Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Towards Constitutional Government

Ghana: towards the political kingdom (3)

by Paa Kwesi Mensah

In the first two instalments of this analysis of Ghana's political, social and cultural past, the author meticulously examined the traditional base against the background of our political development. In this final instalment, he puts forward his suggestions for a lasting political institution for the country.
Single and no-party systems are not completely new to the people of Ghana. The First Republic was based on a single-party, the Convention People's Party. Although this system eliminated the confrontations which have plagued multi-party experiments in Ghana, it effectively disenfranchised the people through a single slate system and electoral rigging and therefore was never able to win the confidence of an already skeptical public.

The Union Government proposal of the late Acheampong was an attempt at no-party representation which although may have had a sound basis was introduced in a charged political environment which made it impossible for a sober analysis of the concept. The defence committee structure of the PNDC is yet another attempt to build a no-party structure.

Regardless of the shape in which it emerges, the major goal of a no-party and single-party structure is to provide a single forum for the development and implementation of public policy. Given the previous assertion that the behavioural requirements for the operation of competitive political organizations do not exist in Ghanaian society, the single-forum approach is suggested.

Recommendation 2

1. The CDR structure should be strengthened through a recruitment drive and should operate as the basic political units within the society. The primary function of a CDR should be to serve as a forum for grassroots political debate. Other roles which are currently being performed such as the spearheading of productivity drives and vigilante activities are useful functions but should not overshadow the political role.

2. Primary votes should be held by the CDR's in a constituency to elect a candidate from their ranks to be presented to the constituency as a whole in a general poll. It follows that membership of a CDR is a prerequisite for qualifying as a representative of the people.

3. The nominated candidate should become a representative only if he or she is ratified by an affirmative vote of a majority of the voters. If the nominee is not confirmed by the voters, a new candidate should be put forth.

4. Participation of all should be strengthened through compulsory voting and the right of a community to demand that its representative be recalled.

The above recommendations are intended to reinforce the consensus principle. By using a single structure which becomes the sole vehicle for winning representative political office, we avoid the strong partisanship inherent in multi-party systems. In a mature system the CDR network will have its ideological leanings heavily tied to the policy positions favoured by the national leadership and the ability of the latter, to sell its ideas to grassroots organizations.

It is important to note that the electoral system proposed above involves the ratification of a single CDR nominee by the electorate rather than a choice among competing candi- dates. This is intended to emphasize the consensus aspects of the choice rather than the competitiveness inherent in electoral systems with several candidates. For the purposes of this paper, we will call this system election-by-plebiscite.

The Executive Head

The consensus principle suggests that the election of the executive head of the country should be conducted in a manner that de-emphasizes the win- lose concept but still makes the choice a popular vote. In the absence of political parties, two main alternatives present themselves. For simplicity, we will call the chief executive the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister can be elected either directly by the people or elected through an electoral college made up of elected representatives. Direct election would require the nomination of prime ministerial candidates by a central committee of the CDRs.

Since the Prime Minister of a country is the most visible and most powerful person a direct vote would enable the people as a whole to have a say in who stays at the helm of power.

Recommendation 3

(a) The Prime Minister should be nominated by a central committee of the CDR's and presented to the electorate as a whole for ratification.

(b) An affirmative vote of a specified majority should be required for confirmation as Prime Minister. If the nominee fails to get the specified majority, a new candidate should be nominated by the central committee.

Under the proposed system, only one candidate is presented to the electorate at a time. În accordance with the election-by-plebiscite approach the Prime Minister is not "elected" but confirmed in office by the people. This approach again emphasizes the consensus aspect of the choice as opposed to the competitive aspect.

The Policy Machinery

The supremacy of the people should be declared by making the representative assembly the supreme authority in the land. However, the day-to-day affairs will inevitably be run by the Prime Minister who will need a machinery for developing policy which is to be presented to the elected representatives for passage into law. Such a machinery should provide a means for the basic grassroots units (CDR's) to have input into the formulation of national policy. At the same time, there should be a channel for the transmittal of national policy to grassroot organizations so that there is uniformity in the application of government policy.

Recommendation 4

(1) A central committee of CDR's should be set up to act as the highest policy making authority in the country;

(2) Membership of the central commit- tee should include Cabinet Ministers (or Secretaries of State) as well as representatives elected by regional congresses of CDR's;

(3) The Prime Minister of the country, in addition to chairing the Cabinet, should also be the Chairman of the central committee.

The recommendations are intended to reinforce the consensus principle. By using a single structure which becomes the sole vehicle for winning representative political office, we avoid the strong partisanship inherent in multi-party systems.

The Asantehene: Would traditional rulers strengthen loyalty of the people and legitimacy?

This approach sees the Cabinet as a subcommittee of the Central Committee with the responsibility for the day- to-day running of the country. Annual policy congresses of CDR's held at the regional level should provide a mechanism for communicating grass- roots concerns to the central committee translation into national policy. In a mature system, major legislative proposals being presented to the National Assembly will first clear cabinet and the central committee before being submitted to the National Assembly.

Local Government

The dual culture which has been described above requires government to be fully decentralized to ensure that the manner of running community affairs is fully consistent with the local traditions of each community. In general, this would call for a strengthening of the role of traditional rulers in recognition of the loyalty which they already command in their communities. This would also be in accord with the objective of tapping the natural legitimacy of the institution of chieftaincy for modern governmental institutions.

In trying to design a role for traditional rulers, two challenges present themselves. First, it is essential that the impartiality of the chief in dealing with his subjects be upheld since it is one of the pillars of traditional legitimacy.

Second, urbanization and the penetration of modern notions of representative government have advanced to a point where it would be unrealistic to expect widespread support in the Westernized urban centres for structure that gives strong powers to chiefs. These challenges suggest that chiefs should play a symbolic but meaningful role in local government.

Recommendation 5

1. Local government units should be made up of elected representatives nominated by local CDR's and con- firmed individually by voters in a majority affirmative vote;

2. Local government units at the village, area and town council levels should be chaired by the "Odikro" or chief or his representatives;

3. The chairman of the council should be a non-voting member but should be given the authority to cast a tie- breaking vote;

4. Provision should be made for communities in which there are no recognized chiefs to opt out of the system and elect a chairman from among the elected council members.

The first recommendation is consistent with the election-by- plebiscite approach which has been recommended for the election of members of the National Assembly and the executive head. The remaining recommendations are intended to create a presence for chiefs in a representative local government system.

The traditional presence in local government will serve to legitimize the system since as previously suggested chieftaincy in non-urban communities usually commands a loyalty which far exceeds that of modern governmental institutions. Loyalty and respect for the chief should prove beneficial in matters such as the collection of local levies and in obtaining voluntary labour for local projects.

The process

Traditionally, political change in Ghana has been comprehensive rather than incremental. Change has been typically accomplished through the wholesale adoption of a new constitution with a complete paraphernalia of institutions as was the case in 1960 (The Republican Constitution), 1969 (The 2nd Republican Constitution) and 1979 (The 3rd Republican Constitution). This approach to institutionalization has created the illusion that institutions can be created simply by adopting a constitution - another reflection of structuralist thinking.

Such an array of new institutions creates confusion in the minds of the people and leads to an unnecessarily long period of chaos as the country tries to come to grips with the workings of the institutions created by the constitution. The long learning period inevitably leads to ineffective government and provides the military with a rationale for seizing power.

An alternative would be an incremental approach whereby institutions are adopted on a piecemeal basis using a carefully thought out plan. This approach has the advantage of giving the public enough time to assimilate institutions one at a time. Secondly, it is a less costly process because it gives the government of the day some flexibility in timing the adoption of new institutions to suit the country's financial ability to maintain them.

It is ironic that whereas governments in Ghana have spent millions of cedis on economic planning aimed at producing development plans, no such need has been identified for political development. To some extent, this lamentable state of affairs has been caused by a false belief in economic success as the panacea for political underdevelopment.

It is ironic that whereas governments in Ghana have spent millions of cedis on economic planning aimed at producing development plans, no such need has been identified for political development. To some extent, this lamentable state of affairs has been caused by a false belief in economic success as the panacea for political underdevelopment. If, as intimated earlier, the most important element in economic development is a sound political system, then political development planning should be accorded a very high priority and institutionalized as part of the development planning effort.

A political development plan would set the short-, medium- and long-term objectives of political development. Issues such as the desired rate of participation in basic political units, the need for new institutions and modifications to existing structures necessitated by social and economic change could be addressed within the political development plan.

For example as society gains experience with the election by plebiscite approach involving single candidate ratification, increased level of political participation might indicate that the process could be better served by having the voters choose among two nominees. Only a systematic and ongoing evaluation of the political process would identify such a need at the right time.

Recommendation 6 1.

A political development planinvolving the phased adoption of new institutions should be adopted. A workable sequence might be the election of a legislative assembly followed by the election of the Prime Minister, the election of the ceremonial head of state and the reform of local government. In lieu of the wholesale adoption of a constitution, the elected assembly could either pass a series of amendments to a basic document such as PNDC Law 42 or initiate a new Ghana Constitution Act which would be amended as the new institutions are adopted. A special amendment formula could be enshrined in the basic law to ensure that amendments are carefully thought out.

2. A National Political Research Council (NPRC) should be established and given the mandate to supervise an ongoing evaluation of the political process and to conduct research relevant to the operation of political institutions both at the national and local level.

3. The NPRC should issue a public report periodically (perhaps every two or three years) which should contain an evaluation of the state of the political process and recommendations for the future. These recommendations together with feedback from the public could be used as input for an update of the strategy for political development.

4. A cabinet minister for political development should be appointed to oversee the political development process.

The incremental approach to political institutionalization is consistent with the notion that institutions are behavioural in nature and, therefore, should be adopted only after they have been carefully evaluated to ensure their congruence with existing modes of behaviour. It is also consistent with the moderation principle because it implies all acceptance of peaceful change a opposed to radical political change.

The economic question

The conflicts which have led to the breakdown of the political process in the past are rooted as much in economics as they are in the socio- cultural system. Conflict in Ghanaian society has been caused not only by a polarization in political direction but also by disagreement within the dominant elite of Ghana on what the relations of production will be.

Contrasting views have prevailed at various times on fundamental issues such as the role of the state versus the role of private capital, and the role of foreign capital. In the immediate post- independence period, antagonism to colonialism led to a rejection of capitalism which was seen to be at the root of all colonial exploitation.

The inability of the Nkrumah regime to fully socialize the means of production meant that the economic structure which was taken over from Nkrumah was a mixed bag of peasant production, state enterprises and a private sector which operated mainly as an intermediary in domestic and external trade. No serious effort has been made to define the relations of production since Ghana officially abandoned the socialist oriented Seven Year Development Plan.

The importance of an economic framework to the political process arises from the fact that it defines the boundaries of conflict and, therefore, limits strain on the institutions of government. In the West, conservatives, liberals and social democrats all accept the dominance of private enterprise as the engine of economic growth. Differences are, therefore, largely limited to how the national output will be distributed.

Similarly, centrally planned socialist economics have made an unequivocal commitment to the socialization of the means of production. In all cases, the boundaries of political conflict have been clearly delineated. In contrast, the operation of Ghana's economy has been based on shifting positions on very fundamental questions. For example, even though the capitalist mode of production requires guarantees of private property rights within the political system, no such guarantees have been offered in the past. The lack of a strong tradition of private ownership of the means of production means that if the society opts for a capitalist mode of production, these basic guarantees must be given through the political process.

Yet, strong guarantees for the private accumulation of wealth could be construed as exploitation of the working class and peasants. Inevitably, the result of any perceived inequities in society would be clashes, conflict and revolt which could lead to the breakdown of the polity. Thus, the stability of the polity requires a clarification of the economic framework.

The basic economic question is: what will the mode of production be? Despite all attempts to modernize the economy of Ghana, the dominant mode of production continues to be the peasant mode which because of the simplicity of its technology, the smallness of production units and dependence on family labour has been unable to generate the increases in output required to meet the needs of a growing population.

The modern sector of the economy has been even less effective as an engine of growth because it is dominated by intermediary capitalists and bureaucratically run state enterprises with weak linkages to the peasant economy. The challenge then is to develop a framework to replace the current mode of production which will complement the smooth operation of the political system.

Specifically, it is important to define relations of production which will command widespread support among the people of Ghana, thereby minimizing political conflict based on conflicting economic philosophies. A widely accepted national economic framework is so important to the political process that the first task of an elected National Assembly should be a resolution of the economic question.

Recommendation 7

1. A National Economic Charter should be adopted and made an integral part of the fundamental law of the land. The Charter should as a minimum spell out the following:

i) the role of the state

ii) the role of private enterprise

iii) the role of international capital

iv) the role of organized labour

v) a national code on property rights including a land tenure system

2. The adoption of the Charter should be preceded by widespread national hearings involving all sectors of society. Since the economic charter will signify the aspirations of society as a whole, it is essential that consultation not be limited to major players of the economy such as farmers, trade unions and busines organizations but extended to include Ghanaians from all walks of life.

3. As a symbolic reminder of the importance of the National Economic Charter, a referendum should be held to signify the acceptance of the Charter by Ghanaians.


The central point of the above discussion is that political structures will acquire legitimacy and become durable only if their mode of operation is congruent with the socio-cultural norms of a society. In this paper an attempt has been made to use some identifiable norms of Ghanaian society as a basis for a number of institutional prescriptions.

The paper is a plea for a more systematic approach to the search for political institutions in Ghana and reflects the notion that African social scientists should move beyond the current obsession with providing rationalizations of the existing state of affairs and take a policy perspective so that they can offer prescriptions based on the findings of social research.

Similarly, constitutional experts should adopt a sociological perspective so that the development of political institutions is no longer seen merely as an exercise in erecting constitutional guarantees such as separation of powers and protection of rights. To avoid clouding the main issues, no attempt has been made to prescribe a comprehensive set of political arrangements.

Rather, the emphasis has been on developing an approach which could be used to develop logical institutional forms. Thus, important issues such as the role of military and the nature of the judiciary have not been addressed. However, appropriate modifications could be made to all existing institutions within the framework of traditional legitimacy, consensus and moderation.

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