Ghana's Half-century of Shame: Corruption in High Places

Fri, 19 Jun 2009 Source: Pryce, Daniel K.

The rays of the sun reach all humankind daily, but the rays of the sun of prosperity have been intentionally severed from the lives of many ordinary Ghanaians, due to the poor and errant decisions those occupying elective office - these disloyal statesmen behave as though their positions were hereditary - continue to make on behalf of the Ghanaian electorate. Ghana's delivery from the womb of colonialism and the concomitant clamor for, and attainment of, self-determination produced several notable statesmen - from Kwame Nkrumah to Edward Akufo-Addo, from Ignatius Acheampong to John Kufuor - and although many of them started with good intentions for all members of Ghanaian society, none were able to escape the ensnarement of both the transitoriness and volatility of political power.

Ghana's political history is, indeed, replete with rich lessons for contemporary and aspiring politicians, if the present generation is to shelve the misdeeds of past leaders and forge a oneness of purpose hitherto unknown in the annals of our nation. Sadly, the opportunity for redemptive action no longer exists for many of these former leaders and heads of state, as one dastardly coup d'état after another - and the unnecessary deaths that accompanied these vile occurrences - took away the opportunities for self-imposed expiatory action, rather than the generally unjustified other-imposed expiatory action by the ostensibly righteous putschists of yore. Those were certainly dark days in our history as a nation. We can, however, learn from the mistakes of the past, expunge the vestiges of suspicion and ethnocentrism, and together forge a clear and better path toward national unity and collective prosperity.

With Ghana's landscape adorned with enough natural resources to stoke the embers of envy in members of other nations, one wonders why our leaders today have mastered the art of begging for crumbs from so-called highly developed nations. Does the average reader know that a baby born today in the U.S.A., because of the latter's huge and ever-growing foreign debt, has already inherited a debt of $30,000.00 as part of the overall national debt? As great a country as the U.S.A. is, no one should be hoodwinked into thinking that its leaders have unlimited resources to splatter on others, especially on undeserving would-be recipients. Without a doubt, most powerful nations engage in quid pro quo relationships with less powerful ones, which is why the rumor that U.S. President Barack Obama is determined to convince Ghana's leaders to allow the U.S.A. to open a military base in Ghana is no hogwash. Add in the equation of newly discovered oil in Ghana and the United States of America will benefit tremendously from a stronger partnership with Ghana. The question then is: Do our leaders have enough wisdom and savoir faire to insist on only that which will be in our supreme national interest?

Ethnocentrism and corruption are the twin succubuses that have drained, and continue to drain, the lifeblood of morality and uprightness in African leaders, who, by virtue of our androcentric societies, are usually men. A fundamental reason for corruption in African countries is the absence of well-established institutions empowered by law to fight this evil, with the current emphasis being more on setting up fleeting commissions, here and there across the continent, only when there is an overwhelming outcry from one populace or another: In effect, an African government attempts to eviscerate the tumors of corruption only when public opinion is overwhelmingly in favor of a probe. What the continent needs are neutral, entrenched institutions, which owe allegiance to no particular political parties, to fight this social malady of corruption. One way to gradually and permanently erode the power of entrenched corruption is to ossify the gains of democratic rule: accountability, equality before the law, visibility of leaders, rule of law, loyalty to institutions and not to persons, et cetera. We can fight and rid our society of corruption, but we must be willing to pay the price; after all, doing good is inherently good, but we must expect bands of criminals to oppose right deeds every step of the way.

Regarding ethnocentrism, each African nation has its own unique problems, from maintaining a balance in ethnic representation in government to equitably distributing the proverbial national cake, among others. So long as the government in power shows enough strength in making sure that no group is underrepresented, people will generally be welcoming of its leadership. If we have learned anything from our own continent - from Rwanda to Kenya, from Sierra Leone to Liberia - it is the fact that ethnic hegemony is as dangerous as the declaration of war: there never are any winners or losers; progress is delayed, or even reversed; and suspicions are exacerbated, taking decades to overcome.

In the case of Ghana, the ethnocentric rants and vituperations we come across on pro-Ghanaian Internet conduits may be a symptom of a general malaise: anger towards the nation's political hierarchy and the perceived economic imbalances brought about by poor leadership and the mismanagement of the nation's resources. Asantes and Ewes are not at war with one another, despite the invidious and chthonic activities of a few dyed-in-the-wool supremacists to promote strife, ethnic disharmony and general dissension. John Atta Mills has a unique opportunity as an Akan to diffuse the so-called tension among the various ethnic groups in the country, by making sure that each is proportionately represented in the corridors of power.

Corruption is perceived in two ways: an individual raiding the nation's coffers; and a disproportionately large investment of the nation's resources in one community, as compared to others. In fact, perception can be just as lethal as reality, which is why Ghanaian leaders' apathy toward ill-gotten wealth by corrupt politicians is just as vile as a deliberate attempt to inequitably distribute the nation's meager resources. John Atta Mills has promised to tackle corruption, but he would need a lot of courage to take on powerful cabals and networks that have perfected the art of siphoning the nation's resources into private pockets. Moreover, corruption is so institutionalized in Africa - and in our own nation - that it will take a change in our collective mindset to weed out this cancer. People must first understand that what belongs to the nation belongs to all; if these resources are properly harnessed, they will benefit everyone. And, of course, people need to understand that they will be exposed and prosecuted should they steal from the nation's coffers - the fear of punishment is as strong an inducement against crime as the punishment itself.

It has been shown that most people will not commit a crime, not because they have attained a certain moral standing that extricates them from temptation, but because of the fear of being caught. In other words, a would-be philandering husband may squelch the idea of cheating on his wife, not because he has suddenly reached a higher-than-average level of spirituality, or morality, that gives him the power to look beyond the pleasures of a tryst, or dalliance; but because he loathes the possible embarrassment and disgrace he would suffer were his wife to catch him attempting to seduce another. This analogy extends to positions of leadership and authority as well, which is why the excision of the Indemnity Clause smuggled into Ghana's Constitution ought to be paramount, if, indeed, we believe in equality before the law. Until we force our politicians to account for every cedi spent; for every political or economic decision made for our collective progress; and for every other decision of importance made on our behalf, we will continue to see corruption in high places. It takes just one man to effect great change in any society, which is why I call on the youth to get involved in nation-building and leadership.

Current events in the Republic of Iran should serve as a reminder to all that, even in the face of a powerful, deep-rooted theocracy, the voices of young people can overcome the machinery of government and send a quiver down the spine of an otherwise rarely challenged theocratic authority. That Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, has ordered the ruling council of clerics to investigate allegations of vote-rigging is a good sign for aggrieved Iranian voters. Suddenly, Mir Hossein Mousavi, the opposition leader, and hundreds of thousands of ordinary Iranians are making sure that no one silences them, not even Iran's religious leaders. As the world awaits the outcome of this disputed election, Ghanaians should learn from this experience: the voice of a people can bring about meaningful change, even in the face of intimidation and physical abuse!

The writer, Daniel K. Pryce, holds a master’s degree in public administration from George Mason University, U.S.A. He is a member of the national honor society for public affairs and administration in the U.S.A. He can be reached at dpryce@cox.net.

Columnist: Pryce, Daniel K.