Watching Democracy in Ghana
Three competing notions of democracy come to mind as I read and re-read Watching Democracy in Ghana, the compilation of Democracy Watch, which will be launched on Thursday, February 26, 2009. Democracy Watch is the flagship publication of the Ghana Center for Democratic Development, CDD, an independent, non-profit, non- partisan research think tank based in Accra.
The founder of the defunct Soviet State Vladimir Lenin described democracy as a “state, which recognizes the subjecting of the minority to the will of the majority.” One time US presidential candidate, Eugene McCarthy had this to say: “As long as the differences and diversities of mankind exist, democracy must allow for compromise, for accommodation, and for the recognition of differences”. In between these two, we have a position presented by the late US novelist and journalist Norman Mailer: “A modern democracy is a tyranny whose borders are undefined; one discovers how far one can go only by traveling in a straight line until one is stopped.”
What has been Ghana’s preferred path to democracy since the re-introduction of democracy in 1993? The idea of reintroduction rather than a simple “introduction” is both a teaser and an announcement: The development of democracy in this country goes back a long way and many of the characteristics of the current run of democratic governance have their roots in earlier experiments. Although Watching Democracy is a compilation which covers only 1999 to 2007, there is little doubt that serious archival trawl would reveal that the more we change the more we remain the same.
Watching Democracy in Ghana confronts one with recent history, not in the sense of a luxurious reverie but in an uncomfortable rehashing of events that are still with us. The discomfort comes from the brutal realization that we may have changed and moved forward but we have not learned the lesions offered by our history.
Therein lies the first of many virtues of the publication – that of being an archive or living witness to this country’s recent history. There are not many such footprints about in the sands of our development. Basically, Ghana's political processes are not documented in such a coherent and consistent manner, and contrast with Nigeria where most leaders write or ghost-write their memoirs.
For example, Democracy Watch (Number 4) of December 2000 dealt with the “retirement benefit for our new leaders”. This should ring a bell because it tells us that despite the media hoopla about this subject, ex gratia is not a new topic of discussion.
After going through the details of the package recommended by the Greenstreet Committee (for which you can close your eyes and substitute “Chinery Hesse Committee”, Democracy Watch had this to say: “ Considering the whopping sums involved in the retirement package of such an army of former state officials and the implications for the national budget, it would have been better to subject the recommendations of the committee to the fullest public scrutiny and comprehensive debate”. You can say that again!
“Public scrutiny and comprehensive debate” must bring us to the second virtue of the publication: defining the public sphere. In Ghana, there is an unfortunate tendency to restrict the public definition of politics to the narrow band of activities that are carried out by political parties, and this sometimes ridiculously excludes policy intervention by other stakeholders. In its broad sweep of watching democracy, the CDD publication has staked a large territory of stake-holding that includes policy, advocacy and reporting various interfaces of democracy.”
These categories neatly sum up what constitutes the verifiable sphere of public discourse in the development of democracy in Ghana, and could serve as a guide for tracking policy formulation and implementation across the wide swathe by media, NGO and community groups, etc. This would provide a framework for broadening the democracy agenda and debate beyond the narrowly defined parameters.
If Watching Democracy has no other virtue, its sheer readability and therefore enhanced access to issues alone would make it worth twice the cover price. Here is a publication published by a credible think tank which could be pardoned for using the arcane language of academia, which is so loved by policy wonks to confound the masses. But the writers of the Democracy Watch have achieved the aims of communication beyond doubt. You know what they are saying.
This is no mean feat because bad writing on policy issues has had the effect of driving people from reading anything that appears challenging or simply discusses policy. Our newspapers carry many feature articles including those written by the newspaper's own staff writers. In the main, however, you would be a national hero to be able to read many of them from start to finish because of bad writing.
Democracy Watch is not like that. Almost every issue deploys the technique of going from the known to the unknown thus starting from bases of which most readers would be familiar. For example, Democracy Watch Number 3, August 2000 dealt with indignities visited upon junior workers by their superiors but started with the case of a Malaysian national who was deported after spitting at his Ghanaian driver. Nine years after the event I still found it interesting because it used the human interest as a peg on which to hang a major human rights discussion.
Space will not allow me to provide other examples but the book is like that: Reader-friendly, accessible, informative and lively. It is a must-read for all kinds of people but perhaps the President of the Republic should read it and make it compulsory for his Cabinet and all other state functionaries, Members of Parliament, DCEs, assembly members, security services personnel, teachers and all kinds of traders. All these people feature in one way or the other in the book. But above all, journalist must make it an inspirational companion both for the management of facts in a story and the writing style.
There is a lot to learn from it because this book is a kind of pathfinder. If we were unsure which path we were traveling on towards our proclaimed goal of democracy, we now have a guide – Watching Democracy in Ghana written and published in black and white. I don’t want to give the game away, but this book has shown me that the trajectory is not a straight line: there are many zigs and zags but are on course.
Source: Daily Graphic,