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By Kwasi Sarpong Afrifa, Vice Chairman, NPP-USA Chapter,
New York, August 20, 2009
On Saturday, August 22, 2009, NPP leadership will assemble in Accra to address the invidious distinction between modernity and tradition in an attempt to reposition the party for future electoral contests. At this time, the fault lines have already been drawn and while most party adherents are worried others are far more attentive to the significance of demonstration effects, aware of the path-dependent historical trajectories of pre- and post-1979 course of events, variations in institutional design, the role of informal norms and social networks, and strategic calculations of individual actors. Others, on their part, are concerned about the opportunity of foreign borrowing as one of the situational advantages of backwardness. The concern of this writer has to do with the unanticipated consequences wherever institutions have been crafted by following the simplifying logic of emulation without commensurate attention to the particular social and political environment in which an imported or imposed institution is being constructed.
My views are not the result of a detached academic review of our Party’s institutional evolution and development. In fact, a rich literature on institutional evolution has already drawn attention to such processes as “hybridization”, “institutional layering”, “institutional conversion” and the “reworking” or “blending” of old and new institutions. While we have anticipated the fundamental dilemma of institutional adaptation across time and space, and while we have to anticipate the malleability of institutional structures and processes over time in response to changing social environments, we tend to sometimes reify the constituent elements of institutions and treat its norms and social relations as either rigidly fixed or infinitely malleable.
We have already heard of the entrenched positions that have been built up leading to the next Congress. However, what we have left out in this process is the constellation on interests, shared norms, collective memories of good and bad experiences, and practical knowledge. The manner in which these simultaneous reinterpretation and mutual adjustments play out, I content, is highly relevant to understanding and explaining the extent, process, and viability of institutional adaptation in NPP’s context.
Theories abound on why we lost the last election and they will not be restated here. Undoubtedly, NPP’s defeat in the 2008 elections dealt a blow to the party and adherents and it’s hard to overstate the transformation we have witnessed in our national politics. It’s seemingly an instructive and teachable moment calling us to put aside at least some of our cherished illusions, come to terms in some meaningful way with regards to next steps. Collectively, we had championed certain notions, but when the reality of our loss came rolling through our doors, we have gained additional and altered insight on what needs done.
We may soberly concur that the last election underscored something about Ghanaian political attitudes toward political accountability, attitudes toward national priority issues and overall political maturity. The electorate viewed these issues and actions pragmatically, not ideologically. The election was neither, above all, a rejection of NPP era nor an endorsement of any NDC alternative. The chattering class of pundits did us grave disservice in their own reflection of what went wrong. In some instances, we had the opportunity to counter unfounded allegations but for some unexplained reason(s), we offered no countervailing response against or even address them. Nevertheless, we know the defeat is an opportunity for a dramatic break with certain old order principles.
Also, we now know that we cannot go into the 2012 and future elections with the same playbook as in 2008; run hard on former President John Agyekum Kuffour’s policies and accomplishments; invoke and equate the name of Jerry Rawlings with the NDC; and use wedge issues to a renewed national political discourse. We ran the play perfectly in 2008, but we achieved a different outcome. It’s therefore important to understand why the NDC won not despite our fixation on Rawlings, but partly because of it and what our party must do to strengthen our party and its profile on national development issues in the coming months and years.
In the aftermath of the election, our leaders have probably been inundated with recipes, formulas and strategies for what NPP must do next. Some of these proposals have taken the form of strident recommendations for change in what many hope will be a new era for NPP and Ghanaian political history. Ideas such as “expanded delegate” system, capping the number of presidential aspirants, formal outreach to formerly extant groups such as the “Tescon,” “Nasara Club” and women groups, and many others, have been put forth for consideration. Some supporters are so concerned about the glaring omission of innovations and progressive ideas that would not only modernize our party but also would increase its electoral chances of winning future elections. These may include:
• Relaxing the inimical, discriminating dual citizenship provision in the party’s constitution and to allow members of dual nationality to run for elective positions. • Incorporating the use of technology into the party’s affairs by instituting the position of a “Technology Coordinator” or its equivalent. • Assuring advocates of the “one-member-one-vote” (OMOV) campaign that the “expanded delegate system” is an incremental strategy toward a full-blown adoption and implementation of OMOV. • Strategically strengthening the relationship with the external branches; • Working with the Electoral Commission to developing plans to implement the absentee ballot system measure or ROPAA; • Anchoring the reforms along the parameters of: i) the “party-as-an organization”, i.e., building the institutional prerequisites of a political organization as central to organizational continuity; ii) the “party-in-the-electorate” connecting the part to the electorate; iii) the “party-in-government,” i.e., how we behave while in government; and iv) the institutional linkage structures between and among these elements. • What is there in our party’s platform that appeals to the idealism of the youth and in the interests of farmers, entrepreneurs and professionals? Of those already in the party, are they generally perceived as role models? • What is our Party’s civic education program about its “central ideals, traditions and principles, its evolution, and that of the country? Is there a need for an informal academy where lectures and presentations on party issues, different topics and issues of general and specific interests are conducted on a sustained basis for enlightenment of party members and as recruitment and socialization strategy? • What is our mechanism for research and effective intra-party communication mechanism and strategy and with the larger Ghanaian community?
Despite the seemingly innovative ideas that would be deliberated and those that have been omitted, the most important obstacle for seizing the moment to achieve enduring change, in my conception, is the much nuanced but glaring lack of consensus or cohesion in our party for electoral success. Voters interpret such internal squabbles not as expressions of democracy; but as opportunistic factionalism, as weak political capacity, or as an indication that something is seriously amiss with the party. Elsewhere, parties have been punished by the electorates for such behavior.
However, there are two ways of achieving consensus. One is to split the difference with the opposing end and the forces obstructing reforms. The other is for leadership to use the party’s accumulated goodwill to transform the political center and thereby alter the political dynamics. While we can do a little bit of both, the default position must be the “politics of accommodation.” However, any default position of reform without a symbolic, instrumental, forward-thinking, transformative and strategic action would be counterproductive.
We know that the process of re-building - comprehensive or incremental- will not just happen spontaneously. It will take exceptional party resolve and leadership. We’ve already witnessed obstacles to seizing the moment to produce fundamental change, some of them systemic and others self-inflicted. The systemic obstacles include the lingering political power of the old order to blocking reforms or strategically and adroitly tinkering with existing policies. This has led to a defensive redoubling of political resolve. A second systemic obstacle is the absence of a popular movement within the party to put wind at a progressive leadership’s back to modernize our party. Some of these self-inflicted actions are so bothersome a force not to be bottled up anymore. Institutional Change, Stability and Adaptation It has become a trend, almost a norm, that political parties are reinventing their organizational structures to improve electoral outcomes. In the process, practitioners have asked vital questions as they sought to understand the meaningful long-term solutions some semblance of stability and improved electoral outcomes. In some instances, political leaders have been tempted to take the easy way: adjust the organizational structure without much insightful planning, or indiscriminately adopt quick fixes that actually end up compromising electoral chances or addressing symptoms of organizational problems rather than taking the time to respond to the root causes of problems with new management strategies. Cultural and sociological approaches hold that institutions dictate “logic of appropriateness”, that is, they tell the actors what they ought to prefer in specific situations. Historical institutionalism posits that power is what causes institutional stability. Political agents will try to “change the rules of the game” for themselves in retaining and extending that power. The power an agent derives from more basic asset is increased by the power coming from the institutions in which he has helped to design. This “doubling” of power will of course make it extra costly, or extra risky, for less powerful agents to challenge the established institutional order.
Political parties do not operate in a vacuum. As formal institutions, they tend to remain “sticky” even when the political and economic conditions within which they have existed have changed dramatically.
Mancur March and Theodore Olson argued that institutional change rarely satisfy the prior intentions of those who initiated it as change cannot be controlled precisely. Moreover, understanding the transformation of political institutions requires recognizing that there are frequently multiple, not necessarily consistent, intentions, that are often ambiguous, that intensions are part of a system of values, goals, and attitudes that embed institutions in a structure of other beliefs and aspirations.
While tracing the interaction of institutions, ideas and interests, we may confront a situation where institutions are biased toward continuity or even posing obstacles to change and they may facilitate rather than impede change. In such instances, Ellen Immergut has suggested that we should aim not to identify “veto groups‘ so much as “veto points” in process. “Veto points” are areas of institutional vulnerability, that is, points in the process or structure through which the mobilization of opposition can thwart policy innovation. The analysis of how these processes occur- “process tracing” is thus central to any institutional design.
By shaping not just actors’ strategies, but their goals as well and by mediating their relations of cooperation and conflict, institutions structure political situations and leave their own imprint on political outcomes. The intermediate feature of political life provides the theoretical bridge between men who make history and the circumstances under which they are able to do so. Karl Polarnyi’s analysis of the “great transformation” deals explicitly with the consequences of macro level changes in broad social and economic structures. But his examination of the causes and consequences of the shift to a “market society” is anchored in an analysis of specific social and economic institutions in which battles over and within these broader forces are crystallized. Thus, institutions constrain and refract politics, but they are never the only causes of outcomes. Rather, they structure political interactions and in this way affect political outcomes.
Stephen Krasner’s model of “punctuated equilibrium” of institutional change deserves our attention. Krasner states that institutions are characterized by long periods of stability, periodically “punctuated” by crisis (e.g. loss of elections) which bring about relative abrupt institutional change, after which stasis again sets in. In Krasner’s version, institutional crisis usually emanate from changes in the external environment. Such crises cause a breakdown of the existing institutional order and breakdown precipitates political conflict over the shape of the new institutional arrangements. “Punctuated equilibrium” can also occur when piecemeal changes results from specific political battles or ongoing strategic maneuvering within institutional constraints. Does this analysis sound any familiar?
Fellow Kukrudites, as we gather in Accra to reflect and deliberate on rebuilding our party, our objective should not only be on recapturing power in 2012, but over the next three years, we must make several principles clear at every turn:
i) re-branding our party by wearing on our sleeves our cherished traditions and principles with a “social democratic” bent as was suggested a member of NPP-USA. ii) redefining our message and offering programs to reconnect with ordinary Ghanaians; and, iii) offering a long-term commitment to rebuilding our party by promoting intra-party democracy in our candidate recruitment and selection with direct primary and instituting reforms in the basic organization structure of our party. Adopting the franchise model of organizational restructuring to strengthening the local constituencies or the electoral ward levels as the basic organizational unit of our great party.
If we act on some of these and other principles over the next few years, Ghanaians will forgive us for trying, and the party will continue to stand on stronger ground as we face what is likely to become Ghana’s second national economic development election in 2012. We need to convince voters that there are strong policy reasons to vote NPP on development issues-not just against Atta-Mills. This is a fluid moment in the thinking of the electorates about national development issues. Many Ghanaians are now assessing which party really offers a solid path for developing the country, and has the competence for its implementation. In the last election, they voted for NDC; the next three years will determine whether they see a better alternative in the NDC.
We need to invigorate the body politic of our Party across the country by running to the strength of the Party in its vibrant grassroots. Let’s mastermind the resurgence of the party that has become afflicted with a cluster of geriatric symptoms, lassitude, memory loss, energy drop, lack of concentration, inability to focus, myopia, etc and sometime blinding and habitual disorientation punctuated by conflicting pronouncements.
We should promote debate and consensus with the grassroots organizations that are helping to create a new model for governance. We must adapt ideologies, programs, strategies, and organizational structure to new national and international conditions, which include increasing citizen discontent, political personality cults, growing demand for participation by historically latent and underrepresented groups, social and economic inequalities, and globalization.
After eight years of power, NPP enjoy a huge reservoir of popular goodwill. Let’s manage to charm our detractors while we court supporters to cut us a lot of slack. In times such as these, that initial support is a large asset but it will not last forever. Public support of a party is not like a stock of savings. It needs to be invested in great deeds and earned.
We tirelessly inveigh against NDC’s treacherous ambitions and the cascade of instability it purportedly brings. But allowing our own obsessions to frame this singular reform opening would possibly be a colossal blunder. Our strategy has been to give opponents a chance to come in from the cold with offers of engagement and other incentives. The political environment surely is pernicious because of the frayed social and political fabric and the extremism in our politics, the willingness to savage the opposition.
Some Parting Thoughts
The utility and relevance of NPP as a political party in Ghana is not in dispute. What is more disputed is the question of whether and to what extent it matters how we arrive at the choices we present to voters, and specifically, whether and to what extent we need to be internally democratic in order to promote democracy within the wider society. Answers to these issues differ, depending in part on whether our focus is on process or outcomes, that is, party electoral success versus party maintenance.
While winning elections serve the purpose of most political parties, available models show that the internal struggles of parties may affect the image of the party in the electorate. Intra-party competition is a key component of political competition, which also determines the internal structure of the party. The concept of external competition on internal organization has been a focus within the industrial organization literature. These studies show that the behavior of those inside the firm is influenced by external factors. That is, the internal structure of the firm influences those on the outside. What we usually overlook is the impact on public opinion. As the largest opposition in our democracy, NPP’s action must make political parties a respectable institutional component of Ghanaian politics. We should be aware that organizations “implode and not explode.” Much of the destruction of political parties has come at the hands of people who claim allegiance to it. While Thomas Jefferson was attacking political parties, he was at the same time actively building one; today we find many who praise NPP and claim to support our tradition at the very time that they are dismantling it. Some of the proposals that have been put forth may not seem terribly radical to us today, in part because of how they will be implemented. What is important to keep in mind is the extent to which these proposals may weaken or strengthen our Party’s preferences. If we are to realize the potential that the last election has revealed and begin moving toward that more stronger party, if we are to finally transcend our downsized politics of excluded alternatives, the progressives will have to drive a bold agenda to invigorate our members and capture greater power for Ghanaians. In American political tradition, the Progressives’ reverence for Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson as America’s most inspirational statesmen was well placed. Their greatness however, was not due exclusively to their philosophical genius or their rhetorical gifts. Their philosophical understanding of the “central idea” of American society- the notion that “all men are created equal”- was in need of an institutional anchor and they saw the anchor in political parties. For NPP, maintaining our “central idea” of “development in freedom” require a system that accommodates the ambition of “the family of lions,” or “the tribe of the eagle,” to use Lincoln’s terminology, but at the same time forces those ambitious to perpetuate the party’s “central idea.” The Progressive movement in American sense failed because it never came to terms with the relationship between its means and its ends. It was obsessed with its social and political ends, and careful thought was not given to the means of achieving those ends. They spoke eloquently about democracy and justice, however, their extreme desire for democratic results made them too impatient to calculate carefully the appropriate means to achieve the desired results. Most party reformers elsewhere have made a similar error. They were obsessed with ends, whereas the commission of reformers erred in the opposite direction. Reforms may be necessary from time to time, but the most successful reforms have always been those that would move us closer to the ideals set forth by our tradition, not those that claim to transcend them. NPP lost the last election, but it has done an excellent job of preserving the principles and institutions that were. In general, we would not begin a road trip without a map or, in the contemporary period, a global positioning system (GPS), and although there is no single formula that we should turn to and expect results, time-tested models and methods have proven effective as the foundation of electoral quality with consideration for Donabedian’s 1960 formula for quality based on his triangle: structure, process, and outcome. In doing so, the question to ask is how often do we focus on structure and process without measuring our outcomes, creating our scorecard, tracking, trending, and benchmarking our results? Arthur W. Jones stated that "all organizations are perfectly aligned to get the results they get." As we gather in Accra this weekend, we hear that the promising winds of transformation and struggle are forming, lightening up, dying down, and turning back on themselves. Already there are signs and sounds of anxiety, confusion, retrenchment, retreat, and plain fear that rightful change may elude us. However, as we reflect to rebuild and recapture power in 2012, let’s be guided by the notion that there are no secured privileged places in oppression, no dignity in self-denial of one’s weakened position and as the legendary Paul Robeson reminds us “the battlefront is everywhere; there is no sheltered rear.”
I would like to close with one of Abraham Lincoln’s quotations: “The people- the people- are the rightful masters of congresses, and courts- not to overthrow the constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert it.”
As we reflect on rebuilding NPP for 2012 and beyond, structural change is required at the organization level to realign and achieve different results. And the kind of change that is needed transcends individuals.
Long Live NPP !
Long live Ghana !
Kwasi Sarpong Afrifa, New York, August 20, 2009
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