Are Ghanaians really benefiting from THIS democracy? Part I – By Dr Michael J.K. Bokor

The writer, Dr Michael J.K. Bokor
As the jockeying by activists of the various political parties for the electorate’s sympathy continues for the 2012 elections—and will intensify as we approach the peak vote-seeking season—we need to ponder some serious issues that agitate people’s minds as far as our politics is concerned.

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A cursory observation of our political situation reveals much discontent among Ghanaians (home and abroad) at the continued deterioration of living standards, persistently high cost of utility/health/social services, economic stagnation, and moral decadence, which add to the bitter political rivalry between the NDC and NPP to create tension and make the situation in the country virtually unbearable. And all this is happening in a country that is richly endowed with human and natural resources, backed by a democratic system of governance that has been stable for 19 years now!

I have a good cause to blame the governments that have ruled the country within this period and will be brazen to ask whether the kind of democracy being practised in the country is serving the interests of the large majority of Ghanaians at all. If it isn’t, what should we do? Is the problem caused by weaknesses in our democracy or by the failure of those in charge of affairs? Or both?

I have a good reason to complain, drawing lessons from Abraham Lincoln’s dictum, which is as relevant today as it was on November 19, 1863, when it first came to notice in Gettysburg, where he said, among others: “… and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth” (from “The Gettysburg Address”).

There must be a good reason why this speech by Lincoln is regarded as one of the best 100 speeches ever recorded in modern history.
Apart from its pertinence to the United States’ own brand of democracy, it reveals why that democracy has matured to become the envy of many countries. Such a democracy provides opportunities for the people to live their lives in decency—food security, a good and reliable health care delivery system, efficient social intervention programmes, internal security, freedom of expression and exercise of political will, workable legal arrangements, and hope for the future—because their governments have always been based on the need to be of the people, by the people, and for the people.

A democracy that cannot provide these opportunities for the people is not worth anybody’s bother. There is no doubt in my mind that this is where the beauty and attraction of functional democracy lies. And that is why it is not difficult for citizens in countries practising this kind of democracy to openly declare their pride in their system, even though some obvious pitfalls exist.

To me, the part of Lincoln’s speech that resonates with these positive aspects of democracy is encapsulated in “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” which highlights the democratic imperatives. These are the main tenets of a viable democracy. No doubt, no democracy can survive if its government is not of the people (representing the ideals of the people), by the people (brought into being by the will of the people), and for the people (using the mandate of the people to serve the needs, interests, and purposes of the people and their country).

This dictum is pertinent to Ghana’s democracy too; hence, my choice of it to argue that not much is being done to make our democracy serve its purposes as expected. One may question why I’m drawing any parallel between a young democracy such as ours and an age-old one like that of the US. I do so because I insist that we learn useful lessons from that which has succeeded. A democracy that is designed to endure is not left to chance but conscientiously moulded to serve the purposes for which it is instituted. As Chinua Achebe says, the chick that will grow into a cock is noticed the very first day it is hatched.

I am concerned that despite the huge sacrifices that Ghanaians are making to ensure that the constitutional democratic system of governance matures, there is little to instill hope in them. Events happening all over the country don’t confirm that our democracy is growing or that those charged with playing the vanguard role in sustaining it are doing their work assiduously to justify the sacrifices being made.

A genuine assessment of the situation reveals that all is not well at all, not because there are no resources with which to nurture our democracy but because of several human-related factors that I intend to explore in this article. Indeed, that our democracy has survived thus far is only due to the patience and tolerance of the people, not the work of any politician and none should attempt getting any credit for it.

But for the resilience of Ghanaians and their ability to accommodate the “nonsense” that national and local politics imposes on them, our democracy would have crumbled by now. I say so with a clear conviction that those responsible for governance will see themselves as part of the problem and work hard to complement the contributions of the populace toward growing our democracy.

Democracy is just a mere concept, which cannot grow by itself. It is people and institutions that nurture it with responsible behaviour and the appropriate dose of nourishment (relevant laws and practices) to grow. Not until we do so, our democracy will gather years but not mature. We may be lucky not to have it interrupted by any military intervention or civil insurrection; but it doesn’t mean that it is growing as expected.

Some may not want to be told, but the fact is that although some public figures thump their chests and boast that our democracy is on course, there is nothing really beneficial about it to celebrate at this stage. Nothing drastic has changed to prove that it is taking us out of the woods.

The 4th Republic is 19 years old but still has most of the very inadequacies that characterized previous civilian or military regimes whose conduct hindered the country from developing. Our economy is still stagnant and dependent on loans from foreign institutions and countries; we still depend on the outdated methods for cash-crop and food production; and our system of education and curricula haven’t changed to meet the needs of the 21st century.

Our state institutions are still what they were at or before independence. The country doesn’t even have its own shipping or airline industry and local industries perform far below capacity while the country has become a dumping ground for all manner of products (over-aged cars, fridges, animal products) and narcotics. Although the population is expanding, the resources to support it are shrinking.

Our attitudes and mindsets have remained conservative or been negatively affected by wayward Western ideals; nepotism and tribalism still influence national politics; our country still suffers from the brain-drain syndrome; the rural-urban drain persists; red-tapeism in government bureaucracy is still alarming; bribery and corruption remain endemic; and the unemployment situation is worsening.

The standard of living hasn’t improved in any way at all; and there are many more of such depressing realities. No drastic reforms followed the establishment of constitutional democratic rule. What, then, will we say is the major difference between what we have in this 4th Republic and the previous ones? Are we still not stuck in the woods?

If we are honest, we can say that our democracy hasn’t so far helped us solve the basic problems to improve living conditions of the people. For that matter, what warrants their continued participation in the ritualistic balloting every four years? Just to confirm that our democracy is on course? What is there to celebrate, after all?

If we celebrate our democracy just because for the past 19 years there hasn’t been any military intervention and that general elections have been successfully held since 1992 or that there has been a smooth transition from one government to the other (despite the bitter rivalry between the two political parties, NDC and NPP), we will be deceiving ourselves and celebrating the wrong cause.

Democracy doesn’t grow that way because despite all these events, the people are still wallowing in abject squalor, paralyzing poverty, disease, and want. The problems facing them are still daunting to the extent that they are highly disgruntled and disaffected. Such a situation is nothing but a time-bomb waiting to explode at the mere poke of a finger. This is the greatest threat to our democracy.

The fact that military intervention in our national politics may not be attractive under our new political dispensation doesn’t mean that nothing else can happen on a massive scale to derail our democracy. In our case, what military intervention can’t do, civil strife can. There is too much pressure on the people.

The series of demonstrations against the government’s actions or inactions by NGOs, political party activists, and other civil society groups may be quickly termed as “politically motivated” but they reflect the sentiments of the embittered populace, which are waiting to erupt into what retired Army General Arnold Quainoo would call an “inferno.”

If our democracy cannot help us improve our living conditions and build a strong foundation for posterity as others elsewhere have used theirs to do, then, it is worthless and cannot be sustained. Not sustaining it means denying it the opportunity to grow, which itself comes with a high price. Can we pay that price?

Continued in the next installment….

The opinions expressed here are the author’s and do not necessarily refelct the views or have the endorsement of the Editorial Board of AfricaNewsAnalysis.