Jerry Rawlings and The New Democratic Thoughts
There is on-going debate about the need for Ghana, the “Black Star of Africa,” to roll out a development philosophy driven by Ghana’s/Africa’s cultural values. This is to prop up confidence since Africa’s development process is dominated by foreign development paradigms to the disadvantage of its rich cultural values. Against this backdrop, Africa’s cultural values have been suppressed and demeaned in the larger technicalities of development paradigms.
As the debate gathers steam, former president Jerry Rawlings talked of domesticating democracy at an Oxford University lecture. Somehow, it is in introspection and self-criticism of Rawlings as one who ruled Ghana for almost 20 years and failed to grow a development philosophy that matches Ghanaian traditional values with that of the Western neo-liberal ones.
|Jerry Rawlings Photo:Courtesy|
Britain’s Oxford University is an ideal venue to discuss democracy as it is one of the key centres of Western neo-liberalism that has been exported to the rest of the world. Ancient Britain resolved native direct democracy by hatching representative democracy in the 17th century and laid the foundation for democracy, as a progress act. Ghana, as ex-British colony, was founded on democratic ideals in 1957, but these were destroyed by its elites, who had weak grasp of the nuances of democracy, seeing Rawlings angry ascent to power in 1979 and 1981. In 1992 after much domestic and international pressure, democracy was restored to Ghana grudgingly by Rawlings’ Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC).
Misunderstanding saw Ghana vacillate between military, one-party and democracy for most part of its 52-year corporate existence. The reason is that the ex-colonial neo-liberal democratic structures that run Ghana have not been in harmony with the Ghanaian traditional values both logically and materially. Compared to ex-colonies such as Japan and South Korea that have skillfully weaved their traditional values into the global neo-liberal ideals for their progress, it appears Ghanaian elites do not think well.
It is from such wallops that the emotionally charged Rawlings emerged, hence his statement in London that “democracy and security have always been bedfellows.” A Ghanaian tradition-driven-democracy and its related security would have corrected many an historical and psychological wrong that have suppressed and demeaned Ghanaians/Africans cultural values and made Africa the only region where its development process is dominated by foreign development paradigms.
For long, Rawlings didn’t believe in democracy. He had no alternative either. Democracy in Ghana, as Rawlings admitted to the New York Times, was forced on his pseudo-military PNDC by Washington, and not from Ghanaians’ tradition. Ghanaian democrats have however soldiered on, in the face of insults, threats, harassments and deaths. First, they pushed the democratic gates opened in 1992 and, second, are currently helping to enrich the nascent democratic culture. That isn’t surprising in the face of a Rawlings speedily basking in the current developing democratic waves and making all sorts of statements that sometimes emotively undermine the democratic imperative.
It is in such atmosphere that Rawlings is painstakingly attempting to tie his defunct PNDC to the developing nation-wide debates, for his own self-aggrandizement, about amalgamating Western neo-liberal values that are currently running Ghana with Ghana’s traditional values. While there were some sparks of such attempts (as have been other regimes before Rawlings) such as Kwame Nkrumah’s “African Personality” concepts and the PNDC’s decentralization exercises, Rawlings’ did not come close to what Botswana or China or Japan or Malaysia or South Korea have done in this regard. Rawlings had no understanding of Ghana from within its traditional cultural ideals as a development philosophical issue.
If Rawlings had gone the Southeast “Asian way” in the almost 20 years he had at his disposal to hatch a new progress paradigm, presidential candidate John Atta-Mills of National Democratic Congress, wouldn’t have said that if elected, he would consult traditional rulers on certain national issues. Obed Asamoah, his former long-serving Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, and currently patron of the Democratic Freedom Party (DFP), wouldn’t have said in the heat of the 2008 general that traditional institutions would be integrated into Ghana’s development process if the DFP is elected.
Why would the Western world stop Ghana from mixing its traditional institutions while other ex-colonies such as Botswana, Japan, Malaysia or South Korea have done so and are reaping dividends? Rawlings and others failed to build on colonial Britain’s indirect rule that appropriated traditional institutions, as part of its colonial program. In Japan, the American occupying force under Gen. Douglas MacArthur had resisted the verbatim imposition of American/Western development values on Japan and advised for the juxtaposition of Japanese and American values in Japan’s re-construction.
Rawlings is however welcome to join the on-going debates as a matter of broader thinking, more so with his long-running experience in government. If he reflects objectively, he will help enrich the culture-progress debates and see the fatal errors he and his associates committed by not going the Southeast “Asian way,” the “Turkish way” or the “Botswana way” corrected.
In Rawlings, Ghana’s long-felt need to combine its traditional values with that of the Western ones is finally beginning to materialize. It is compelling and emotionally gratifying to hear him agree and think along with the current thoughts that Ghana’s democracy should mirror its traditional values – and, as the “Black Star of Africa,” help genuinely radiate and inspire an enhanced democratic philosophy across Africa.
“Democracy works only when it has evolved within a specific socio-cultural environment and fused into the traditional political systems such that it is seen as an indigenous product, but unfortunately Africa has not been given the opportunity to develop this,” Rawlings rightly said at Oxford University. Although he is right, over the past 17 years, his image in the Ghanaian democratic process contradicts the statement above and tells of a Rawlings’ “assertive promotion” of democracy instead of “more gentle support of democratization,” Harvard University’s Joseph Nye advises. The fact is Rawlings is the owner of the NDC and autocratically attempts to dictate topics within the NDC and stifle alternate views. This contradicts his statements at Oxford University, morally, traditionally and neo-liberally.
Still, in Rawlings, there is the image of democratic coercion and hypocritical rhetoric that undermines patient democratic policies and growth that President Atta-Mills and the opposition indirectly have consistently been telling Rawlings to rely on civil society, independent judiciary, a pluralist legislature, the rule of law and freedoms, and by extension, Ghanaian traditional values and institutions that will help hold up such practices to public debate. For, though, Ghanaian traditional values and institutions are great in the everyday lives of Ghanaians, as civilization they have regressed and decayed because of figures like Rawlings actions.
The fusion of Western democracy with Ghana’s socio-cultural environment, in the fuller sense of the thinking, will be “taking democracy to” Ghanaians, from within their own traditional values, and help correct many a development anomaly since 1957. If Ghana’s democracy is domesticated, it will undo what happened during Nkrumah’s regime, where governments will not see traditional rulers as enemies and have persistent clashes with them but see them as partners in progress, especially in the on-going decentralization exercises. This will make the Ghanaian democracy grasp the liberal ethos, not necessarily in the Western sense, though with a dose of that, but from within the Ghanaian culture, and help correct most of the illiberalities in the Ghanaian culture that have inhibited progress for long.
As Harvard University’s Joseph Nye, author of The Powers to Lead argues, this will make the Ghanaian democracy “more than the mere fact of elections.” Nye argues that “elections in the absence of constitutional and cultural constraints can produce violence” and meaningless democracy where Ghanaians are at the mercy of their scrawny “Big Men.” Part of the cultural constraints in the democratic process will be resolved if Ghanaian traditional values/institutions are fully integrated into the existing democratic structures, making the Ghanaian democracy simultaneously a worthy aspiration and a progress motor.
By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong
Expo Times Independent Sierra Leone
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