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Often referred to as the “Golden Child” of West Africa, Ghana is argued to be the continent’s star of democracy. Having endured great political transition in 1957, Ghana is widely applauded for the manner in which it has practiced democracy so far. Many argue that its democracy is consolidating, thus paving the way for peaceful, free and fair elections in the west African sub-region. This claim is refuted by those who consider the country to be a flawed democracy. Refutations are largely based on the fact that Ghana’s democratic features show some level of weak governance as a result of the way in which the practice of democracy strays away from democratic principles. Given this context, this article aims to analyse Ghana’s democratic features by highlighting their strengths and shortcomings.
Ghana’s democratic features:
Ghanaian electoral system for choosing government type and officials:
Ghana’s leaders are appointed through an electoral system by which national elections are held every four years, to elect a president and his representatives into national assembly or its unicameral parliament. While this feature forms an integral part of any democratic state and while majority of the citizens of Ghana favour this form of electoral system, there is some level of disenchantment amongst the youth and minority present in the country. This level of disenchantment has impacted negatively on the perceived legitimacy and quality of its democratic practice mainly because Ghana’s electoral system and commission lacks transparency and democratic practice amongst political parties. As a result of this, it can be argued that Ghana’s electoral system lacks financial autonomy, the legal autonomy and support from the government and its institutions, thus undermining its legitimacy. For these reasons, the quality of democracy in Ghana is weak and needs some strengthening as disunity present in the relationship between its electoral commission and government indicates levels of weak governance and democratic practice.
Citizen participation in politics is widely acknowledged to be a key component in any democratic state. Participation in this regard refers to the voluntary activities that are undertaken by the citizens of a country which are aimed at influencing politics and public policy, both directly and indirectly. The Ghanaian Constitution emphasises the freedom of citizens to actively engage in political demonstrations and further grants its citizens the right to actively participate in the political activities of the country. However, participation in the country has been relatively low due to increasing disenchantment amongst citizens over their government’s inability to adequately represent their interests and service their needs while they feel intimidated by state officials. Growing levels of disenchantment amongst citizens in this regard suggest that the quality of democracy is weak because at the cornerstone of democratic principles is the ability of a country to fully represent and service the needs of its citizens, ensuring further development and security- something that Ghana has failed to do, even today. Moreover, the inability of Ghana to fully represent its citizens prior to its state needs, further limits and declines the presence of a representative democracy in the country, thus undermining its democratic legitimacy. Therefore, for desirable democratic outcomes in Ghana to be achieved, the country needs to strengthen and increase citizen engagement, and increase the manner in which it represents and services the needs of its citizens.
Another democratic feature that lies at the cornerstone of a democratic state is the protection of all human rights. These rights are protected through various institutions and in Ghana, the institution that acts as a means of protection is the Commission of Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ). Many scholars have argued that the presence of this feature in a state alludes to democracy. However, this is a common misconception globally, because the presence of such institutions do not necessarily mean that in practice the fundamental rights of all, are protected. In fact, Ghana has had its fair share of disregard for its own constitution and commission. Human rights violations in the country are rampant and are often carried out by its government’s officials such as police officers and others in high positions of power. Disregard in this instance largely stems from unequal power relations present between citizens and Ghanaian government officials who enforce laws for their benefit and who believe that they are above the law. Moreover, it can be argued that these violations and unequal power relations lead to further disenchantment that is common amongst Ghana’s citizens. The prominence of disregard for basic fundamental rights undermines and weakens the state and quality of Ghana’s democracy mainly because the country has failed to protect what is deemed to be at the cornerstone of any liberal democracy. Human rights violations taint the reputation of any country and therefore it can be concluded that these violations have played a negative role in the way in which Ghana’s democratic practice has been perceived, causing it to be classified as a flawed democracy.
The positives and negatives of Ghana’s democracy:
The transition to democracy in Ghana has yielded a significant number of benefits for the country. Ghana’s economy has grown rapidly when compared to other countries in the west sub-region of Africa. This has put Ghana at the forefront of poverty reduction on the African continent and placed it on a pedestal to greater success in global politics. Another advantage of democracy in Ghana is the decentralised power base for ruling people. This has allowed for its citizens to be able to freely participate in free and fair elections. Moreover, this has increased civic engagement to a greater extent however, as aforementioned the country falls short in this regard.
Contrastingly, Ghana’s democracy has been considered to be ineffective in the sense that voters are not educated on what governing decisions constitute. Misinformation with the countries electoral process and constitution, leads to further disenchantment with the country’s politics. Another disadvantage of Ghana’s quality of democracy has to do with the fact that its structure of democracy is highly dependent on the will of the majority. Discrimination, human rights abuses and identity issues are prominent in Ghana and these influence the will of the majority, further fuelling political disenchantment amongst the country. As a result, the quality of democracy in the country is weakened.
Strengthening Ghana’s democracy:
For Ghana to overcome its shortcomings, the quality of its democracy needs to be strengthened. On the account of the failures of its electoral system, Ghana can ensure greater transparency by implementing strict policies and procedures that disable any issue that cripples voter’s confidence. Moreover, the electoral commission can assert its autonomy in relation to its mandate by having legal repercussions for any party that disregards its mandate. On the account of civic engagement, Ghana can mitigate through issues where voters are intimidated and coerced to vote through the use of violence by having the presence of parties and their campaigns separate from the actual election process. This decreases the risk of violence and harm to those who fear voting. The Ghanaian government should make information on governance and public policy freely available to everyone across different demographics, thus increasing representation and inclusivity which will strengthen the quality of its democracy because education is key in the success of any democratic country.
Finally, on the account of human rights protection, the government of Ghana should hold anyone who violates the basic rights of any citizen accountable as these gross violations undermine the legitimacy of any democracy. This can be done through enhanced transparency of governance systems to safeguard human rights. Failure to successfully implement basic measures lead to widespread instability which questions the structure of democracy. While measures can be taken to strengthen the quality of democracy in Ghana, one cannot neglect that the notion of democracy was tailored to fit Western Imperialists more than African states and as such, I bring forth the question of whether or not Ghana (and other flawed democracies) should move away from democratic principles to a new theory that will better fit the African continent and its citizens.
Nirvaly Mooloo has a degree in International Studies and Political Science from the University of Pretoria. She is an activist and feminist at heart. Her interests strongly lie in academic fields specialising in Politics and International Relations. Her dream is to one day be the leader that brings change to the livelihoods of others. Nirvaly is one of permanent members of The Art of Politics writing staff.