January 7th 2018 was exactly 25 years since the coming into force of the 4th Republican Constitution. This landmark event in Ghana’s democratic development took place on 7th January 1993. The Constitution became operative after a referendum in 1992, in which Ghanaians voted to end military rule. Personally, 1992 was the first time I voted; and I remember voting against the return to constitutional rule for one reason.
I was one of those who felt that the preparation toward constitutional rule was haphazard and would not create a level playing field for all political parties. I had bought the argument of some opposition parties that there was no way an incumbent government with military backing could guarantee free and fair elections.
I supported the notion that the only way there could free and fair elections was for the Chairman of the PNDC, Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings to resign and hand over to an interim government as a guarantee for free and fair elections. Our position was that the resignation of Jerry Rawlings was even pressing, given the fact that he and his government had a firm grip on the state media, as well being an impediment to the survival of independent private media.
In the end, those who thought Ghanaians had had enough of military rule and insisted on a return to democracy, whether Ghana was ready or not, carried the day. The vote was three million, four hundred and eight thousand, one hundred and nineteen (3,408,119), representing 92.59% in favour, with two hundred and seventy-two thousand, eight hundred and fifty-five (272,855) against (a mere 7.41%).
Though the ‘nos’ lost the vote to pave way for the 1993 elections, the shortcomings of the elections culminated in the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) writing the ‘stolen verdict’ – perhaps to vindicate the position some of us took. Whatever the shortcomings, we are all now proud that Ghana has had 25 years of democracy and democratisation, devoid of military interventions and attendant disruption of the development process.
This uninterrupted period of democracy has no doubt laid the foundation for Ghana to reap some benefits of democracy, making the country once more a beacon of hope for Africa. The 2008 presidential election in particular – whose outcome was one of the closest in the election history of Africa – raised Ghana’s profile as the fortress of multi-party democracy in Africa. This was an election that pushed Ghana to the brink of war, and left many Ghanaians sitting on broken bottles for days.
Multi-party or two-party?
While we are celebrating 25 years of uninterrupted democracy, I am wondering whether it is multi-party democracy or two-party democracy. Since 1992 we have witnessed the exchange of political power between the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and New Patriotic Party governments. We witnessed Jerry Rawlings handing over power to John Agyekum Kufuor in 2000, and John Agyekum Kufuor handing over to John Evans Atta Mills in 2009.
The untimely death of John Atta Mills gave power to John Dramani Mahama on a silver platter, who in turn handed over power to himself in 2012 after murky and discredited elections. The 2012 election, like the 2008, once more pushed Ghana to the brink. The hearing of the election petition at the Supreme Court and its controversial outcome again tested the patience of Ghanaians: but, once more, we passed the test of democracy and tolerance – thanks to the decision of one man, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, to accept the controversial ruling that affirmed the election of ex-president John Dramani Mahama. The opposition presidential candidate, now President Akufo-Addo, had declared he did not want to become president of Ghana over the blood of one Ghanaian.
One trend that has emerged since the first election in 1993 is that Ghana is fast establishing itself as a two-party democracy, following on the heels of the United Kingdom and United States of America, where the Conservative and Labour Parties, and Republican and Democratic Parties have been in power for more than four decades. No third party in these countries has succeeded in changing the status quo.
In the run-up to every election, people argue that it is time the electorate considered electing a third party to power if we are to break the NPP and NDC’s dominance. In their view, this will perhaps, douse the flames of political violence and bad-blood that has characterised the transfer of power between the parties. Sadly, none of the smaller political parties has demonstrated either the political will or financial muscle needed to wrest power from the two dominant parties in the foreseeable future.
Democracy and development
So, in what way has Ghana benefitted from democratisation? Democratisation has been defined “as political change moving from less accountable to more accountable, from less competition to fairer competition, from severely restricted to better protected civil and political rights,” Porter (1997).
The World Bank defines it “as the manner in which power is exercised in the management of a country’s resources”. The UNDP defines it “as the exercise of political, economic and administrative authority to manage a nation’s affairs, putting emphasis on the role of civil society”; the USAID defines good governance “as a more efficient, transparent, accountable and responsible system of public service with emphasis on a more constructive relationship with the private sector….” Hirschmann (1999, in Open University).
Thus, the three institutions see the role of the state or government as steering development through political, legal and regulatory environments which facilitate private sector and civil society activities. Looking at the above definitions of democracy, it appears that Ghana has marginally benefitted from democracy, in as much as we have made steady progress from military dictatorship toward free and fair elections since 1992. What I am not sure of is whether democracy has yielded the desired development outcomes.
Is democracy failing us?
Many authorities on democracy and development have argued about the positive correlation between development and democratisation. Authorities like Rustow (1970), O’ Donnel et al (1986, in Allen and Thomas), and Di Palma (1990, in Potter, 1997) described democratisation primarily in terms of agency (acting on behalf of people), transition process and socio-economic development. Thus, the letter and spirit of democracy was to spur socio-political and economic development – not reversing it as we are witnessing in Africa today.
Our elected leaders must make policies that should allow everyone – irrespective of political, social, economic and religious backgrounds – to reap the fruits of democracy. This is why our development partners in the late 80s and early 90s made ‘good governance’ the condition for development aid. The truth is that if you give grants, aid and loans to a bad and unresponsive government, it fails to account for the loans and saddles the already overburdened population with unsustainable debts. Thus, the public sector has been largely unaccountable and unresponsive to the people’s needs.
Is the public sector responsive?
Ghana may be one of Africa’s most successful democracies, with regular elections and a representative government that is supposed to be – in Abraham Lincoln’s famous phrase – “of the people, by the people, for the people”. Yet, public policy has failed to allow the average Ghanaian to enjoy the fruits of democracy. Access to basic necessities like water and health continue to be beyond the reach on many poor people, despite 25 years of democracy.
President Akufo-Addo rightly noted that despite some gains, we must acknowledge that we have not reached the potential we should have. According to him, the biggest challenge continues to be eradicating widespread poverty. “We still have challenges in the performance of our public services,” he told his audience during celebrations of the 4th Republic’s Silver Jubilee.
As a taxpayer, my expectation of the state (government) is that it should act in my interest or largely in the public interest. The state (government) should make sound policies to improve all sectors of the economy (both macro and micro levels); the state should act to protect local industries and create jobs for the teeming youth; the state should act to provide uninterrupted supply of water and electricity; the state should act to provide basic needs like basic education and primary health care.
In addition, I expect the state to put mechanisms in place that ensure a minimum of social protection and inclusive policies to address concerns of the vulnerable and marginalised in our polarised society. I also expect the state to provide law and order for all citizens, irrespective of their social status.
I stand to be corrected, but it is my view that the state (government) over the years has been reneging on its role as the dominant development agent. The promise of the private sector being the engine of growth has only been lip-service. In the immediate past, government became a keen competitor to the private sector – taking commanding heights in business rather than creating an enabling environment.
Mainstreaming gender into development is another challenge confronting our young democracy. Pearson (2000, p. 383) has argued that development must be informed by gender analysis, and that particular attention must be paid to the needs of poor women. There is now a new realisation that women should be key participants in and beneficiaries of policies, programmes and projects targetting poverty alleviation.
But, 25 years on, there are still roadblocks hindering the empowerment of women. Chief among them are: competing government priorities and lack of political will; weak gender mainstreaming coordinating role of the Ministry of Gender Children and Social Protection; no conceptual clarification of gender equality in the public sector; feminisation of poverty; socio-cultural, traditional beliefs; limited attention to issues and aspirations of women with disabilities; violence against women and lack of effective monitoring and evaluation systems and practices within the public sector machinery.
In fact, former UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon is on record as saying that investing in women is not only the right thing to do, it is also the smart thing to. He adds that, “It is generally known that women have an untapped potential for development and maintaining peace”. This is why I think government should take a second look at the land reforms with a view to allowing women own land for production. For government’s Planting for Food and Jobs to be relevant to its development policy, land reforms should be revisited.
As stated above, democratisation involves actions, choices and initiatives of persons or groups working to change the structure of society for good (Porter, 1997). Democracy cannot be deepened without the ‘questioning’ and ‘contesting’ role’ of civil society. The growth of civil society in the developing world, including Ghana, and with it the watchdog role it plays has opened up the space for vertical accountability of the electoral systems in new democracies.
No doubt, a vibrant civil society can make the difference where the state and its institutions are failing to live up to the billing. In recent times, this accountability has moved beyond the vertical into direct engagement in the horizontal accountability relationship (Goetz 2004). As stated earlier, to consolidate the gains of our democracy I expect civil organisations to do more by empowering citizens to gain access to the formerly closed arenas of public accountability; and keeping an eye on judicial proceedings and performance, as well as monitoring and evaluating public actors (ibid).
More than ever, citizens must be empowered to demand answers more directly from power-holders by engaging in public interest litigation, or directly auditing local spending to know the whereabouts of public and donor funds. Civil society and public must be an integral part of the fight against corruption and abuse of power. As we celebrate our democracy, we have cause to worry over our electoral system, or else a weak, biased and faulty electoral system could unmake our gains.
The Open University (2004). TU871. Study Guide. Milton Keynes. The Open University
(***The writer is a Communications and Development Management Specialist, and a Social Justice Advocate. All views expressed in this article are my personal views and do not represent those of any organisation. (Email: [email protected]. Mobile: 0202642504/0243327586/0264327586)