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Opinions Tue, 1 Nov 2011

The Tragedies of African Democracies - XII

The Tragedies of African democracies: why the best doesn’t mean “Can I be allowed to tell my story the way I see it without the threats. Respect my convictions for what they are!?”

The Unemployment Crises

For the umpteenth time, a toilet and the offices of the National Health Insurance Scheme offices (NHIS), run by the Ghana Government, but modeled along the lines of health insurance schemes elsewhere in the UK, were hijacked by purported disconcerted “foot-soldiers” of the ruling National Democratic Congress. The rate and pace with which the hijackings occurred across the country was overwhelming. Any keen observer must have lost count. The foot soldiers not only seized toilets, organizations and institutions they considered not serving their interest, but went as far as seizing the ruling party’s headquarters to compel the presidency to act on corruption charges leveled against one of their own who, by the blanket check, handed to the NDC by the voting public, became the chairman of the Confiscated Vehicle Allocation Committee. They even threatened to run over the seat of government on the assumption that party creates government and never the other way round, so if government could not listen to the grassroots, then the government must be reminded of its duty to the grassroots. Indeed, the hijackers reminded the government of its duty of fighting its own corrupt men and their wish was fulfilled immediately - the fellow was relieved of his post!

At the center of these hijacking of state institutions and organizations that swept across the nooks and crannies of the country, following the declaration of the NDC party as winners of the 2008 general elections and the subsequent investiture of the Mills-led government, was the issue of unemployment. It is the considered view of many that if all these young able-bodied men and women were engaged in any meaningful employment they would not have the time on their hands in mobilizing to overrun the government.

I chose the expression “overrun the government” not for its convenience. It is incontrovertible that governments derive their clout from the grassroots or what is considered their base. Therefore, it is the case in many political establishments, that the grassroots provide that anchor to the ruling party (it will forever be a ruling party, for even where coalitions govern, differences emerge so quickly on political doctrines) to initiate its policies from incubation through gestation to maturity. For that base to turn against its very soul, where the soul is to derive it essence, then there is no doubt at all that the essence of that government is emaciated. Put another way, away from the partisan notion of a ruling party and its base, religion makes us understand that the voice of the people is the voice of God! But is it all the voices of all the people that holler, whether in symphonic unison or in jarring discordant, that are considered the voice of God? If, based on our extreme partisan divisions, I hear the dyed-in-the-wool conservatives, as in the case of the American Revolutionary Tea Party, in symphonic unison against my unwavering social democratic doctrines, especially in practice, would that have a semblance of the voice of the good Lord? Their symphony must be raucous indeed and never the voice of the good Lord! Should the jarring discordant be emanating from within my own ideological base, it must be those disgruntled foot-soldiers who did not get anything from the government and were peeved. What if it is coming from a combined force of trade unionists without political affiliation? Their cacophony must indeed be instigated by the opposition elements within their ranks, so our positions are tenable contingent on where we stand in relation to the freebies from the national coffers (if you like the inscrutable consolidated funds).

There are obviously reasons or motives that drive every individual towards a political position. These motives may be viewed in different ways. It may be a response to a clarion call to save a distressed nation heading in the wrong direction. Therefore, even the swing or the floating voter may, at a point align or realign his or her political position, no matter how transitory that position might be. The motivation may be as complex as our backgrounds. Coming from a poor background and accustomed to living on government intervention from time to time, our political philosophies may be shaped by these experiences to the extent that we believe individuals cannot do it all by themselves. The vagaries of the socio-economic environment are like the weather, they may change without premonition. Therefore, government interventions are always indispensable in engendering a safety net around the most vulnerable. After all, it is for this reasons that they pay taxes to the government. Similarly, watching parents struggle every day to bring the paycheck home in order to create a comfortable home, while others push the draught whole days may influence the political thoughts of others and make them ideologues, believing that it is a free world and people should get up and do what they have to do to earn a living. To others still, a political position may simply be a way to enrich or improve their personal lot – everybody comes to the political process with some desires and expectations.

Whatever the call is, our actions should be channeled through societal approved means to the goals. Rational choice theorists argue that even where the call is to save society by redirecting it on the right trajectory towards the common good, the altruist who makes that sacrifice benefits in the end, even if not directly.

So if after examining their personal circumstances, as they were before, during, and after the struggle to unseat a regime, a regime considered to be corrupt to the hilt, the so-called foot soldiers realized that while their situation remains the same or is getting worse, and their comrades with whom they fought shoulder-to-shoulder - to restore discipline in a system perceived to have been absorbed by corruption at the political level - are now harvesting the fruits of their labor, while insisting it is not time yet for the harvest, it is obvious people will not need any instigation from a lone voice to incite them into action. If it were the case that these individuals were incited into action by alone and remote voice, then, again, those who seek to impute that that lone voice is insignificant in deciding the fate of their party in an election must have tasted the sweet trappings of power and have become so self-conceited of their own abilities that that power has distorted their political realities. They would only wake up one day too late to realize that they have been swept away by the great deluge of their own illusions. The crux of this section is that there is not an iota of doubt that unemployment has reached its crises levels in Ghana. It may be argued that Ghana is not alone in this crisis, considering the fact that even the United States and other developed countries have also experienced their fair share of this phenomenon since the global recession. It must ,however, be pointed out that each country has its peculiar socio-economic and political circumstances that determine how these crises affect their citizens and how they deal with them both at the individual and national levels. It is incontrovertible that even the fundamentals of the developed economies have been going through some enormous transformations in recent times as they compete with some of the emerging economies in the Asian region - particularly China and India - countries that have increasingly become global players within the last two decade and will continue to shape the outlook of the global economy in the foreseeable future. At the annual Malcolm Wiener Lecture in International Political Economy for 2010, at the Harvard Kennedy School, the former premier of Britain and a Heffernan Visiting Fellow, Gordon Brown, acknowledged this shift. In his estimation, for 200 years, he said, Europe and the United States made and consumed most of the world’s goods and were the primary engines of global trade. But no more. Manufacturing has tipped toward Asia, where any financial decisions now take into account investment and demand.” He was, however, optimistic that the global economy could be reengineered towards the right trajectories of growth. His proposal is the retooling of Europe and America for the consumer markets of the future. There are snippets of that call in the speeches of the American president, Barrack Obama. He has on numerous occasions called for the overhaul of the American educational system which is falling behind in comparison with its counterparts in Europe and Asia, especially in the areas of mathematics and science in order to remain competitive in the global economy. The point is that America with over 9% unemployment rate in August 2010, it is obvious that no society is insulated from the question of unemployment. However, the contrast is that while the developed countries could be seen arduously trying all forms of mechanisms to kick start their economies, ours in Ghana can be considered a chronic systemic failure that poses a great danger to peace and security, key ingredients of stability in a democratic dispensation. During the last 30 or 40 years, jobseekers - my parents’ generation - could enter the workforce with middle school and high school qualifications and rise to the rank of managing directors and middle level managers, yet a generation down the road cannot get jobs with tertiary level education – either with a first degree or even advanced degrees like M.A.s and PhDs.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau and the 2002 American survey, 52.7% Americans have some college education with 27.2 percent actually acquiring a degree. The number, as expected, reduces dramatically with regard to specialized qualifications such as a Master’s and a PhD, 8.9% and 3% respectively. It is even higher for some industrialized countries like the Netherlands and Finland, with 34% and 40% respectively.

In the case of Ghana, university education is still a scarce commodity. It places those who acquire it among the very few within the society. When it comes to even the specialized qualifications such as a master’s and a PhDs, they must be definitely fewer compared to the developed countries. While these are the caliber of individuals needed for nation building, the unemployment crisis around the country is forcing a majority of them to consider migrate ss the quickest solution to the chronic unemployment problem that confronts them. The question then is: “if long years of education cannot be compensated for in terms of commensurable employment and wage or even a semblance of it, what then is the essence and motivation for investing time and resource to acquire it?” Would this dire situation be an incentive for those at the dawn of life to commit to it?

Returning to the political situation, job provisions for the unemployed and better conditions of services were key campaign message for the NPP in the 2000 general elections. The message was so alluring. Many unemployed young people believed they were being denied job opportunities for the simple reason of their ethnicity or political affiliations, therefore, an important reason for a change of government, especially for the unemployed of working age. There was the absolute need for a government that cared enough for the needs of its people through job provisions. An ad lampooned the then vice president - who was also a contestant in the race for the highest office of the land - for urging fresh graduates and jobseekers to consider teaching as an answer to their unemployment. The statement was so opportune that the opposition capitalized on it and made a big deal out of it. Everything about that statement was wrong to the fresh unemployed graduate who considered teaching as a non-starter for a young man at the threshold of his life’s journey with regard to a career. Like a dying horse, everything the then vice president said was just off beam! The ad by the opposition admonished him to return to the classroom himself. The elections were finally held and the NPP won, defeating the ruling government with over 10% of the votes. That was a clear margin indicating a mammoth swing to the right – an ideology that was being tested again for the first time in 30 years. But they realized too soon that job creation is not a matter of opening new offices and recruiting individuals and dumping them there - and it is impossible to offer a job you once didn’t hold yourself.

A change of government can be very interesting in Africa. Civil servants who worked their way up the ladder were caught up in the ensuing cross fire on suspicion of being sympathizers of the previous regime when there was a change of government. The notorious catchwords: “proceed on leave” became the mantra – a subterfuge for politically motivated dismissals. As usual, the process was perceived to have assumed ethnic dimensions and individuals from a particular ethnic group became the targets for this “democratic house cleaning exercise.” By the time the dust had settled, the NPP must have exacerbated the already precarious ethnic situation, with some ethnic groups feeling purposely targeted and alienated by the regime. However, a critical analysis of the situation in hindsight reveals government’s inability to create jobs at the supervisory and managerial levels for a swarming number of cronies who may be as qualified as those manning some of the managerial positions in the civil service and the public sector. Therefore, the axe must fall on some of those who occupy such positions to make way for party financiers, party scribes and indeed the intellectual cognoscenti within its ranks. Being a predominantly Ashanti-based political party, it was easy for affected individuals, their families and sympathizers to rightly perceive these actions as ethnic maneuverings.

At the lower echelons, the military, the police, the immigration services, the fire services, and the custom and excise preventive services - institutions that recruit on annual basis - became conduits for making good of a campaign promise of job creation that had been deranged by the economic realities of job creation. Ministers and party bigwigs became recruitment consultants overnight. Knowing that connections in the right places are more important than talent in seeking employment, many young people have learned to play along, undermining competition, the driver of quality and value. Advertised recruitment exercises became facades to divert attention from the real recruitment exercises taking place in the closets of ministers and their cronies. The result was that at the end of the day, you have police officers and others in paramilitary services who cannot even take a simple statement from the public without making a spelling mistake in each word they write, while qualified and competent citizens roam the streets because their job applications have been turned down; due to the perception that they can neither defend a party line nor know a bigwig at the top echelons of power. Observers say it used to be “whom you know” as a synonym for offering public services to friends and kinsmen. Today, it is the “who knows you” syndrome. Ghanaians tend to know too many people these days as the land has gradually become a favor-seeking society – it must be who has the leverage to connect you. Therefore, both at the managerial and entry levels, the system could best be described as the dog-eat-dog situation – where someone’s opportunity is definitely at expense of the other person. Keep tuned in…

The above-title is serialized into 30 articles covering issues of politics, corruption, education, immigration, the economy (Ghanaian economy), unemployment, land tenure, dearth of policy innovation, and stories from the frontlines – Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, ECOWAS and the AU. The series are syndicated and media houses/outlets interested in enriching the national debates in Ghana for the 2012 are free to publish all the series.

By: Prosper Yao Tsikata

Email: pytsikata@yahoo.com

Columnist: Tsikata, Prosper Yao