An ongoing study being undertaken by a political scientist has indicated that in spite of over a decade of democratisation in Ghana, political participation based on the espousal of burning issues is very low.
Presenting a paper on the interim findings of the study at a seminar in Accra, Thomas Maxwell Aidoo took issue with political analysts who contend that the country's democratic process is growing in leaps and bounds due to the existence of a multi-party dispensation.
The study which categorises political participation into four types, being conducted by Thomas Maxwell Aidoo, a Research Fellow at the Institute African Studies University of Ghana, Legon. The first category is spectator-type politics which involves citizens attending party rallies and wearing T-shirts. The second kind of participation dubbed transitional politics is characterised by high vote registration, voting and engagement in political discussions. The third is termed gladiatorial participation as individuals engage in funding raising, attend party caucuses and present themselves as candidates in national elections. The fourth category known as issues politics, occurs when the citizenry are concerned with championing particular issues that benefit the nation as a whole, and not a specific partisan cause or issue.
According to him, while, issues politics is regrettably low in the country, the other three categories are very high. “Issue politics is low. My explanation is that neo-patrimonialism breeds low political participation,” Dr Aidoo told The Statesman after his presentation.
“Politicians reward their followers to get power and this creates patronage. That too produces sycophancy and you don't expect a sycophant to engage in issue politics. You can't challenge the person who is feeding you. So there is too much sycophancy in our politics.” He said other factors account for the clientilism that exists in the body politic, citing the citizen's level of education, economic power and social status as constituting 36% of the cause of neo-patrimonialism, while 64% is attributed to the incidence of low issues politics. “There are so many clients and patrons.”
After examining the political history of Ghana from colonial rule to 1991, the study arrived at some conclusions. Firstly, both liberal democracy and coercive authoritarianism and liberal democracy have occurred alongside the steady deterioration of economic and social conditions. Thus, authoritarian rule and deterioration of socio-economic conditions have been mutually reinforcing.
Thirdly, changes in constitutional or authoritarian governments are always accompanied by a reconstruction of political spaces, resulting in either a closure or opening of the political arena.
“Sometimes, reconstruction of political spaces has either led to a balanced centre of political gravity (as in the Acheampong's years) or to ethnically slanted centre of political gravity (as during the Busia period). And sometimes it has led to the surfacing of 'movement politic' (as in the early years of the Rawlings' PNDC period). In all cases, however, the outcome has been participation or de-participation and politicisation or depoliticisation,” Dr Aidoo stated.
He said an important development in the period was the loss of state authority, autonomy and legitimacy, privatisation and appropriation of the state; and the development of the state as all excrescence, which undermines its own stability. He explained that what makes the New Patriotic Party viable and strong today is that ex-Premier Kofi Abrefa Busia developed and nurtured vertical solidarity whereas former President Kwame Nkrumah depended on horizontal alliance.
“The vertical solidarity is ethnically based while horizontal solidarity is based on social classes. The tribes are more enduring than class formation which keeps on changing since it is in a state of fluidity. The Akan ethnic group largely supports the NPP.”
“Another conclusion that can be drawn from the Ghanaian experience is the continuity of new patrimonial practices in combination with some liberal institution building which mirrors Ghana's contradictory historical legacies. These legacies have fashioned consolidation, fragmentation and re-ordering as recurring themes in Ghanaian politics.”