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24.05.2019 Feature Article

Does His Excellency Ex-President Mahama really believe in democracy?

Ex-President Mahama

“The values of freedom, respect for human rights and the principle of holding periodic and genuine elections by universal suffrage are essential elements of democracy. In turn, democracy provides the natural environment for the protection and effective realization of human rights (UN).”

It was based on the preceding brief principle of democracy that some of us could not hide our disappointment when Ex-President Mahama goofed over his UN speech on democracy in 2016 (See: ‘Full Text of President Mahama’s UN, 21/09/2016).

Read President Mahama: “Democracy is not a one size fits all system. Different countries are at different stages of the democratic journey. Democracy evolves and cannot be forced. It doesn't help for bigger powers to go proselytizing democracy. It can have its negative consequences as we are experiencing in parts of North Africa and the Middle East. But still a properly functioning peer system can avoid some of the melt downs we are experiencing in some African countries due to the desire to remain in office interminably”.

“Human progress is not a seamless movement forward. It encompasses periods of reversal, mistakes, fumbling and falling. All parts of the world have been through this, learnt from their mistakes, picked themselves up after a fall and continued moving. Africa must be allowed the same latitude.”

Interestingly, several extant quantitative studies on human rights repressions cite democracy as a crucial factor that may positively or negatively impact on the repression of human rights by states (Hathaway 2002; Hafner-Burton and Tsutsui 2005).

Drawing an adverse inference on Mahama’s statement, one cannot be far from right for concluding that he could well be antipathetic to civil liberties and personal integrity rights which include, amongst other things, freedom of speech, the freedom of assembly and association, the freedom of religious expression, freedom from unlawful and political imprisonment, freedom from torture, freedom from unlawful physical or other harm, freedom from cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and the right to a fair trial (Neumayer 2005).

Somehow, contending schools of thought insist that democratic states are less likely than autocratic states to repress human rights (Henderson 1999; Poe, Tate and Keith 1999; Hafner-Burton and Tsutsui 2005).

Given that Ghana has ratified quite a number of the United Nations human rights instruments which are geared towards the promotion and protection of inalienable human rights and democracy, it was extremely worrisome when no less a person than President Mahama made such an impolitic appeal.

In fact, there is mutually reinforcing relationship between democracy and human rights. The most recent examples include the enactment of United Nations resolutions 19/36 and 28/14 on “Human rights, democracy and the rule of law” (UN 2016).

In other words, democracy and human rights are inseparable. Thus, one cannot choose, for example, democracy over human rights, for it would be inappropriate to do so.

“These values are embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and further developed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which enshrines a host of political rights and civil liberties underpinning meaningful democracies (UN).”

Ironically, “democracy deficits, weak institutions and poor governance are among the main challenges to the effective realization of human rights”.

In fact, democratic governance stresses the role of citizens without any hindrance or exclusion — in moulding their human growth and the human advancement of societies.

However, individuals can only make such contributions when their collective potential is harnessed through the enjoyment of human rights.

In 2011, for instance, the UNDP assisted more than 130 countries and devoted US$1.5 billion in resources to democratic governance, making UNDP the world's largest provider of democratic governance assistance. UNDP supports one in three parliaments in the developing world and an election every two weeks (UN 2016).

In 2014, UNDP programme strengthened electoral processes around the world and helped register 18 million new voters. UNDP also works to foster partnerships and share ways to promote participation, accountability and effectiveness at all levels, aiming to build effective and capable states that are accountable and transparent, inclusive and responsive — from elections to participation of women and the poor (UN 2016).

In March 2012, the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution titled “Human rights, democracy and the rule of law,” which reaffirmed that democracy, development and respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms were interdependent and mutually reinforcing. The Council however reminded States to make continuous efforts to strengthen the rule of law and promote democracy through a wide range of measures.

In furtherance to this resolution, OHCHR, in consultation with States, national human rights institutions, civil society, relevant intergovernmental bodies and international organizations, published a study on challenges, lessons learned and best practices in securing democracy and the rule of law from a human rights perspective.

Based on the study, in June 2013 OHCHR organised a panel discussion on these issues, with the participation of international experts.

Besides, in March 2015, the Human Rights Council adopted resolution 28/14, which established a forum on human rights, democracy and the rule of law, to provide a platform for promoting dialogue and cooperation on issues pertaining to these areas.

OHCHR also works to underline the close relationship between human rights and democracy within the United Nations system.

As observed by the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights back then, Bertrand Ramcharan, “there can be no human security without human rights”.

“The fundamental human rights norms must be the starting point for everything we do nationally, regionally and internationally” (Ramcharan).

In sum, all proponents of democracy and human rights must be worried over President Mahama’s view on democracy as expressed in his unmeasured speech at the UN 71st General Assembly in New York in 2016.

The overarching question every well-meaning Ghanaian should be asking then is: does Ex-President Mahama really believe in democracy?

K. Badu, UK.
[email protected]

Kwaku Badu
Kwaku Badu, © 2019

This author has authored 731 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: KwakuBadu

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