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DEMOCRATIC SYSTEM – A Proposal for A More Inclusive and Functional Model

Alex Aidoo-Micah and Kwaku A. Danso


Part 1


Half a century after political independence, the development of Ghana, even though praised by some outsiders in comparison to other African nations, has seen five revolutions and four constitutions. Ghana’s economic development is still far behind nations like Singapore which had a similar experience as Ghana under British colonial rule. Despite Ghana’s apparent economic turn-around in the last decades or so, there seems to be elements of instability that make an economic miracle almost impossible when carefully analyzed. The core distinction between the progress of Ghana and that of Singapore may lie in how Ghana’s partisan political system has been intertwined with a culture that relies heavily on tribal preferences. This has made the new democratic leadership unable to grapple with and manage the complicated existing system under the rule of law, with inherent influences of tribal chiefs in all towns, districts and sub-regions who wield no administrative duties and responsibilities. A proposal is hereby outlined (in Part 2) that offers the best merger of a democratic system under rule of central and local laws, administered and managed with a modification of indigenous and traditional governance systems, but with self empowered towns and district councils who will advertise and hire competent professional staff to design their budgets and accounting systems. In part one we give the argument for change.


Part 1 - Reasons to be Proud and Reason to Ponder into the Future


Ghana has made some progress over the past 18 years of democratic rule, something which was not enjoyed by the founding fathers of Ghana’s democracy half a century ago. However the relative stability is evaluated in view of the previous three decades of instability caused mostly by a misunderstood system filled with partisan and tribal dislocations to discipline in the application of the rule of law for optimal socio-economic progress. In Part 1, we will review this progress, and show its correlation with political stability.




With many African and other nations going through a turmoil, the International Community, particularly the Western world, sees Ghana as an African success story with respect to party political democratic stability. Over the past 18 years we have successfully held five presidential elections and twice changed governments. This is by no means a small achievement by African standards. We only need to look across our western border to see the current post-election political turmoil in next-door Ivory Coast to fully appreciate the magnitude of our achievement in this regard and also to legitimise any sense of national pride we can humbly lay claim to as a people.


However, is this enough? The real benefits in political stability are indicated by economic growth, improvement in human development, standard of living of the average Ghanaian, and a decline in the level of corruption among others. In other words, political stability should result in real growth in GDP, a measure of economic growth and improvement in living standards, and must result in a country progressively climbing up on the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) which measures both domestic and public sector corruption. The burden on the average person for daily living should be declining.


This correlation is better captured in the following statement by Huguette Labelle, Chair of Transparency International (TI): ....


"(S)ignificantly greater efforts must go into strengthening governance across the globe. With the livelihoods of so many at stake, governments' commitments to anti-corruption, transparency and accountability must speak through their actions. Good governance is an essential part of the solution to the global policy challenges governments face today." ( Labelle, H., Transparency International, 2010).


Indeed, Ghana’s short political stability has already been hailed by credible international institutions as having indicated these benefits. Since the birth of the fourth republic in 1992, the country has overcome the initial teething economic turbulence that characterised the early years of the fourth republic and has since recorded a steady growth in its GDP, averaging 6-7% since 2006. Poverty levels, as defined by the UN, fell from 52% in 1992 to 29% in 2006 and the country is on track to achieving the Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty by 2015 according to an August 2009 IDA report. The following Index Mundi graph captures our stability-induced performance more vividly:



A recent U.S. Department of State Background Note on Ghana also had the following enviable outlook on Ghana:


Political stability, overall sound economic management, a low crime rate, competitive wages, and an educated, English-speaking workforce have increased Ghana's potential to serve as a West African hub for American businesses (U.S. Department of State, Background Note: Ghana, Sept. 17, 2010).


The World Bank is even more optimistic about Ghana’s growth outlook projecting that Ghana will be the fastest growing economy in Sub-Saharan Africa, with growth rate of 13.4 per cent in 2011, dropping to 10 per cent in 2012.


Additionally, Ghana’s Corruption Perception Index has shown some improvement, although it is marginal. Starting at 3.9 in 2002, it dipped to a minimum of 3.3 before rising to 4.1 in 2010 and earning Ghana a ranking of 62nd on Worldwide Corruption Perceptions league of countries published by Transparency International. The report also identifies that ‘’unstable governments, often with a legacy of conflict, continue to dominate the bottom rungs of the CPI. Afghanistan and Myanmar share second to last place with a score of 1.4, with Somalia coming in last with a score of 1.1.’’


Thus, the evidence supports a strong correlation between political stability and good democratic governance on one hand and economic wellbeing and decline in corruption on the other. Ghana’s young political stability has reflected these trends quite well. However, those African countries with relatively greater political stability such as Botswana and Uganda posit even more enviable trends in relative terms.


Time-Bomb of Dissatisfaction


It is quite apparent, however, that there is real concern among Ghanaians about the sustainability of our political stability. Is our politics really stable or is it simply building up to an imminent explosion or implosion? Prof. George Ayittey of The American University in Washington DC often points out such social time bombs among African nations. There is no question the five democratic elections we have had in the fourth republic (since 1992) have been characterised by a progressively escalating sense of unease and real violence which are fast coming to a flash point. A recent outburst of an elected Presidential candidate of one of the two major political parties in Ghana, that in the next elections, “all-die-be-die” is a street-language communication of the situation, that people are at their limit of frustration and desperation and of a possible implosion if changes are not seen in society. If we are to be honest with ourselves, we should not hesitate to concede that party political system has come to deepen intrinsic divisions among our people; divisions that derive from our ethnic multiplicity – we have about 92 separate ethnic groups, and every major achievement or mistake, even criminal charges of our people in leadership seem to be interpreted on ethnic or political basis.


Income and Wealth Gap


In addition to ethnicity-related tensions caused by perceptions of social injustice, biases or inequalities in appointments to government jobs and top level positions, depending on who is in power, there is a growing income and wealth gap between the poor and the rich. While government employees at management and executive levels obtain benefits including vehicles, houses, free petrol and cash allowances to buy furniture, water reservoirs and huge electric power generators, the infrastructural development in Ghana has also been allowed to fall behind human population growth. Basic human needs and utilities such as water and electricity are being rationed, while general infrastructure development is not keeping pace with increased demand. Research work on leadership perceptions and expectations conducted between 2004 and 2006 within the business community in the Accra-Tema metropolitan area showed more than 70% dissatisfaction rate in the delivery of water, electricity and telecommunication systems (Danso, K. A., 2007). Most of the respondents, including self-employed skilled craftsmen and artisans (carpenters, electricians, masons and plumbers) indicated the poor delivery of these services had a negative impact on their businesses.


Facilities and Resource Distribution


It does not take much analysis to note that in a society where the skilled workers cannot attain middle class status and spend hours each day in traffic, productivity goes down, income levels get stymied, and frustration breeds. The frustration of the average Ghanaian does not seem to be shared by successive governments whose executive are seen to be leading overly comfortable and affluent lifestyles subsidized from state coffers, including insulation from energy price inflation. Trying to survive and compete for small businesses is very difficult. According to the management of Ghana Water Company which has since 2005 been in the hands of a foreign Management company, Aqua Vitens Rand Ltd., there has been no major expansion of the water treatment facilities in Ghana since the first government in 1965. The research also showed that electric power transformers in major residential areas are have not been upgraded for over a decade despite alleged World Bank loan infusions for the purpose.


Roads and Traffic


Another source of frustration within communities is traffic delays and commute time, which seems to take an increasing percentage of total working hours. A typical commuter in Accra takes about 4 hours per day round trip to work 8 hours. Road construction and expansion works are simply not meeting increased traffic growth over the years. Typical excessive delays and uncompleted or abandoned road construction works produce excessive frustration in society that further exacerbate tensions as politicians are seen to be of no value to the citizenry.


Business Capital


Another major frustration in Ghana that keeps the poor poorer is the lack of business capital, either from the Banks or private sector. It is general knowledge that in Ghana if you don’t know “somebody” in the system, it is no use applying for a loan. Such opportunities are usually tied to ethnic preferences or partisan political connections. Foreign grants such as the US Millennium Challenge Awards, MCA, are awarded through government, and are generally perceived to be naturally disbursed through the same preferential tribal and political connections. These issues help widen the gap between the elite who get into government service and their few friends, and the ordinary self-employed worker.


Schools and Health facilities


One major factor for long-term consideration is the deterioration of public schools and health care facilities. The economic gap created by these unjust social disparities and aberrations in opportunities further affects the educational future and opportunities for the average person. Admission to, and quality of health care provided at the government-owned facilities also seem to have an economic and class differentiation. A National Health Insurance Levy (NHIL) collected for about a decade on all imported and sold items has not made a difference in heath delivery quality and the number of health facilities or health care equipment around the nation. Government executives, on the other hand, have been known to be flown overseas for medical treatment. With the exception of private clinics and University Hospitals introduced in Ghana for those who can afford their much more expensive services, government hospitals have been providing paid medical services including all major surgeries and treatment to the bulk of the population since the first Republic in the 1960s. However, class distinction has been carried to the point where health and life itself, as well as education for children, have become indexed with ones political or economic status. In a nation where an estimated 80% or more live under $2 per day, such disparities lead to instability.


There is no doubt then that these disparities and preferential treatment of the people due to centralized power, neglect of towns and districts with no elected and concerned leaders, and the preferential treatment due to partisan and tribal connections, have further exacerbated the political divide among our people and it is not hard to see Ghana may be working on a time bomb.


A Deep-Seated Problem


The polarisation of our country by party politics is not a recent and transient phenomenon. Our immediate post-independence politics could not resist the allure of ethnicity in offering an enclave of subjectivity, false sense of security and the support it offered key players. Instead of developing objective and sustainable political and development agenda and seeking national appeals for them, they developed parties around key individuals with specific ethnic appeals and self-centered schemes that led to massive misappropriation of foreign grants, capital flight, abuse of power, graft and other forms of corruption. Worst of all, it made law enforcement and fiscal discipline very difficult as chiefs and elders travelled from the villages to pay tribute or homage to the elected President and seek favours.


The resultant polarisation of our young country and the subsequent ethnic and sectarian violence that became reminiscent of our politics are the seeds which have blossomed in our politics today. Politicians continue to use overt and covert means to exploit tribal Chiefs’ pivotal influence in accessing tribal support leading to suppression of genuine democratic developments at the grassroots. Where this form of partisan politics has combined with tribal power struggles, in an atmosphere of mass poverty, it has led on a few occasions to the very violent intra-tribal clashes. There has even been a case or two where some tribal Chiefs and members of their household or advisers have been massacred, the latest being the Dagbon Ya-Na murders of 2003 that has not been resolved for eight years.


The irony of these is that the first President of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, was from an ethnic minority, the Nzema, which has even a language differential between its next closest cousins the Fantes. Under his leadership an attempt was made to divide the nation into regions and districts with no mention of tribe. Despite a half century of democratic practice, the statement by one chief in the Western Region summarizes the thought patterns of many Ghanaians in their voting patterns. In a Press Conference held on Saturday, 16th April, 2012 at Biriwa in the Mfantseman West Constituency of the Central Region, the paramount Chief, Nana Akyin Attanya V advised the members to rally around Nana Konadu to help build a prosperous nation. Among the reasons given to support Nana Konadu was this statement that she is competent and a courageous and dynamic woman, and then added that it was not surprising of her competency and that he believes “it's because Nana Konadu was born in the Central Region and Cape Coast to be precise” (Myjoyfmonline, 2011 Apr. 18)


Party politics has not enjoyed a history of sustainability in our country and in those parts of Africa where there is multiplicity of indigenous ethnicity. It has been a cycle of transient but apparent stability to the outside world, corruption and abuse of foreign grants and loans, followed by costly and often violent disintegration of the political and social systems, leading to equal disintegration of economic structures and gains, as well as disruptions in any domestic or foreign investments.


Lesson from Others


This distinctive polarising nature of party politics is not an African exclusivity. The United Kingdom, one of the forebears of modern party democratic politics with over 300 years of democratic governance, has only four indigenous ethnic groupings; It is a union of four distinct countries – the English, Welsh, Scots and Irish (of Northern Ireland) – but even with a number as small as four ethnicities, it has struggled and stuttered along its political journey because party politics is inherently divisive. Britain has had to modify its political structures to ease ethnic and class tensions. In as recent as 1997, Britain had to devolve power away from Westminster and to set up the Scottish, Welsh and Irish parliaments. Professor Eric Evans in an article, A British Revolution in the 19th Century, dated 17/02/2011, acknowledges that Britain’s ability to avoid fundamental conflict between classes and social groups is due to the country’s ability to manage evolutionary rather than revolutionary political change.


The lesson here is that although, democratic principles are absolute and universal, the political systems and processes by which they are achieved are not, and must be fashioned out based on a people’s history and cultural and ethnic diversity as well as its general demographic patterns. The wholesale importation of a political system of one country by another can have only one consequence – ultimate failure and disaster if not properly applied and adapted. It is only right for our leaders, mostly educated in the West, to meet and do serious debate, analysis and thinking, and copy the best aspects of the West, adapt them pragmatically to their society, just as Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore did to catapult his nation form a third world nation at a GDP per capita of around $400 to over $23,000 in 35 years. There is no reason why Ghana with a higher number of educated people scattered all around the world with valuable experience from all corners of the globe, cannot pull ourselves out of poverty if we can stop a few greedy and selfish people who seem to thwart this process with a more robust, transparent system of government.


In view of this, unless our political system is subjected to a continuous process of evolutionary review, it is bound to attract a cycle of revolutionary interruptions as evidenced by the many revolutions or coup d’etats in the post-independence era in Ghana’s recent memory. For all intents and purposes, we as a nation are desperately struggling to hold together our fragmented political system. However, we need to make an objective analysis of our situation and act quickly to prevent it reaching a crisis point.


Cont'd  1/2



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