REJOINDER: Why democracy in Ghana is not under threat

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Is there a rising threat to constitutionalism in Ghana? On 5 June 2019 Kafui Tsekpo and Michael Abbey argued in a piece that DiA published that there is a rising threat. Today, we present to you a rejoinder by Michael Gyekye, who provides evidence of the strengthening of Ghana’s democracy under President Akufo-Addo.

As a keen observer of democratic developments in Ghana, I am compelled to respond to a recent piece on the rising threat to constitutionalism in Ghana. The piece was published on DiA on 5 June 2019. It caricatured the incumbent Ghanaian government, led by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, as breeding threats to constitutionalism and democracy in the country.

Prior to addressing the specific allegations of the piece, it’s crucial to highlight some ground-breaking strides the incumbent government has made to enhance governance and democracy in Ghana within the barely two-and-a-half-year it has been in power.

The Akufo-Addo-led government has proposed constitutional amendments to further democratise local governance in Ghana. The amendments will make it possible for heads of Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) to be elected by citizens within their districts in competitive multiparty elections. Should a referendum on the proposals scheduled for 10 December 2019 return a positive result as is widely expected, the current practice of local government executives being appointed by the President with the negligible involvement of members of the assemblies will be scrapped. The new local governance regime would mark a giant democratic advancement for the country, with a massive potential for improved local governance and local-level democratic accountability.

To combat corruption, which undermines democratic governance, the Akufo-Addo administration has honoured its popular campaign pledge to create the Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP). The office has significant autonomy from the government-aligned Attorney-General, and is charged with independently conducting investigations on allegations of corruption, and prosecuting suspected offenders. The OSP complements anti-corruption agencies like the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) and the Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO) – and it reinforces Ghana’s institutional battalion for the fight against corruption. The appointment by the President of renowned anti-corruption crusader, Martin Amidu, who is a former Attorney-General and one-time Vice Presidential candidate for the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), as the inaugural Special Prosecutor, capped this remarkable democratic stride to the widespread admiration of Ghanaians.

Poised to address rising concerns of the militarisation of political activities through the formation of party militias by the opposition NDC and ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP), and especially, the deployment of such thugs to foment trouble during elections, the Akufo-Addo government has tabled a bill to outlaw all such groups of political vagabonds. In a towering demonstration of the administration’s commitment to promptly rid Ghanaian politics of such crude and brazen political hooliganism, the bill was sent to the Parliament under a certificate of urgency, which effectively expedites its enactment into law.

Due to space constraints, let me now swivel to the specific allegations of the protagonist article.

Electoral Commission (EC) Matters

The reconstituted Electoral Commission, led by the popularly-respected lawyer and democratic governance stalwart, Jean Mensah, whose professional exploits in her previous role as the Executive Director of the private think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) Ghana, led to major governance and legislation reforms in the country. In her new position she is taking the Electoral Commission through a dazzling reinvention which may understandably be imperceptible to recalcitrant sceptics.

Barely a year in office, the Jean Mensah-led EC has successfully organised a referendum for the creation of six new administrative regions in the country. It has also set up a taskforce comprising of esteemed persons to develop modalities for the participation of Ghanaians abroad in the country’s general elections scheduled for 2020. Perhaps beyond those strides has been the Commission’s mold-breaking move to publish the financial records of political parties as public information. Former Ghanaian President and founder of the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), Jerry John Rawlings, has recently lauded the new Electoral Commissioner for her integrity and the impressive reforms.

The afore-mentioned efforts to transform EC reflect its sharp turnaround from the bureaucratic battlefield the Commission had morphed into, courtesy of the internal acrimony and chaotic administration that marked the tenure of its dismissed immediate-past Chair, Charlotte Osei.

The Charlotte Osei-led EC embroiled the Commission in needless scathing legal battles for among others, its obstinate refusal to clear the Voters’ Register of individuals who had registered with unapproved documents, and its  disqualification of presidential nominees for the 2016 elections, on grounds of frivolous errors in registration formalities. It even failed to gazette the results of the 2016 presidential elections after more than a year! Moreso, it has recently emerged that the Charlotte Osei-led EC was allegedly involved in voter data privacy breaches!

The current EC’s recent limited voter registration exercise, which saw some alterations in the venues for the registrations, has been duly explained as occasioned by logistical constraints, which is itself a legacy of the traumatic administrative regime bequeathed by the previous EC administration, and from which the reconstituted EC is presently recovering.

Indeed, it is puzzling that an EC that is eager to extend the franchise to Ghanaians abroad, would be accused of scheming to disenfranchise some people at home.

National Identification (ID) Cards

The country is currently conducting a registration exercise to produce secure biometric identification cards for citizens. To rid the new database of aliens, Ghanaian citizens are required to present birth certificates or passports as proof of citizenship. In the absence of such proof, one may have other citizens vouch for their own Ghanaian citizenship. In a country with a rapidly growing smart phone penetration rate, and with residential facilities quite commonly shared by several nuclear families therefore citizens shouldn’t find it too difficult to prove their identity and  register for their national ID cards.

Indeed, it would not be unreasonable for the new ID cards to form the basis of the compilation of a new national Voters’ Register as speculated.  Claims of an exclusionary tendency of the citizenship verification requirements for the ongoing registration, also strain credulity.

In conclusion, as evidenced by the recent Ibrahim Index on African Governance and Freedom House indices, Ghana remains on a steady path to deepening democratic governance and constitutionalism. Any contrary picture of the country’s democracy (and constitutionalism) could only be an ingenious fabrication of adroitly mischievous imaginations.

Michael Gyekye is a Policy and Advocacy Committee Member of the Commonwealth Youth Human Rights and Democracy Network  (CYHRDN) and an Associate Fellow of the Royal Commonwealth Society, UK.


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