Politicians, Politics and Policies in Ghana

Emmanuel Hansen

A review in Journal of African Marxists, No 6, October 1984

Naomi Chazan, An Anatomy of Ghanaian Politics: Managing Political Recession, 1969-1982 Boulder, Colorado, Westview Press, 1983

Paul T. Kennedy, Ghanaian Businessmen: From Artisan to Capitalist Entrepreneur in a Dependent Economy, Munchen, Weltorum Verlag, 1983

Mike Ocquaye, Politics in Ghana, 1972-1979 Accra, Tornado Publications, 1980

Erica Powell, Private Secretary/Female Gold Coast, London, C. Hurst and Co. 1984.

It was Davidson Nicoll, then Principal of Fourah Bay College who said that Ghana had the unique ability to confound both her friends and her admirers. Anyone who ventures to write on the current state of politics in Ghana should be advised to keep this in mind. It would certainly save us from making statements which on the spur of the moment appear to have all the trappings of truth but whic turn out a few months or years later to be agonisingly incorrect.

But this is not the first time that the eyes of the world would be focused on Ghana. As Britain's model colony she was the first to win independence and under the colourful leadership of Dr Nkrumah, she attracted world attention out of proportion to her size and resources. Now, however, she has fallen on evil times.

Ghana's experience should provide a sober lesson for not only academics, policy makers and politicians but all those who have interest in the problem of development. Even by the normal standards of new-colonies Ghana has been doing very badly. The decline which started in the mid-sixties and reached critical proportions in the seventies has now come to a crisis. It has affected every aspect of life in the country: economic, political, social, cultural and psychic. For some time the economy has been going down hill. Now it is doing so precipitously. In certain sectors growth rates have been either stagnant or even negative. But it is in agriculture that the decline and deterioration has been most noticeable. From being the world's number one producer of cocoa, Ghana is now trailing precipitously as the number three. The agricultural economy has been hit by such severe food shortages that meaningful social life is near impossible. The food problem has begun to have a noticeable impact on the health of the people. An agricultural country with over 60% of the population on the land the food problem has buried governments and confounded academics and political leaders alike. Not that industry is doing any better. Import substitution industrialization introduced in the fifties and sixties has virtually ground to a halt as machines lie idle for lack of spare parts; and this due to lack of sufficient marketable agricultural surplus to pay for them. The economic problems are no doubt taking their toll on social and political life. In the midst of chronic and critical shortages the internal distribution system has virtually collapsed.

From all reports bribery and corruption - the slogan on which military adventurers have made political careers - some with tragic consequences both to themselves and to the country, has not disappeared. On the contrary, for the majority of Ghanaians it is virtually impossible to survive a single day without doing something illegal or immoral in order to survive. It is not because Ghana has more than its fair share of crooks, venal and corrupt leaders and dishonest and cynical policy makers. But that is what it has come to. Sheer survival has become the premium and Ghanaians like any other people are prepared to survive in any and every way they can.

These problems are beginning to tell on the social and psychic life of Ghanaians. The spontaneous good humour which foreigners readily comment upon and which Ghanaians themselves boast of is beginning to give way to the ethic of survival. The gaiety, cheerfulness and exuberance is slowly giving way to sullen, and sombre looks. But all is not lost. If man is the only animal that laughs, and laughing is the existential expression of humanity, then Ghanaians still have some humanity left. Ghanaians have the capacity even in such moments to not only laugh but even to laugh at themselves. Jokes like Rawlings chain, Rawlings necklace etc (a reference to the protruding collar bones, the result of malnutrition) are quite common. It is this which lightens the burden and validates one's ontological existence, and it is this which confounds many foreign observers who marvel at how Ghanains manage to continue in the midst of all this. But it is not only the people who have through the imperative of such social deprivation developed the ethic of survival; the government has also developed the ethic of survival by any and every means. In certain countries people survive in order to do things; governments survive in order to initiate programmes etc. In Ghana survival has become and end in itself; its own justification.

At the political level the instability which has characterised the country in the last two decades has taken its toll not only through increasing difficulty of fashioning out a viable social order and regularised patterns of political behavior, institutions and processes to provided mechanisms for the exercise of political participation and political efficacy, bua a sense of political well being is lost. Political violence, though not as pervasive as in other countries, has shaken the confidence of many people and created a sense of fear and insecurity. Increasingly, authoritarian populism is resorted to as a substitute for meaningful and effective political order. Regard for human rights has taken a low place on the agenda and rules of ordinary decencies of life are violated with a careless abandon which just two decades ago would have been intolerable. Legitimacy of the state has been seriously eroded. Although the state shows little disinclination in employing violence against its people, its actual capacity to induce behavaiour in a purposeful direction is much more limited now than it was two decades ago. People are literally withdrawing into subsistence, not only in terms of the production of material goods but in terms of state structures for coping with the problems of everyday existence.

In the midst of all these problems it is not surprising that all those who can afford to and have some energy left, are beginning to leave. The migration started about ten years ago; it has now become, as the Ghanaians themselves say, a stampede. If Ghanaians are not devils, they are not political saints either. Everyone who has any skill which can be marketed outside is hastening to go and sell it. Indeed, Ghanaians have caught on so much the spirit of export that they are now beginning to export themselves!. What is really tragic about the Ghana situation is that there are really no natural reasons why things should be so.

Readers will no doubt notice a mood of pessiimism in my assesment of the situation in Ghana. I am no doubct, skeptical but as the history of nations go, I do not regard the current situation as irreversible, although it is difficult to see ainy meaningful change within the present structure. I hold a Gramscian view of political life: pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.

It would be wrong to say that what we have described above applies uniformly to the entire population. No doubt for the majority of the population the situation is quite intolerable, but for a small group of the strategically located this very situation has provided opportunities for personal enrichment and comfort. They have continued to enjoy disproportionate access to material goods, safety and deference. Any misfortune, apparent or real, to any member of this class receives widespread attention in the press both local and foreign. The state of their progress is inversely related to the decline and deterioration of the living standards of the majority.

It was in such circumstances that the mass of people who responded to the call of Flt. Lt. Jerry Rawlings, inspired by his action of December 3lst 1981, belied that somehow the downward trend would be stemmed and the conditions for economic, social and cultural wellbeing and ordinary decencies of civilized existence would be created. No one imagined it was going to be easy, or that it would occur overnight, but there was a widespread belief that the objective conditions existed both at the national and international level to make such a transition. Imperialism itself believed that such a possibility existed, and that explains its hostility to the government in its initial stages. But the expected transformation did not occur. Indeed, the expected preparation to confront imperialism did not occur. Today imperialism in the form of finance capital has adopted the country and become the main life for the regime. Not surprisingly, some of the former 'enemies' have emerged as the most ardent supporters of the government and the young enthusiasts of yesterday have all but dispersed in disillusionment. Those who still cohere around the regime have already started the painful process of reassessment. For these the term 'revolution' no longer exists. It has become the 'process', 'the December 3lst intervention'. I even heard one talk of the 'December 31st incident'.

We hope no one will accuse us of giving an overdrawn picture of the current situation in Ghana. The pronouncements of Flt. Lt. Rawlings himself, the declarations of the secretaries and other public officials as well as statements of leaders in business, government, the bureaucracy and the military all bear this out. Indeed what is remakable abouth the Ghana situation is the degree of unanimity shared by all the political and ideological groups about the current stat of offairs. The problematic, and this brings us to the books under review, is the cause of the problem and what can be done about it. Why is it that each time we try to do something to get out of the rut we are thrown back to where we started from? Are there some ineexorable laws mocking our actions and frustrating our efforts? Are we an accursed people or are we simply making bad starts? What is the source of the problem ? What are its manifestations, and how can it be meaningfully tackled? Do we need to traat the root cause or simply respond to the symptoms? How are Ghana's current problems related to the problems of othet African countries? This is the problematic. This is the substance of the silent political debate in Ghana.

The historiography of politics in ghana in informed by two main ideological and analytical approaches. At the risk of simplyfying to the point of caricature, I shall call one 'radical', and the other 'liberal'. Still presenting an extremely simplified version, the radical position maintans that Ghana's problems are fundametally caused by its integration into the world capitalist economy. It is this which informs its mode of production, its political structures, its class system, its ideological structure as well as the nature of the state and power relations in the country. It is this ensembble of factors in an interacting relationship which make it difficult if not impossible to fulfil that critical mininum of develoment: capital accumulation. From this viewpoint, the capitalist system in its present monopolistic form as obtains in Ghana, far from providing the basis of expanded reproduction and the development of productive forms as occured in the Western capitalist countries, has constituted a block on the development and expansion of productive forces. Although this view does not discount internal bottlenecks, like corruption, lack of managerial talent, inefficiency, as well as the presence of inflexible and rigid bureaucratic procedures which stifle innovation, these do not constitute the critical constraints on development. On the other hand they themselves are conditioned by the structure itself. From this analysis it follows that a critical minimum for achieving any meaningful change in the country is a disengagement from the world capitalist system. It is not argued that this disengagement is easy or that it could occur at a stroke, or that once it occurs development follows automatically. No, it maintains that without this critical minimum no meaningful attempt to escape from underdevelopment is possible. Within this broad framework there are certain differences which we not shall not touch upon here.

The liberal position argues that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the structures bequeathed by colonial rule, nor is there anything wrong with capitalism; indeed the spirit of competition which capitalism enjoins will help to break down archaic practices and outmoded patterns of behaviour which imprison us in our past, and help to bring out the best in ourselves. From this point of view, far from disengaging from the capitalist svstem, we should seek full integration as a condition for our social growth and escape from underdevelopment....

It is important to remember that these are not just analytic traditions or conceptual frameworks employed by intellectuals for analysing politics in the country. They represent political positions held by social classes and organisations. Thus, progressive organisations, radical intellectuals, urban working classes and the petty bourgeoisie, in varying degrees subscribe to the radical tradition, while the chiefly classes, and their allies, the petty bourgeoisie located in the liberal professions, in the higher echelons of the bureaucracy, the military and in industry and commerce as well as the more traditional political parties and the churches in varying degrees hold to the liberal tradition of politics. I am not of course arguing that all persons consciously explain social and political phenomena in such terms or rationalise their political choices by reference to such ideological predispositions. What one is saying is that for most people what constitutes the good life or in what political community the good life can be realized is consciously or unconsciously shaped by one or the other of these major ideological predispositions. In spite of the claims of our leaders to the contrary. Ghanaian politics is very ideological. The liberal position is typified by Dr Busia and his supporters and the people who cohere around the platform of the Progress Party and its subsequent incarnations, while the radical position is best typified by Dr Nkrumah, and his supporters and the CPP in its subsequent incarnations; those who broadly shared the vision of Nkrumah. These two constitute the two major ideological divides in the country, and much scholarly writing reflects this ideological divide. In this way the social science lieterature reflects extant social and political conditions in the country but at the same time it affects these condidtions since the literature is used as an arsenal in the ideological battle. It is from this point of view that one should seek to appreciate the substance, ideological posture and the methodological framework of the books under review.

Naomi Chazan's book situated in the liberal framework, represents the most ambitious effort to date to study, at the macro level, politics in the post-Nkrumahist period. Using the concept of political recession, it seeks to provide a descriptive portrait of Ghana's current problems and how a succession of political leaders have sought to deal with the problems and with what results. A lot of effort seems to have been expended to produce a work of scholarly importance to throw light on the salient issues of Ghanaian politics, although the writer's all too ready reliance on secoondary material is likely to offend the sensibilities of those with a more purist penchant for what scholarly research should be about. There is a large number of typographical errors which is irritating to the reader, but what is more surprising, especially considering the long association of the author with the main incidents of Ghana's political life (she began her study of Ghana almost two decades ago, in the sixties and has since made three study tours to the country)... Nevertheless, one cannot but call attention to a few or the more outstanding ones. (p. 5) Ghana was not the first to institute a single-party state, nor to adopt a mobilizing ideology. That dubious honor belongs to the late Sekou Toure of Guinea. (p. 26) The NRC/SMC supported the African Youth Command and not the Pan African Youth Command. The two were different organisations. (pp 46-7) the first civilian in the NRC government was E.N. Moore and not Robert Gardiner. Moore held the post of Attorney General. (p. 49) In 1979 Rawlings did not sack permanent secretaries of all ministries. He abolished the designation 'Senior Principal Secretary' and 'Supervising Principal Secretary' and consequently the incumbents were asked to retire, but principal secretaries as administrative heads of ministries remained. Incidentally, the term 'pernament' secretary was abolished in Ghana after the changes in 1960. It was replaced with the term 'principal' secretary (p. 78). Flt. Lt. Rawlings went to Achimota School and not Presbyterian Secondary School, and by his own account his pilot training took place in Ghana and not overseas. Most people will also disagree with the contribution of agriculture to GDP given on page 157 as 28%. Although the figures tend to vary depending on which indices are used, 28% is an incredibly low figure. The Five Year Development Plan, 1975-1980 quotes the figure of 35.7%. On p. 266 it is tated that the results of the Union Government referendum from the Northen and Upper Regions were the last to arrive in Accra and hence gave rise to speculations of interfering with the figures. My own recollections which is by nom means the most reliable though in this case seems to tie in with logic is that the results from some of the Northern and Upper consitituencies were the first to come in. Considering the remoteness of the ares, and the problems in communication together with the cripling shortage of transportation it was somehow inexplicable to most people that results from such places (especially as they tended to support the government) should arrive in Accra before the results from Accra. It was this which created the sense of cynicism; and finally (p. 321) Rawlings was not the first military head of state to maked a successful comeback. That belongs to Gen. Soglo of Benin.

It is in this vein that Ocquaye's work which is a simple descriptive account within the liberal ideological and analytical framework tends to provide a more reliable account of the day to day event of politics in the period 1972-1979. In doing this he manages to catch much of the local flavour and feelings of the times. Unabashadly petty bourgeois in orientation, he presents his history from the point of view of the professionals whose cause he espouses without any reservation.

But it is not in factual inaccuracies, important though they are that the main weakness of the Naomi Chazan book lies, but in her ideological posture and methodological framework and interpretation... and the external capitalist environment but this is not woven into the argument as an integral part of the work. Secondly, although it is stated several times that ehnicity constitutes the most salient factor in Ghanaian politics, this is not demonstrated in terms of the analysis itself. One does not get the impression that this is so in Dr Chazan's book. One problem is the extremely schematic view of politics presented. One does not get the impression that there is a sense of movement, of dynamic interrelationship of structures, institutions, processes, ideologies, leadership patterns, economic forms and resources etc. But the reality of politics implies and interwoven fabric of economic relationships, ideology, class structure all interacting in a dynamic whole. Whatever analytic framework one uses (and this should not be merely a matter of capricious choice) this interacting relationship of politics as a dynamic whole should be captured. Naomi Chazan seems to think that the cause of Ghana's problem lies in the internal obstacles the chief of which is a weak state structure. if we press to find out what causes a weak state structure we will probably end up with weak institutionalisation and weak resource base. But what causes weak resource base and weak state structure? If the author had seriously sought answers to these questions, she would have come face to face with the inadequacies in the liberal framework as a mode of analysis. What is most disappointing about the book is that as a work of bourgeois scholarship (and we have nothing against that) it does not seem to have advanced our knowledge in methodological terms beyond what was produced by David Apter in his Gold Coast in Transition almost three decades ago.

With regard to Ghana, Paul Kennedy has been at the forefront of the crusade to demonstrate the viability of capitalism to transform peripheral formations. He has published many articles on Ghana which seek to establish this. Although the theoretical underpinning of the work is informed by the radical perspective, it parts company with it on the issue of the possibility of capitalism revolutionsing African societies. The merit of Kennedy's work is that he attempts empirical balidation of his thesis relying on a survey he conducted between 1967-1970 of emerging businessmen in Ghana. Quite apart from the theoretical problem of a conceptual confusion between capitalism and business (the theoretical discussion is on capitalism but the empirical reference is on businessmen), it is somewhat of a mystery how one can square the picture which emerges from the study of a viable, enterprising, confident, expanding and emergent business class with the widespread stagnation of the economy bordering on total collapse which has been documented by every student of Ghana in the last decade.

Erica Powell was Nkruman's private secretary until the coup of 1966 and in Sierra Leone till 1979. Her book is about her experience of working for Nkrumah told with simplicity, clarity and disarming honesty as to compel admiration. She tells more about Nkrumah and the comings and goings at Flagstaff House than anything in print at the moment. What comes out of the book from a political point of view is the idiosyncratic nature of Nkrumah's work pattern, the erratic decision-making, the countless intrigues — how little has changed - suspicions and conspiracies which seemed to consume the participants, and cloud their visions and goals, and the intensely personal nature of political confliict. In the end the machine comes to consume its creators and those very close to it. She recounts with pathos how towards his end just before he was overthrown Nkrumah did not know whom to trust. Everyone was under suspicion, even Erica herself. In all this it was the Special Branch which towered over all. It became the rule of the Special Branch. It is the tragic end of a great man. The even greater tragedy is that these problems are still with us. The Special Branch consumed Nkrumah. How many more will it consume before we learn to harness power in such a way that it can serve us and minister to the needs of our people instead of arousing their anxiety and fear?

Emmanuel Hansen

Journal of African Marxists October 1984

See also: Close Encounters