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Where are the dividends of democracy?

I often argue that Ghanaians have made peace with democracy as their preferred form of government.

I argue forcefully using data from the Afrobarometer Survey.

I recall during the launch of my book back in April being asked why, after drawing attention to some major challenges Ghana’s democracy faces, I still argue that we have made our peace with democracy.

During a democracy themed event in Tamale on November 29 a participant asked, “where are the dividends of democracy?” 

Background

How did the question come about?

Thanks to financial support from the West Africa Democracy Support Network (WADEMOS), I have launched a West Africa governance risk assessment project to identify and address the signs of democratic regression in the subregion.

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 The project is designed to contribute evidence as well as recommend practical steps for strengthening democratic governance in West Africa.

Recent happenings have raised concerns about the current state of and future of democracy in the sub region.

The project is guided by a simple philosophy — stakeholders must address the worrying signs but also strengthen the hopeful signals of democratic governance. 

The project begins with an initial focus on Ghana — the land of my birth.

More importantly the country last year achieved an important milestone —thirty years of uninterrupted multiparty democracy.

And while there are important hopeful signals as we strive for the next thirty years, that are also some very important worrying signs we cannot ignore.

The project has three key initiatives, one of which is what we are calling The Democracy Dialogues.  

These dialogues will bring key stakeholders in Ghana’s governance space to examine the six key challenges to the country’s democracy captured in my recently published book 5 Presidents, 8 Elections, 30 Years Later: How Ghanaians See Their Democracy with two key goals in mind – a) to come up with a list of specific recommendations on how to address the challenges; and b) use the recommendations as the basis of our efforts to get stakeholders to adopt them as part of a pledge to democracy.

The first democracy dialogue was hosted by the Centre for Gender Research, Advocacy and Documentation (CEGRAD), at the University of Cape-Coast on November 28.

The second dialogue was hosted by Care for Deprived Communities, Tamale on November 29. 

The third dialogue was hosted by the John A. Kufuor Foundation, Accra on November 30.

It was during the democracy dialogue in Tamale that I was asked the question “where are the dividends of democracy?”
 

Dividends

In essence, I believe the participant was asking for two things- a) evidence that shows democracy has delivered certain tangible benefits to Ghanaians and b) it is the result of enjoying these benefits that has led to this peacemaking with democracy.

Let’s think of the dividends of democracy as falling into three broad categories – political, social, and economic.

 The political dividends deal with basic freedoms that democratic governments guarantee their citizens.

Social dividends deal with the policies designed to address issues such as poverty, personal safety, access to education and health care, access to water, among others.

Economic dividends deal with policies designed to address issues such as unemployment, living standards, management of the economy among others.

The combined effect of these three dividends is to give Ghanaians a positive lived experience which they can then attribute to the fact that they are living in a democracy.

What are Ghanaians saying about these dividends?

 To what extent do they believe they are receiving these dividends?

 In Part One, I want to focus on the political dividends.

And as always, I would like to use data from the Afrobarometer survey to answer this question.

Ghanaians generally evaluate their political freedoms very positively and acknowledge that they are free to say what they think, choose who to vote for, and which organisation to join.

In the first three rounds of the survey (1999, 2002, 2005), Ghanaians were asked to compare the present to the past regarding these freedoms.

On average, across these three rounds and freedoms, seven out of ten (73%) generally agreed that the present is better than the past.

Beginning Round Four (2008), the question was rephrased to ask Ghanaians how free they felt to exercise these freedoms.

 Overall, the disposition of Ghanaians has been very positive.

As many as nine out of ten (88%) believe they are completely free to choose who to vote for. 

Another nine out of ten (86%) believe they are completely free to join any organisation, while seven out of ten (71%) believe they are completely free to say what they think. 

I believe it is safe to conclude that democracy is delivering on the political dividends.

I will revisit this topic next week to discuss the other dividends.

The writer is a Democracy and Development fellow at the Ghana Centre for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana).

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