When I indicated my intention to accept the invitation of the NCCE to deliver this year’s Annual Democracy Lecture, two cautions were raised by my advisers: First that some may find it incongruous for a monarch who does not derive his authority from the ballot box, to be speaking about the values of democracy; secondly that the country is in such a dangerous political minefield that one risks getting blown apart by the incendiary force of combined misinformation, misrepresentation and misconception.
For me though, those cautions only helped to underscore the need to undertake this task, to bring our influence to bear in order to help the nation look itself in the mirror, confront its demons and hopefully begin to ponder on a pathway out of the morass afflicting our body politic today. So let me begin by reassuring any doubters that there is nothing incongruous about a monarch advancing the course of democracy. Indeed, most of the great democracies on the planet are built on the foundations of enlightened monarchies which provide them with their spirit of unity and national pride. Our former colonial power, Great Britain, may be our finest example but no less shining are the Kingdoms of The Netherlands, of Norway, Sweden, Spain and many more. Is there any country more democratic than these great states and yet all them are headed by monarchs whose history and tradition span several centuries.
We are proud members of the Commonwealth which brings together more than a quarter of the world’s population across all six continents. The abiding values of the Commonwealth are democracy, good governance, and the rule of law. It is difficult to think of any institution that has done more to advance the values of democracy than the Commonwealth and yet if the truth be told, the Commonwealth has been held together and sustained as a force for good by the overriding allegiance to and respect for the uniting influence of the British monarch.
Coming back home, the framers of our constitution since independence have always been careful not to yield to the notion that universal adult suffrage is the sole guarantor of democracy. Instead, they have always fashioned a constitution which fuses our traditional values into the new democratic concepts and ensures that the new institutions they create are anchored on the foundations of our time and tested traditions. Thus the institution of chieftaincy is protected under our constitution and wisely kept out of the arena of partisan politics so our chiefs can counsel, admonish and encourage our people and their elected leaders.
As I have always argued, and the evidence is plain to see, the mayhem suffered by many African countries owes a great deal to the collapse of the traditional values and institutions in those societies. Wherever those values and institutions are allowed an active role, they have added that extra glue that helps to keep the nation bonded together. That, happily, is the case in Ghana and that is why whenever I have felt called upon to exercise our influence in resolving national conflicts I have been only too eager to oblige so our people can have hope that no matter the storms they will never be left alone.
So I address you today as a monarch who believes in the values of democracy and believes also that it is only by the united effort of all our people that we can advance to great heights as a nation. The theme chosen by the NCCE for this year is “Advancing Together”. I am sure you will find the theme most appropriate but I dare say that nobody is going to give a moment’s notice to any exhortations or pontifications about advancing together in the highly polarized and dangerously polluted climate of today unless we can shake ourselves into confronting the question: how did we get into this mess and how do we dig ourselves out of it?
Fifty-six years ago, we became the first African country to break the chains of colonialism. Today, listening to some of our political discourse, you would be forgiven if you thought we were in a time-warp, still camped at the Old Polo Ground singing the freedom hymns of that midnight hour in March 1957. It seems some of us have not recovered from the morning after the banquet.
But the euphoria of freedom only lasted less than a decade before we were plunged into a long period of military coups and it required another painful struggle before we crawled back to the path of democratic governance. Since the return to constitutional rule, we have earned the deserved plaudits of the world community for our endeavor in consolidating democracy and good governance. In the process, we have also picked up some demons that now threaten to destroy the very basis of our national cohesion. I speak of the compulsive and obsessive politicization of our society which now virtually compels us to look at every issue from the narrow and darkened prism of party politics. We have allowed politics to so dominate our lives and influence our thoughts that nothing else seems to matter to us but the good of the party we support. Let me give you just one example of how perception of the national good has been perverted in this country.
Early this year, His Holiness Pope Benedict resigned as head of the Catholic Church. Immediately it became known that an African was among the front-runners to succeed him as the Pope. That African was none other than our own son, His Eminence Cardinal Peter Appiah Turkson. Can you imagine what it would have meant for this country for our own native from Oguaa to lead the entire flock of Christendom as the successor to St. Peter the Apostle? I expected this awesome prospect to capture the national mood and send us all into a period of prayer and fasting for our distinguished son to be granted the grace and favour of Our Lord. Yet what did I see?
In all of Latin America, not only Catholics but all Christians went into prayer and vigil, praying to God to anoint one of their own to take on the Holy mantle. In Ghana, I invite you to revert to the media during those weeks to find what news dominated the airwaves. Here was the story that should have rallied all Ghanaians together, but no, Cardinal Turkson is not a politician, his position is not important to the NDC or NPP so the prospect of him becoming a Pope was treated in the media almost as a non-event. Of the thousands of media men and women who converged on Rome for the elections, not one was from Ghana. That is as perverse as our sense of values has become. And what else can we blame but our compulsive obsession with politics, politics and nothing but politics.
You see, when the air waves were opened up to allow for multi fm radio stations, we all felt pride in the expansion of the frontiers of freedom. But don’t we now wonder what this has truly meant?. If we are honest, we must be feeling as though we are all encapsulated in a hot air balloon, adrift on the horizon, our senses numbed, our nerves rattled and our emotions outraged by a ceaseless cacophony of noxious party propaganda. The air we breathe is polluted with party propaganda. There is no issue that is not reduced to the level of party propaganda.
Mr. Chairman, you recall our experience with the One Party state when it was proclaimed that the Party is supreme. We thought we had closed that chapter and yet if we need another slogan for what we have today, it can only be: The Party is our Life. Such is the stranglehold the Party has on our lives we seem to have no room for sober independent thinking and no scope for the enquiring mind and intellectual discernment. In effect, we have tossed true scholarship and sound intellectual discourse to the bin basket. We have pushed Ghana into the age of the howlers, typified by the emergence of a new profession: the professional serial caller whose mantle appears to be to torment our ears with venom on behalf of their party masters. They are foisting on the nation a new culture—a culture of insult and abuse in the name of free speech and accountability.
The leaders we choose to manage our affairs, in or out of government, are daily at the mercy of this new breed of howlers and their culture of insult and abuse. I believe this cannot be right and these leaders at all levels and from sides of the political divide deserve to be protected from the abusers. But then I wonder who the abusers are and who is funding the serial callers?
You see, I recall the well-known saying of one of the country’s most remarkable politicians of the past, the late Krobo Edusei. “When a joker jokes a joker, God laughs” Sometimes, it is tempting to think God must be having a good laugh at the plight of politicians who are victims of such abuse because the truth is both the victim and the abuser are from the same stock. It is the same people, the same politicians, who are funding and sustaining the new breed of serial callers. It is the same politicians who, whether they call themselves communicators or propagandists, are unleashing the blatant lies and malicious gossip on each other. So what else can God do but laugh watching the perpetrator jump in glee while the victim frets with anxiety. Sadly, we can’t afford the luxury of simply laughing at their woes.
For what is happening is dangerous for our future. Freedom of speech has never meant freedom to insult or defame without just cause. In the most liberal environment every citizen is entitled to the protection of his honor and integrity and the citizen does not lose that right because he offers to serve his nation. Yes, we must hold them accountable but accountable for what they do, not for what others concoct about them.
This is another symptom of the plague we are trying to diagonise. In the 20 years since the restoration of multi-party democracy, the one unchanging feature of national politics has been scandal. Every government has been affected by scandal, some true and possibly well-deserved but others blatantly and maliciously contrived. They have all been taken so seriously as to affect how people vote in national elections. Every party in opposition benefits from scandal-mongering only to find themselves at the receiving end when the scale of electoral fortunes change. It will be instructive to understand why.
Every government we have had has begun its life by trying to demonise its predecessor. It is the way they seek to consolidate their hold on power. What they do not realize is this: if you wean a people on a diet of scandal, you should not be surprised if they grow up with no appetite for good news. And that again is the burden every government of Ghana now faces.
Governments today find that good news does not travel. In established democracies, electoral fortunes are determined by the state of the economy, the cost of living, the number of people in work etc. By contrast, if the truth be told, in Ghana the 1000 jobs you create, the roads you build, the myriad of infrastructural projects you inaugurate, none of them will make half the impact that the petty indiscretion of a petty party official will make on the minds of voters.
The combination of scandal and the heat generated by ceaseless party propaganda has left us with no apetite to take in the good news of national achievements, except of course if it is the Black Stars. Our society is so polarized that good is bad if you belong to one party and bad is good if it’s the other way round. No sober-minded Ghana can afford not to be concerned.
Recently, a respected medical doctor came to me, seemingly at his wits end. “My King now I know we are in real trouble”. I asked what new calamity had befallen us and he looked up the ceiling, shook his head and responded sorrowfully : “You see Sir, it looks as if we have to ask our Blood Bank to screen our blood not just for the usual health hazards, but for the political leanings of the donors” I was aghast how such horrendous idea could ever be conceived until he explained: “the way things are going and the way these guys are talking on the radio, Ghanaians will soon believe that the blood of an NDC man is incompatible with the blood of an NPP and if a doctor makes the mistake of treating an NDC patient with the blood of an NPP donor he may find himself in deep trouble for negligence.”
Of course he meant it as a joke, but it nonetheless underscores the point that most Ghanaians are seeing the danger signals and wondering how much farther we should allow ourselves to drift. So I bring to the table today, a simple message in three words made famous at Railway crossings everywhere: STOP. LOOK. LISTEN.
We need to Stop for a Moment, Look critically at ourselves and what we have been up to, Listen critically to ourselves, in particular listen to what we encourage our friends and supporters to say about our colleagues and our perceived political opponents and then we can ask ourselves: is this really what we want and where will it all lead us to? For those of us who have never seen the railway crossings, let us turn to the techno jargon of today and press the PAUSE button, rewind and play back in slowmo. Watch what we have been doing and saying about each other and answer whether this is the way we want to bring up our children.
What I have said so far might lead one to think that I consider our nation doomed, and in particular that I consider the existence of political parties inimical to the national good or that I see the free radio and tv as a hindrance. Let me hasten to correct any such impression. Far from that, I hold that God has given us a country with all the potential for greatness and I hold further we have done well to give ourselves, the best constitution we can hope for, created the right institutions which, working together, should enable us build a strong, happy nation. I also firmly believe that political parties are vital, indeed indispensable in any democratic system of governance. Finally, the fm stations are vital for the preservation of democracy and the spread of enlightenment.
The problem is in our propensity, wittingly or unwittingly, to undermine the edifice we have created for ourselves, and to pervert the purpose for which our political parties are created and our radio stations, as well as the media in general exist.
U.S. President Barrack Obama, reminded us of the need to allow our institutions to function. That means letting them work without undue political inteference , insulating them from all forms of political influence. We all appear to sign up to that. And yet the tradition we have established in this country is for every incoming President to chop off the heads of the entire leadership of the Armed Forces, the Police Service, all the vital agencies and institutions of state, including heads of commercial state enterprises and appoint his own. How do we square this with the need to insulate institutions from politics and allow them to offer professional service unencumbered by political considerations?
As far as I am aware, just as there can be no NDC blood Group and NPP blood group so there is no NDC system for catching a thief, and no NPP system for treating malaria. So why should it matter who appointed the person in charge of the agency set up to protect us from thieves or to run our health service as long as the person is offering an honest professional service? And how can we suppose that the head of the Ghana Education Service will feel able to provide strict professional service when he or she knows that any change in political leadership brings an end to his or her career.
In today’s environment, public officers are right to feel tainted by the brush of party politics and I see the danger that many high quality professionals may be disinclined to serve their nation because they would not want, on principled grounds ,to be unjustly tagged as party hacks.
This, I suggest, should be the starting point as we search for a way out of our troubled environment. Let us remove the sword of Damocles hanging over the necks of our state institutions and set them free to offer professional service without regard to who occupies the Flagstaff House.
Along with the de-politisation of state institutions, we need an environment in which business can grow and flourish without undue political pressure. Granted that political patronage is a fact of life in all democracies, we need to be careful not to allow it to assume the corrupt proportions that can destroy the fabric of our economy. It is one of the endearing features of our politics today that all our parties profess a common belief in the free market and in the creation of a conducive environment for the entrepreneurial and creative energies of the people to flourish. To give meaning to this, we must do away with any system requiring the membership card of any party as a condition for the award of contracts.
There are critical issues facing the economy requiring tough leadership on the one hand and national consensus on the other. Does anybody remember the times when so-called essential commodities and the devaluation of the currency led almost automatically to the overthrow of the government?. Tough leadership by President Rawlings enabled Ghana to slay the monster and to place us on the path to rational economic decision-making. President Kuffuor also took the tough courageous decision to embrace the HIPIC initiative which set the country on the road to economic recovery.
One does not have to be an economic genius to recognize that there are tough challenges still facing our economy. Considering the massive gap in our infrastructural needs and the blinding challenges in education and healthcare delivery, how can we justify spending nearly 70 per cent of national revenue on salaries and wages alone? And yet we know that our doctors and pharmacists deserve to be well remunerated to be able to take care of our health. But surely, something has to give. The question is how?. We all heaved a sigh of relief when our doctors listened to our pleas and returned to work. But the fundamental problem remains and we haven’t seen an end to the intermittent strikes that endanger our lives. Ordinarily, we should look to our legislature to be engaged with these critical national issues but in this polarized environment it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to ask our Parliament to tackle such an issue on a bipartisan basis. Yet I suggest we cannot see a lasting solution without some national consensus on the fundamental issues. And it is not the only issue requiring national consensus. How for example do we justify the devastation being visited on our environment by so-called small-scale mining? Who is checking the cost and benefits to the nation from these vampire mines? And what do we do as a nation about the continuing practice of incoming governments abandoning projects begun by their predecessors on which billions of hard-earned resources have already been expended. When you think of the waste of resources and the extra costs when we decide to re-start the projects, I will argue that a case exists for legislation to forbid incoming governments from halting projects on which national resources have already been spent.
Mr. Chairman, it is tempting to pretend that a government has to carry all the burden of a nation. Yes, the politicians promise us a lot when they seek our votes so one may feel justified to sit back and expect them to deliver on their promises. But democracy does not work this way. Governments do not build nations. People do. Workers, farmers, doctors, engineers, scientists, bankers—it is people, from menial laborers to professionals, whose sweat, ideas, creativity and taxes, build nations. So when a worker fails to give his employer full value for his pay, the nation fails. When an engineer fails to deliver an efficient product, the nation fails. When a doctor walks away from his clinic the nation fails. And when we fail to honor our obligations to the state, the nation fails. So we are all in it together, we swim or sink together and for every act of failure we pin on governments, we must be courageous enough to accept our individual failings too.
I was asked recently that at a time when this country had no professional planners and virtually no engineers, our cities were well laid out, providing harmony between man and nature. Today, having spent millions of dollars to train thousands of town planners and engineers, our cities are a jumbled mess, engulfed with filth, and in many parts a veritable danger to healthy living. If our cities are so bad, what can we say for our small towns and villages?
Mr. Chairman and fellow countrymen, while others are engaged with Millennium Challenge Goals we seem to set ourselves Mosquito Breeding Goals, raising the risk of malarial infection to new heights in a country lauded at one time as a model. Tell me, please tell me, what it feels like for your Ghana, my Ghana, our Ghana to be in this state.
Even the church cannot escape. Sometimes, when you listen to some of our new crop of pastors and prophets, you wonder whether it is the Holy Ghost that is overpowering the citadels of Satan or Satan who is invading the House of God. Whatever it may be, I am sure somebody up there must be striving to protect the souls of vulnerable Ghanaians who are falling prey to those promising instant visas to the Pearly City. The danger of perverting the Word of God is all too real and it is not making the lives of Ghanaians any better.
So let each one of us pause and reflect on our failings and ponder what we can do better. We must accept that nation building begins with the individual, and it is the sum total of his effort, his hard work, his creativity, his concern for each other, and his readiness to discharge his social responsibilities that will determine whether our nation will be great and strong.
As I ask each one of us to reflect, so I should appeal to the media to think again. You hold in your hands the most potent weapon to make or destroy. The press was the instrument that galvanized the nation to win the struggle for independence. It has been a powerful force in the political transformation of Ghana. I ask that we do not sully this great history by mortgaging the honor of the profession for a mess of pottage. Please let the media lift itself out of mediocrity and become a beacon of light, of enlightenment and of hope for our people. I appeal to the electronic media in particular to release the nation from the hot air balloon and save us from the din of party propaganda. We should not remain captives to a cabal of party communicators and politically-charged commentators and their serial callers to continue ramming their propaganda down our ears. Give us a new format that brings enlightenment from sober independent minds, untainted by party propaganda and release the party propagandists to refocus on what political parties should really be doing in a democracy—thinking and developing ideas and strategies for their parties to direct the nation to greatness.
Of course I know it will be naïve to conceive of a democracy in which politics is all tame and without any tension or conflict. I do not ignore for one moment that politics is a tough, combative endeavor and multi-party democracy evokes tension and conflict. The essence of democracy is the recognition that all people will never think alike nor agree on any single issue. Political parties exist therefore for people who think alike to join together to pursue their beliefs. People will disagree passionately and inevitably political parties will reflect these passionate disagreements. The true merit of democracy however is that it provides the mechanism for managing disagreements and any resultant tensions. This is the big challenge facing Ghana today. Before I deal with that challenge, let me trun our attention to something else.
I have alluded to the fact that some of us give the impression of being held in a time warp of the Midnight Hour of March 6 1957 at the Old Polo Ground. There is a buzz of enthusiasm, a feeling that the future is all ours and everything we touch would turn to gold. We still believe that the first African nation to escape the chains of colonialism will inevitably be first at everything. So profound has this been that we are in danger of losing touch with reality in this new satellite world.
For we cannot today bring ourselves to acknowledge, for example that Malaysia, Singapore at independence were like us but are now global giant economic powers. They have passed us by and we do not appear to notice the giant steps being made by South Africa, Nigeria and many countries on the African continent whose freedom we fought for.
You see, Greece gave the world democracy. But the eternal words of Socrates, Plato, Demosthenes did not stop the Greek Armed Forces from imposing three decades of tyrannical military rule upon the nation. The immortal Plato has meant nothing to the millions of unemployed Greeks out in the streets in protest against the conditionalities in the EU economic bail-out package. The teachings of Socrates do not put bread on the table for the Greek youth. The same Greece gave the World the Olympic Games but being the founder has not guaranteed gold medals at any of the modern Olympics. Just as the people of Greece are called upon to face reality, so the people of Ghana must sit up and face the stark reality that this is a competitive world and we have to strive to pull ourselves by the bootsraps. Facing up to the challenges of the global economy, of modern science and technology– that is the name of the game, not what energy we exuded in 1957.
So as we press the PAUSE button and rewind in slow motion, we should put our achievements in perspective, take note of the potential we have already wasted and the prospects that still lie ahead. No doubt our past has a lot to inspire us. But the real challenge is now and tomorrow.
Fortunately, there is more than ample room for optimism as we return to consider what those challenges are. In the aftermath of last December’s elections, we have demonstrated our commitment to democracy in a manner that gives us cause for hope rather than despair. Where other nations would have been at each others throats, driven to blows and arms by perceived wrong-doing, we have taken our dispute to the Supreme Court for Nine Wise Men to listen, to ponder and to adjudicate. This is the rule of law, and I applaud our political leaders for their courage in placing their fate before a final arbiter. The case now before the Supreme Court is a historic signpost to the process of maturation of our democracy and I am particularly happy that the Court in its wisdom allowed the open telecast of the proceedings. We are seeing it all before our very eyes. Free. Transparent. Uncensored.
It is important for us to acknowledge that we have a judiciary constituted by men and women whose integrity is beyond reproach and we should be resolute in our faith that they are equal to the challenge of history.
What remains, ladies and gentlemen, is for us to calm our nerves and focus on two things. First to remember that justice lies only in the bosom of the nine great men and women and only they will determine whose cause is just.
Secondly, all parties to the dispute have an obligation to the nation to accept and comply with the verdict of the Court when it comes and join together thereafter to get the nation moving again.
Time and again, our ability to advance together has been undermined by challenges to our national cohesion arising from so-called ethnic differences. It has been particularly frustrating to see the extent to which some have tried to fan divisions and mistrust between Asantes and most of our brothers.
I find this doubly tragic. As Asantehene I am the custodian and the embodiment of our history. No one can change or distort our history and no one can set us on a path that will divide us from the rest of the country. For three centuries, we were a warrior nation, proud of our conquests and sworn to remain together united by our loyalty to the Golden Stool and its occupant. We fought wars to resist Western colonization. But once we gave up the path of war and decided to become part of the Gold Coast as it then was, we made a firm and irrevocable commitment to preserve the peace and unity of the new state that has been transformed into Ghana. That commitment remains irreversible and we have been demonstrated it in our relations with the rest of the country, and in our private lives. The founder of the Asante Nation Opimsuo Osei Tutu was mentored by the King of Akwamu and the people of Adum who are my traditrional body guards are the ancestors of an army of Anum citizens provided by the Akwamuhene to guard Opimsuo on his return to Kumasi in events that led to the creation of the new Asante Nation. Asanteman has always had a kinship of brotherhood with the Gojas in the North, the Nzimas and Sefwis in the West, with the Anlos in the Volta Region. These special relations remain unbroken today. Further every Akan society is based on clans and all clans in Akan society originate from the same source and are therefore related to each other. Therefore all the stools in every Akan society are related to each other, so we do not just speak the same language, we are related to each other.
In my own time, just as Opemsuo was mentored in Akwamu so my uncle Oheneba Mensah Bonsu sent me to his cousin, the Omanhene of Sefwi-Wiawso who mentored me through my secondary school days.
When my uncle King Prempeh 1 was taken into exile by the British, it took the combined efforts of chiefs in the Colony, the Aborigines Rights Protection Society, Nana Sir Ofori Atta to persuade the colonial government to allow him to return.
Our forefathers were enlightened enough to encourage inter-ethnic marriage to foster greater unity and strength. My uncle, Oheneba Mensah Bonsu married in the Volta Region and Sierra Leone. My uncle Otumfuo Sir Osei Agyemang Prempeh 11, married off two of his beautiful Princesses to the Northern politician and teacher Abavana and to the illustrious Ga doctor, Dr. Morton. So as Asantehene, I have blood sisters and brothers, nephews and nieces from the Volta Region, from the North, from Accra, and that’s only what I care to mention.
Students of Ghana’s political history may recall that the first elected member of the Legislative Assembly for Kumasi was Archie Caseley Hayford. Distinguished lawyers like Dr. Kuranchie-Taylor, were elected by voters of Kumasi and for many years, the lawyer for the Asantehene Prempeh 11 was lawyer B.E.Tamakloe.
Asanteman has gone further to integrate representgatives of all ethnic groups in Kumasi into our traditional authority so that in the Asantehene’s Court at Manhyia, we have the Anlo chief, the Fante chief, the Zong chiefs, sitting as equal partners in the Kumasi Traditional Council. When I instituted the Otumfuo Education Fund, we applied our resources without discrimination. And yet we find ourselves time and again at the mercy of uninformed commentators, raising the scourge of ethnicity in our relations with others.
As Asantehene, I have always called on my people not to allow themselves to be lured into any situations that could undermine national cohesion. They listen but it is time for all of us to remember that we cannot advance together by cereating ethnic divisions, raising fears of discrimination, creating mistrust amongst our people. For whether we like it or not, we are one people, united in our diversity and destined to sink or swim as one people.