Does Ghana’s democracy lack moral integrity?

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Everyone agrees that religion has a prominent social and political role in Ghana. Constitutionally, no political parties are allowed which base themselves on religious or ethnic concerns. As the 2024 presidential and parliamentary elections draw closer, increased attention is being paid to the role of religion in Ghana’s democracy.

Ghana’s democracy has significant flaws. The US non-governmental organisation, Freedom House, identifies Ghana’s democratic weaknesses as “discrimination against women and LGBT+ people. … There are some weaknesses in judicial independence and the rule of law, corruption and public service delivery present challenges to government performance, political violence as well as illegal mining causing destruction to water bodies is a growing concern’”

Many Ghanaians would share Freedom House’s relatively pessimistic view of the quality of democracy. For some, what is conspicuously lacking is consistently conscientious leadership to deliver a national progressive moral vision and the country’s development aspirations. Many regard Ghana’s current leadership as conspicuous by what it lacks: patriotic loyalty, faithfulness, selfless service, integrity, fearless and honesty.

Thirty years after the reintroduction of democracy, how far has Ghana come politically? For many Ghanaians state-level corruption is a key issue, significantly undermining Ghana’s democratic gains. Governmental corruption makes democracy weaker, increasing its unrepresentativeness and a lack of transparency. The ongoing saga of the former Minister of Sanitation and Water Resources, Cecilia Dapaah, has been headline news for weeks. Charges of corruption are a prominent component of the Dapaah story.

Ghana’s democracy suffers from a perceived lack of moral integrity at the highest levels. Many among those in power exploit their position for illicit or illegal personal gain. If Ghana’s democratic institutions were truly representative, accountable and transparent then the quality of democracy would improve. Ruinous corruption would be reduced as people in positions of power would be less tempted to transgress as the fear of being found out would grow. Less corruption at the state-level should mean more financial resources devoted to what most Ghanaians want: better health care, improved education for their children, increased protection from floods, renovation of the country’s transport infrastructure, including roads and the ailing railway network, and so on.

The Church of Pentecost’s (CoP) 26-27 July National Development Conference, held at the church’s Convention Centre at Gomoa Fetteh, Central Region, focused centrally on the issues of morality and integrity. Speaker after speaker stressed that Ghana was in a state of serious moral decline. A communique issued at the end of the conference stated that: “The moral character of the nation has dipped, as evidenced in the increasingly inefficient leadership at all levels (such as family, Chieftaincy, religious, political etc.), degradation of the environment, lack of integrity, disrespect in public discourse, corruption, lack of patriotism and volunteerism in Ghana.”The communique stated the remedy that the conference endorsed: creation of a National Moral and Integrity Council (NMIC), with the status of the Peace Council, to improve Ghanaians’ morals and integrity. The NIMC would aim to “begin a process of restoration of generations of decay and moral decadence that Ghana has experienced over the years.”

Prof. Emmanuel K. Asante, former Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church Ghana and past Chairman of the National Peace Council, quoted the late Rev. Prof. Joshua Kudadjie in a recent article: “In private as in public life there is irresponsibility, dishonesty, corruption, subterfuge, people of all walks of life and status engage in currency and drug trafficking, abuse of office, cheating, fraud, misappropriation, embezzlement, nepotism.”

Prof. Asante may well be voicing the opinion of millions of Ghanaians when he opines that “the problem of the general moral decadence of our society cannot be considered in isolation from the moral state of the wider society. The problem is the problem of inadequate moral socialization, which in itself points to parental failure, breakdown of the family unit, and the lack of moral rectitude in the wider society.”

I communicated over the weekend of 5-6 August with a dozen or so Ghanaian friends, some religious people, and some not. I wanted to find out their views on the concept of the NIMC and whether they believe it could fix Ghana’s morality and integrity issues. Responses ranged from, on the one hand, cynicism that such a council was needed or would be established, to a belief, on the other hand, that the NIMC was a good idea and should be implemented by the government. Many noted a thorny issue in relation to the mooted NIMC: Whose morals are appropriate to judge elite and public morality and integrity and what standards would be used to arrive at appropriate ways to deal with the issue?

Several respondents were in addition uncomfortable that the CoP proposal of the NIMC indicated increasing church involvement in politics and an undermining of Ghana’s constitutionally secular status. Allegedly close links between the Church of Pentecost and some among the NPP elite was seen as a way for the latter to increase the party’s vote share among CoP followers. In late June, two days before the controversial by-election in Assin North, President Akufo-Addo donated 150,000 cedis to the local CoP branch in recognition of their work during the Covid-19 epidemic. Was this an electoral bribe? In the event, the NDC candidate held the seat for the party, thus maintaining the position of a hung parliament.

Aside from the important issue of individual morality and integrity, there are wider issues to address when assessing how to fix Ghana’s democracy. Freedom House’s concerns were noted earlier. The V-Dem Institute, a Sweden-based independent research organisation founded in 2014 which studies the qualities of government, recently downgraded Ghana’s democratic status to electoral democracy. V-Dem categorised Ghana as a liberal democracy between 2003-2014 and 2017-2020. In 2021, V-Dem categorised Ghana as an electoral democracy, reflecting a qualitative decline in Ghana’s democracy. In 2022, V-Dem categorised Ghana as an ‘autocratizer’, indicating significant democratic decline.

There is much agreement by both foreign observers and Ghanaians that Ghana’s democracy is weakening. Views differ how to fix the problem. Foreign observers, such as Freedom House and V-Dem, contend that to improve democracy in Ghana, it is vital to rejuvenate and refocus relevant institutions, such as parliament, the presidency and the judiciary. Many Ghanaians believe that a state-created moral and integrity council would not have the capacity and popular support to fix democracy in Ghana and that institutional reform is necessary.   

Jeffrey Haynes (email) is Emeritus Professor of Politics at London Metropolitan University, and the author of Revolution and Democracy in Ghana: The Politics of Jerry Rawlings. 

This article first appeared at The Herald. Click here to read it there.

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