FORMER PRESIDENT JERRY RAWLINGS told a bemused audience of academia and the intelligentsia of the highly regarded Witswatersrand University in South Africa that he is a 'passionate' in democracy, but quickly added a caveat. … I am more concerned about the essence of democracy than about the outward forms … He repeated also, his famous mantra of positive defiance and elaborated on the theme.
The founder of the largest opposition party in the country, explained that his own personal experience “when I was at the bottom and when I became Head if State,” democracy should have an element of collective ownership where responsibilities and political authority should be shared.
In his exhaustive treatise to his audience, he said more people would then become real participants in governance, “understanding the hard realities of development and progress and sharing in successes and difficulties,” both the governed and governors ending up taking responsibility for the right and wrongs.
Conscious that his critics in Ghana may not believe him, the indefatigable strongman of Ghana politics, alerted his audience that he was often accused of being against democracy because of expressed unease about the ballot box. He stated that his concerns about partisan politics remained, but did not mean that multi party system should be jettisoned.
In a statement which could make a number of Ghanaians recoil in disbelief, Rawlings gave an admonition which made a lot of sense but came as incredulous because of the source of impartation:
“Whether in opposition or in power, we must endeavour with all sincerity and strength of will to avoid the latent tendencies which can so easily distort multi-party democracy, and turn it into a mere cloak of political respectability, to hide the misuse of money, power and influence to benefit a political group to the detriment of the long term interests of society as a whole and of the disadvantaged in particular.”
With his long association with leadership, he had his own ideas about the 'change' process which democracy engenders.
Change, he said is simply replacing one set of conditions by another, whether positive or negative, but stressed that it is only when change is for the better that it can be costed to assess its justification.
“Democratic change,” he lectured, could also simply mean change brought about by democratic means. Such change is not necessarily good, even if the process by which it is brought about is acceptable.
In countries such as ours, where so many people still exist on the edge of desperate poverty, and where there is still a large deficit in education, it is all too easy to promise the electorate the moon if only they will democratically endorse change. It is also easy to temporarily corrupt the electoral process.
Taking a shot at the western-inspired models of democracy, he called for what he termed “Appropriate Democracy” for different countries, which take into account their own values and traditional norms and systems.
For example, the South African constitution is different from the one adopted in Ghana because racial segregation in that country was different from the slave trade baggage that Ghanaians had to live with.
Continuing, Flt. Lt. Rawlings (Rtd) said, most African countries are caught in a web of contradictions, with a “constant crisis of expectations between what the West expects as the natural outcome of an election in Africa and what actually happens,” leading to the situation where “foreign observers of elections in Africa always come out perplexed.”
He noted that the models of democracy, which have been held up as models, have become threadbare, implying that their own models are now not so sacrosanct.
Emphasizing that accountability must be demanded, he conceded that it is the responsibility of Africans to hold their leaders to account and the responsibility of African Governments to demonstrate that their hands are clean.
“If meaningful democracy is to become a force for real change in our continent, then we must empower our people to make it their own,” he emphasized.
Rawlings was of the opinion that democracy must be a process whereby ordinary men and women voluntarily take on the responsibility to speak and act for the good of the broader community.
“Where this is ignored or suppressed, resentments will build and will sooner or later lead to another cycle of disruption,” he asserted.
To impose “democracy from above,” he cautioned, is not right.