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Opinions Thu, 6 Jul 2006

Defending The Indefensible

The concepts of Democracy, Rule of Law and the respect for Fundamental Human Rights underpin most successful social institutions, and countries are no different. Out of these concepts flow all other principles and systems of modern governance like free elections, parliaments, presidents, open mass media, free and fair judiciary and many others. Every society requires these institutions to be suitably equipped for the establishment and sustenance of democratic principles and systems.

For us in Ghana in addition to institutions such as the presidency, parliament, judiciary, electoral commission and the media, the constitution further guarantees other bodies like the Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) and the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE). These institutions individually and collectively help in the entrenchment of the principles which are cherished by all democratic minded peoples. The deepening of democracy in Ghana is further enhanced by the setting up of think-tanks and bodies such as the Center for Democratic Development (CDD), Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA), Centre for Policy Analysis (CEPA) and many other non-governmental organisations. Together with the newspapers, radio and television stations, the world-wide web and other media, greater avenues are provided for deepening our democracy. Democratic culture and all its attendant institutions like all human endeavours must be carefully, and sometimes painfully, nurtured. It goes through an unending and often tortuous incremental process of growth. It is therefore unfortunate and regrettable when top political figures and organisations undermine these bodies through their utterances and refusal to cooperate with them. Without strengthening and respecting our democratic institutions all the talk about our country being an oasis of peace in a troubled sub-region will come to nought.

Our Politics!

Our national politics has been reduced to another battleground for ethnocentricity and hatred. Many political commentators do not understand, or worse, choose not to understand, the meaning of national unity and objectivity. Naivety is equated to freshness. Abrasive and uncouth utterances are viewed as forthrightness. Ignorance is considered acceptable as long as we are deemed to be undermining the ‘enemy’. Respect and decency are thrown to the dogs and every issue is considered from the jaundiced lenses of politics. However politics shapes the destiny of the whole society therefore it should not be trivialised. In a previous article I made a point of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) government not having lived up to its full potential. This was in no way a suggestion that the government was bad. I believe the present government has achieved a lot by way of deepening our democratic governance and attaining a high level of international regard for this country. This is however a build up on the achievements of the former ruling government of the National Democratic Congress (NDC). Consider for instance the issue of free press. Prior to the Fourth Republican Constitution radio and television broadcasting was the preserve of the state. Under President Rawlings the airways were freed leading to the setting up of private FM Radio and Television stations. President Kufuor took press freedom to further heights by repealing the Criminal Libel Law. This is clear progress in press freedom and the deepening of democracy, the credit for which goes to the present and immediate past governments of our country. Again, the role played by President Rawlings in the resolution of the Liberian, Sierra Leonean and Ivorian conflicts was continued by President Kufuor. All these enhance the image of the country with the roll-on effect of improvement of the living standards of Ghanaians.

Recently the American Ambassador to Ghana refuted wicked rumours deliberately orchestrated by some Ghanaians that President Bush did not know the name of our president. According to her this was an absolute lie. Perhaps this typifies a clear example of cutting ones nose to spite ones face. When I heard about the source I was not overly surprised because they were same people who provided the American-Iraqi woman, Gissele Yadzi the platform to deride our president. When it came to the crunch for her to provide the hard evidence to indict our president there was ‘no show’. What we tend to forget is that in the current global economic and political order each country must strive to put itself in a position of advantage. In the scheme of things the destiny of Ghanaians is intrinsically linked to that of President Kufuor, certainly not to Gissele Yadzi.

But how can we blame our simple-minded pseudo-journalists/politicians if even our own former president in an interview on BBC World Service accused President Bush and Prime Minister Blair of having instructed the CNN, BBC and other western media not to publish anything negative about Ghana and our president. This seems laughable because it is so infantile. To the discerning mind and anyone who has lived in Western Europe and North America this cannot be true. Certainly, the John Mahamas, Ekwow Spio-Garbrahs and Dr. Tony Aidoos are all knowledgeable enough and certainly know that this cannot be true but none of them has deemed it fit to come out and refute this, yet they are ‘men of integrity’. But a more careful scrutiny of the issue shows that the accusation is rather serious. The seriousness stems from the fact that this obvious falsehood is coming from the former president of our country. Further many of our citizenry may not appreciate the implausibility of the accusation because they are not exposed to the western media which is independent from governmental control. Again, the level of appreciation of national issues by a great majority of our people calls for all, particularly, the educated to be very careful in their manner and presentation of opinions. There are sections of the population who believe that anything they read in the newspaper is true. Of course, this is a country where every newspaper is ‘Graphic’. Some consider every news item to be true simply because they ‘heard on the FM’ (radio). We all do express our opinions on various matters, something we are entitled to, but it is important to be circumspect and not to present opinions as facts. Perhaps we can forgive the former president in the belief that he considers President Bush and Prime Minister Blair as having similar excessive control he exercised over the media whilst he was in power. I can just imagine Tony Blair ordering Jeremy Paxman not to say anything bad about Ghana!

The Sceptics

There are a group of people who express scepticism about anything good about Ghana. Many Ghanaians were happy when the country received the endorsement of world leaders like Prime Minister Tony Blair and President George Bush. The country is considered as a prime example of successful growing democracy. On the economic front the renowned development economist, Prof. Jeffrey D. Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute and a Special Advisor to the United Nations Secretary General, considers Ghana as ‘one of the best governed and managed countries’. Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live programme in March, 2005 he made a strong case for Ghana to be supported in her economic development and the view was supported by no less an individual than the former US Secretary of State James Baker. A comment by a Mr. Kweku Asare in reaction to a previous write-up of yours truly is quoted below:

Why do we always deceive ourselves that Ghana is better than most African countries when the benchmark for this comparism is so so low with reference to other developing countries worldwide?

Most of the poorest countries in the world are in Africa so do we want to be the best of the poorest? What sort of achievement is that?

We should strive to compare ourselves with countries in Asia, US, Europe and Latin America when it comes to economic development. Thats why the Asian tigers are where they are today Our standards and the benchmark of economic development and achievement should be based on international levels and not the rest of Africa.

Thats how we will really make progress.

I found his arguments very interesting and fully respect his point of view. However every comparison must be tempered with a sense of realism. Indeed, setting benchmarks allows for the consideration of best practices. However, you do not compare cheese to chalk. Every student of strategy will agree that a comparative study calls for comparisons of similar attributes. It will therefore be wrong to compare Ghana to say Germany in terms of economic development. In political sense it may be acceptable but certainly not on economic parameters. Ghana is not yet economically strong enough to take on the ‘big boys’. Countries like Brazil, China and India have grown stronger in the last decade and can take on America and Western Europe in economic and political terms. The economy of Ghana and most other African countries are donor controlled. African countries are mostly alike in terms of geo-political and socio-economic structures. We have to position ourselves properly to benefit from any advantages that will help in the economic development of the country. Let us draw analogy from the recent performance by the Black Stars. The Stars played four matches, lost two and won two, conceded six goals and scored four. On its face value this may be considered as average or even poor performance. However, all Ghanaians are rejoicing and feeling proud of the achievement because it is the first appearance and (note carefully) they were the only African country that went past the group stage! If we should only use the benchmarks of the Kweku Asares of this world the Black Stars are no good because we could not beat the Italians, Brazilians and the Germans! If as a country we enjoy an advantage of being considered as better run than other African countries why should we not capitalise on it and better the lot of our peoples? The government should achieve a lot more with all the national and international goodwill it enjoys.

I am not a supporter of the NDC but the sense of fairness compels me to give them the credit for their achievements. Undisputedly, the NDC began the process of democratic governance under the Fourth Republican Constitution. Democracy as a human institution is dynamic and it grows and changes to suit the needs of a complex society. The socio-economic and political conditions of 1982 were not the same as 1992; likewise that of 2006 being better than 1992. This is a demonstration of the growing and deepening of democracy and rule of law. In 1998 we could talk about ‘Castle identification hair-cut’ but this cannot happen now. In the United Kingdom for instance, the Labour Party introduced the National Health Service in 1948 against the backdrop of Conservative opposition. But successive Conservative governments dared not scrap the Service because a majority of British prefer the system to other alternatives. In future another party other than the NPP would be ruling the country; it would be a shame if it does not build up on the successes achieved and attempt to make changes to the wrong choices. I would be most surprised to see the NDC scrapping the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) should they come back into political power in the same way as the NPP could not scrap the Value Added Tax (VAT). This is the only way by which our democracy would develop. We should not destroy what others have achieved simply because we do not agree politically with them.

Dear Nana Amma Obenewaa

Let me start by expressing my personal admiration for the woman. She has a way with words which endears her very much to me. I hope to be able to write as well as her in future. She is also one of the respectable contributors to the Say It Loud. For a while now I have refused to go on that forum because of the level of bigotry, ethnocentricity and simple-mindedness of some ‘serial’ contributors. Nana Amma however remains one of the few who brings respectability to the forum.

Not too long ago I felt compelled to respond to a series of articles by Isaac Kawaya on his series titled: ‘NPP: The Worse Gov't In Ghana’s History’. Upon reading the first of his articles I obliged him with an e-mail imploring him to do justice to his chosen topic. The crux of my rejoinder was to challenge his failure to conduct a proper comparison of the NPP Government vis-à-vis the previous governments. I would like to point out that the extent to which some people chose to respond to the article was rather distasteful. Some respondents chose to attack the personality of Isaac or me. What saddened me most was the level of childishness and intolerance exhibited. Yet they claim to be democrats and believers in freedom of expression. Someone wrote to attack Isaac on his grammatical usage and sentence construction whilst praising me. This did not amuse me in the least because I noted a lot of mistakes in my own piece after its publication. I do strife to write better so it would be morally wrong on my part to attack another writer for nothing more than grammatical errors. I believe in freedom of expression and indeed Isaac was entitled to his view as a supporter of any political grouping of his choice. As much as I disagreed with the views and style of Isaac I do not have any right to insult his personality. What I sought to do was disagree with his views (to which he is perfectly entitled). I felt he was not doing an intellectual justice to his chosen topic. There were a lot of responses to my rejoinder and Nana Amma Obenewaa happened to have contributed a great deal to the liveliness of the debate.

Rule of Law or Mob Justice?

In a contribution Nana Amma titled: ‘Kawaya Speaks for the Nation’, she opined that ‘… condemnation of Anane is justified under any democratic standard. The nation does not need judicial certitude to condemn acts that breach political ethics.’ But this is where I beg to differ. Rule of Law is not just a desirable principle but a prerequisite for democratic governance. Ethical and moral values are not codified to lend to easy reference and can be deemed only desirable. In the history of this country there have been many periods when the words of dictators have sent the whole country to sleep at dusk. The rabble rousing military adventurists have whipped up the sentiments of the extreme fringes against individuals and sections of the society. Without codified laws administered by impartial and bold judges, political demagogues would use their ‘moral power’ to wreak personal vendettas on their ‘enemies’ hiding under ambiguous cloak of “the people’s anger”. Give me proper codified law any day, I do not want to be subjected to any moral blackmail by people who say one thing and behave differently. If the so-called moral standards were enough, the 1979 and 1982 coups, should have ridden the county of corruption. Rule of law is more important in protecting the weak and the mighty against oppressive governments. I believe the Acheampongs, Utukas, Akuffus, Koteis and Afrifas who were killed after a sentence by a closed kangaroo court would all be alive had they been tried under our current system of Rule of Law. If we were to judge our present and immediate past leaders on the ‘moral and ethical’ standard of ‘one man one toilet’, perhaps the first to be executed would be our immediate past president. Fourteen years under democratic rule armed robbers, coup plotters and murderers are all granted the right to fair hearing in properly constituted courts. This should therefore serve as a lesson to us that as much as we may desire our leaders and indeed every Ghanaian to be morally bound in all their actions the codified laws remain supreme and serve as the main reference point for adjudication.

Different Strokes

On a comment that there is nothing legally wrong with a married man fathering a child by another woman Nana Amma wrote:

‘… would you make the same argument for a priest who uses his/her charisma to “defraud” a congregation all in the name of the Lord? I would not bet my life on your likes as judges in the nation’s court. National leaders are held to certain moral standards. Breaching these standards erodes the public’s confidence in leadership credibility and effectiveness to govern. …… Your stance and logic on freedoms and privileges are brittle. A married politician who fathers a child outside marriage is a deviant (i.e. violating the culture-moral stipulations of society and leadership). It should be noted that as an ex-Minister of Health, Anane was responsible for raising HIV/AIDS awareness. To forget his condoms and point his “black rod” at a business partner is inexcusable. Like all Ministers and government functionaries, Anane is bind by the ethics of social institutions which makes it an infraction to establish a sexual liaison with a business partner (i.e. Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky’s case).

We should be careful not to confuse issues. The analogy of the Dr. Anane case to a priest defrauding his church seems far-fetched and very dissimilar. For starters, Dr. Anane’s case is wholly moral/ethical whilst that of the priest goes further to be illegal. Fraud is a criminal act and a priest who defrauds does not only break state law but also biblical rules. Comparing the case further to the President Clinton/Monica Lewinsky’s case rather seems strange. President Clinton was being indicted for perjury (simply put – lying). Neither the question of morality nor establishment of a ‘sexual liaison with a business partner’ arose in the Star ‘inquisition’.

Fortunately, Nana Amma, being on the bench is not one of my life’s ambitions. However, we can argue to “thy kingdom come”, you can never convince me that marital infidelity ‘erodes the public’s confidence in leadership credibility and effectiveness to govern’. Do not take my word for it, but there are many who consider Dr. Anane to have performed rather well in the roads and transport ministry. Undoubtedly even Dr. Anane must have realised the folly of his indiscretion now. But then if anyone is wronged it must be his wife (the real Mrs. Anane not Alexandria O’Brien) and also his family. Without belabouring the issue, until recently where polygamy was the norm, many Ghanaians did not make a big fuss about marital indiscretion. Thank goodness standards are changing and we are all accepting the need for fidelity in relationships. However, let us all first resolve to make it the standard not only for ministers of state, but also all parliamentarians and political leaders.

Supposing Dr. Anane’s indiscretion makes him unfit to be a minister of state, I wonder what we can say about Prof. Mills fathering a son by another woman and yet being the second most important person of the land. As the saying goes, what is good for the goose is good for the gander’. How many felt Prof Mills was unfit for office because he fathered a child by a woman other than his wife? These incidences do not affect the ability of these men to hold national positions. There are many politicians and national leaders who have fathered children by other women other than their wives. Therefore let us not make Dr Anane a scapegoat. But again, do I smell double standards? There is also the affair between Dr. Kwesi Botchwey, the former Minister for Finance and Economic Planning, and Ms. Scrimshaw, former Canadian High Commissioner to Ghana. This also happened when the two were holding office yet, Dr. Botchwey was not deemed to have established ‘a sexual liaison with a business partner’. There is countless number of cases in the public domain of political leaders in the past and also present administrations being involved in such acts of infidelity.

Perhaps the only achievement we can showcase as a nation since independence is our love for democracy, rule of law and respect for fundamental human rights. These are principles that should be cherished and nurtured. They make us better off than many millions wallowing under oppressive regimes. Recent minor successes in economic, sports and international affairs makes me more proud than ever to be a Ghanaian. Let not anyone take this away from us by setting out to poison the very air we breathe.

God bless Ghana.

Kofi Nyame
Thornton Heath Surrey


Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Columnist: Nyame, Kofi