I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you today at the University of Education Winneba, Kumasi Campus on the topic, “Multi-Party Democracy in Ghana, Challenges for the University Student”. I am aware that this week, people from different walks of life and political parties have been to this campus to share their perspectives on the theme for this year’s SRC Week celebrations. I have chosen a fact-based approach to my presentation to you today. Everywhere I go, I am encouraging the youth to be positive activists for change. This requires that you act with knowledge so that you are not dismissed as mere noise makers. My purpose is to share with you certain aspects of the 1992 Constitution that form the basis for multi-party democracy in Ghana and what challenges they present for all Ghanaians including the youth. I want you to know why I participate in politics and what you can do to make our nation great and strong. I also want you to realize the power you carry as young people who can decide your own future and the prosperity of the country.
I will discuss the following topics taken from the 1992 Constitution so that you can understand some important aspects of our multi-party democracy and the challenges they present:
- Directive Principles of State Policy;
- The Age Factor;
- The Funding of Political Parties; and
- Election of Local Government Functionaries.
Then I will discuss a little bit of my own experience in the 2008 elections to illustrate some challenges of multi-party democracy that you need to be aware of from the perspective of a Presidential Candidate.
Introduction: This year, Ghana celebrated 54 years of political independence. But to understand why we must all join our hearts and minds to the effort to strengthen multi-party democracy in Ghana we must know our recent history. Ghana has had the unfortunate circumstance of suffering through military coups and living under the dictatorship of leaders who were not voted for by the people. From 1957 until 1966 we were governed by the founder of my political party, the Convention People’s Party (CPP), Kwame Nkrumah. He was overthrown by a combined military and police force in February 24, 1966.
That first military coup set the stage for the military to disrupt civilian governments and as a result interrupt Ghana’s development efforts. After the 1966 coup, the military ruled until an elected government took office in 1969. That elected government was overthrown by the military in 1972. We lived under military rule from 1972 until 1979. The government that was elected in 1979 was also overthrown in 1981. The military rule this time was a very long one from December 1981 until January, 1993. Even then it was the man who led the 1981 coup who contested the 1992 and 1996 elections and became our President for eight years until January, 2001. Since 1993, we have had uninterrupted multi-party, constitution-based governance in Ghana. From time to time, there have been uncertainties about our ability to sustain multi-party democracy due to the visibility and reminders of our not so distant military participation in governance.
I consider that the untimely end of the Nkrumah administration in 1966 set not only Ghana back in its quest for prosperity, it delayed Africa’s march to unity and development that should have come with it by now. If today graduates from our tertiary institutions find it difficult to find employment, it is because the 1966 coup led to the disruption of the industrialization programme started by the CPP Administration.
The point I am trying to make to you is that while at independence, there were great expectations for a better life, jobs and social infrastructure, we had significant financial and human resource challenges to overcome. The government moved with great speed to implement a plan for rapid industrialization and social justice. Sometimes in the haste, mistakes were made. But military interventions compounded the problems of an underdeveloped country learning to deal with democracy, freedom of speech and the expectations of prosperity.
Directive Principles of State Policy: Chapter Six of the Constitution: The Directive Principles of State Policy together represent our collective broad national agenda which the Constitution says is the “…establishment of a just and free society.” I am convinced that if we were to live by these broad principles and the Constitution’s requirement for monitoring and evaluation, our nation would see significant growth and development. Multi-party democracy must make our people prosperous or we can lose it. We cannot eat multi-party democracy but if through it we are enabled to grow and develop, we will prosper and eat well. This makes it imperative that we implement the provision embedded in Article 34 (2) which directs that:
“The President shall report to Parliament at least once a year all the steps taken to ensure the realisation of the policy objectives contained in this Chapter; and, in particular, the realisation of basic human rights, a healthy economy, the right to work, the right to good health care and the right to education.”
Furthermore, Article 36 (5) directs that:
“For the purposes of the foregoing clauses of this article, within two years after assuming office, the President shall present to Parliament a co-ordinated programme of economic and social development policies including agricultural and industrial programmes at all levels and in all the regions of Ghana.”
My view is that if all of our Presidents account annually to Parliament and to the nation on how they are implementing the principles and also show how the co-ordinated progamme promotes these principles, there will be less anxiety than exists presently over the need for a national development agenda that transcends political parties. What has happened in the Fourth Republic is something very different. Our presidents go to Parliament once a year not to account for their actions, but to make more and more promises of what they will do, use that platform to compare their administrations with that of opposing political parties and generally, make a political rally of that important opportunity.
With no hesitation, I recommend that all Ghanaians read and become very familiar with Chapter Six of our Constitution. Also, in future, we should require that the manifestoes of all political parties must at least recognise the existence of the Directive Principles of State. The political parties must show how they will implement these principles enshrined in our Constitution.
The Age Factor: Chapter Eight, Section 62 (b) says that a person shall not be qualified for election as President of Ghana unless “he has attained the age of forty”. This has the effect of disqualifying the majority of our people from aspiring to occupy the highest office of the land. The provision discriminates against young people. Besides, wisdom is not the preserve of older people. If a person who is 18 can vote and can become a Member of Parliament, he/she ought to be given the opportunity to become President of the Republic. Those of you who are my fans on Facebook know that I have thrown a challenge to the youth to show interest and work so that when the 2013 Parliament opens for business 50 of the MPs will be below the age of 35.
Funding of Political Parties: Chapter Seven – Representation of the People, Section 55 (14) says, “Political Parties shall be required by law (a) to declare to the public their revenues and assets; and (b) to publish to the public annually their audited accounts.” The question is, has this ever happened? Who is to enforce this law? Section 55 (15) says, “Only a citizen of Ghana may make a contribution or donation to a political party registered in Ghana.” Interestingly, the law makes no requirement of candidates only political parties. Throughout the world where multi-party democracy prevails, candidates tend to attract more funds than political parties. In Ghana, it appears that money, not ideas, fuels campaigns for political office. This has even filtered down to the tertiary institutions where campaigns for Student Representative Council and NUGS offices have become expensive affairs where sponsorship outside the various institutions is sought. Those who raise the most money tend to do well. During the 2008 presidential and parliamentary campaigns, we were all witnesses to the huge amounts of money that were splashed around with giant billboards, the spraying of t-shirts all over the place and “gifts” (or bribes?) of all types given to voters during the week of voting. Where did all this money come from? Was this all documented in the audited accounts submitted to the Electoral Commission? We hear of foreign governments and foreign companies funding campaigns in Ghana. Is there any truth to all this talk? If so, are there some foreign interests guiding our governments and our political parties? Is that what we want? I don’t think so.
I happen to agree with Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish-born English writer that “In the long-run, every government is the exact symbol of its people, with their wisdom and unwisdom”.
Election of Local Government Functionaries: The brand of multi-party democracy we practice in Ghana needs to be strengthened where it matters most – at the local or grassroots level. The problem of empowering the people at the local level has persisted because the Constitution we are working with took a big part of that power from the local people and gave it to the President. Article 240 (1) of the Constitution says that “Ghana shall have a system of local government which shall, as far as practicable, be decentralized”. It is Article 240 that gives authority to Parliament to enact appropriate laws “… to ensure that functions, powers, responsibilities and resources are at all times transferred from the Central Government to local government units in a co-ordinated manner”. But Parliament’s ability to bring about full decentralization is hampered by the Constitution.
The most offending parts of the Constitution in terms of usurping the powers of the people are the following:
Article 242 “A District Assembly shall consist of the following members:
(a) One person from each local government electoral area within the district elected by universal adult suffrage;
(b) The member or members of Parliament from the constituencies that fall within the area of authority of the District Assembly as members without the right to vote;
(c) The District Chief Executive of the district; and
(d) Other members not being more than thirty per cent of all the members of the District Assembly, appointed by the President in consultation with the traditional authorities and other interest groups in the district.”
Article 243 which reads,
“243 (1) There shall be a District Chief Executive for every district who shall be appointed by the President with the prior approval of not less than two-thirds majority of members of the Assembly present and voting at the meeting.”
Article 243 (3) which says that:
“The office of District Chief Executive shall become vacant if:
(a) A vote of no confidence, supported by the votes of not less than two-thirds of all the members of the District Assembly is passed against him; or
(b) He is removed from office by the President; or
(c) He resigns or dies. “
In addition, Article 248 (1) reads: “A candidate seeking election to a District Assembly or any lower local government unit shall present himself to the electorate as an individual, and shall not use any symbol associated with any political party.” And then, Article (2) reads: “A political party shall not endorse, sponsor offer a platform to or in any way campaign for or against a candidate seeking election to a District Assembly or any lower local government unit.”
In our District Assemblies we know which members were supported by a political party to get elected. We know which people were sponsored by the present Mills Administration. We must review all of these provisions embedded in our Constitution, understand the realities on the ground and empower the people to freely associate with those they agree with and to vote for those who want to rule them. In other words, the sections of the 1992 Constitution that I have quoted above all need to be amended to ensure that political parties are able to participate in local government elections and that all District/Municipal/Metropolitan Chief Executives and all Assembly Members are elected directly by the people.
Example – Running for Public Office in Ghana: I got involved in politics for the same reasons as many others throughout the world. Public service is an honourable way to potentially affect in a positive way many more people than one can in the private sector. Politics has been said to be “… the art of the possible”. I want through politics to bring hope to the many in Ghana whose lives otherwise would be stuck in poverty, disease and despair.
The challenges associated with running for national office in Ghana are many:
-The Electorate: A very big challenge to our multi-party democracy that I faced was and still remains an electorate, mostly poor, living in communities deprived of the basics – water, electricity, schools, housing, safe roads, good health facilities and faced with high unemployment and who were willing to vote for the one they believe will give them what they want now.
-Funding a Campaign: Our campaign had a web-site with a variety of options for making a contribution. We established a publicly known account with a financial institution in Ghana for donations. The campaign held fund raising events in Ghana. We sent letters to many people. We raised a decent amount of money working hard and through small amount donations. Yet we were outspent in the order of about 20 to one by the two top candidates/parties. The evidence in giant billboards, radio, television advertising, t-shirts, bussing supporters to rallies, etc was there for all to see.
-Getting the Message Across to the Voters: It is difficult to pay attention when you are hungry. This fact I learnt from the campaign. In some countries, neighbours get together sometimes to organize fund raising events where everyone brings something to snack on and drink. The candidate shows up, spends a few minutes, says a few words and receives the donations. In the more advanced democracies there are professional organizations that help candidates to raise funds within the confines of the law. In Ghana, our campaign had to fund the transportation to bring people to my rallies. We had to provide the t-shirts they wore and the banners they carried. We had to feed them. We had to pay for the music. We also paid for the transportation home. And where they were leaving, many would still point to their stomachs, asking for “…something small”. Serious messages had great difficulties penetrating poverty.
-Staying Above Dirt: Our campaign worked hard to stay above dirt. My party wrote a very good campaign manifesto. We took jewels from it and came up with what I called the “Ten Point Agenda for Change You Can Feel In Your Pocket”. We prepared position papers on the environment, encouraging the private sector, reducing the size of government, public sector reform, emergency medical care, decentralization, etc. We did a weekly radio broadcast and accepted invitations to speak from students, farmers, business people, labour, teachers, etc. We prepared well for the two presidential debates and by all accounts I was judged the best candidate in the race. My opponents did not even attempt to travel the same course and quite often did not honour invitations to speak to the teachers, labour, students etc.
-Transportation – Getting Across the Country: There are 230 constituencies in Ghana represented in Parliament. You can only fly to three cities on scheduled airline flights and that is not every day of the week, which means you drive. Most of the roads only barely qualify to be called that. A distance of less than 300 kilometers in the northern part of the country takes over 6 hours to drive. So, it is rather difficult to spend time in every constituency.
-The Media Ceiling: The media scene in Ghana has improved over the years. But the influence of government is still powerful. Money has a stronger influence on what goes out than ideas. The media decided early on that it was a two horse race so my party had a hard time fighting the third party battle. It affected the coverage we got. The major opposition party got through by attacking the party in power relentlessly by any means possible and the media gave them the vehicle to use in achieving the goal. The party in power used every means available to get free coverage and publicity paid for by government ministries, agencies and departments – including plastering the achievements of the party in government on billboards, public transportation (buses) and television advertisements.
But there was opportunity as well. At the end of the campaign I realized that a number of the candidates had adopted many of the change agenda items I had introduced early in the campaign. The items had to do with education, cleaning the environment, decentralization, strengthening parliament, separating the office of Attorney General from the Ministry of Justice and electing District/Municipal/Metropolitan Chief Executives. One candidate – the one who won adopted our party’s change slogan and symbol. The campaign gave me the opportunity to learn humility that comes from the knowledge that our people are poorer and many areas of the country more deprived of basic amenities of life than should be the case in a country like Ghana.
It made it more clear to me that the ordinary Ghanaian has expectations, feels cheated by the lack of progress in his or her life and is looking for leadership that will deliver a better life. One thing I know for sure is that Ghanaians however poor they may be, cherish the opportunity to decide who their leaders should be through the ballot box.
Conclusion: We have made good progress under multi-party democracy in the Fourth Republic. However, we face challenges in the implementation and enforcement of the rules that the 1992 Constitution provides. Some of the provisions of the Constitution need to be changed to strengthen multi-party democracy at the local community level. You the young people must become positive activists armed with knowledge and a good understanding of our current situation so that you advocate for change. You the educated ones must seek out leaders who compete with ideas, not money. You must see political competition not as an inconsequential game, but as an important process that can make a positive difference in your lives for years to come if you make the right choices.
We have the human and other natural resources required to create conditions for prosperity. However, we have had leadership from pre-colonial to colonial and post colonial times that have not managed the resources we have to benefit the local population. We still have leaders on the continent who are more concerned about self preservation and well-being through winning elections, than the security and prosperity of their people. I want you to find and support leaders in Ghana who will work with a sense of urgency and selflessness to improve the standard of living for the ordinary person.
If you want to keep up this conversation with me and maintain contact, please join my fan page at www.facebook.com/pknduom.
Thank you for your attention.