Address by former President Jerry John Rawlings at a lecture on the Deepening of Democracy organised as part of the 10th anniversary celebrations of the installation of Otumfuo Osei Tutu II as Asantehene.
Venue: Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology
Date: Saturday April 25, 2009
Mr Chairman, Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen. I am honoured to be taking part in events marking the 10th anniversary of the installation of Otumfuo Osei Tutu II as Asantehene.
When I first received the invitation to be part of this forum I wondered what my detractors would say about me tackling such a subject. It has become fashionable by a select few who have unfettered access to the media to tag me as a serial coup maker with no democratic credentials whatsoever. Some have even accused me of being on the verge of another coup because I have been critical of the Mills administration.
Let me start right here on the issue of Democracy and Security in Africa.
Article 27 (8) of the AFRICAN CHARTER ON DEMOCRACY, ELECTIONS AND GOVERNANCE states:
“In order to advance political, economic and social governance, State Parties shall commit themselves to promoting freedom of expression.”
Ghana has accepted this Charter and I therefore reserve my right to freedom of expression. I rest my case on this issue.
Ladies and gentleman, I am asking you today: Is Ghana a democracy in the true sense?
If your answer is yes, then we can talk about deepening that democracy. If your answer is no, then we first have to focus on establishing that democracy. My address to you today will cover three areas, and I will try to keep it as short as possible.
1. DEMOCRACY IN AFRICA
a. The birth and nourishment of democracy in Ghana
b. Ghana 2009 – A democracy or not?
2. DEMOCRACY AND SECURITY IN AFRICA
a. What are Africa’s threats?
b. Democracy and the protecting of the people against these threats
3. DEMOCRACY AND SECURITY IN AFRICA – QUO VADIS?
Many politicians are of the view that they only are answerable to the electorate during political campaigns. Once elected they then lord the power over the very people on whose shoulders they rose to power and adopt an autocratic posture, which has led to disastrous consequences in many an African country.
My definition of democracy transcends the average view of electing leaders through the popular ballot. I will primarily discuss the Ghanaian situation because I have been an active participant for thirty years. In other words I am domesticating my definition of democracy. Democracy must have the basic tenets of probity, accountability, justice and freedom. Receiving the will of the people and then sinking into a state of somnolence and a disregard for the will of the people cannot be democracy but unfortunately this country has gone through such periods even in the recent past.
Unelected democracy has preceded all forms of refined democracies and political forms across the world. The Russian Revolution swept away the Tsarist autocracy and the French Revolution uprooted the bourgeoisies who controlled France. As Africans we should be proud that we have evolved our own democracy. Democracy did not start with what the colonialists gave us at independence. That turned out to be a complete failure.
For those who do not understand the best example is the evolution of British parliamentary system, which was originally, controlled by one House whose members were the "Lords of the land" but which had to give way to the House of Lords following a series of violent political upheavals. The name House of Commons derives from house of ordinary people. Today the House of Lords is all but becoming an anachronism in the United Kingdom and there is a strong debate about abolishing it all together.
Ladies and gentleman,
Democracy is about what the people want and need, not about what the rulers think the people want or need. The years that followed from 1966 to 1979 were years that led to a situation that can best be described by a quotation from a feature published in 2006 titled “June 4 The Awakening of Ghana.”:
Ghana was in coma by the end of 1978. There were many events that brought Ghana to her technical death (coma) in the years that followed Independence. Events such as Coups, military governments, four digit inflation, massive corruption, acute food shortages, smuggling, black marketeering (Kalabule) just to mention the few. Prior to June 4 1979, Ghana's economy never existed...The rains stopped falling. The fishes vanished from our rivers and the sea. The bushes and the forests were so dried waiting for the fires. Our abundant bush meat were nowhere to be found. Accra, other cities and towns were as miserable as an orphan, and the only thing visible were the long queues.”
June 4 1979 to 31 December, 1981
In 1979 Ghana was headed in a direction where the military top brass were playing Russian roulette with our political leadership and taking over power at will. The mutiny of May 15 was meant to pre-empt the likelihood of a very explosive situation. It was meant to be a call for the re-institution of sanity and integrity within the armed forces by demanding the leadership to purge itself and the armed forces of the corrupt ones.
The situation was so dire and many in the junior ranks had reached a point where they did not believe in the hierarchy anymore because the values had sunk to an all time low. There were clear signs that the economy of the country had collapsed, the will of the people ignored and corruption was a national pastime. While such interventions are difficult to justify because of the baggage they carry, when the elected ignore the tenets of probity, accountability, freedom and justice they become unavoidable.
The events of the June 4 revolt was an expression of national rage at the abysmal failure of the leadership to stem the tide of corruption which was eating away the very soul of Ghana. The regime that took over following that revolt appeared oblivious to what had just taken place and almost immediately sunk into the status quo preceding June 4. They perceived June 4 as a barracks issue and failed to recognise that the whole nation was in state of rage but were denied a right to give expression by the military, which bore the price.
PNDC Era – 31 December 1981 to November 1992
The PNP government’s inaction and poverty of ideas almost took us back to the pre-June 4 era and created an atmosphere of despair and disenchantment particularly amongst the civilian population who had wrongly assumed sanity was finally going to prevail with the advent of the Third Republic. In punishing corruption June 4 had in effect sparked so much hope that accountability, transparency and integrity had come to stay. The shock and lessons of June 4 appeared lost on the PNP regime who embarked on punishing June 4 in the barracks and that was one of the contributory factors that necessitated the advent of the 31st December intervention.
Another expression of the betrayal of June 4 would have been simply uncontrollable.
I will be the first to express regrets at the excesses of the AFRC and PNDC regimes of which I was the Chairman, but Ghana had to go through a phase where the people had to take control of their destiny through a popular uprising even if it was manifested through the military.
That latent energy from June 4 was transformed into productive energy during the PNDC era. The ten years of the PNDC was an era to end the rot through what we termed housecleaning and instilling a culture of accountability, discipline, and economic resuscitation. It was not an easy journey as the country was saddled with a serious drought, which affected food and energy production. The adoption and implementation of the Economic Recovery Programme helped to stem the economic downslide and ensured that some development projects could take place.
The social sense of responsibility and natural justice in that non-constitutional era was so high that the judiciary were not needed to do justice to the people. The self-empowerment had led to a higher quality of justice at no cost – the courts had become irrelevant. The spontaneity towards natural justice gave true meaning to democracy.
The Fourth Republic: 1992 – 2001 and NDC Rule
Constitutional democracy was returned in 1992 with the citizenry understanding that:
1. The leaders are chosen by the people to represent the people;
2. It will be the responsibility and duty of the people to remove those leaders if they fail to represent the people.
The Fourth Republic: 2001 Transition
Constitutionality took some of the refreshing human spontaneity towards natural justice away but nevertheless the year 2001 Ghana saw a milestone in African democracy - an elected president ended his first tenure, was re-elected and ended a second tenure. Subsequently power was handed over to another president after the expiration of two terms of my presidency.
The stability and smooth transitions recorded within the first eight years of the Fourth Republic was a true manifestation of the will of the people and a belief in the leadership they had elected. No government is without its negatives and I am convinced that my government had some flaws but what was important was the fact that we were never alienated from the ordinary folk who elected us into power to move this country forward. Discordant tones there might have been but the discord was not strong enough to metamorphose into a public uprising. Gauging the mood of the people is always paramount to good governance. A failure to do so is a recipe for disaster.
Crucially important for the successful management of any democracy is the need for leadership to allow institutions of governance to work effectively without interference. The Commission on Human Rights (CHRAJ), The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and all the institutions of government played their roles effectively. Indeed some members of the NDC government were affected by adverse findings by some of these institutions. Embarrassing, as these may have been it sent a strong message to all that democracy was really at work and elected leaders were not above the law.
The Fourth Republic: 2001 – 2009 NPP Rule
The election of the New Patriotic Party’s John Kufuor in 2000 gave further boost to the development of our democracy. Many had serious doubts about the intention of Rawlings to hand over power and respect the will of the people, particularly if his party’s candidate lost the election. Little needs to be said about the smoothness of the transition. You were all witnesses.
Contrary to the assertion that their tradition was truly democratic the NPP government was an excellent example of an undemocratic regime. Once you belonged to the party you did no wrong. Every effort was made to obliterate the P/NDC legacy and the institutions of government were so politicised that even when they took decisions against government officials such decisions were disregarded with impunity.
Ghana once again sunk into a democracy of nepotism, non-accountability, power to the rich and a complete disregard for the feelings of the electorate. More dangerous was the abuse of the security services structure, the hounding and persecution of some services personnel, refusal to follow laid down promotion procedure and a complete politicisation of the military. The NPP could not co-exist with institutions with forceful integrity. The security services were not spared and the judiciary took a serious beating as well.
Seeing shadows and recognising the fact that some of us were aware of the deepening crises in the barracks, a blanket ban was placed on respectable senior officers not to visit military installations including the police and military hospitals.
Fortunately Ghanaians knew better and did not hesitate to vote out the NPP when it mattered most despite the clear doctoring of figures and tinkering that took place in a desperate bid to stay in power.
Many are quick to point fingers at my party for the being intolerant and threatening mayhem if it lost. Fortunately the general populace was privy to the fraud that was taking place and a refusal to allow that to persist meant threats of a state of emergency and a culture of fear designed to compel the electoral commission to announce the NPP as the winner. What was a better recipe for chaos than this? Why did the NPP decline to go to Tain citing security concerns when the Commander-in-Chief was the sitting NPP President? The answer was simple - the soldiers and police were not discriminating in their search of persons entering Tain. Snipers who were entering the town with murderous plans were stopped and arrested. The fraud that had taken place elsewhere including Ashanti was arrested and NPP stared defeat in the face.
The NPP took us to the abyss as far as democracy was concerned and such methods do nothing to deepen or entrench democracy. It allows for chaos, lack of confidence in the electoral process and political apathy.
The Fourth Republic: 2009…NDC Rule
To turn the tables back and bring sanity and confidence into the political process, the NDC under Mills has its work cut out and cannot plead for time in getting the job done.
I have been critical of President Mills because the true tenets of democracy mean that irrespective of party affiliations we should not shirk our responsibility of taking ourselves to task. It is pointless to sit askance when the ordinary folk who voted us into power have strong opinions that need to be heard.
Entrenching democracy means we need to open wider channels of communication and ensure that there is no gap between the elected and the electorate.
As founder of the NDC and man who has a firm belief that democracy in spite of its flaws is workable I cannot look on if my party deviates from the ideals for which it was established.
I nevertheless have some strong opinions about actions that need to be taken to restore sanity into our democratic dispensation.
We cannot make haste slowly as far as justice is concerned. The politically motivated murders that have taken place will have to be brought to justice and there must be clear manifestations of these. When the citizenry have no confidence in the security agencies or see no quest by the elected government to seek justice for families that have been orphaned then we do not deserve their mandate.
I appreciate that development programmes take time to mature and I do not expect the Mills administration to put in place infrastructure within a short spate of time. Economic exigencies and sheer time means we have to wait. Like the President says 100 days is not four years and surely the NDC will deliver because we will all play our required role to ensure that but it is important that we are not seen by the criminals who have looted this country as afraid to take action.
Yes, the law will have to take it course but investigations have to commence on all the numerous reports of fraud, corruption and theft before the thieves siphon all the funds to regional and neighbouring countries and proceed to flee prosecution.
Is it not outrageous that a huge debt of GHC 47 trillion was left by the previous administration when Ghana’s combined debt from Independence to the end of my tenure was GHC 44 trillion? Ironically at the end of the NDC’s first tenure there was so much infrastructural development but can the same be said of the property owning NPP democracy, which left little infrastructure to match its gargantuan debt?
I am not calling for political persecution. I am calling for the reinstitution of discipline in our national fabric. If criminals believe that the government does not have the will to pursue them they become empowered and derail the very ideals of democracy.
A country like Guinea Bissau has become a political disaster and nightmare because drug barons took over the country after the leadership refused to nip the crises in the bud. In Ghana we have over the past eight or so years paid lip service to the drug menace. Small fry had been picked up and prosecuted while the ‘juicy’ barons have been left to ply their trade for political expediency.
President Mills has a tall order on his hand and cannot be seen to be sweeping such serious matters under the carpet. His intentions are noble but there has to be a sense of clarity and urgency as without that we are undermining democracy.
Democracy in Ghana and on the continent can be deepened only if justice and peace are allowed to prevail. The public’s judicial conscience always has to prevail. When Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 27 years it took the public’s judicial conscience for justice to eventually prevail and Mandela released. It is imperative that we always take a cue from these momentous events because they serve as a historical guide to good political responsibility.
Many more issues
Ladies and gentlemen, how can we ever enter into a debate of deepening democracy when fundamental basics of a democracy is non-existent?
Democracy in Africa – Quo Vadis?
I would like to conclude my address by providing some guidelines on what is required to take Ghana to a true democracy. I know that these guidelines are as relevant for Ghana as it is for many other countries in Africa.
a. Regular free, transparent and fair elections
This is surely the first basic step. If we look at the case studies of some countries in Africa it is imperative that the loopholes in the electoral processes and procedures are identified and eliminated as the highest priority.
b. Condemnation and rejection of acts of corruption, related offenses and impunity
Slogans of “Zero Tolerance for Corruption” while the government and civil service and people in power of whatever position are the driving force behind corruption is a recipe for disaster – a recipe that has the potential to tear the very basics of democracy apart. This issue should be at the very top of any government’s agenda.
c. Respect for human rights and democratic principles
If governments do not ensure that citizens enjoy fundamental freedoms and human rights taking into account their universality, interdependence and indivisibility, the citizens will rise and rebel. The most important of these human rights is the right of the people to demand that governments as their elected representatives focus the resources of the state to create jobs, alleviate poverty, provide basic amenities for all and provide food security for its people.
d. Separation of powers
When justice and rule of law is under manipulation of the government, then there is no democracy. Governments in Africa and in Ghana must ensure an independent and just judiciary that has integrity.
Mr. Chairman, Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen. I am honoured to be taking part in events marking the 10th anniversary of the installation of Otumfuo Osei Tutu II as Asantehene.
I would like to conclude by asking Africa to do one thing, and one thing only.
Please place yourself in the shoes of the masses who are poor, hungry and deprived. With this empathy as your guiding and driving force, you can’t go wrong.If the rulers of Africa and Ghana can succeed in doing this, there is hope for establishment of sound democracies.
God bless us all.