Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Ghana leads the way again (2)

MANY no longer think the excesses of Jerry Rawlings are enough to derail Ghana's democracy because the institutional frameworks of democracy and the rule of law are becoming better entrenched. Indeed, discerning observers now believe he would suffer the fate of the kingmaker in the event of NDC's victory if he insists on being the dominant back-seat driver to an eventually successful Atta-Mills government.

Indeed, the fact that the property owning democracy and golden age of business that NPP promised Ghanaians eight years ago is yet to materialise provides enough reason for its current challenges. Although there is a huge influx of foreign direct investment, the economy is no better than where the NDC left it. Over the past two decades, market forces have dominated the Ghanaian economy and this trend has continued with the NPP government. The economy is reliant on the export of primary products and thus making it vulnerable to the general shocks of the global economy including price fluctuations.

Further, since the 1990s, the economy has been characterised by high rates of inflation, high interest rates, depreciation of the cedi, dwindling foreign reserves, excessive public debt overhang and stagnant economic growth, implementation of the Government Poverty reduction strategy notwithstanding. It is these factors that have turned this election into the real test of popularity for the ruling party. Yet, while the message of change rather than continuity seemed quite strong, there is very little that seems to separate both parties in terms of their policies on the big issues of economic transformation and social stability, at least if one goes by their manifestoes...

There are several lessons too for Big brother Nigeria as the leader of the ECOWAS Observer Mission, former Head of State General Yakubu Gowon opined. The first is the humbling lesson that no respect would come our way from Ghana and the rest of Africa through hegemonic display of hollow power until we perfect our own governance structures at home by enhancing domestic electoral legitimacy. The widespread impression that those ruling Nigeria are not really the true representatives of the people actually undermine rather than enhance the way we are seen outside our shores. Indeed, the impression that we are 'big for nothing' and a disappointment to Africa is a regular view that I encounter in my eight years of residence in Ghana, even as Ghanaians acknowledge our boundless energy, proud carriage, rare intellect and our government's readiness to come to their rescue in times of economic stress. Indeed, many Nigerians are successful in Ghana and they run the major companies quoted on the Ghana Stock Exchange, but ever present in their relations with the Ghanaian elite is the subliminal arrogance and unspoken contempt that reifies the view that "Yes, you Nigerians may be brilliant, smart and rich, but brilliance without character and integrity amount to very little, and good breeding is not something to be purchased in the marketplace." In political science language, Ghana has political culture, Nigeria lacks it.

The second lesson is the more optimistic one of practice makes perfect. It is arguable that elections in Ghana have resulted in enhanced legitimacy because the chain has remained unbroken since 1992. Having run the fifth election in an unbroken cycle, the Electoral Commission in Ghana is regarded as one of the best managed in the whole of Africa. Its Executive Chairman, Dr Kwadjo Afari-Gyan and his fellow commissioners have become well-known elections gurus in the continent, earning the respect of peers across the board.

Sitting in on one of the commission's meetings with political parties, one can understand why. Dr Afari-Gyan demonstrated a mastery of his brief without being arrogant, entertained legitimate complaints from the opposition parties and left all with a clear impression that he was not in the pocket of any government or opposition party. There may be those who believe that Maurice Iwu is not beholden to the PDP but I know enough to dismiss such people. Even if that were true, the current structure and constitution of INEC does not help promote the view that ours is truly an independent Electoral Commission. The challenge before us is therefore to organise an Electoral Commission that is truly independent of Government and wholly accountable to the legislature and ordinary Nigerians.

The third lesson is the relevance of freedom of information and the vigilance of civil society. A major credit for the transparent conduct of the Ghanaian election goes to the several FM stations dotted around the country and the vigilance of CODEO - the local domestic observer mission of 4,000 people. Although some of the FM stations can be a bit over the top in the use of inelegant adjectives to describe the President and opposition leaders, it is a major credit to the NPP government that they removed criminal libel from Ghana's statute books. The truth is that the feeding of the public with regular, minute-by-minute updates on the elections is in itself a conflict prevention mechanism. And, more importantly, the FM stations are encouraged to do so by the Electoral Commission provided they stress that the results are not official but provisional. So, the idea that a result known to everyone at the local level suddenly produces another winner as it happens in Nigeria is immediately nipped in the bud.

Many have gone on record to commend the establishment of Justice Uwais' led Electoral Reform Committee by President Yar'adua. It is certainly my hope that the Committee would provide Nigerians with a better understanding of Nigeria's electoral geography. Two, we should let the Nigerian public, not the President nominate elections commissioners and subject them to public scrutiny before the National Assembly appoints them; three, we must fund the electoral body direct from the Consolidated Account without any interference from the ruling government.

Four, we must ensure that fast-track election dispute mechanism is introduced and utilised before any controversial 'victor' is sworn into office; five the electoral body must be supported by an independent bureaucracy, not the Nigerian civil service, six - adequate punishment must be prescribed in the electoral law for electoral crimes and finally, we must ensure that the electoral law promotes independent candidacy and proportional representation rather than the 'winner takes all' mentality.

For now, Ghana is leading Africa into democratic consolidation and it is certainly a beacon of hope for the rest of our continent. But if you ask Mr Iwu, don't be surprised if he says he was the architect of all the credible things we are seeing in Ghana. Chikena!