The governors and the governed – 'patrimonialism' or constitutionalism?

Ayisi Boateng1 George Ayisi Boateng, High Commissioner to South Africa

Tue, 7 Nov 2017 Source: Alex Blege

The relationship that exists between governors and the governed should be symbiotic. At no point in time should the interest of the governor be at variance with that of the governed; neither should there be a situation where a section of the governed is favoured above others.

His Excellency George Ayisi Boateng, High Commissioner to South Africa is the butt of criticism after he made comments that presupposed that the interest of members of his party comes first. The rest of the matter is fit for the ears and not the eyes. The statement confirms the reality on the ground! It confirms the mentality of the Ghanaian politician since the coming into force of the Fourth Republic. It further exposes why every Tom, Dick and Harry see politics as an avenue of rising to the top.

The relationship between the governors and the governed in every civil society is based on legal as well as rational norms and rules that define the relationship. In reference to our case, it’s the 1992 Constitution and the various Acts of Parliament.

Ralph Miliband, the Belgian-British sociologist in one of his theories stated that African states practice 'patrimonialism'. The theory states that African states have legal as well as rational norms and regulations but in practice operate on a patron-client relationship – a relationship that has nothing in common with the legal or constitutional systems of the state.

In the practice of patrimonialism, the head of state and other leading state officials behave as patrons who dispense favours and tangible material rewards to their friends, family members, classmates, party members as well as fellow tribesmen and women who are the clients. Consequently, this results in loyalty and political support from these clients. Is this not why party activists would go all the way to insult and deride those who they believe are their opponents?

One typical example is the ritual sending of party activists to football tournaments as supporters any time there’s a tournament outside the country.

On the other hand, the constitution makes it mandatory that the interests of the governed – not a section of the governed – becomes the priority of the governors. Under the Fundamental Human Rights of Chapter Five of the 1992 Constitution, Article 17(2): “a person shall not be discriminated against on grounds of gender, race, colour, ethnic origin, religion, creed or social or economic status”

The situation has existed for a long time. It’s the sad reality of the relationship that is supposed to work in the interest of all and sundry.

This sad reality is a reflection of the political satire, Animal Farm by George Orwell. The relationship between the governed and the governor is run on the basis of “all animals are equal but some are more equal than others” and “four legs good, two legs better”.

Such discrimination is recipe for disaster because it allows marginalisation of the citizenry to fester. When people are marginalised it results in violence. Let’s learn from the mistakes of societies that have had a harsh and an unenviable experience where some young people felt marginalised.

In spite of the much eulogised and propagated Zine Ben Ali government’s “Tunisian Economic Miracle”, many young people were marginalised. In December 2010 the actions of two young people in Tunisia sparked off the revolution – on December 17 of that year, Mohammed Bouazizi, a twenty-six-year-old unemployed graduate lit himself on fire, and five days later, December 22, Houcine Falli a 22-year-old committed suicide by electrocuting himself over unemployment in Sidi Bouzid after shouting out “no to misery, no to unemployment”.

The symbiotic relationship between the governors and the governed must be held in high esteem. The constitution should define this relationship. Any other form that seeks to favour a section of the governed is a breach of fundamental human rights of those who are discriminated against.

A word to the wise is enough!

Columnist: Alex Blege
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