Democracy: The African Way

According to Business &Financial Times, Kelvin Balogun, President of Coca – Cola for Central, East and West Africa speaking at the African Transformation forum in Kigali said, “…almost half of the 10 million graduates churned out of the over 668 universities in Africa yearly do not get a job…’’. These statistics are scary and very troubling. Democracy was meant to solve these issues of unemployment and other challenges facing the continent but it seems as though things are rather getting worse.

Many have questioned whether democracy is good for Africa? I have had several discussions with people on both sides of the aisle, and I believe they all hold strong views. Some are of the view that Africa needs an autocratic leader with the nation at heart like the late Muammar Gaddafi, the former Prime Minister of Libya who ruled with an iron fist but made his people prosperous by creating opportunities for them to explore and grow. They also are of the view that the African man only listens when force is applied and dialogue is just a way to pamper them. Others also hold the vision of the late Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of the Republic of Ghana who believed in uniting Africa and had the passion of making Africa run its own affairs through democracy.

Democracy, a model imposed on Africa by the West still has many people asking questions such as, “has it really made us worse or brought hope to us?” Prior to the Europeans arriving at the shores of Africa, we had our own way of ruling our country. Our chieftaincy system: the king, queen, and elders of the community model of governance were working for us until we decided to pay heed to the Western way of governance. Is it too late to go back to our traditional way of governance? Will it be difficult to get rid of democracy, and would there be implications and sanctions by the West if we decide so? Is autocracy the best form of governance for Africa?

There are more questions that need to be answered to help shape our democracy to a level where it will benefit the people more and become a springboard for citizenry to live a life without apprehension, fear or favor. One of my philosophies in life is, achievement of others creates a model for you to follow to achieve the same results or even better. This means countries that have practiced democracy successfully have created a path worth emulating. The learning process becomes easy if there is a model and the learning process becomes a perpetual journey for continual improvement if you are hungry for success. Hence democracy can be a learning process for Africa–defined by the old adage “Practice makes perfect”.

The USA, which is one of the oldest practicing democracies since 1788 has a blueprint that any country that desires to adapt democracy as a model of governance can follow. Therefore, considering America’s democracy which started in 1788 means Africa has a long way to go and a lot to learn. America’s democracy has evolved to be the model of democracy for the world. This means for Africa to continue to employ democracy as a model of governance, we need to have patience, learn, institute the right policies and change laws to create an environment that will help democracy to thrive and grow. It also means we ought to be able to embrace change.

Has democracy worked for Africa? Sometimes I wonder if we really understand what democracy is all about. There are so many definitions of democracy but the one I appreciate most is the definition by Abraham Lincoln that states, “Democracy is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people." This means democracy is about the people not the political leaders who have taken center stage by manipulating democracy to their advantage to the detriment of the masses. The people of the land are supposed to be beneficiary of the good perks of democracy but it looks like they are rather paying the price of the mess politicians have created out of democracy.

Democracy in Africa therefore still needs to be redefined to standout from any other systems of governance. I believe our system of governance is still a mix of democracy, autocracy and traditional system of governance. We have not been able to wean ourselves to build a fully democratic system.

According to the 2015 Ibrahim Index of African Governance, Ghana was ranked 7th among 54 countries which is based on four factors: human development, participation on human rights, safety and rule of law and sustainable economic opportunity. Is Ghana’s human capital development satisfactory, does our human rights laws fair to all citizenry, safety and rule of law, is it reliable and does it protect the vulnerable and the poor in society and do we have a sustainable economic opportunity considering the level of unemployment, inflation, foreign exchange rates, trade balance, import and export imbalances and devaluation of our currency? I believe we fall short on all these factors for us to be ranked 7th out of 54 countries. Therefore considering these factors, then it seems Africa has a long way to effective democratic governance.

According to the Mail & Guardian Africa site, Ghana, Cape Verde and Botswana are considered as some of Africa’s democracy star performers. This shows that these countries have shown excellence in their quest to making democracy the pathway to good governance. Though there is progress in terms of democracy in these countries, the question is, are we doing enough to make democracy a model of free and fair election and a platform for peace across the Africa Sub-Region?

Since independence, 6th of March 1957, Ghana has had long periods of coup d’états with short periods of democracy. However since 1992, Ghana has been on the democratic ladder and has achieved tremendous success though there are still challenges that need to be addressed. November 7th 2016 is the day Ghana is gradually warming itself to go to the polls for its 7th presidential and parliamentary election since the end of military rule in 1992. Considering the fact that Ghana has held these elections peacefully and incumbent political parties making way for opposition parties for over two decades of democracy deserves a big thumps up. This shows that Ghana has come a long way in relation to other African countries. This is the reason why some quarters describe Ghana as a beacon of functioning democracy in Africa. There’s still more room for improvement. In spite of our little success, there are so many challenges that need to be addressed. I believe we are building a tradition that is redefining the meaning of democracy upon all our achievements. It’s gradually becoming a cultural practice, and therefore need to change certain practices else we are going nowhere with democracy.

The following should be addressed in our pursuit to achieving excellence in our democratic dispensation:

‘The Political theory of Demand and Supply’

I have defined elections in Ghana based on the economic theory of Demand and Supply. This theory has become the medium and catalyst for wining votes during election year. It is a form of a modern day barter trade in our political scene. That is during election year, the people demand goods and services from politicians and politicians supply them accordingly to win votes at a cost to the nation. This demand and supply which has become a cultural practice in our political and democratic dispensation has really affected our democratic process. Some section of the citizenry, whether old or young, educated or uneducated succumb to this demand and supply syndrome that is serving bad precedents to building a sustainable democratic region.

The fact is, to lose power in Ghana and Africa as a whole is like a taboo. Incumbent political parties in particular want to be in power at all cost and hence find diverse ways of sustaining power leading to misappropriation of national resources. Opposition parties on the other hand also device all sort of ways to win elections and hence creating tension and chaos in our political scenery.

To overcome this cultural practice, I believe the political parties will continue to shower the citizenry with goodies in exchange for votes. However the people must understand that they take those goodies which does not last them a month and they resort to hardship and struggling for the next four years. The citizenry need to be objective and demand serious accountability from politicians during the election season and beyond. Political leaders must also do their best to direct democracy to a path where it will grow to benefit the people and the nation as a whole.

Trading of Insults Creating Political Tension

Some of our leaders are not exhibiting great leadership traits. We have reached the stage where blatant lies rules and the truth are neglected in the name of defending a political party rather than the nation. 

Trading of insults and finding dubious means to taint another political party has become a norm. This trading of insults is reflected on the citizenry as I read comments on political issues and many people prefer to insult the parties involved rather than make their views known in a more professional manner. Lying and deceit has taken over our democracy and it has become a societal quagmire causing voters not to make informed decisions based on objectivity.

For our democracy to grow and become a model for others to follow, we need to show maturity in our discussions, political discourse and commentary and agree to disagree in a professional manner. This is the way to building a healthy democracy that will teach the youth exemplary leadership.

Voting on Ethnic Backgrounds

How can you build a strong democracy when it is obvious the election results of all the major constituencies are predictable because we vote based on ethnic backgrounds? We have to learn to be objective and stop voting based on that leader coming from my village or from the same tribe.

The people of Ghana must learn to start to vote based on the manifesto, achievements of the parties involved, their vision for the nation, using your conviction and judgment and deciding to vote based on their passion, knowledge and wisdom of leaders involved. This is the only way as people to win power from these politicians and to put fear in them. This will minimize corruption, cronyism, nepotism and other factors making the country crawling rather than flying not to even talk about walking. That is, politicians understanding that, they are out of the political scene if their vision on paper does not match the real life experience, will cause them to wake up and meet the needs of the people not their personal selfish interests that weighs the country down rather than uplifting it.

‘Political Disillusion’

This is what I define as political leaders always letting us down and not keeping to their promises but we as people have got used to it such that we complain today and forget about it tomorrow. We as a people are disillusioned and have got accustomed to politicians making our life difficult. Governments come and go, and we have witnessed their performance so we can have our own index to measure their success but because of political affiliations, ethnic backgrounds as discussed earlier, our selfish interests and nepotism, we tend to disregard real issues that can inspire hope and opportunities for the people as a whole not cronies.

There is power in our thumb as people and voting is our weapon to make our politicians stand up for us. 7th of November is a great opportunity for us to choose the right candidate that will not let us down but to improve our standard of living?

Government Project Discontinuity

How can we grow in democracy and as a country if incumbent governments decide not to continue the projects of the previous government for reasons best known to them? Who is being punished here? No one but the same people that voted the government into power.

Political parties need to learn to work together in spite of their differences to achieve a common goal that will inspire hope in the people that put them in power. Democracy should be a bond of unity not segregation to achieve a common goal that will benefit the people and create a platform capable of helping them to explore and build their dreams.

Ghana and Africa as a whole have a vibrant, passionate, ambitious and hardworking youth that yearn for success and are gradually integrating themselves into the global market. All that these young people need is a very conducive stable economic platform to thrive with their ideas, skills and small businesses. Our leaders are killing platforms for economic growth leading to the populace suffering to make inroads in pursuit of their dreams. The fact is how long will our leaders continue to kill our dreams? Unemployment is at its peak, bills on the increase, salary stagnant and economic factors such as inflation, interest rates and foreign exchange rates are increasing the expenditure of the people. The country cannot afford to continue to move in this direction and democracy is the key to make changes if the need arises.

Ghana has a great opportunity on the 7th of November to make a choice that will bring a difference in their lives. The choice is yours and everyone has to understand that any decision the nation makes in terms of who they appoint to lead us would take us another four years to make a change. Hence, we must be critical and make the right choice for mother Ghana.

I wish Ghana a very peaceful election and may God continue to shower his blessings for us to continue to grow in our democratic dispensation.

Always remember, it’s possible if only you believe.