Originally Published, June 11, 2012
Election periods within the sub-region are always fretting times, because of warped electioneering activities by Political Parties and their politicians. The period is always marked by unsavory utterances, trickery, provocative communication, and all kinds of activities that have the tendency of sparking mayhem in our society.
Today, as we stand at the brink of another National Election, it is not surprising that the euphoria of the times should, once again, usher to the forefront, the important question as to whether the people of Ghana are advancing and will ever achieve the full benefits of the political system we have adopted for ourselves; having experimented with multi-party parliamentary democracy for the past two decades or so? The demise of socialism as a world system together with the other types of dictatorial governments around the globe, have confirmed multi-party parliamentary democracy as the most viable form of governance; one with the capacity and clout for meeting the needs and key aspirations of the peoples of any nation.
However, one wonders why, with such an astounding reputation all around us in the sub-region, we see scars of conflict portraying multi-party parliamentary democracy as something gone wrong. Democracy now stands bruised and insecure, in the Ivory Coast, Mali, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Democracy in Nigeria, the most populous nation in Africa is being threatened by religious fanatics and corruption, sometimes putting its political system to severe tests.
By choice and through a popular referendum, Ghanaians opted for multi-party parliamentary democracy, as the political system of choice – a framework that allows for both the subtle and open differences that exists amongst the numerous constituents of society, to be channeled and animated – for organizing society for the common good of its people.So far, Ghana has proven to be one of the most compelling examples of democratic development on the continent. Since the adoption of the 1992 Constitution, the nation has changed governments through the ballot, and has steadily undertaken actions which have begun to liberalize the political process, and allowed the springing up of political parties of various hues and shades. And with a congenial environment, most of these groups which profess nation-wide spread have built remarkable following across the nation.
By practice, legitimate and dignified political parties flourish with their own ethos, meaning, they have character, spirit, beliefs, moral beliefs, tenet, attitude; and they articulate philosophies that express the common thought within the group. More than that, they also must have values, customs, and traditions; moral and ethical behaviors; and display habits which not only distinguish it from others, but good enough to secure the integrity of the nation’s stability.
A careful study of the models of political systems resulting from different approaches of governance-based on both national and international experiences and historical data- has made it possible for us, to develop an understanding of the constrains and the opportunities that either promote or undermine multi-party parliamentary democracy, and the full benefits the system offers.
Political Education and Cadre Development
Apart from the study of political science at the university, I have keenly observed the absence of meaningful political education and cadre development programs-at party levels, in all our political parties. The biggest challenge is therefore, the dearth of knowledge and information- even amongst leaders and generally among the rank and file membership of political parties- about what and how political parties are meant to contribute towards the effective functioning of society; to which every society owes its very survival.
In Ghana, because such education is absent, political parties in their “dire” situations, have resorted to brain-washing; instigations, agitations and inflammatory conversations with their youth in particular. Through this many political party activists – fanatics and functionaries alike – are rather led to believe something else other than the truth.
So rather than politically mature, forward-looking quality corps of party functionaries – and well groomed members – the ranks of the leading political parties in Ghana have swelled by outsized armies of principally uninformed political “pundits”, whose only expertise is in mudslinging, and name calling. If you care to find out, just dare to listen to political talk shows on radio and Television and the accompanying phone-in.
Leading politicians as well as, bands of activists of the political parties, rather than expressing their aversion to politically instigated violence, vigorously articulate positions to the effect that violence was very much a part of their political swagger. What is most worrisome about the situation is the fact that our fledging democracy is not in position to deal with such disaster- inducing challenges when they begin to crank; much worse, the nation is not in any good position to mitigate its effects, should it ever occur in this country. The least a nation expects of its politicians and their parties is to raise hope for the future and not to sound the war cry.
Politics of Insults
What the parties have failed to do has caused Party sympathizers to feel reluctant to accept different political parties in power when the inevitable occurs. So we see them aver their frustrations through political tendencies that are noted for igniting violence. These include insults, provocations, dictatorial propensities, intolerance and prejudices. Poor struggling young people are sometimes, mobilized to engage in violence, in support of unscrupulous and greedy politicians; through insulting, slandering, intimidation and scandalizing their political opponents with falsehoods, and malice; to say things which they themselves do not have the political and moral courage to say. They do all this for very small gains – party “T” shirts, alcoholic beverages or some little money. What undermines the practice of multi-party parliamentary democracy is the quality of political parties and the caliber of its broad membership. It is the first consideration of what makes a society’s political circumstances good or bad.
The Winner Takes All
The dangers of the “winner takes all” posture of our system also seem to exacerbate the political divisions in our society. Unlike proportional representation systems popular in many other democracies, the single-member parliamentary arrangement permits only one party to win at any given level whether at the constituency or the presidential level.The single-member system which created incentives to form broadly- based national parties with sufficient management and propaganda skills, financial resources, and popular appeal to win parliamentary and presidential elections all over the country, has also given rise to a situation where parties with minimal financial resources even with some popular backing tend not to win any representation at all.
This greed if you may call it, for political power and the absence of political education has resulted in politics of insults and hatred. The numerous calls by some decent politicians, chiefs, religious leaders and well meaning Ghanaians for sanity and the exercise of civility goes unheeded. Political parties, in their bid to canvass for votes, must not fail to do the right thing; to educate and train their followers, to curb their excesses and tame the rising menace activities of the large army of political careerists and opportunists.
Historically, Kwame Nkrumah’s Convention People’s Party (CPP), is the party that is reputed to have sought, in very practical terms, to institutionalize the training and education of its Cadre Corps and party functionaries. As part of its party structures, the CPP established the Kwame Nkrumah Ideological Institute at Winneba, primarily to educate and train its members and to raise future political leaders for the country.
And even though people may take exception – as was the case then – to the Party’s ideological inclinations – which was Socialism, the existence of the Institute symbolized a progressive mind-set; of a Party organization which regarded the opportunity to govern the country as one of sacred and onerous responsibility. It had ethos and mores which averred a creed to the effect that election into power of a Political party is a sublime call by a people, for public service. As such, the people deserved nothing but the best, from its politicians.
This attitude stands in sharp contrast with what pertains today. And this is without apologies. Today, executives and leaders of political parties and followers alike, claim ownership of the country and consequently, demand for its leadership as of right. Political appointments and election of parties into power is no more accepted with any sense of responsibility, neither is it seen as a call to service. It is little surprising therefore, – and this is without prejudice to any groups of persons- the level of intolerance, insults and threats the country has witnessed of late.
The National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP) have dominated electoral politics since the reintroduction of party politics in the year 2000. This unrivaled record of the same two parties continuously monopolizing a nation’s electoral politics reflects structural aspects of the Ghanaian political history and system, as well as, special features of the parties, including the history behind them which includes some attempt at training of their cadres. Unfortunately, the two have embarked on new ways of recruitment which excludes membership development through training and education; that does not necessarily augur well for democracy and the future of the nation as well. It is now obvious that “hired” media expects and “sponsored” phone in callers determine how politics is done in Ghana. The manifestation of offensive political attitudes we see among party functionaries and fanatics shows clearly that there is no political training at political party levels.
Within a short span of time when political education lost its priority and place in the gambit, the nation has grown so polarized, it is becoming virtually impossible to enforce even basic laws; like laws on sanitation and road-use. Mediocrity, corruption, ineffectiveness or non-performance and blatant disregard for truth get applauded or condemned on party lines-on which side of the divide people stands.
Declaring something to be right or wrong is not based on principles anymore; it is based on whether the culprit is a member of Party “A” or Party “B”; very much oblivious to what the opinion does to the growth and stability of the country.
Educating Political Careerists
Political education first and foremost must be about the ethos and mores of the Parties themselves. Education targeting all strata on membership should cover lessons on the character, spirit, beliefs, moral beliefs, tenet, attitude, and a party code of conduct that guides all activists. Members must be well versed in the philosophy- the political economic theory espoused by the Party, including the primary thoughts on their world view- that expresses the common thought within the group.
Education must include the values, customs, and traditions; moral and ethical behaviors to define reasoned behavior – what is reasonable? – and who will be held accountable.
Democracy Is Through Debates
The population ought to know that democracy thrives on intelligent debates and exchange of ideas. Parties are one of the main avenues for political debate and discussion in the community. We need to note that much of the political debate that goes on is defined in government versus opposition terms,-Parliamentary debate, questioning and scrutiny is focused around their interests and preferences, so such debates, whether it is being held at the floor of Parliament or at the market place, must be characterized by in-depth knowledge and respect for adverse views. That, insults only mar debates and ostracize important sections of society. We must bear in mind that in this country political parties constitute both government and the opposition and their fortunes can change anyhow.
Democracy Requires Principled and Honest People
Our political parties need to develop cadres who conduct themselves in a principled and honest manner; in functionaries and young leaders who are grounded in the tenets of democracy and are equipped to analyze situations on the basis of a democratic mind-set, first and foremost, not on the basis of what will earn them their deployment into office. Our political parties need to breed members who are selfless and understand the broader national and international situation.
Political Parties as Platforms for Public Service
Political careerist must be educated to view accountability as an important aspect of duty, and of their work as politicians. As young or as old as they may be, their work must be rooted and grounded in society’s interest; so must their role in transforming society. The success of western democracy – which in the main, is built on a multi-party parliamentary system – has serious under-pinning which are crucial, for effective functioning of society, to which society owes its very survival. And one of such under-pinning is the vigorous education undertaken by political parties for their members.
Fallibility of Political Parties
Today, there is a clear decay of political trust. What started as a massive trust and confidence by the people in the political parties of the country, is weaning, as the notion of corruption, nepotism, and other negative tendencies begin to color what was thought to be the true nature of political parties.
The decay was preceded by a discernible – not just perceived – decline in the morality, ethics and values in our politics. And this is causing a considerable strain on the moral standing of our political parties, including their leaders, factions and members. No political party in our country can claim to have cadres of a high political caliber in the sense of principles, standards or morals, any more. What is mostly true of the parties is the low knowledge of members, about what Parties are about and the ethos and mores of the Parties, with which they affiliate.
Political parties should strive to balance the need for ideological consistency and organizational coherence with the need for new ideas and innovations. Parties that are unable to maintain discipline will likely cease to be coherent organizations. At the same time, political parties that don’t permit a divergence of views both internally and at the state level, and who don’t tolerate any individual initiative on the part of their members and the opposition, are likely to become stagnant over time.
Attitude Towards Opponents
Parties articulate philosophies and develop policies. In addition all parties have methods of debating issues and formulating policies to be presented to the electorate during election campaigns. In government or opposition, parties utilize these policy-making processes to determine their attitude to legislation and issues of the day. So members of parties must be educated to appreciate that the opposition or others have legitimate right to hold divergent positions on all issues. The only point of convergence which ought to be expected of all is about the extent to which “Reason” is or should be in politics, and how should we behave that everyone would have to submit?
Pervading cultures and dominant attitudes in every nation have ways of signaling whether the society is growing, declining or self-destructing. Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus express this more succinctly in their book titled “Leadership”, in which they note that; “the present provides the first approximation of the… resources out of which the future will be formed”. That being the case the “culture of insults” and the mongering of violence currently saturating our national politics portend nothing but danger. And this must stop immediately.
Since the future is not built in the future; but on the threshold of today’s decisions, let us lay the foundation for the future democracy by investing in cadre development programs. This is the only way we can have political parties that respond to the needs, aspirations and interests of the great masses of our people.
As a budding democracy, therefore, it is critical that not only the leaders, but members of all party structures be educated about the importance of political parties in transforming society; and how they function, especially, about the organizational principles of the Parties. As a nation, we tend to demand discipline, trustworthiness, quality service and visionary leadership from our state institutions.
Interestingly, and as if out of ironic reversal – these demands are made loudest on the platforms of political parties to the citizenry, even though fittingly, this demand must first be made of our political leaders.
Without personal and social change of attitudes towards politics as a public service; toward economic policies, honesty, transparency, accountability and justice for all, no change of political parties forming government will bring any substantial improvement into our living circumstances. If the electioneering campaign of parties is not matched with a moral campaign embracing civil responsibility; a spirit of dialogue and social justice, for example, nothing much will change and the same evil roots of corruption, despotism, lies, cheating, hypocrisy, double standards and injustice will continue and the same outcomes will be produced accompanied by the same consequences.
When Political Parties Fail in Their Functions
Most of the most devastating feuds – with the greatest cost to human and material resources – that have taken place on the continent of Africa could be attributed to the failure of political parties to affirm their philosophy, true character and values as a means to give credence to parliamentary democracy. The causes of most of these political upheavals could be traced to the activities of political careerists and opportunists subverting the ethics and genuine functions of political parties through greed and avarice.
Political parties, by their nature and function enormously impact the leadership and direction of nations who have them. By default, they control the fortunes of people in the country; so is the cost of their failure and excesses. Therefore, a failure on their part usually results in the failure of the state too. In any case, Ghana does not need a repetition of the “Arab Spring”. As a nation, we have had our fare share of devastating political upheavals in the form of military mutiny, juntas, coups and revolutions through which precious sons and daughters of this dear country lost their lives. Did we uphold the values of these military interventions? Did our revolution become revulsion?
However, notwithstanding our historical development, I think we have so far chartered and advanced our politics in a preferred democratic environment-multi party parliamentary democracy which must not be disturbed by the very people who want to lead this country.