When one with honey words but evil mind persuades the mob, great woes befall the state- Euripides, Orestes.
We take democracy for granted in this country. Holding on to democracy is as much more delicate task than winning it. It is first necessary to understand what democracy stands for. Democracy is derived from the Greek word “Demos” meaning people and “kratia” meaning rule. But, it is not merely a “Rule of the Majority”. If the majority of a country can vote to deprive the minority of their right, then this is no democracy. The late 20th century saw quite few democratic countries slip into tyranny. Now that we have an understanding of democracy, it is now necessary to see how democracy slowly devolves into despotism and the warning signs to prevent this from happening. Throughout history, there has been a recurrence of the same tactics used by authoritarian strongmen in their ascent to power. These tactics don’t snuff out democracy in a fortnight, but rather a methodical chipping away of democratic ideals. He gradually persuades and manipulates the masses to relinquish their rights and lay them at his feet.
Nazi Germany didn’t start right away with the gas chamber for murdering the Jews. It started with politicians playing with the prejudices of the Christian majority in Germany. It started with the message of US vs. THEM. It started with intolerance and hate speech. It started with denying basic rights and burning houses of worship. It started with ordinary citizens turning a blind eye to their neighbour’s suffering. Tyranny is as much facilitated by the evil of the leader as the indifference of the masses. The average German with good intentions, who lived in Nazi Germany was paralysed with inaction, partly due to fear of standing alone against the regime. Self preservation overrides human compassion and heroism.
To descent to despotism can be slow and scary. The citizens ignore the symptoms when they have the power to protest. They are then left wondering where it all went wrong, when they are staring down a barrel of a gun.
Levitsky and Ziblatt point out the following traits of elected autocrats: Elected autocrats try to capture the referees- I.e. independent state institutions such as the judiciary, electoral commission, law enforcement agencies, and the media by either packing them with party and government loyalists, or gagging anti government media houses. Packing these State institutions (state capture) or gagging unfriendly media houses helps shield the political executive from being held accountable and adds to the executive’s coercive firepower to take dissenters or political opponents to task.
The other tactic is appropriation of important figures and organisations in society. They put these figures and organisations on their payrolls and push them to propagate government narratives. Those who refuse to be co-opted become automatic enemies of the government and are sidelined, silenced, or even maligned.
Their other trick is, they disregard mutual tolerance. They paint the political opponents and critics as the nation’s enemies. They don’t care much for institutional forbearance always exercising restraint and not doing something lawful if the action would vitiate the spirit of the law. They only use democracy to undermine democracy.
There are several instances of these things happening in Ghana under Nana Akufo-Addo. The neutrality of Ghana’s referees such as the electoral commission, the investigative agencies, the judiciary, the security agencies has been questioned. The courts in Ghana including the apex court appear to be pussyfooting around instead of holding the government accountable and holding the constitutional order. The recent decision (ruling) by the supreme court in the case between Dr Ayine vs. The Attorney General(state) is one practical example. Section of the media appear to be indirectly controlled by the current administration and the ruling Npp and are seen always parroting the government narrative. Some popular artists and international artists are used to propagate government’s narratives and project the President and his administration.
The leader of the country’s largest opposition party, leaders of the opposition parties, and critics of the Akufo-Addo government are projected not just as corrupt and crooked but also as Ghana’s enemies and doomsayers who have no moral legitimacy to govern or criticise the administration. Like populists all over the world, President Akufo-Addo and his henchmen claim that they have the sole moral legitimacy to represent the will of the real people and refer to themselves as the original landlords of Ghana. Contentious constitutional amendments and promulgation of bogus laws have been rammed through using a brute parliamentary majority, vitiating the spirit of democratic deliberation.
President Edward Akufo-Addo (ceremonial) and Prime Minister Busia’s draconian rule in the late 60 into early 70s was Ghana’s first brush with elected autocracy. Prime Minister Busia ruthlessly undermined civil liberties in a legal manner. We see these elements resurfacing today, laced with frenzied ethno- cultural nationalism.
The recent Ayawaso West Wuogon election was conducted by the government and its agents at the electoral commission rather than by the electoral commission of Ghana. I for see the forthcoming election being conducted by ‘aliens’ rather than the electoral commission. The opposition parties will contest the polls not against the New Patriotic Party, but against extraterrestrials. This government and its agents have rendered Ghana’s democracy an elaborate facade, one here a supposedly democratic government is in place, but the rein of power are held by tyrants. Harassment of opposition leaders, critics of the government and journalists is derailing the coming election. The agenda is to render political opponents and critics of the administration impotent. This would ensure the opposition does not have the capacity and strength strong enough to challenge the incumbent. On the ground, the creeping wickedness against the opposition for the last three and half years has entered its final stage. The rise of these far right activists and demagogues is a worrying trend and a threat to our democracy. The road from democracy to tyranny is an oft travelled and familiar path.
The saddest aspect in all these is the shameful double standard of our intelligentsia, some religious leaders, civil right activists, senior lawyers, journalists and civil society organizations. The warped antics touted by these worthies does not conform to universal ethical standards nor does it incorporate the basic tenet of fair play. It is a partisan ideological and tribal Inquisition characterized by selective moral indignation, biased criticism and cheap hatred. So, the Peace Council will see everything wrong with the opposition’s demands on the electoral commission to act as an independent body and the issues it raised about the EC’s decision to compile a new voters register but sees nothing wrong with the dangerous statements the deputy EC boss made and the demeanor of the commissioners.
My question is, was this the type of democracy Nana Akufo-Addo and his colleagues agitated for 30 years ago? Was this the system he and his Kumepreko activists fought for 25 years ago which led to the death and maiming of innocent souls. Was this the kind of democracy Nana constantly agitated for on Ribbon Whyte’s focus on Africa programme?. Ghana dropped three places in the recent world press freedom index, marking Ghana’s worst performance in recent times. The drop in ranking is largely due to the erosion of civil liberties under the Akufo-Addo regime. The bolts and nuts holding our democracy have been loosened by this President and his lieutenants.
Under a president who 25 years ago was everywhere protesting against human rights abuses and led series of demonstrations against a regime he and his colleagues deemed autocratic, journalists are being maimed and killed, political opponents are being persecuted, critics of government are being harassed, public officers are being sacked for not succumbing to government’s dictates. The President was legal person who defended the actions of Radio Eye right from the beginning, right through to the Supreme Court so what has challenged. Radio stations perceived to be against the government have been closed down by the Akufo-Addo government. What were the arguments the current President advanced when he appeared in court to defend Radio Eye. That is the state we find ourselves under the man people hailed as an apostle of democracy and human rights activism.
Additionally, a perusal of the of some of these personalities who led those demonstrations and anti Military regimes agitations throw up a shocking picture of opportunistic inconsistency instead of an unwavering commitment to human values. Silence is a form of abetment. We need to have the courage and intellectual honesty to rise above our own prejudices and condemn every inhuman act and atrocities regardless of our closeness to power and our personal relationship with the system. Corruption, nepotism and insults have become core part of this government’s governance culture. International media houses and few local houses and journalists are paid millions of dollars to kill corruption stories, disgrace political opponents by planting false stories in their newspapers etc, attack critics of the regime, and project the President.
Twenty-five (25) years after Kumepreko, this is the situation we find ourselves under the presidency of one of the Kumepreko activist.
God Save our Motherland!