Ghana’s democracy in need of repair
Democracy derives from two Greek words: “demos (people) and kratos (rule)”, which when put together become demokratos (democracy) — meaning people’s rule, or rule by the people.
Consequently, democracy is defined as “a system of government in which state power is vested in the people, or the general population of a state”.
On the other side of democracy is oligarchy — which is defined as “a small group of people having control over a country or organisation”.
Given the situation in which we find ourselves today, the question is: are we practising democracy or oligarchy?
From all indications, our nascent, straggling democracy is discreetly skidding into oligarchy.
Does the 1992 Constitution emphatically “vest state power in the people?” Is our Parliament sincerely representing the people, or it is representing the interests of its members, the executive and the political parties? Is Parliament’s blatant partisanship worthwhile?
The opinions of millions of ordinary citizens in the bottom third of the income distribution have no discernible impact on the behaviour and decisions of their elected representatives.
What about our political parties? Are they truly all-inclusive and people-centered, or they are a club of self-centered individual elites, cocooned in their own way, and using the unsuspecting masses as stepping stones to self-glorification?
Political influence seems to be limited entirely to the affluent, the middle class and the well connected.
The fact is that, times have never been more difficult for communities to meet the challenges they face. The issues have grown increasingly complex.
Complicated issues such as poverty and tribalism, joblessness and entrenched corruption, unbridled environmental degradation and spiraling cost of energy, food insecurity, crime and injustice now dominate the national and local space.
Aggravating the situation and further hampering problem-solving efforts are a host of underlying conditions, including elite capture and the knack for using state authority to amass private wealth and foster familial hegemony.
This representative democracy of ours is in disrepair as it is driven by dysfunctional politics. Politics goes beyond which candidate wins an election.
Politics, as defined by Harold Lasswell, is “who gets what, when, how; the shaping and sharing of power.” Therefore, representative democracy, as ours, should be powered by an all-inclusive, equitable political machinery — not nepotism, greed, cronyism and the winner-takes-all glee that we see today.
Like other dynamics, dysfunctional politics provide citizens with a number of reasons for not being more involved in their communities. People used to believe that politics, in its inviolable definition, mattered; they used to believe that social change could occur through political activity.
However, for many community members, politics has become a mark of mistrust, a leeway for plunder and economic dishonesty.
Communities are getting fed up with politicians and the political process as trending presently. Yet, they believe politics is not the problem; that it is not a dirty game as being touted. Rather, the problem is the people practising politics; most of them are “dirty” and greedy if not fraudulent.
In fact, many people seem to be interested in politics strictly for the purpose of self-aggrandisement, not in matters that will make a difference in the lives of their compatriots.
Ghana, as it is now, is under a subtle, defacto oligarchy. The destiny of the nation is in the hands of a few elites who have plunged Ghana into its lowest depth. Politicians tend to ignore substantive issues when raised outside the political context.
Community needs, priorities and choices are not identified through the electoral process in sufficient detail for the purposes of planning and budgeting. Currently, while many communities across the country are disempowered, energy is spent on gaining political points rather than evolving a solution that all interests are willing to support and help implement.
The nation’s dysfunctional polity has created the need for a different model of democracy and comprehensive development.
We need a paradigm shift from the present district development model that places a large part of the responsibility for local public policy and programming on the bureaucrat and the elected official, to the citizen: “citizen-led governance”.
Citizens take center stage in producing and implementing policy; elected officials coordinate the policy process, and the bureaucrats facilitate citizen discourse, offering the knowledge of public practice needed for successful citizen-driven development.
This citizen-led governance model vests state power in the people rather than a small group of elites who enjoy unholy monopoly over the nation and its resources.
Indeed, Ghana’s current situation reflects the assertion of Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson in their book “Why Nations Fail”. They say: “Poor countries are poor because those who have power make choices that create poverty. They get it wrong not by mistake or ignorance but on purpose”. This assertion cannot be far from the truth regarding Ghana’s quandary.
The bottom line is that, Ghana’s democracy is in need of repair. That is why there must be a conscientious effort to vest state power in the people.
Citizen-led governance is the development of a culture within public administration that views citizens as subjects of change and development partners in their own right, rather than as mere objects of public expenditure and government handouts.
The writer is a Development Intelligence Practitioner; Executive editor, The Advocate/Director, RUMNET, Tamale.