SALVAGING GHANA'S SURREAL DEMOCRATIC PROCESS
Ghana's surreal democracy is partisan for national elections but legislatively non-partisan for district versions. This seriously ignores two important realities: (a) Already culturally communal, additional factors have made Ghanaians irreversibly politicized, and (b) the new democratic experiment functions within an adversarial paradigm of partisan politics. Nonetheless, Ghana can avoid recent sociopolitical upheavals in Africa by blending the positive aspects of partisan politics at all levels of governance with those from the consensual aspects of traditional democracy. To cease being a seasonal cosmetic exercise, adequate human and nonhuman resources must be injected into currently under-resourced electoral processes, voter education, the press, political party structures and creating a level playing field for all political parties. Meanwhile, only widespread improvements in material welfare can make a democratic or any system of governance self-sustaining. That is the true litmus test.
Ghana is one of several African and other Third World countries that are striving to implement a cosmetic version of imposed European democracy and related institutions. For example very superficial and no lesson on democracy, Ghana's first election, contested by two political parties, was held on February 8.1951. European institutions in the Third World are cosmetic because, unlike their origins, none evolved as part of the culture of the people. They were imposed during the past 500 years, after the first visit by Christopher Columbus to the Caribbean in 1492 opened the rest of the world to Europe.
Being culturally aggressive and predatory, Europeans used unprovoked conquest in expanding their progressive hegemony over these places and now dominate most aspects of life on Earth. In North America, South America and Australasia, they have effectively replaced indigenous peoples whose remnants are barricaded under conditions that are often worse than zoos. In most other aboriginal areas they colonized for varying periods, imposed European institutions of language, values, governance, economic management, education, religion, sports and every aspect critical for human survival have either supplanted far superior age-old and time-tested indigenous alternatives or severely made them irrelevant to local conditions. For the first time in recorded history, one group of people, a branch of the Indo-European family tree, now dominate the Earth and organize it primarily to serve their own parochial or collective interests. As a result, most other countries, particularly those referred to as developing – although they are underdeveloping – have been forced into being obedient and peripheral participants in a Euro-American created world order. As a result, their representatives attend international meetings mainly as decorations. Invariably, the wealthier and more powerful countries of Euro-America use these forums predictably to extract greater material benefits at the expense of these poorer countries.
This world order of the haves exploiting the have-nots results from the fact that European culture functions under a zero-sum paradigm or worldview. Therefore, mainly for hedonistic reasons, it emphasizes the expeditious and insatiable acquisition of material wealth. An almost infinite number of channels includes commerce, manufacturing, intellectual pursuits, church work, drugs and arms trafficking, sports, corruption, spying, robbery, war, etc.
Participants automatically become mutual adversaries and often prey on each other. The closest other example of this use of personal ingenuity or private enterprise is when dogs are fed from a common bowl. In a pecking order, the most powerful ensure that they fill their stomachs, with the last being the weakest in the pack. However, unlike these creatures, human beings operating under a zero-sum paradigm never get satisfied. They keep hoarding indefinitely, believing that items a person cannot use immediately would eventually become useful.
The Bible must have been describing this environment of survival of the fittest or winner-take-all as where those that already have get more, while those that have not lose the little that they already possess. Through various forms of unprovoked conquest and domination, this is the culture that Indo-Europeans exported worldwide and regulates most human behaviour today. Similarly, other groups of the same Indo-European family tree exported the caste system that their descendants have sustained to this day in India. At the international level, the same zero-sum paradigm fuels nations in endless acquisition of military superiority, primarily to conquer and dominate others.
The objective in all cases is power or authority over things and other people. A person may first acquire as much money, land or some other material wealth as his ingenuity or enterprise permits. Some people, as happens under socialism, communism or coups d'etat start with acquiring political power. Whichever type of power is the starting point is then used in endless rounds to get more of the other and vice versa until a person becomes both materially and politically very powerful.
Similar to all other activities, politics is functionally a business. It enables those who win to rise from rags to riches or from grass to grace. Therefore, everywhere worldwide, heads of state, prime ministers, parliamentarians and various holders of political offices do all they can to stay on the job. This inseparable link between business and politics makes European democracy and what is popularly referred to as private enterprise capitalism to be inseparable sides of the same coin. It is important to keep recalling this link, if one wishes truly to understand the new or Euro-American democracy, as practised by people of that culture and the cosmetic variety they exported by force or undemocratically to African and other Third World countries.
In theory, the only thing democratic in Euro-American style democracy is the right of adults periodically to cast ballots during elections. In reality, however, each democracy is an oligarchy. Incidentally, the international equivalent of this oligarchy is the entire United Nations system, through whose Security Council Euro-America rules the world. Accordingly, all critical decisions on socioeconomic management result from self-serving deals that are struck in secrecy and non-transparency among an elite group. As occasionally confirmed by polls and popular street demonstrations, many decisions of this oligarchy would be rejected if they were later subjected to popular referenda, as true democratic oversight would demand. In this regard, Switzerland seems closest to being more democratic than oligarchic.
Meanwhile, enough dissimilarity makes each of the Euro-American democracies to be unique. Each distinctly reflects the dominant culture of the nation and results from a compromise that evolved after centuries of conflict between adversarial socioeconomic classes, predatory wars, social upheavals and revolutions in some cases. Indeed, through judicial and legislative channels, an almost endless process of defining each version of democracy continues to this day. That is why none of these nations would exchange its version for that of another. It is also for similar reasons that members of the European Union had a tough time designing their Constitution.
As stated earlier, the zero-sum paradigm of European culture makes these people to be highly competitive, individualistic or even narcissistic. In contrast, the culture of most indigenous or aboriginal peoples is communal, with emphasis on cooperation and accommodation, even with the physical environment. It is this symbiotic and non-aggressive social paradigm that made them easy prey for unprovoked conquest, domination, colonization and exploitation in diverse ways that continue in different guises to this day by the culturally more aggressive and predatory peoples of Indo-European origins.
The long history of European colonialism caused the evolution of dualistic governance, economies, social values, etc., in just about every Third World country. The modern sector is urban-based. It was the seat and source of all economic, political, commercial and other effective forms of power during the colonial era, just as it has been in and the post-independence period. Those who wield this power are the elite European-trained or Europeanized indigenes who have replaced the previous European colonial authority. As a result, they are the primary beneficiaries of a blend of local and continuing European colonialism, through the activities of various specialized bodies of the United Nations, such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and a galaxy of foreign official and non-governmental institutions, striving as best as each can to achieve economic, commercial, political, social and various objectives at the expense of the true aspirations of most of the local population.
The traditional sector comprises essentially of the illiterate, ignorant, poor and powerless majority of the population that enjoys vastly inferior levels of modern services. The past five decades of progressively intensifying economic hardship and related predicaments have driven most of these people increasingly to seek remedies through convenient blends of ancient forms of fatalism or hope and its modern versions of lotteries, illusive miracles promised by a blitz of Christian sects and deceit by politicians seeking votes.
Most of the political and economic problems of Third World countries such as Ghana arise from their history of Europeans forcibly grafting alien institutions onto culturally unwilling hosts. Similar to organ transplants in humans and animals or grafts onto plants, the absence of genetic affinity creates rejection syndromes. Instances include recent civil wars in La Cote d'Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, etc., where some groups chose the bush to vote by bullets than by ballots.
Ever since Ghana's independence in 1957 from Britain, discontent within the national Armed Forces led to several unconstitutional experiments in governance. Each leader claimed he would make the nation more democratic and prosperous. To avoid digressing into polemics, this paper simply accepts these loosely declared objectives. As already stated, there are significant inherent, philosophical and institutional differences among even the Euro-American role models of democracy.
If Ghana or any other developing country wishes to salvage some redeeming value from the new democracy that is being implemented by default, there must first be sober recognition of its serious faults. Only correct diagnoses lead to correct cures. The new democracy is alien to probably about 90% of the Ghanaian population. Being neither holistic nor evolved as part of indigenous culture, this institution resembles the times tables and other arithmetic formulas that one learns at school for occasional use. Probably less than an elite of 2% of the population is somewhat confidently familiar with the contents and the various checklists in relevant documents of the new governance. This tiny group is made up mainly of its employment-related beneficiaries such as lawyers, political party activists, political science or related scholars at local universities and relatively senior officials at the National Electoral Commission.
Meanwhile, similar to driving a badly designed car on an equally badly designed road, a whole nation is literally stuck with this highly expensive institution for which no attempt known to the author has ever been made to estimate its cost, keep updating this and providing adequate resources for its implementation. Indeed, Ghana has in recent years relied on foreign donors to finance most of the costs of her periodic national presidential and parliamentary elections. This is probably the easiest to implement and the least costly of the several strands in the democratic tapestry. Therefore, if a country cannot finance a national election that happens once in every four years, she cannot also meet the enormous costs of civic education and needed reforms and coordination of the legislative, executive and judicial functions of national governance. There is even not much instruction on the new democracy in the curriculums of the entire national educational spectrum except, for purely academic reasons, specific courses in political science at the secondary and university levels.
Obviously, civic education must be reintroduced, into the entire educational system. Simultaneously, the mass media (electronic and print), religious bodies and all available channels of education must be used for a sustained, massive and saturation campaign for educating the public. Unfortunately, most of the information on national governance is available only in English and must definitely be made available in local languages.
The only true democracy that most Ghanaians in their respective ethnic communities ever enjoyed and understand is the traditional form of governance that took millennia to evolve. Referred to in our discussion as “indigenous democracy”, this transparent and accountable system functioned effectively. Its defects arose from its misuse for domination and exploitation during British colonialism and by governments during the post-1957 independence period up to this day. Its basic strength lies in its consensual, just and holistic nature. Because everyone within the ethnic group was raised in it, it was a natural part of daily social, economic and cultural life.
In contrast, the new democracy is tenaciously adversarial. Left on its own, this inherently adversarial European type of democracy can only worsen already degenerating conditions in two ways. The first would be to revive age-old ethic or tribal animosities and inject more venom into them. Secondly, being a business, the new democracy has a tendency to evolve through kleptocracy toward plutocracy. Within a poor country most of whose population is illiterate and ignorant, the potential for civil strife is enormous. Obviously, a great deal of vision, national political will and deliberate action are needed to nudge the system progressively toward a more consensual political model. Just as any other country, Ghana must evolve its own unique democracy by blending the positive elements from both the European version that was forced on her with those of the national indigenous variety.
ANALYSIS OF SPECIFIC PIECES OF LEGISLATION
Ghana used the district-level elections of November 1988 and those that followed in 1994 and 2002 to implement its current experiment at deliberately increasing grassroots participation in governance. This policy was made lawful under the Local government (Urban, Zonal, Town councils and Unit Committees (Establishment) Instrument, 1991. What was truly new with this law was a calculated effort at getting popular participation in decision-making, the planning and monitoring of projects and several other factors that intimately affect the respective communities. Conceptually, these efforts were in the right direction.
Nonetheless, as typically consistent as this law was with both colonial and post-independence undemocratic traditions, the new system was designed and imposed by the political and bureaucratic elite in the national capital. No meaningful inputs were sought from public debate, political parties, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), the media and, most importantly, its target beneficiaries, the mass of people living at the grassroots level. With no proper budgeting, the government simply assumed that, although starved of funds, the efforts of formal structures such as the Electoral Commission (EC), the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE), government administrative units at district and sub-district levels, CSOs, the media and political parties would help in this process of schooling the population.
The Constitution of the Republic of Ghana 1992 set the tone. Thereafter, the Local Government Act, 1993 went further by establishing District Assemblies, as the grassroots equivalent of the national executive and administration. Available only in English, as consistently happens to all the critical materials on these issues, this piece of legislation is a relatively fat document with several sets of checklists of obvious relevance to officials with the relevant technical competence. Meanwhile, this law and Article 248 (1) and (2) of the national Constitution of 1992 are naïve and erroneously innovative by providing that candidates seeking election to District Assemblies or lower local government units must be non-partisan and cannot use partisan symbols or benefit materially from the support of any political party. This non-partisan aspect ignores the following important facts.
1. Being culturally tribal or communal, individualism is alien to Ghanaians.
2. The new democracy is essentially adversarial and conducted worldwide through political
3. Democracy is very expensive to implement and most Ghanaians are too poor
independently to finance election campaigns.
Meanwhile, as material conditions of most of the population have worsened during the post-independence era that started in 1957, corruption, nepotism, cronyism and adverse aspects of tribalism have intensified. During this period, unpleasant experience from various previous military and civilian governments has made most Ghanaians to become more cynical about individual politicians. Therefore, open support from a political party is likely to enhance the credibility of a candidate.
The factors stated above have contributed toward making most citizens highly politicized. They readily read political motives into each move at every level of governance in the nation. Regardless of whatever a candidate for an election may claim, people will link his tribe, profession, economic class or any other social factor with a political bias that in turn ties him to a particular political party. Therefore, allowing partisan politics for presidential and parliamentary elections but not at the grassroots level may be well intentioned. However, it is as seriously naïve and flawed as the effects of imposing price controls. Parallel or black markets become inevitable. Consequently, it is no wonder that this law is blatantly flouted by all political parties and their candidates.
ADDITIONAL CRITICAL ISSUES WITHIN THE SOCIOPOLITICAL ENVIRONMENT
There are several frustrations to the orderly evolution of democracy in Ghana. Mainly for illustrative purposes, only a few are discussed below.
AT THE NATIONAL LEVEL
As already stated, the new democracy is highly expensive to implement. As a result, Ghana is presently unable adequately to organize and finance:
• Effective and sustained voter education;
• All the logistics for presidential and parliamentary elections conduced once every four years; and
• Referendums that may be necessary in-between elections. For example, new policies with potentially dramatic effects on national welfare may have to be implemented but need a more nationally inclusive forum than parliament for their consideration. Usually as instructions or preconditions for material assistance from the World Bank, IMF or foreign donor countries, Issues of this nature cannot wait to be part of political debates during the next set of national elections. Prominent recent examples in Ghana include the unilateral adoption immediately following the 2000 elections by the current New Patriotic Party (NPP) administration of the IMF's Highly Indebted and Poor Country Initiative (HIPIC), the privatization of some state enterprises, etc.
In several other ways, constraints in human, financial and other non-human resources worsen the following additional factors that contribute toward either slowing down the democratic process or exposing its irrelevance in improving the material and other levels of welfare for the population:
1. Serious distortions in distributing the national pie worsen already existing ethnic, regional, gender and age group related time bombs of polarization. Unfortunately, unattended social time bombs keep ticking away and never self-defuse until they explode.
2. The mass media of communication (radio, the press, TV, etc.) and CSOs tend to be based in the urban centres and accordingly focus more on national issues and elections. Obviously, this limited coverage makes them less effective.
3. Apart from the political party in power, others barely manage mainly their national headquarters. Unable to sustain adequate structures and voter educational programmes at district and lower levels, it is just before elections that they rush to meet minimum legal requirements or be prevented from taking part in the impending elections. As a result:
(a) They sustain no programmes for educating voters at the grassroots on issues currently before parliament or other national forums, much less those at the international level that have potential effects on local welfare.
(b) They cannot afford the production and dissemination of educational materials of civic relevance to the population.
(c) The average citizen at the grassroots has no office close by at which to seek information or civic assistance that would boost his confidence in the democratic process. Therefore, points of view on current affairs of national importance tend obviously to be those of the incumbent government, with its monopoly over airwaves, various public structures and resources. Viewpoints of other political parties normally wait to be aired when they campaign for votes just prior to impending elections.
AT THE LEVEL OF AVERAGE CITIZENS
The following are a partial list of several adverse factors that cripple and severely limit most citizens participating in Ghana's cosmetic and elections-oriented democracy:
• An illiteracy rate of more than 70% means that most of the population suffers deep levels of ignorance. Therefore, they readily become victims of misinformation and disinformation.
• A blend of worsening levels of poverty, high opportunity costs of going to vote, occasional lack of clarity about pre-election procedures (e.g., voter registration, dates for elections and location of polling stations, etc), ignorance or confusion about the issues, irrelevance of the process, etc., makes voters to be resigned and fatalistic.
• An overpowering and dictatorial political, economic, social, religious, intellectual and other elite functioning under their paradigm of, “We have the theory; don't confuse us with the facts!” bullies the masses, especially in rural areas, into accepting most of what is imposed on them. This tradition of the national capital imposing solutions on the grassroots has intensified during the post-independence period, through a union of interests between the urban elite and the foreign “donor” community.
Ghana's seasonal national elections are festive occasions. Throughout the nation, political parties create a carnival atmosphere that attracts crowds to political party rallies. A recent study estimates platform attendance at the grassroots level at about 52.4%. (Refer to Boafo-Arthur, Kwame & Amponsah, Nicholas, editors, in the bibliography) These scholars believe this to express a strong desire for inclusion in the democratic process. This may not necessarily be so. Democracy involves much more than attendance at political party carnivals. Since most of these people do not understand democracy, their behaviour arises from other factors, such as the following:
1. Ghanaians love entertainment and take part in festive occasions. The latest in an otherwise
boring life happens to be a political party rally. Earlier in the day, this event was heralded by
music and announcements about the impending rally blurring loudly out of vehicle-mounted
loudspeakers of the organizing political party. The crowds would have been just as thick, if
the event was the celebration of a wedding, a funeral, a church-related convention or any
other piece of distraction.
2. Unemployment and underemployment are very high throughout the nation and attendance
at these welcome entertainments is made easier by political parties usually providing free
transportation to the grounds.
3. Apart from the cathartic effects of these jamborees, political parties distribute free T-shirts
and other gifts that mean much to the poor.
4. Another bonus is getting to see and even meet personalities that they only hear about.
Except the 1979 presidential and parliamentary elections that were the most democratic in recent times, most recent elections in the country have featured:
1. Contesting candidates focusing on personalities, ethnic factors, patron-client loyalties and the use of chiefs for influencing voter behaviour.
2. The political party in power speedily organizing token infrastructural projects in the locality to gain votes. Of course, incumbency already enjoys tremendous electoral advantage.
3. Elections degenerating into auctions at which winning candidates tend to be those that distribute the most money and other gifts to local chiefs, heads of households and various other individuals. As already stated, politics worldwide is a business. Those who win must find ways of paying off debts that financed the previous auctions for votes and also become wealthy enough to engage in all sorts of businesses, including successfully contesting future elections. In just about every country in the world, this inseparable link between politics and business in Euro-American democracy inevitably multiplies and deepens corruption. The only other possible rivals for speedy wealth are trafficking in drugs or arms or founding a church.
CONCLUSION & RECOMMENDATIONS
Regardless of how it may be defined, any democracy is sustainable if most of the population truly feels that its institutions of governance, i.e., the executive, legislative and judiciary are genuinely easy to understand, transparent, honest and accountable. Pre-colonial Ghanaian indigenous democracy satisfied these tests. However, by using it for colonial domination and exploitation, the British and subsequent post-independence governments corrupted some of its virtues. Nonetheless, the system has not lost its basic consensual elements.
Less than 60 years ago, the British hurriedly initiated superficial democracy in Ghana. Ever since its independence in 1957, Ghana has experimented with various forms of governance. Nonetheless, to grow its own democracy, the nation must factor in the following:
1. Democracy or any other system of governance is more of a journey than a destination. The only way to urge most of the travelers to sustain the effort is in systematic improvements in standards of living that the average citizen throughout the economy down to the grassroots can truly feel. Otherwise, Ghana will be nursing its own version of socioeconomic explosions that have recently stunned several African countries.
2. The Ghana Constitution needs amendment, to create clear separation of powers between the three respective arms of government. For example, this is currently absent when some members of parliament (i.e., the legislature) are also ministers of state (i.e., part of the executive) or where the Minister for Justice (i.e., part of the executive) is also the Attorney-General (i.e., part of the judiciary).
3. An independent body should be appointed and given wide powers to investigate corruption or abuse of power and be able to prosecute any public office holder, all the way up to a sitting President.
4. In some instances, the national Constitution gives the president too much power that, according to Professor E.Gymah-Boadi of CDD, "a good President does not need and too dangerous for a bad President to have".
5. Ghana must blend the positive aspects of our two types of democracy: the imported and the indigenous. For example, if properly designed, a system of proportional representation or even regional rotation of the presidency would be more rational than the current zero-sum, predatory or winner-take-all cosmetic approach that creates arrogant attitudes such as “The opposition can have their say, but the government will have its way”.
6. Partisan politics must openly be allowed for elections at all levels of governance. Even in coups d'état, any holder of political office, no matter how lofty or lowly, is either elected or nominated to help realize the partisan aspirations of a cluster of constituents to whom he is accountable or risk being replaced.
7. Conscious and transparent targets and benchmarks must be used to ensure equity in distributing national wealth and state-financed opportunities, to help reconcile rather than polarize regional/ethnic, gender, age group and other differences. The nation must seriously implement Article 35 (5) (b), Chapter 6 of the Constitution of the Republic of Ghana 1992, that requests the State to “achieve reasonable regional and gender balance in recruitment and appointments to public offices.” Currently, a blend of intellectual dishonesty or even terrorism, silent conspiracy or even paranoia prevents candid public analysis and discussion of obvious regional/ethnic imbalances in the enjoyment of the national pie. This is unhealthy and a definite recipe for eventual sociopolitical upheaval.
8. Unless already clearly stated in the platform or manifesto, the party in power must avoid back-door coups d'état (a favorite practice of the donor community) by seeking a fresh mandate for each fresh policy that potentially can initiate or boost dramatic declines in material welfare for most of the population.
Accordingly, to sustain the democratic process, regular public forums in between elections must be created for political parties, CSOs, NGOs, the public, etc., to examine and debate specific topical issues that significantly impact on national welfare. Under the prevailing dire economic conditions of most Third World countries, this could be the closest to conducting polls whose results the government should seriously use in guiding itself as the nearest expression of the collective will of the electorate.
8. If indeed it can correctly be assumed that Ghana is serious about its current experiments with the new democracy, then equally serious consideration must be given to the following that would create a level playing field in politics:
(a) Relevant legislation should be enacted that would restrict political party campaigns to specific periods scheduled at specific forums, such as on TV, radio, at stadiums and relevant open spaces (as may be necessary in rural areas) where, similar to town meetings, all candidates for an impending election must attend. Within the same allocated period, candidates present the programmes of their respective political parties. Similarly, each party will have the same allocation of space at specific public sites for exhibiting printed propaganda material. These environmentally friendly innovations would: (i) drastically lower the costs of campaigning by political parties, and (ii) shed off from the current system its seasonal syndrome of hypocrisy, voter deception, auction and the subsequent corrupt practices stated earlier.
(b) There should be legislation to the effect that, except for emergencies, there shall be a moratorium of 60 days (the period for bye-elections to fill vacant seats in parliament) on implementing public projects immediately preceding the date of impending elections, as incumbent governments tend to do mainly to buy votes.
A. O. Abudu, Counterproductive Socioeconomic Management in Ghana, in Ghana: Changing Values, Changing Technologies, Washington D.C., Council for Research in Values and Philosophy, 2000.
J. R. A. Ayee, Ed. Deepening Democracy in Ghana: Politics of the 2000 Elections (Vol 1 & 2) Accra, Freedom Publications 2001;
Ayee, J. R. A. “The District Assemblies, Local Government and Participation,” in Ghana's Transition to Constitutional Rule, Edited by K. A. Ninsin & F. K. Drah, Accra, Ghana Universities Press, 1991.
E. Gyimah Boadi, “Institutionalizing Credible Elections in Ghana”, in The Self-Restraining State: Power and Accountability in Developing Democracies, edited by Andreas Schedler, Larry Diamond & Marc Plattner, Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1999; Ayee 1997)
Boafo-Arthur, Kwame & Amponsah, Nicholas, eds., Ghana's Drive Towards Democratic Maturity: A Study of Grassroots Participation in the 2002 Local Government Elections in Ghana, 2003
Friedrich Ebert Stiftung & Ghana Electoral Commission, Election 1996.
Ninsin, Kwame A, “Civic Associations and the Transition to Democracy,” in K. A. Ninsin, ed., Civic Associations and the Transition to Democracy, Accra, Freedom Publications, 1998.
Osei, Joseph, “Manipulation of the Mass Media in Ghana's Recent Political Experience,” in Ghana: Changing Values, Changing Technologies, Washington D.C., Council for Research in Values and Philosophy, 2000,.
Yeboah, W. H.,: “Grassroots Participation,” in Formative Period of Decentralization in Ghana: An Evaluation, A Report on the Third Annual Seminar on Decentralization in Ghana, organized by the Ministry of Local Government & the Embassy of the Republic of France, edited by S. A. Nkrumah, Legon.
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