Whether you spend two days or two months in Ghana, one thing you quickly realize is the dominance of religion and politics that is present in everyday life.
For the last two weeks of our internship at Kapital Radio, we have switched out of the newsroom and entered the heated realm of politics on Mufty’s daily show “Straight Talk” to maximize our experience in radio broadcasting. Although his show is always focused on politics, this week was especially politically-fuelled because of the recent elections to vote for a flagbearer for the New Patriotic Party (NPP), the main opposition party in Ghana. Campaign representatives, political journalists and social commentators were some of our featured guests on the show who debated the abilities of the NPP leader candidates. Amid the discussions, the focus remained on who would make a better leader for the party based on their personality traits and life experiences rather than addressing who would improve the country and best represent the people of Ghana and their needs. Although the primary is a closed vote that is not open to the public and the leader of the party is decided by its member delegates, I am not aware of any attempts made by the major media houses or the campaigners to include public clout on the selection of their democratic presidential hopefuls. I have always defined good democratic governance as an obligation for politicians to represent a nation’s people and provide the support in addressing their essential needs. According to G. Shabbir Cheema and Linda Maguire, specialists from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the UN Development Programme, “when governance is democratic—that is, infused with the principles of participation, rule of law, transparency and accountability, among others—it goes a long way toward improving the quality of life and the human development of all citizens.” Although personality does matter, I think it is important to look at actual political experience and capabilities, public opinions and preference when it comes to choosing a potential democratic leader (for a political party and for a nation). So, although the flagbearer of a party is voted ‘privately’, it is still important to assess public opinion on and personal capabilities of candidates in choosing the potential future leader of a nation.
As a result of the media only concentrating on the candidate’s personalitiesrather than their political platforms and action plans, it seems that some people have not aligned themselves with any particular candidate that they feel would best represent them. When I asked several very bright local friends and colleagues who support the NPP who would make the best party leader, I was surprised by their slightly apathetic response. They did not have much to say and expressed their content with whoever would be chosen “by God’s will.” They left the decision up to fate rather than demanding more public participation and sway (even if only by appearance) in the selection of their democratic government figures. Moreover, when I asked a colleague whether he would support Nana Akufo-Addo (his preferred candidate in the NPP Primary and the re-elected leader of the party) in the upcoming 2012 Elections, he responded that making the lengthy trip back to his community in the Volta Region (since Ghanaians are only allowed to vote in the region where they originally registered) just to cast his vote would be “unlikely.”
Christianity is one of the main religions here in Ghana and after attending a few two-hour long services (one Presbytarian, the other Evangelical) and a gospel concert with friends, I realized how seriously many Ghanaians take their religion. Their devotion and faith in God is impressive and inspiring. However, I still think that some things in life should not be simply left up to fate. Considering Ghana is one of the most consolidated democracies on the continent, Ghanaians are given the rare opportunity to freely participate in politics compared to other oppressed or collapsed African countries (such as Somalia or Zambia). It worries me when some people do not fully utilize the right to take part in the government of their country, directly or through freely chosen representatives; this includes Canadians too. If the public puts pressure on political actors and their parties, there is potential to have democratic leaders in power who actually represent citizens’ needs. For example, some Canadians exercised their right to take part in government or party leader selection when their strong opinions helped sway the change from Stephen Dion to Michael Ignatieff as the Liberal Party leader a few years ago, stating that they did not trust Dion to lead the party to victory. As Article 21, Section 3 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government.”