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Opinions Wed, 24 May 2017

Spiral of silence, a democratic deficiency in Ghana

There is a new development in our body politics that is gaining notoriety though largely unnoticed by many. The most dangerous thing that can unmake a nation is the inability of the people to speak on matters of national interest. At least freedom of speech is fundamentally granted in a democratic dispensation like ours.

In fact, public discourse plays an indispensable role in any smooth governance. It is almost ‘sine qua non’ in every socio-political setting. When the silence of the people is so loud, expect an equal loudness in anti-democratic acts. This loud silence is what I seek to elucidate on, under the title " *Spiral of silence, a democratic deficiency in Ghana*

Let's succinctly do a background study of spiral silence and then juxtapose it against our recent political culture that I think is becoming a worrying trend that has the propensity to change the good stories of our democracy.

The spiral of silence theory is a political science and mass communication theory propounded by a political scientist, Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, which stipulates “individuals have a fear of isolation, which results from the idea that a social group or the society in general might isolate, neglect, or exclude members due to the members' opinions. This fear of isolation consequently leads to remaining silent instead of voicing opinions. Media is an important factor that relates to both the dominant idea and people's perception of the dominant idea. The assessment of one's social environment may not always correlate with reality".

To the lay man's understanding, with regards to our situation, a majority group will always find a mass voice to protect itself. Any member who identifies the odds, cannot speak against it for fear of causing disaffection against the group or themselves. Members of such a group are overly pretentious and speak only good about themselves and perceive any constructive voice or opposing voice as that of an enemy. Hypocrisy is ethical in their game but unethical in their mouths.

On the other hand, the minority group who may be critical of issues do not have enough space to operate, by criticising what should be criticised. In many cases, for fear of victimization, political witch-hunt, attack by political thugs among others, critical minds take solace in murmur and gossip. The media landscape is narrowed to fit only the majority to the detriment of the general good of the people.

What makes it more diabolic is the fact that some people associate themselves to the majority group for security protection against the will of choice as guaranteed by the supreme law in our case.

Recent political happenings after the 2016 elections are only a projection or call it the manifestation of *spiral of silence*. At a time political hoodlums become more powerful than national security, when people are being discriminated against, simply because of mere suspicion on political affiliation, when violence is justified by those who have the mandate to protect us, when people are employed base on political affiliation and at a time when the media which is supposed to be the mirror and the voice of society become the propaganda tool for the ruling class, a discerning mind should be worried of where we are going as a country. Spiral of silence can only transmogrify into autocracy.

The spiral silence in recent happenings is a sign of a sort of indirect autocracy and dictatorship where the structures of governance and state institutions are only left to exist physically while a new structure is created within party and tribal henchmen, building a sort of political dynasty anchored in coercive power and control. That is absolutely anti-democratic and should not be allowed to continue. We cannot fight an illegality when our hands are full of blood unless we want to stain others and to forcefully accuse them. We cannot fight corruption when we have corrupt minds. We cannot fight poverty when indeed we are the ambassadors of poverty. In a situation like this, one is tempted to ask whether we have any serious government or we have a bunch of plungers of our nation who through blood, heart and mind, gained political power to satisfy parochial interest.

The deficiency is also amplified in the fact that voices of civil society groups, tin tanks and the clergy are glued with honey. They have been made busy on licking honey deliberately placed before them. What a gullible society we live!! Little did I know that our democracy could deteriorate too drastically in the hands of a leader whose popular accolade is *human right activist/lawyer*. Is it to justify that absolute power indeed corrupt absolutely?

As long as people refuse to speak, simply because of fear or gains, our very young democracy remains in serious danger. Those who study global politics would agree with me that such autocratic and dictatorial tendencies by government and its political appendages cannot stand the test of time. Many of such situations elsewhere resulted in military interventions and conflicts, with their catastrophic consequences. Any individual or group who seek the progress of our democracy would step out of the odds and speak for the voiceless. We cannot allow lawlessness to take over our well cherished political culture. Enough!!

Let me caution those who justify the wrongs for political expedience that when the depressed, the marginalized and the victimized begin to find their voices by any possible way, then this country may be turned into a different country and then and there we will see how government will take taxes from us only to sponsor potential terrorists to torment the minority groups. Spiral of silence may be good in the management of a party's internal wrangling but let it not be extended to adulterate our multi-party democracy.

A word to the wise...........

Columnist: Denis Andaban