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Opinions Sat, 5 Nov 2011

The Tragedies of African Democracies - XIV

The Tragedies of African democracies: why the best doesn’t mean good

The Unemployment Crisis: David Amoah and the Security Services

Ghana has changed government twice in her 4th republic – from the ruling NDC to the NPP, and from the NPP to the NDC – but the descent jobs have failed to materialize. Recently, four hundred and twenty young men and women, at the threshold of their careers, enlisted to join the armed forces as it were, were blockaded immediately the new NDC government was invested into office, and funds allocated for their training diverted. This was as a result of suspicion that there were gross anomalies and flawed procedures in the recruitment processes.

Hardly had the NDC government completed its own recruitment for 2010 than the opposition NPP raised the red flag, accusing it of packing a particular ethnic group - the Ewe group - into the armed forces. If indeed, it is true that the NDC government had lowered the bar to favor individuals from the Ewe ethnic group into the armed forces, then it only confirms political manipulations by both sides of the political divide. This time a journalist dug further to even publish the names and the registration numbers of some of the individual beneficiaries.

Just like the NPP, and rightly seen so, the NDC is perceived as a predominantly Ewe political party. In this sense, the suspicion may not be misplaced, especially when the same accusations have been leveled against the NPP for similar maneuvers soon it took office in 2008 - so the cycle is repeated. The bottom line, however, is that as a result of the inability of the political leadership to identify innovative ways of opening up the economy to create the needed jobs, both sides have resorted to all forms of manipulations, using the ethnic card to muddy the political waters to their own advantage.

It is very easy for an NDC sympathizer to point accusing fingers at the NPP for its un meritocratic recruitment processes in its 8 years in office. But what measures did the NDC institute to forestall recurrence of the phenomenon? It only confirms a wider social canker within the body polity of the country and must be examined dispassionately if Ghanaians want the progress of our country. Because of the armed forces’ sensitive position within Ghana’s fledgling democracy coupled with the fact that it is an institution with the possibility of recruiting a handful of individuals each year, it has become a conduit for the provision of some semblance of jobs to the most deserving cronies.

These stories are too common these days with every institution in Ghana conferred with the powers to recruit. Banks advertise positions and invite people to take selection examinations, while the real recruitment exercises are going on behind the scenes. “Those from the “right ethnic groups” and the right networks do not have to take these examinations, as they are just a façade to delude unsuspecting jobseekers looking for ways to improve themselves under the assumption there is equity and fairness,” a friend imputed.

On a short visit to Ghana in August 2009, I met David Amoah. He looked very well-built and articulate. I suspected he was under the influence of alcohol and that was why he could blather just about any subject without restraint. He became one of those numerous but casual friends you make when you visit the bar often. But he was unlike other casual friends. He called me thrice in the next two days following our first encounter. We finally met again, but this time at a restaurant within the premises of the Food and Agriculture Organization near the Osu race course in Accra.

It was at this point that he revealed to me why he was interested in meeting me after knowing my name. He had been struggling to join the Ghana Armed Forces in the last 4 years he said. After his high school education, he realized the university was not an option. First, his grades were not competitive enough to enter the program he wished to pursue - Electrical Engineering. Second, his parents couldn’t afford to support him through university education, since he has younger siblings who were all competing for the same limited resources from their parents to support their education, so the armed forces, to him, was a way to get a foothold into the world of work in order to sustain himself and extend a helping hand to his siblings and parents.

Through hard work and dedication, he took remedial exams for a couple of subjects in which he performed poorly in his high school exams and passed them very well. Additionally, he thought he met all the physical requirements and the criminal checks to be enlisted into the Ghana Armed Forces. To him, based on the requirements advertised by the service, he thought he was more than qualified to be part of the 2008 recruits. So when he was selected after a daunting and dawdling screening process, he did not only see it as reward for hard work, but an opportunity for a young man like him to contribute his quota to the development of his country and to improve his lot.

A few months down the line, by which time there had been a change of government, he began to hear rumors of how the new government wanted to revoke their enlistment on suspicion that they were selected via the backdoor. He initially discounted the rumor, but considering all the stories he had heard about how political and ethnic divisions had infiltrated the ranks of the forces from a friend who is a serving soldier, he began to pay more attention to the issue. It was not long before he started inquiring from other cohorts of his about their own impressions when the news finally broke out that the recruitment was annulled by the NDC regime.

“I felt devastated and bitter towards the NDC and all Ewes. I saw my dreams and aspirations crushed right before my very eyes. I knew once your name appeared on the list of recruits which was revoked, there is no way you can be enlisted in the years to come. If even I have to wait until the NPP returns to power in four years, I would be older and over the required age,” he fumed.

I used the opportunity to narrate my own experience of job search and that of others I was aware of. I realized though our stories were different in their nuances, they shared a common thread. Work can be something that one greatly enjoys. It accords a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment and without which there would be a feeling of displacement, social rejection, depression, and economic hardship, etc. It was obvious David was heaped with all these.

I felt his anger. I felt similar umbrage towards the NPP sometime ago. I realized that it was natural for the gentleman to be saying all the things he had said. Although he needed my help, since he believed, because of name, I may be connected to some people in high places, I unfortunately could not assist in that direction. So together we examined the job situation and answered some basic questions that the lager Ghanaian society might be doing itself a lot of good by asking itself. When the NPP, through its “proceed on leave” stratagem and other clandestine measures, axed some individuals from state institutions and organizations for various reasons, including those perceived to have been employed by the NDC government through the backdoor, what measures did it put in place to prevent subsequent governments from manipulating the same old procedures? Similarly, the same question goes for the NDC. When in June 2009 it annulled the recruitment of young army officers, did it install mechanisms that would raise the red flag about these manipulations in order that the situation may be remedied in a timely manner to prevent innocent young men and women seeking opportunities to develop themselves from going through this dog-eat-dog situation that politicians have plunged Ghana into? There is the need for the restoration of trust within the body politic by erecting the right measures to forestall these manipulative practices.

Let us, for a moment, consider the NDC with unblemished virtues (holier-than-thou, if you like) as the best thing ever to have happened to Ghana. The NDC government has been able to discover all the manipulations of the NPP and exposed them. Has it, in the same measure, been able to put in place any mechanisms that would make such occurrences impossible or nearly impossible in future recruitment processes? This is where the issue of a revolving door comes into play. Similar accusations were leveled against the first NDC regime by individuals who felt frustrated by the machinery of state in comparable fashions. When the tables turned in 2000, other groups of people had to bear the brunt of the overbearing executive. Similarly, in 2008, there was a repeat of the ritual. So who are we as a people? Are we going to continue in this perpetual hatred which is far from the tenets of democracy which we seem to be taking credit for? If that is the kind of democracy that we have set in motion, then I bet it won’t be long before some disgruntled people derail it.

One would have expected a responsible government to institute measures and mechanisms to ensure that some of these manipulations are reduced to the barest minimum. For example, is it possible that when individuals make applications for employment for jobs, bid for contracts, or find themselves in situations where they deal with institutions where competition is key to determining the most qualified and competent individual for a task, the applicants are made to declare if they have any relative within the organization or if they know anyone in that institution? Is it not also possible for the presiding officers who okay these processes to as well declare if any of the applicants are known to them? Where it can be determined that there may arise conflict of interest, the presiding officer may acquiesced himself or herself to avoid the situation of conflict of interest. Particularly with employment processes, some forward looking institutions have found credible and transparent ways to get around the problem of nepotism, cronyism, and favoritism. This is not limited to Western countries but it is happening right around us and there are lessons for us to learn from them.

With skill-based performance test, employers are able to determine on the spot best suited person for a particular job. This is done in a way that nobody leaves the interview disgruntled or suspicious about the selection process. The competitors can clearly see for themselves as the process evolves, so the outcome becomes acceptable to all. I attended an interview with the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference in 2007 for the position of Program Officer. Little did I know the skill-based test is already in place even in Ghana. We were ushered into a conference room where we balloted in picking topics for presentation. These were topics directly related to the field.

By lunch break, there was still no clear frontrunner. But we could all assess each other’s strengths and weaknesses which we indeed discussed with some openness at a roundtable. Though the process is winding and laborious, if followed carefully, it certainly produces the most qualified and competent candidate, thus minimizing manipulations.

Employers must then justify why they select a particular candidate over another. This report becomes institutional document which should be accessible to oversight organizations and agencies that may be interested in its content. It may even be a basis to inform individuals why they were unsuccessful, as is done elsewhere. This can be helpful in myriad of ways; a record to exonerate employers or to implicate them.

It may be argued that these are long and winding processes that may be expensive and time-consuming, but the fact remains that recruitments are like marriages. The employer must court the employee through a process that ensures that the best suitor is found for the job. It is even more so if we are to encourage hard work, competition, and value for money.

It is imperative to recognize the intractable nature of the canker the process is meant to tackle. Indeed, if the good outweighs the evil, we are better-off spending time and resources to ensure equity, accountability and justice for the future security of our country. If the Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) is to remain relevant in this age and time when manipulation is threatening the very foundations of the state, I am certain that its jurisdiction must be expanded to encompass some of these duties. After all, the purpose of establishing the CHRAJ was not to deal exclusively with cases involving only state officials. It must learn to be relevant to the times by being proactive in matters that affect the ordinary citizens.

In some jurisdictions such as the United States, there are laws to protect the jobseeker from these forms of abuses. An example is the Equal Employment Opportunity Law that requires the equal treatment of all persons in the recruitment process. It even goes further to classify some as protected groups based on their race, age, gender, and ethnicity. People can Sue on the basis of sexual harassment or on the ground of discrimination based on obesity, race, or even age discrimination and so on. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) after investigating may encourage the individual to sue. The EEOC guidelines carry a lot of weight in the court system.

It must be noted that the EEOC traces its beginning to World War II. Confronted with the threat of a "Negro march" on Washington to protest discrimination in hiring of defense contract workers, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802 in 1941. This order called for the participation of all U.S. citizens in defense programs regardless of race, creed, color, or national origin, but failed to address the wider of issue of discrimination in all categories of employment. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 changed this by addressing discrimination in all areas of employment. The point of this is that until Black people rise up to fight a system that appropriated or misappropriated employment opportunities to people based on their race, color and so on, it is simply a normal practice, depriving otherwise brilliant Blacks who could have been great engineers, academics, astute businessmen and so on. The lesson is that freedom does not come on a silver platter; people must rise up and challenge the status quo to bring change, no matter how tortuous they road may be.

A close examination of Ghana’s employment statutes reveal a rather lack laws that would make employers answerable for situations that are glaringly discriminatory on the basis of ethnicity, nepotism and favoritism. While there are no labor provisions for the protection of the jobseeker in the recruitment process, almost all the labor provisions center on the protection of an employee and the rights of the employer. Even in the case of the Ghana Armed Forces, the police service and security and intelligence agencies, the labor Act (Act 2003) exempt them completely from any investigations or court action relating employments. A loophole politicians from both sides of the aisle have exploited many a time leading to a situation that render well qualified candidates such as David Amoah unemployable.

Instead of mechanisms to protect jobs for the most qualified candidates to ensure that the candidate who holds the highest promise of succeeding in a job is offered the opportunity, political leadership has rather resorted to measures that exacerbate an already precarious ethnic situation. Ethnic balance or quota in the armed forces is one of such despicable measures exploited to its fullest by an administration with no shame whatsoever with regard to its effects on an occupation heavily dependent on comradeship and trust. If there could be ethnic balance in the armed forces, why not all sectors of the economy including even our educational institutions, so people do not have to work that hard, their ethnicity alone should be enough to guarantee them a good life.

In the “open sore of a continent,” Wole Soyinka implores us to imagine a soccer team selected to represent the nation at a world cup tournament with ethnic or regional considerations as the most selective determiner. “All soccer lovers, and by that I mean all lovers of the skills and the dexterity displayed by the genius of soccer players, will agree that soccer or any game of skill should not be subjected to the idiocies of geographical representation, or to use that much discreditable expression, the harbinger of failure in any national undertaking, the “quota system.” To understand this peculiarly Nigerian-unity phrase, one has to conceive that the US Olympic Committee or the government, instead of simply sending the “Dream Team” to Barcelona, insist on a team representation of all the states in the country. The supporting staff—coach, masseurs, counselors, government joyriders, security, and so on.

Although the US has what is referred to as protected groups whose members are protected in the recruitment processes, there is a history to that. Long years of slavery, segregation laws, and discrimination have made it impossible for members of such groups to compete effectively with their White counterparts, therefore, the need to protect them. But in Ghana, as in many African countries, ineptitude of the politician resulting in apparent failures in job creation implies that ways must be found to instill manipulative advantages within recruitment processes.

We find similar nuances of discrimination on ethnic lines in Obama’s Dreams from my Father. We learn about the worse forms of these manipulations and how that destroyed the hard working senior Obama and turned him into a monster against his own family. “By 1966 or 1967, the divisions in Kenya had become more serious. President Kenyatta was from the largest tribe, the Kikuyu’s. The Luos, the second largest tribe, began to complain that Kikuyu’s were getting all the best jobs. The government was full of intrigue. The vice-president, Odinga, was a Luo, and he said the government was becoming corrupt. That, instead of serving those who had fought for independence, Kenya politicians had taken the place of the white colonials, buying up businesses and land that should be redistributed to the people. Odinga tried to start his own party, but was placed under house arrest as a communist. Another popular Luo minister, Tom M’boya, was killed by a Kikuyu gunman. Luos began to protest in the streets, and the government police crackdown. People were killed. All this created suspicion between the tribes.”

While most Kenyan’s learned to just keep quiet and lived with the situation, senior Obama began to speak up. He would be telling people that tribalism was going to ruin the country and that unqualified men were taking the best jobs. His friends tried to warn him about saying such things in public, but he didn’t care. And he was finally passed up for a promotion, he complained loudly. “How can you be my senior,”’ he would say to one of the ministers, ‘and yet i am teaching you how to do your job properly?’ word got back to Kenyatta that the Old Man was a troublemaker, and he was called in to see the president. According to the stories, Kenyatta said to the Old Man that, because he could not keep his mouth shut, he would not work again until he had no shoes on his feet.

“With the president as an enemy, things became very bad for the Old Man. He was banished from the government—blacklisted. None of the ministries would give him work. When he went to foreign companies to look for a post, the companies were warned not to hire him. He began looking abroad and was hired to work for the African Development Bank in Adis Ababa, but before he could join them, the government revoked his passport, and he couldn’t even leave Kenya.” One wonders how many of our unsung heroes have been handed down this sort of fate by our loving democratic leaders.

Keep tuned in …

The above-title is serialized into 30 articles covering issues of politics, corruption, education, migration, 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