure outcomes that will promote their careers. That will bode ill for our democracy.

If honest policemen and women can be victimized just because they guarded members of a previous government, where is our democracy heading? How can the new government count on others to protect them loyally when they know that their careers will suffer if the government changes?

Indeed, sometimes, such victimization, as is well-known does not only take the form of dismissals. They can take the form of transfers to far and remote corners of the country. It leaves politicians open to the unfortunate charge that while they think their services in office should result in ex-gratia awards, that of others should result in victimization.

In addition to these issues that have been outlined, there are also gratuitous prosecutions inspired, quite often by personal dislikes or vengefulness. While such actions are routine for the government, they cause a lot of money for families to defend and cause a lot of stress to those targeted and their families.

Indeed, sometimes, as has been proven in history, such forms of victimization can be directed at even members of the governing party. The cases of Zuma in South Africa and Atiku in Nigeria, both Vice-Presidents before they got into the cross-hairs of the powers that be, bear ample testimony to how the criminalization of political differences do not always end at the boundary between parties.

This is not to suggest that wrong-doing should not be punished. It should be but it should never be done in a way that will lead a future nominee for Attorney General, following a well beaten-path to describe our court system as a “kangaroo” system.

Should good talk-show hosts lose their shows because the party in government has changed? If that happens routinely, then what are the practical effects of those protections for journalists that are enshrined in our constitution and our laws? We should resist the temptation to weaken the Press because sooner or later, we all need them, to tell our story and strengthen our democracy.

How can we correct these wrongs and improve our democracy?

First, I suggest that our Service Chiefs, like the Inspector General of Police or the Chief of Defense Staff serve fixed six-year terms renewable once. This will mean that a service chief named by a President will serve for two more years after the term of that President unless the President is re-elected. Of course, the Service Chief should be removable for clear breaches of his mandate and other specified errors. The point is that a service Chief should not be removed because the President who appointed him is no longer in office.

Second, the Executives and the Boards of our Public Corporations should, along similar lines serve for fixed terms and be removable only for clearly defined causes.

Third, attacks on the supporters of one party by supporters of another party, with the blessing or the indifference of its leadership, is usually the first step on the suicidal road to civil war. Sooner or later, those who feel unprotected will be forced to first protect themselves and then move on to seek revenge. Let us not ignore the lessons of history lest we repeat them.

Fourth, the Press must fearlessly expose these acts, call them by their real names and shame those involved. So far, our media are doing reasonably well and should be encouraged.

Fifth, let the law enforcement authorities enforce the laws, without fear or favour. While this is easier said than done, the politicization of our law enforcement authorities will sound the death-knell of our democracy. It is wrong for peace officers, maintaining law and order to be doing either the kangaroo dance or the “yeresesamu” movement of their hands. I long for the day when during elections or at any other period, our peace officers will do their work so impartially that it will be impossible to tell which party they belong to.

Sixth, the civil society groups that made so much noise about peace should be up and doing. They should remember what the President said in the heat of the campaign about breaches of our electioneering process. President Mills, then candidate Mills warned them not to wait for things to go wrong before going to him to urge restraint because at that time, he would not listen. They should recall the Presidents advice and apply it to these times.

Seventh, the government must take responsibility for these excesses and correct them. While it is commendable that a few officials in the government have come out to condemn some of the excesses, that is not enough. An ounce of prevention, it is said is worth a pound of cure. While President Mills reputation as an “Asomdwehene” may be well deserved, it needs to be demonstrated, more than ever before, by deeds, not words. He should do well to heed the words of a Nigerian dissident who when told that ex-President Shehu Shagari was not corrupt but had a lot of corrupt Ministers said “How can you say that the leader of a band of armed robbers is not an armed robber when he is their leader?”

The repeated excuse that most of these excesses are occurring without Prof. Mills knowledge begs the question of whether he is in charge of his own government. President Mills needs to counter the growing perception that others, in or associated with his government can do in his name, without his concern, things he does not approve of.

President Rawlings once said “Abaa a yedebo Takyi no, eda ho”! His Excellency was right on point.

Ultimately, we are all responsible for our democracy. The policy of an eye for an eye, followed long enough, will leave all of us blind. Let us act to cleanse and to ennoble it. I pray that soon, we shall live in a country where we will be judged, not by the parties we belong to but by our abilities and conduct as individuals. We must advance the frontiers of our democracy and pass it on to posterity in a better form.

Let us move Ghana forward, together.

Credit: Arthur Kobina Kennedy [Email: [email protected]]

Arthur Kobina Kennedy, Dr.
Arthur Kobina Kennedy, Dr., © 2009

This author has authored 189 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: ArthurKobinaKennedy

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