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Is Ghana A Democracy? A Personal Testimony

Is Ghana A Democracy? A Personal Testimony

Sun, 3 Dec 2006 Source: Danso, Kwaku A.

A recent article on GhanaHomePage (2006, November 23) about Ghana not being a democracy has made some people wonder what we are and confused. A writer wrote me this and I take the opportunity to share my response to him on the Ghana Leadership Forum.

From: Kumi-Addo, Kofi
Sent: Thursday, November 23, 2006 4:36 AM
Subject: Ghana - Not even a "Flawed Democracy"?

"Please what is the meaning of this? I will be happy for what is really means. I am a bit confused. Kofi". (Thursday, November 23, 2006 4:36 AM)

Here’s my response, edited and shared here:


Kofi, why are you confused?
It looks like you have not lived in Ghana for an extended period of time, eh? For those who have not read it - here's the highlights of the report:

Accra, Nov. 23, 2006 (GHP) - The Economist Intelligence Unit has ranked Ghana 95th in the list of the most democratic states, placing it squarely in what the publication called the “hybrid regime” category. Ghana was placed in the same category with Liberia (98), Uganda (100) Russia (102), Gambia (108) Haiti (109) and Iraq (112).

Countries were divided into four groups: “full democracies,” which received average scores of 8.00-10.00 in some five indicators; “flawed democracies,” which received 6.00 to 7.90; “hybrid regimes,” which received 4.00 to 5.90; and “authoritarian regimes,” which received scores below 4.00 (GhanaHomePage, 2006, November 23).

Democracy is simply defined by the art and process of people first electing their leaders using a system such as the ballot, and the leaders managing the affairs of their country for the benefit of the people.

If you examine the article and the Economist's definitions, you will realize that our rating is the truth, that we are at best a hybrid between authoritarianism and "flawed democracy". We are not even a democracy and as one article said recently, we may be getting close to what is called a “failed state”. Failed states have excessive reports of crime, hooliganism, broken down roads with potholes, water, communication systems, administrative systems, and characterized by bribery, corruption and indiscipline within the administrative and judicial systems of the country. Ghana cannot be called completely failed yet, but sometimes we seem to be very close.

I realized this when I lived in Ghana for 3 months in Summer 2004 after more than 30 years absence. I wrote several articles from Ghana, ranging from my experience in driving on Ghana’s death-trap roads, to the Mosquito epidemic nobody seems to notice but killing 50,000 to 200,000 people yearly. I was a young boy when I left Ghana on scholarship to America and did not know much of my own country then. However I recall at the time in the 1960s water was running in the pipes and the few phones and electricity worked more reliably than in 2004. Ghana was actually going backwards. The World Bank reports (2005) indicated our GNI/capita was only $320 whiles it was around $400 in 1957 time, same as Singapore at the time. Today Singapore is about $22,000. Something went wrong! And we better shed our empty African pride and learn to change with the times, and most importantly make the right choice of leadership, and then learn to exercise our democratic rights to demand the recall or even impeachment of any leader who does not perform!

Representation of the people: In 2004 and again in 2005, I realized that there was nobody really representing the ordinary person in Ghana, as you would expect in a civilized system or democracy. We actually are in a jungle of a place. I don't mean any disrespect, but a drive through Makola area or Madina market, or even on the main roads of Ghana such as the once beautiful Nkrumah Avenue, will convince you. It is chaos and I could stand and watch in amazement as to how Africa differed so much from the rest of the world, and why! Everybody, I noticed, was onto themselves, even in the provision of services such as water, electricity and sewage. I lived in one of the best areas, and I still would not compare the services in Ghana with the worst places in America. Technicians are sent every week, more than 2 or 3 times per week, to turn off water flowing in some pipes and turn them on for other homes, in a rationing of water. These are affluent areas where simple arithmetic would show that the people can pay for water to be installed. I personally went to the Valve center to witness this on/off distribution at a place between East Legon and Adjenganor! I am not kidding you. The Chief Engineer at GWCL told me in person that since 1965 Ghana government had not allocated any money to expand the water treatment facilities in Ghana.

Collective Sense of Ownership:

I can vouch that since Nkrumah was overthrown Ghanaians have not acted with any sense of collective ownership to manage our affairs. Sometimes I felt like crying and I got so angry at us! Then I felt pity and sympathy. Why would I get so engaged in forming a political party with Ofori and all? Why? Because I know that if we don't, Ghana will not be our own nation in 20 years. I personally have no reason to leave the US and go to Ghana. But it is our country! It is a responsibility we owe the country and our people. Under the NPP and even the NDC, our leaders do not act like Ghana belongs to us. They talk about development partners! Tweaaa!! Why would anybody come from anywhere to use his taxpayers’ money to help you when Kufuor cannot spend $25 million to drill wells to provide water for Ghanaians in need but will spend $30 million for a Presidential mansion, and another $30-50 Million or more for a 50th year anniversary when even Parliament House cannot get water and over 10 million people drink dirty water from rivers or simply cannot get water at hospitals in Tamale? Does it make sense?

Ghana being sold and re-colonized:

The prediction is that if we do not take power away from these people of that mindset, Ghana will soon be like Puerto Rico, a sub-colony of some other country such as America, Britain or China. Mark my words. We will owe so much money and unable to pay, unable to build one mile of good road o our own, and all the proceeds of our cocoa, gold and timber do not even add up to the interest on the loans. Many Ministers do not even own a calculator and if they do cannot calculate the Principal and Interest payments on a loan of say $5 Billion amortized over 15 years at 2.3% interest (the lowest rate that China is giving us). At that time Kufuor, Osafo Maafo, Akuffo Addo, Mike Ocquaye, Hackman and others may be dead and gone [remember the average life expectancy there is only 55] and their family members will escape to Britain or America to spend any stolen moneys. The rest of their families will be in Ghana but living as part of the elite in the society governed by the Chinese, British, Americans or South African master controllers who may simply pay the Ghanaian to be elected and do their will. The Chinese do not seem interested in colonizing Ghana. The remaining Ghanaians will be like native Indians in America, pushed further into the bush and farming their one and two acres for subsistence living, still using corn cob as toilet roll and unable to send their kids to school. Kids will run away to the cities working at menial jobs for the Chinese and foreigners at their factories. We will all be gone and our children will only talk about Africa like African-American do – with rosy fantasy of hope and dreams, and at best a home in Ghana they can take a vacation for two weeks as they can to share fully paid homes their father built in city suburbs with relatives they never knew existed.

Feedback and Complaint System:

Ghana's systems of government and administration are not set up yet to respond to the electorate the way one would expect in a democracy, and there is not much logic in some of the ways we operate, the way we give out contracts to build and the way we monitor completion of projects. And sadly there is nobody to complain to!! That is the worst aspect of it all! Any system that must improve must have a feedback system. In Ghana there is no feedback to call any Minister, or any MP. Some of the MPs I found had never entered their constituencies after they won in 2000. In an interview I did for my PhD dissertation, the participants kept telling me the same thing: We don't see the MPs again after elections!! Is that a democracy? The elected officials themselves do not know their responsibilities. Most cannot write a good essay on democracy. Is that your dream of democratic Ghana?

If you compare this to say America, there is no government department where one cannot file a complaint, even if you leave a message on the phone they will respond. I once wrote the Mayor of Fremont when the new road they were constructing had taken so long and I simply put a handwritten note in my Water bill. Surprisingly, the officer who opened the envelope sent it to the Mayor’s office and the Mayor responded to me, explaining why the contractor seemed like he was slow, but that he was on a deadline and would pay a penalty for every day they delay the project. Wow!! I was so touched and since then realized that we in Ghana have not even begun life!

How did it get so Bad?

Has it always been like that ? No! During the 1970s as student leader I had written to Dr. Busia’s office, who had replied. The same thing during the Acheampong’s era of 1972-78, they used to reply letters from even us students. Our democracy broke down with Jerry Rawlings and his entourage of lawyers and Legon lecturers around him who had no clue what to do. They started the era of envy of Diaspora Ghanaians, seizing private cars and hence started the Robin Hood taxation system. They collected taxes but did not have a system to account for the money. After that Kufuor’s administration also followed suit - their people seem to lack any originality – being conservative and wanting to simply do what “Nananom did and laid out before them”. Kufuor, despite complaints before office, now claim the Constitution of Ghana is Okay as it is.

Our society is still mostly authoritarian in the way our leaders, Ministers, MPs spend money, use power, and abuse power. One may remember the Central Regional Minister Edumadze and how he beat up on a citizen and never was punished or even interrogated. Would that occur in America or UK? It was like pulling teeth for years before bad-boy Dr. Richard Anane would be asked to resign. Ministers of Finance or Finance committee chairmen sign checks to order cars for the President and themselves. Anybody who has a sense of being a "big man" can order the police around to arrest others. Mind you this is the police that are supposed to protect justice and us all! This is no democracy! The police can detain you without question if you look poor and annoy them, and they can beat up anybody arrested if they look poor. Similarly anybody who has confidence can walk over them. Is that a democracy?

Any department head become a tin God ordering $3,000 chrome plates for their taxpayer purchased SUV vehicles. Dr. Wireko Brobbey, a man with an air of arrogant self confidence, disgraced himself in a short era of management of VRA. The Managing Director of Ghana Ports and Harbors at Tema had a friend of mine locked up in 2004 for simply asking him why he was speeding so much at the port compound and almost hit this friend. Instead of apologizing to him, he got mad and wanted to show his power by asking my friend to be locked up. Would that occur in a democratic system?

Accountability and Responsibility:

The last definition of democracy is accountability and responsibility. You obtain that through feedback system and self evaluation. When people have a complaint, they cannot report to anybody in Ghana. I tried this with Water services, Electricity interruptions and instability, telephone service interruptions. I visited the Ministries, the ECG, Ghana Water Company Ltd., Ghana Telecom and so forth. It was to no avail. They looked at me as if I was from Mars. In my first week in Ghana in summer 2004, one watchman who answered the phone at Ghana Water in Legon had a good laugh when I called to complain one evening after hours that my water at East Legon had been suddenly cut off. The guy laughed for a few minutes loudly, till I got the message and insisted for him to leave a written message for the manager to call me the next day. Of course the manager never called me till I drove there and bull-dozed my way with American aggressiveness and insistence on having water. He promised that if I wanted water 24/7 they could deliver. I though it was a joke but he had the technician come with me to my house. I never understood the trick till later. People like me who acted “big man” could get my water never switched off at the valves. I had water for the whole summer till it became obvious I had left town, when the water was suddenly shut off during the Christmas week to the suffering of my relatives! Since then I have had to invest about $8,000 in water towers and reservoir systems.

My conclusion is that the manager never called because that is the system, a broken down system which is not democratic. When leadership at the top breaks down as it did in the 1970s and confirmed in the 1980s and 1990s, it affects the whole organization. The Akans of Ghana have a proverb that a fish rots from the head. Ghana is getting close to a failed state. It is even amazing that some body out there in the world measures these issues. Ghana is not a democracy at all. The fact that we vote and have elections is all what got us the marks to even put us in the hybrid category. We are only a step ahead of Liberia, Uganda, Gambia, Haiti and Iraq, as the report says. All these are nations that have failed before through war or civil strife and recovering. Is Ghana a democracy? You be the judge.

Kwaku A. Danso, M.S., M.Eng., PhD
Executive Co-Founder, GHANA NATIONAL PARTY
President , Ghana Leadership Union, Inc.(NGO)

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

Columnist: Danso, Kwaku A.