New Ghanaian

Hamile to Elubo – observations, rantings and learnings from the 2020 general elections

Papa Badu Donkoh


12 January 2021

Proverbs 31:8-9

Electoral Commission and self inflicted injury

The Electoral Commission (EC) is no victim, even if it was, it’s an unintentional victim (I’m hoping) borne out of its own irresponsiveness; unforced errors; and amateurish approach. However, any criticism of the EC should be devoid of gender tainted innuendos. The EC’s failings are not because the chair happens to be a woman but because of its prevarication and inability to face and confront unpleasant facts. As a result it has succumb to defensiveness, denial and misinformation. Women in the public space are treated harshly and often unfairly  – remember Anna Bossman and Charlotte Osei? Declaration: Dr Serebour was my A level economics teacher (my best school teacher at that!). All organisations make mistakes and susceptible to failings. It is the inability and unreadiness to acknowledge and learn from mistakes that separate great organisations from the others. No one need to ask the EC to recount and recollate the results of the disputed constituencies. They should have done this at the outset for the sake of upholding their integrity and sanctity of the election framework. 

Train or trolley ethical problem and learning

The train or trolley problem is often used as a a trade off scenario between process integrity (sacrosanct of means) and outcome justification (outcome justifies the means – greatest happiness for the greatest number of people). In the scenario an onlooker has the choice to save five people in danger of being hit by a train by diverting it to kill only one person. The problem with this dilemma is that it is bearable if it happened once but cruel and irresponsible if it is repeated. Recycling of past mistakes and failing to learn from them to improve practice is unacceptable and the highest form of state negligence. In Ghana, we have the tendency (and the Olympic good medal at that) for brushing aside and forgetting mistakes and failings only for them to resurface. The syndrome of “give it God” and “God will do”. Yes, God will do, and he has given as reservoirs of “water”, talents, and light (not little lights, as late bishop Benson Idahosa used to make clear) to make things happen.  Learning from our mistakes and failings is the best safeguard against their recurrence.

The tension between Justice and Peace

Everyone is crying out for Peace; yes none is crying out for Justice; I don’t want no Peace; I need equal rights and Justice (Peter Tosh). Peace and Justice are interdependent. One cannot be prioritised over the other for long. Feelings of injustice have a negative bearing on Peace. Justice is transactional and means having equal access to opportunities and relationships with state institutions. When Justice is, legitimately, seen as an outcome of context for power then unequal or unfair access leads to feelings of injustice and a negative impact on Peace. The vibrant Ms Christine Churcher use to have a little book of scribbled quotations and one of the quotes she used to share with us in the run up to the 2000 general election campaign was that “blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9) not the peaceful”. We should rather work towards Peace, ensuring that we learn from failings, and advocate for equal access and fairness than being peaceful. Justice is not only dispensed by the Judiciary but by all state institutions through our transactions with them. 

Social contract with venerable state institutions 

Good societies and functioning democracies or states have social contracts with their key state and revered institutions such the military, judiciary, monarchy and so on. These institutions are expected to be courageous, impartial, and uphold and defend the constitution – not governments. Courage means being willing to face uncomfortable challenges and situations. It means standing in the truth and acting consistent with your beliefs and purpose, even when it’s not easy or convenient ( Douglas Conant, the Blueprint – a seminal book on leadership). Ghana’s military continue to have highly capable and intelligent men; our chiefs are the custodians of our culture and heritage (see Kwame Arhin, Traditional Rule in Ghana – this book is selling at £100 on Amazon UK. Can the university of Ghana reprint more of Kwame Arhin, Kwame Gyekye and other seminal works?). They are expected to be men and women who have cool heads backed with moral leadership and seriousness. As long as they fulfill their part of the social contract then the society will reciprocate by respecting and trusting their judgements but when the social contact is compromised they risk the ridicule and denigration of these revered institutions. They cannot have their cake and eat it. They should ask Boris Johnson, Britain’s Prime Minister, how far having and eating his cake took him – he was a strong advocate of having and eating your cake. There have been grave allegations about the use of military officers and resources to intimidate voters and election officers and to influence the outcome of elections in some areas. Chiefs have also been accused of becoming overly partisan in their actions and pronouncements. 

Electioneering, campaigns and gems

This elections (7th December 2020) was a unique one. It had a lot of firsts. First time that a past President was contesting an incumbent President; first time that a woman was a vice presidential candidate of a major party; and first time that we had two intellectual heavyweights as vice presidential candidates. I followed keenly the strategies and approaches of the two main parties – New Patriotic Party and National Democratic Congress. The New Patriotic Party’s campaign was given much publicity by the media, was more bombast, and generated more excitement from the media. I think the National Democratic Congress campaign looked more sincere and effective – very late night meetings at the community level by the Presidential and vice presidential candidates. I was impressed by Prof Naana Opoku-Agyeman’s good practical knowledge of social conditions and call for urgency in responding to them. She articulated vision, purpose and the empowerment and inspiration needed to achieve them. She reminded me of the late Prof. Araba Apt (my favourite lecturer and one of the best minds that I have come across, she was intolerant of mediocrity- may her soul rest in peace). Dr Bawumia (Vice President) is undoubtedly a heavyweight on his own: intelligent, witty, and vibrant. He reminds me of Dr Kofi Konadu Apraku of the late 1990’s (1996 -2000, when he was the economic spokesperson of the New Patriotic Party). Dr Apraku was the darling of students at the time and his command of text book economics (as most African intellectuals are fond of) was unsurpassed. I remember his appearance with the late J.H Mensah and the late R. A. Basoah  (Chair of the finance team and MP for Kumawu) at the Legon Central Cafeteria in the run up to the 2000 elections. Poor Mr Basoah incurred boos from the crowd for reading from a script and been too factual – was booed off stage. J.H, as the world class mind and politician (the man could do break dancing standing on a pin, he was the Adjetey Sowah of politics and intellectual discourse) was able to work the crowd. Dr Apraku was phenomenal, with his American slangs, economic jargons and sound bites. Dr Bawumia needs more than an impressive mind, limited to a subject domain expertise. I digress: why are members of the New Patriotic Party calling for the resignation of chairman Wontumi? He increased the turnout and votes for the New Patriotic  Party in Ashanti Region, granted he lost four seats (these are historically strongholds of the National Democratic  Congress). And maintained Offinso North. I am not an fan of his but credit is due him. Commiserations to friends, very good souls, who lost in the parliamentary elections,  Adjei Domson (Asikuma Ododen Brakwa) and Fifii Buckman (Kwesimintsim) – time is on your side.

Free SHS and trickle down economics

Free SHS is a pseudo trickled down economic policy. Tax cut for the well-off have little effect on jobs and growth but large effect on inequality. In the long term Dr Boateng of Legon and Alhaji Sulemane of Cantoments and their families benefit far more than Kobina Abban (the susu collector) of Gomoa Odumase and Hajia Makosa (the waakye seller) of Effie Kuma and their families. Trickle down economics doesn’t work ( on the reverse it trickles up and to the well to do) – see recent work by David Hope and Julian Limbery of LSE and Kings College. The intelligent Dr Bawumia (he is Oxonian) knows this. After all didn’t he do some work on the impact of Economic Recovery Programme/Structural Adjustment Programme on the poor? Yes, everyone, irrespective of background or standing, is entitled to basic liberties and share of the national cake but unequal allocation of resources or liberties is justified if it benefited the less well off ( in terms of class, gender, sexuality, distribution of natural abilities) – John Rawls on Justice. *(I couldn’t resist the temptation to comment on ‘free’ SHS)

Gross abuse of positions and power

There have been numerous allegations of minsters of state; government officials and governing party MPs using the military to intimidate and influence opposition party officials and electoral officials to alter numbers in their favour. If nothing is done about these government officials and MPs will think that the only means of winning an election is to use these state security apparatus to do same – apparently those government MPs who played fair and didn’t use those machismo tactics lost fairly. Who wouldn’t want to be a winner? Power sweet! And I bet your last cedi that opposition candidates will also be prepared to face these with equal force – they would have also learnt their lessons. We need to make these practices unfashionable and shameful in our beloved country. Our own native son, others may claim him, Prof Kwame Anthony Appiah, the world renowned philosopher, has done a lot of work on effecting moral change – see his book The Honor Code. I trust he would be honoured to advice on any reforms. 

Civil Society Organisations and Think Tanks

Civil Society Organisations and Think Tanks are reservoirs of expertise – like or loathe them. They have brilliant minds: Bright Simmons, Dr Yao Graham, Prof. H.K. Prempeh and co, and resources (or connected to those with resources): CDD, IDEG, IMANI and so on. These bodies can do a recount of the ballots using the pink sheets made available by the Electoral Commission. They should be open minded and transparent in their approach. They don’t need a court order to do this. Their aim is not to find substantial and significant irregularities to cancel and re-run the elections. This is for the court to decide. Well, they didn’t need a court order to thoroughly review and re-evaluate the ayaapa deal; did they? This is a key part of their ‘all knowing’ (hello auntie Elizabeth Ohene – I’m an ardent admirer of yours, all aspects; wondering minds take it easy) remit.

Kan Dapaah and the National Security Agency (NSA)

Mr Dapaah is a fine gentleman – brilliant and diligent mind. He had one of the most impressive CVs ( from Acherensua Secondary School to the upper echelons of the accountancy profession and corporate Ghana) in the NPP that we used to enthuse about during the second parliament of the fourth republic (1996 – 2000). The Daily Graphic used to publish profile of MPs at that time. The Police and the CID should be allowed to do their jobs – domestic law enforcement and influencing. Is the NSA not more of intelligence collation, coordination and sense making body? Uncle Kan, we are counting on you to make the national security apparatus responsible and great. For starters, it would be good for all to know what they do and what they do not do, and how do they what they do. This can help the public identify and confront imposters.

The media

The media in Ghana has come a long way. There are more newspapers, radio and television stations, online screening platforms and social media. I watched Joy (Raymond, Winston, Araba, Evans and co) and Citi (Nathan, Vivian, Bernard, Kojo Boateng and Agyeman – the impressive Bono expert) TVs and other outlets on YouTube. Impressive work Joy and Citi. The media did a good job in its coverage of the elections however there are lessons for them to learn if they want to be benchmarked against our expectations and the best. The coverage and aftermath have exposed them to some weaknesses common to new organisations or those out of their depth (see How The Mighty Fall, Jim Collins). They have to be mindful that there is always a compromise between time and quality – better to take time and do a thorough job than to rush to air with misinformation. In the short term quality is costly but profitable in the long term. These young Turks should complement their passion, sharp minds and enormous energy with history, humility and curiosity. As John Ken Galbraith observed on his work on the Great Crash of 1929, “there are two kinds of forecasters: those who don’t know, and those who don’t know they don’t know.” They should always ask the question – what will the other party or person say; and follow the source. Like the Electoral Commission they are falling into a self ensnared trap  – ignoring and ducking responsibilities or passing them onto others; and becoming overly defensive. The New York Times hired consultants to critique it during the early 2000’s to help them learn and improve their services. Organisations move from Good to Great through humility, learning and discipline (Good to Great, Jim Collins).

Next steps

Transcendental leadership

As it stands, Ghana is a very divided and polarised nation. It needs leadership that transcends parochial and glaring partisan interests. To quote a favourite word of my debating and sparring partner, Dr Agyenim-Boateng, Ghana needs ‘transcendental’ leadership – apex of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. “Transcendence refers to the very highest and most inclusive or holistic levels of human consciousness, behaving and relating, as ends rather than means, to oneself, to significant others, to human beings in general, to other species, to nature, and to the cosmos” (Maslow). Leadership that transcends the individual’s personal concerns and is seen from a higher perspective. This is the time for the President, the Opposition Leader, the Judiciary, Parliament, Chiefs, the Military, Police, Ministers of State, Religious Leaders to rise above self interest and seek the common good. Of course the President has to be at the apex and take the lead.

Hristo Smirnenski’s “The Tale of the Stairs” – why we need transcendental leadership 

A poor young man stood at the bottom of stairs wanting to climb up to the top to seek revenge on behalf of himself, and his gathered poor folks, on the rich enjoying themselves at the top of the stairs. The devil approached him and made a deal with him: he will help him climb the stairs if he exchanged his hearing with the devil’s replacements. When the young man agrees, the devil replaced his ears so that the voices of moaning from those down below are replaced by the sounds of laughter. As the young man inches further up the stairs the devil asks him for his vision so that he could advance further. He agrees again, and the devil replaces his eyes; now when the young man looks down, he sees healthy people in beautiful clothes. To finally reach the top the devil ask the young man for his heart and his memories. These final replacements complete the transformation. The young man is now the same as the rich people at the top (they are his new folks), oblivious to the suffering of his previous poor folks below; and when he looks down he thinks they are dancing and singing the praises of those at the top. More often our leaders forget their ideals, purposes and lofty promises when they are voted or appointed to higher offices of state – make deal with the devil to climb the stairs or take the blue pill (fans of the Matrix trilogy would know). 

Lessons learnt review 

We need a review that is open minded, will explore the root causes and come up with guiding principles for going forward because of the seriousness of the issues at hand – post elections collation; integrity of officers, deployment and role of state security apparatus; violence and loss of lives; role of the media and so on. This could be done by eminent or independent respected person commissioned by the Council of State, the President or Parliament. The judiciary cannot order this, we need this as a nation that is eager to do better. 

Practice reviews 

Similarly, all these institutions mentioned above – electoral commission, media, house  of chiefs, security agencies – should complete independent reviews of their own practices to learn and improve their offer to mother Ghana. They should do this before the national lessons learnt review so that they can share their own learning with the lessons learnt review. 

Inclusive governance and less winner takes all approach 

Inclusive governance doesn’t mean coalition, union government, government populated by technocrats (as some are calling for). It means fair and transparent appointments to public institutions (a functional and independent public service commission and appointments body), respect for institutions and impartiality by state institutions. Unions or unity governments tend to be unaccountable and corrupt, and only soothe the egos and pockets of politicians and the well connected. Technocratic governments tend to be indecisive, slow and dull (Max Weber; Italy 2011-2013). Coalition governments tend to be ineffective and resource draining (Italy and Germany) and at the detriment of the minority party, particularly where the minority party in the coalition has very different philosophical underpinnings (Social Democratic Party & Christian Democratic Party, German; Conservative Party & Liberal Democrats, UK). Partisan district assemblies and chief executive elections would ensure full participative governance and kill the mischief of winner takes all. Minority parties could win and control district assemblies. This gives minority parties a chance to test their policies, train aspiring national leaders and show their mettle for national governance. It will check corruption and inefficiency at the district level, as parties which perform less well will be punished at the polls by the electorates; and also frees MPs from local infrastructure politics. This is the creme de la creme of competitive politics and good governance. Security issues  (Police, Military) will remain with the central government – eliminates, my man, President Kufour’s very strange reason for failing to fulfil his promise for making district assemblies and district chief executive elections partisan. 

Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year