Ghana: Making sense of our democracy

The status of Ghana as an emerging democracy has been acknowledged the world over. The opposition New Patriotic Party’s unprecedented flagbearership election on August 7, 2010 that saw the re-election of Nana Akuffo Addo as the party’s candidate for the 2012 elections has added a new and positive dimension to the credentials of Ghana as the pacesetter of Africa politics. It is fair to say that Ghana’s current democracy which begun in 1992 has come with peace and stability that has made Ghana the darling of her neighbours and the international community. The recent outstanding performance of the Black Stars in the 2010 Fifa world cup in South Africa has added momentum to the worldwide view that Ghana is on the path of greatness.

The essence of democracy is to elect leaders who will manage the country to provide security, energy, housing, education, transport, health and telecommunication infrastructures that the citizens can take advantage of to improve their living conditions. Many who have engaged in the democratic process in Ghana have done so with the hope that democracy will usher in not only liberty, rule of law, political stability, freedom of speech and assembly but also economic prosperity. But the people who have been ruling Ghana since the day the Fourth Republican Constitution came into operation seem to have forgotten this simple meaning of democracy.

More than seventeen years since the first ballot was cast and 53 years after independence the life of many Ghanaians has stagnated if not retrogressed to pre-independence levels. A critical look at the economic situation of the people suggests that the stability and peace that democracy has brought the nation has not translated into economic and social development. The various governments that have governed Ghana since 1992 have not been able to take advantage of the peace and stability to formulate and implement the necessary policies to transform Ghana’s economy to enable Ghanaians to benefit directly. A critical look at the country’s sectors: education, energy, transportation, health and waste management reveal a state of organised disorder.

The CIA’s 2010 world ranking of countries with high life expectancy puts Ghana at 186th position (60.55 years) out of the 224 countries polled. Today two-thirds of Ghanaians still live on two dollars a day. The inequality and the poverty gap between those who govern and the governed is widening by year. This is evidenced in the number of people working as street vendors including children who work as head potters in our cities instead of going to school and the high number of children being trafficked to work in various parts of the country. There is a sense of anger and frustration among the populace as is indicated by the growing number of unruly behaviour of the so called foot soldiers of the NDC youth with their incessant seizing of public toilets, locking up National Health Insurance Service and National Youth Employment Programme offices and constant calling of District Chief Executives to be fired. These activities suggest that the people are not benefiting from our democracy and are getting increasingly disillusioned, a situation that can easily be nurtured to cause political instability in the country. The only people who seem to have benefited from our democracy are the politicians who go home every four years with fat ex-gratia payments while majority of the people live in squalid conditions. Take E. T. Mensah for example. Since 1992 he has been representing Ningo Prampram as an MP and going home with ex-gratia every four years while many people in his constituency can neither read nor write and lack the basic necessities of life including water, electricity and housing.

The expensive and cosy sport utility vehicles (Land Cruisers etc) that has come to represent the taste of NDC and NPP politicians do not reflect the harsh economic life being experienced by majority of the people especially those in the rural areas who live in mud houses roofed with raffia and bamboo leafs and without water and electricity. This is unacceptable and is very dangerous for the continuous existence of democracy itself. People cannot continue to cast their votes every four years and continue to live in the same pre-independence conditions without jobs, proper housing, electricity, roads, farming equipments and access to water and sanitation. People cannot vote every four years while they continue to live on two dollars a day. That is slavery, not democracy. Democracy must come with liberty, economic empowerment, social development and improvement in the overall quality of life of the people. This has not happened in Ghana more than seventeen years of democratic governance and over fifty years of self rule.

Slowly we are missing the opportunity to develop as a nation and to add quality and value to the lives of our people. Despite promises of a better Ghana and jobs for the youth nothing seems to have changed, courtesy the politicians who are trapped in their narrow view of state management and who are going round the circle unable to work out a solution for the nation’s many problems. Slowly many of the people who have placed so much hope in democracy are being betrayed not by democracy as a system but by those elected to lead them to economic freedom. This cannot continue forever.

The people who vote must have something to live up to if they can continue to support the democratic efforts of the state. Therefore, the promises and pledges that characterise our elections must be transformed into actions and deeds. The broken promises and the politics of the same on the part of those who govern must stop before apathy sets in. Those who rule Ghana must recognise that their performance is not measured by what they say but what they do. Therefore we must act now and make good use of our peace, stability and democracy if we want to avoid any cataclysmic political upheaval in future.

In light of the abysmal economic performance of the nation and her inability to reduce poverty, I strongly believe Ghana needs strategic counselling and I want to offer my suggestions here.

First of all, Ghanaians need strategic leaders with the ability to vision and ability to bring the vision into reality; leaders who can turn aspiration into reality and inspire the people to great heights and help build a new Ghana that all of us can be proud of. Those who manage state institutions must be strategic thinkers who can formulate good policies and implement them to bring positive change. The begging mentality (i.e. the focus on aid as a development model) that continues to permeate those who live in the Osu Castle must give way to a more ingenious ways of state management that has as its focus the attraction of foreign investment, promotion of trade, support for indigenous producers, farmers, the promotion of local entrepreneurial development and the building, renovating and expanding the economic and social infrastructures in the country i.e. energy, roads, rail lines, harbours, telecommunication, silos, canals, schools and hospitals. It is unacceptable that while other nations are going outer-space to discover new planets we are still struggling to feed ourselves. Therefore the politics that has come to define our education (3 years for NDC, 4 year for NPP) must give way to a non-partisan approach to problem solving.

Secondly, evidence from Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan and China has shown that a country’s economic growth, human development and her ability to reduce poverty are dependent on her technological development. Therefore, if we are to make sense of our 53 years of independence and over seventeen years of democracy; if we are to take advantage of the current favourable political climate and make it a force for good and a force for development, then a ground work for export-driven industrial economy must be laid through the adoption of a comprehensive export-driven industrial strategy. Such a strategy must make the development and acquisition of advanced technologies a priority so as to take advantage of the huge unexploited natural resources in the country, to increase production, and create wealth for the people. Why should our child-bearing women continue to carry their children on their back in this African heat when we can adopt technology to build pushchairs/prams for them? Why should we continue to wash our cloths with our hands when we could adopt the technology to build washers to save us precious time? Why should we continue to sleep in darkness when we could adopt the technology to convert solar energy into electricity? Why should our farmers continue to farm with cutlasses and hoes when we could adopt advanced farming technologies to increase yield and reduce hunger and poverty in the country? And why should we continue to carry things on our head when we could use technology to do it?

China and India’s development of their own technologies and their acquisition of technologies from the West has shown that it is possible to move hundreds of millions of people from poverty through technology acquisition. I believe that nations that turn away from the development and use of science and technology are bound to remain primitive and face extinction, and even if those nations survive extinction they will probably remain slave to others with superior technologies. Ghana cannot afford to remain technologically backward while our independence peers in Asia are moving forward scientifically and technologically and the earlier the policy-makers in Ghana look into technology acquisition the better.

Added to the above point is the fact that Ghana cannot continue to depend on the export of some few raw materials while the population continues to increase almost exponentially. Ghana cannot remain agrarian if we are to solve the teeming unemployment problem, eradicate poverty, hunger, malnutrition, malaria and improve the overall quality of life in the country. The policymakers must device ingenious schemes and work assiduously to diversify Ghana’s economy by shifting emphasis from the current reliance on raw material export to manufacturing, service, and knowledge based economy. The diversification of the economy will not only help the nation expand her revenue base but will also lead to increased production, create more jobs and protect the country from the shocks that always threaten the vivacity of our economy.

Lastly, the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning must be told in plain language that lowering inflation alone will not meet the aspirations of unemployed Ghanaians who are looking for jobs. The National Development Planning Commission and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning must live up to their names and build some credibility for themselves as institutions tasked with planning the nation’s development. Ghana deserves better fiscal policies/ financial management than it has been offered by Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning. These institutions must think strategically and device strategies with inbuilt policy priorities to stabilise the nation’s financial market, revive the defunct firms, create jobs and put money in the pockets of the people.

I want to conclude by saying that if Ghanaians are to make sense of democracy, cherish its values and ideals; if indeed democracy is to thrive in Ghana, and if Ghana is to continue to serve as the guiding light for the rest of Africa, then more must be done to improve the economic well-being of the people, for democracy without economic and social development is a catalyst for chaos.

By Lord Aikins Adusei
Email: politicalthinker1@yahoo.com

The author is a political activist and anti corruption campaigner.