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The new democratic thoughts of Rawlings

Fri, 12 Jun 2009 Source: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong

There is on-going debate about the need for Ghana, as the “Black Star of Africa,” to roll out a development philosophy driven by Ghana’s/Africa’s cultural values. This is to prop up confidence since Africa is the only region in the world where its development process is dominated by foreign development paradigms to the disadvantage of its rich cultural values. Against this backdrop, Africa’s cultural values have been suppressed and demeaned in the larger technicalities of its development paradigms that have impacted negatively on it’s progress psychology and self-reliance.

As the debate gather steam, former president Jerry Rawlings talks of domesticating democracy at an Oxford University lecture. Somehow, it is in introspection and self-criticism of Rawlings as one who ruled Ghana for almost 20 years and failed to grow a development philosophy that matches Ghanaian traditional values with that of the Western neo-liberal ones in reverence, self-belief and poise.

There is nowhere in the world where modern democracy should be discussed freely than Britain’s Oxford University, one of the key centres of Western neo-liberalism that have been exported to the rest of the world. Ancient Britain resolved native direct democracy by hatching representative democracy in the 17th century and laid the foundation for democracy, as a progress act. Ghana, as ex-British colony, was founded on democratic ideals in 1957, but destroyed by its elites, who had weak grasp of the nuances of democracy, seeing Rawlings angry ascent to power in 1979 and 1981. In 1992 after much domestic and international pressure, democracy was restored to Ghana grudgingly by Rawlings’ Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC).

No doubt, Ghana’s democratic journeys have seen bumps along the way. Such misunderstanding had seen Ghana vacillate between military, one-party and democracy for most part of its 52-year corporate existence. The reason is that the ex-colonial neo-liberal democratic structures that run Ghana have not been in harmony with the Ghanaian traditional values both logically and materially. Compared to other ex-colonies such as Japan and South Korea that have skillfully weaved their traditional values into the global neo-liberal ideals for their progress it appears Ghanaian elites have no brains or cannot think well.

It is from such wallops that the emotionally charged Rawlings emerged, hence his statement in London that “democracy and security have always been bedfellows.” The securities that are to drive democracy have been screwed up. The political insecurities had been as a result of scrawny elites (heavily from the military, for some time, in contradiction to such places like Turkey, Taiwan and South Korea) with their feeble grasp of what is Ghana, as a socio-cultural-and-neo-liberal product that needs to be oiled from the ground up with Ghana’s innate traditional values. A Ghanaian tradition-driven-democracy and its related security would have corrected by many an historical and psychological wrong that have suppressed and demeaned Ghanaians/Africans cultural values and made Africa the only region where its development process is dominated by foreign development paradigms.

For long, Rawlings didn’t believe in democracy but till now. By his conviction, Rawlings wasn’t convinced that democracy is the best vehicle for progress – and he had no clearer other means either. If the reasons are that some political elites’ undemocratic attitudes derailed democracy, then sorry to Rawlings. Despite the rough-and tumble, the average Ghanaian remains democratic. But by their cultural tradition, Ghanaians know the beneficial effects of democracy from their villages up, not necessarily on progress only but also on security, especially so if they live up to their own best democratic traditions that stimulate progress and create the necessary security, holistically, for their survival.

Democracy in Ghana, as Rawlings admitted to the New York Times, was forced on his pseudo-military PNDC by Washington, and not from Ghanaians’ tradition, despite years of Ghanaians passionately struggling for democracy and Rawlings warding them off. The efforts wasn’t as foreign value but from within Ghanaians’ traditional ideals. Some diplomats and Ghanaian pro-democracy forces have charged that Rawlings, an autocrat and megalomaniac, rigged his two-term election victories. Committed democratic do not do that, they help nurture democracy from within their experiences no matter how despicable and primitive it may seem. Under Rawlings, the rule of law and freedoms had been frail, and this was translated into his democratic regimes.

Despite all these, stanch Ghanaian democrats soldiered on, in the face of insults, threats, harassments and deaths. First, they pushed the democratic gates opened in 1992 and, second, are currently helping to enrich the nascent democratic culture. That isn’t surprising in the face of a Rawlings speedily basking in the current developing democratic waves and making all sorts of statements that sometimes emotively undermine the democratic imperative.

It is in such atmosphere that Rawlings is painstakingly attempting to tie his defunct PNDC to the developing nation-wide debates, for his own self-aggrandizements, about amalgamating Western neo-liberal values that currently running Ghana with Ghana’s traditional values, as a balancing, confidence, psychological, and developmental acts. While there were some sparks of such attempts (as have been other regimes before Rawlings) such as Kwame Nkrumah’s “African Personality” concepts and the PNDC’s decentralization exercises, Rawlings’ did not come close to what Botswana or China or Japan or Malaysia or South Korea have done in this regard. Rawlings had no understanding of Ghana from within its traditional cultural ideals as a development philosophical issue.

If Rawlings had gone the Southeast “Asian way” in the almost 20 years he had at his disposal to hatch a new progress paradigm, presidential candidate John Atta-Mills, of Rawlings’ National Democratic Congress, wouldn’t have said that if elected he will consult traditional rulers on certain national issues. Or Obed Asamoah, his former long-serving Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, and currently patron of the Democratic Freedom Party (DFP), wouldn’t have said in the heat of the 2008 general that traditional institutions would be integrated into Ghana’s development process if the DFP is elected.

More annoying is Rawlings’ wistful and semi-envious ponderings, and who finds it to difficult to give credit to some Ghanaians thinking aloud and working today about appropriating Ghana’s traditional values, as part of the development arithmetic, in Ghana’s progress. Why would the Western world stop Ghana from mixing its traditional institutions with the Western neo-liberal while other ex-colonies such as Botswana, Japan, Malaysia or South Korea have done so and are reaping dividend? Rawlings and others failed to build on colonial Britain’s indirect rule, that appropriated traditional institutions, as part of its colonial program. In Japan, the American occupying force under Gen. Douglas MacArthur had resisted the verbatim imposition of American/Western development values on Japan and advised for the juxtaposition of Japanese and American values in Japan’s re-construction.

While I beg to differ from Rawlings, he is welcomed to join the on-going debates, as a matter of broader thinking, more so with his long-running experience in government for almost 20 years. The Rawlings relevance here is that, if he reflects properly (devoid of his famed emotional mess), he will help enrich the culture-progress debates and see the fatal errors he and his associates might have committed by not going either the Southeast “Asian way” or the “Turkish way” or the “Botswana way” by fully integrating Ghanaian traditional values, in equal deference and self-esteem, with the Western neo-liberal ones in their almost 20 years in power.

Nonetheless, in Rawlings, it seems that an answer to Ghana’s long-felt need to combine its traditional values with that of the Western ones (in psychologically respectful measure) is finally beginning to materialize. Rawlings appears to have realized the lack of deeper thinking and wisdom in his regimes, especially as his regimes mileage increased, that should have been heavily influenced by Ghanaian traditional values and institutions. For instance, under his watch the National House of Chiefs should have easily been enhanced as the Council of State in order to give traditional balance and wisdom to other state affairs. Now as a more reflective old man (he staged his first coup in June 4, 1979 when he was just 32 years old and is now 60-something years old) and with the luxury to contemplate, Rawlings is philosophical about what direction Ghana’s democracy should take.

It is compelling and emotionally gratifying to hear Rawlings agree and think along with the current thoughts that Ghana’s democracy should mirror its traditional values – and, as the “Black Star of Africa,” help genuinely radiate and inspire an enhanced democratic philosophy across Africa. “Democracy works only when it has evolved within a specific socio-cultural environment and fused into the traditional political systems such that it is seen as an indigenous product, but unfortunately Africa has not been given the opportunity to develop this,” Rawlings rightly said at Oxford University.

But although being right, over the past 17 years, the image of Rawlings in the Ghanaian democratic process, within his own NDC party and the larger society, contradicts the statement above and tell of a Rawlings’ “assertive promotion” of democracy instead of “more gentle support of democratization,” Harvard University’s Joseph Nye advises. The fact is Rawlings is the owner of the NDC (with brutal grip where issues wheel around him solely) and autocratically attempts to dictate topics within the NDC and stifle alternate views. This contradicts his statements at Oxford University, morally, traditionally and neo-liberally.

Still, in Rawlings, there is the image of democratic coercion and hypocritical rhetoric that undermines patient democratic policies and growth that President Atta-Mills and the opposition indirectly have consistently been telling Rawlings to rely on civil society, independent judiciary, a pluralist legislature, the rule of law and freedoms, and by extension, Ghanaian traditional values and institutions that will help hold up such practices to public debate. For, though, Ghanaian traditional values and institutions are great in the everyday lives of Ghanaians, as civilization they have regressed and decayed because of figures like Rawlings actions.

The fusion of Western democracy with Ghana’s socio-cultural environment, in the fuller sense of the thinking, will be “taking democracy to” Ghanaians, from within their own traditional values, and help correct many a development anomaly since 1957. If Ghana’s democracy is domesticated it will undo what happened during Nkrumah’s regime, where governments will not see traditional rulers as enemies and have persistent clashes with them but see them as partners in progress, especially in the on-going decentralization exercises. This will make the Ghanaian democracy grasp the liberal ethos, not necessarily in the Western sense, though with a dose of that, but from within the Ghanaian culture, and help correct most of the illiberalities in the Ghanaian culture that have inhibited progress for long.

As Harvard University’s Joseph Nye, author of The Powers to Lead, argues, this will make the Ghanaian democracy “more than the mere fact of elections.” As Bawku and other conflicts in northern Ghana show, Nye argues that “elections in the absence of constitutional and cultural constraints can produce violence” and meaningless democracy where Ghanaians are at the mercy of their scrawny “Big Men.” And part of the cultural constraints in the democratic process will be resolved if Ghanaian traditional values/institutions are fully integrated into the existing democratic structures, making the Ghanaian democracy simultaneously a worthy aspiration and a progress motor.

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi