An American investment banking mogul J. P. Morgan once said, “The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are.” Can we expect progress when things remain the same? What steps can we take to create a better future for Ghana without endangering the present?
We can find answers to these questions by learning a lesson from the eagle. It is often thought that the reason the eagle lives longer than most birds is because of its habit of renewal. As it grows older, it goes into seclusion to pluck out weak talons and feathers, knocks off its bent beak and waits for new ones to redevelop. This radical intervention gives it renewed strength that takes it through many more years of active living, being labelled as the king of the sky.
Across Ghana’s political landscape and particularly in Parliament, the story of the eagle has played out very strongly. Whenever it becomes clear that some experienced people are bowing out – either because of age or loss of election – one begins to lament over how the august House would grapple with such losses.
In 2001, when the very respected Speaker Justice D. F. Annan stepped down, many wondered how Parliament was going to cope without his steady leadership. The then New Patriotic Party (NPP) majority in Parliament nominated the Party’s former chairman Peter Ala Adjetey to succeed Justice Annan. The minority, led by Alban Bagbin expressed concern that being an ex-party chairman, Speaker Adjetey could be biased. After the end of the term of that parliament, it was rather the minority that nominated Adjetey to continue to serve as Speaker in the next parliament, although the NPP wanted to have him replaced.
Also, in times past, the House saw the exit of notable lawmakers such as E. T. Mensah, J. H. Mensah, J. H. Owusu Acheampong, Abraham Osei Aidoo, Theresa Tagoe, Christine Churcher, Nana Akufo-Addo and John Mahama. There was always a wonder about how the exit of such people would affect the quality of work in the House.
Recently, when the NPP conducted primaries in constituencies where the Party had sitting MPs, about forty sitting members lost the contest to their contenders. Many of those who lost are seen to be people whose contributions to the work of the House are substantial. Finance Committee Chairman Dr. Mark Asibey-Yeboah, Communications Committee Chairman Fred Opare Ansah, Education Committee Chairman William Quaitoo, Legal Affairs Committee Chairman Ben Abdallah, Vice Chairman of Roads Committee Kofi Brako and Aviation Minister Joseph Adda were among incumbents who lost their bids.
Some commentators feel that these people should have been protected at all cost by the Party. Others have also said that protecting candidates and preventing them from being contested would be a breach of the democratic process.
It is thought that protecting experienced members of Parliament from competition in the primaries would be a way to ensure that such people would continue to represent the Party in Parliament and continue to do good work for the country and strengthen parliamentary democracy. In the case of the NPP, it is thought that the reason some sitting members lost was because while they were busy in the House, their contenders were in the constituencies wooing the delegates. As reward for their work in Parliament, it would not have been out of place for the Party to protect them.
On the other hand, it is worth noting that the reason these experienced people got into the position to gain their experience in Parliament was because they also contested others and won. When relatively young Sam George first announced his intention to contest highly experienced E. T. Mensah for the National Democratic Congress ticket to represent the Ningo Prampram Constituency, it was thought by many that if Sam George won, a huge vacuum would be created. However, after winning and being in Parliament for some time, he has been an effective advocate for his constituents and a very visible member of the House. What would have happened if the NDC had protected E. T. Mensah because of his experience?
Current Information Minister Kojo Oppong Nkrumah is one of the young entrants in Parliament who has been impressive both as an MP and as a minister. His leadership during the management of the Covid-19 pandemic has been commended by a large section of Ghanaians. A young Adwoa Safo who entered Parliament has quickly risen to become a Minister of State and Deputy Majority Leader.
If the NPP had protected Beatrice Boateng in 2012, Dr. Mark Asibey-Yeboah would not have had the opportunity to be in Parliament.
While there may be good reasons to protect some candidates in order to preserve experience and institutional memory, allowing for open contests also has its benefits for the renewal of the political system. Open contests create a pipeline for churning talents and ensuring succession. It may be painful but it is a necessary way to continue to renew the system as we go along.
While making room for new talents to emerge with their zeal and innovation, it is also good that the system finds a way to ensure that the emerging talents are made to benefit from the experienced ones. Can you imagine a House of Parliament where all the members are first-timers? That would slow down the business of the house.
The best way then is to be able to blend experience with freshness. In the case of the NPP, replacing 40 out of 168 members does not necessarily rob the Party and the House of experience. That number is barely a quarter of the Party’s representatives in the House. There are 128 members of the House who may continue to serve the House with their experience; giving the new entrants the opportunity to complement their freshness with the lessons they will glean while serving alongside their experienced colleagues.
In the arena of football, Sir Alex Ferguson led Manchester United to legendary status winning 38 trophies including 13 league titles, five FA cups, and two UEFA Champions League titles. Since he left, the Club’s fortunes have dwindled. Seven seasons after Ferguson left, the Club has won no league title and finished in the top four just two times. After hiring and firing four coaches in seven years, former Club goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard believes that the reason for the Club’s downturn is that United “just couldn’t adjust to a new way of life.” He sees what is happening at the Club as “trying to charge an iPhone with a Nokia charger.” It seems United were so pre-occupied and awed with the genius of Ferguson that they overlooked what might happen when he was no longer in charge of the Club.
What is happening to Manchester United could happen to Ghana’s democracy if we do not constantly renew the system. We do not have to wait for the brilliant ones to grow old before we think of finding credible replacements. We must have systems in place that constantly give the opportunity for people to emerge and for progress to happen.
If we want our democratic journey to be sustained and qualitatively enhanced, then we must allow renewal to happen. The political parties must have systems that allow the nation to benefit from the rich knowledge of the experienced ones and the zeal of emerging talents.
It is all about democracy and it is the will of the people that matters and not that of the executives. An MP could be protected and presented for re-election and voters could still reject him because of disaffection. The political parties need to ensure that they balance the competing needs of having experienced legislators with what the grassroot wants.
The writer is a fellow, Ghana Forward; a non-partisan political movement dedicated to promoting and advancing good governance, visionary leadership and economic development.