Government and Politics
AFTER AN UNHAPPY SURVEY of the tragic history of liberal democracy in post-colonial Africa--a survey in which Ghana was certainly at the forefront, two astute observers of the African political scene asked, "If Western democracy . . . ended up looking like a sad cross between paternalism and corruption, what are the alternatives? What might an indigenous African form of democracy look like?" They claimed that the answer had to be sought in the ideas and forms of equality and participation found in the village council and similar institutions of community governance. Thus, according to them, a "greater reliance on modern variations of these forms might succeed where Western forms of democracy had failed."
Ideas similar to these helped inspire the 31st of December, 1981, Revolution in Ghana. The revolution set in motion a process of national democratic transformation linked to the unfulfilled democratic ideals and aspirations of the June 4, 1979, popular uprising led by Jerry John Rawlings, chairman of what became the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) after 1981. The PNDC leadership insisted that the revolution was not a carbon copy of any other revolution and that it was aimed at resolving Ghana's socio-economic problems, using Ghana's historical experiences and cultural traditions as a basis. Thus, the PNDC leadership effectively challenged the notion that the options for Ghana's evolving democratic institutions and popular grass-roots structures were limited to different versions of Marxism-Leninism, Westernstyle liberalism of the "left" or "right," or military rule, which had been practiced before the Revolution and had not worked.
Accordingly, four major, related themes of PNDC rule remained relatively constant throughout the tumultuous transition to constitutional democracy, a movement that had widespread popular support. These were: a rejection of extreme ideological tendencies and of multiparty politics, as practiced in Ghana since independence, which had been divisive, corrupt, and elitist; decentralization, aimed at the practical application of the ideas of mass participation going back to early nationalist struggles against colonialism and at achieving a fundamental restructuring of the machinery of government; establishment of democratic structures and institutions at every level of society; and national unity and commitment to the ideals of Pan-Africanism, nonalignment, and noninterference in the internal affairs of other countries.
What perhaps ultimately distinguished the PNDC period from others were, on the negative side, the extent of political violence, repression of political dissent, and widespread human rights violations, which especially characterized the early period of PNDC rule. On the positive side, the PNDC was noted for its extraordinary ability to put together a capable team with the political will and resourcefulness to pull the country out of its deepest economic crisis in living memory and to return the country to democracy in the face of persistent "counterrevolutionary" pressures, numerous coup attempts, and moves to destabilize the regime.
The PNDC government lasted for eleven turbulent years and survived presidential and parliamentary elections in 1992. In January 1993, Rawlings effected a relatively peaceful transition from military ruler to elected president of the Fourth Republic. His pledge of policy continuity has ensured that in many significant respects the PNDC remains in power, but there is an important difference. The present government was elected under a new democratic constitution that guarantees fundamental human rights, independence of the media, civil liberties, and the rule of law.
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