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Opinions of Thursday, 11 January 2024

Columnist: Cameron Duodu

Did Ghana learn anything at all about democracy from Britain?

Flag of Ghana Flag of Ghana

Okay, Britain didn’t set much of an example in democratic rule, when she ran the affairs of her colony, the “Gold Coast”.

For instance, when riots broke out in the colony in 1948, due mainly to discontent against such economic injustices the British had imposed on the Gold Coast people as allowing foreign companies (like UAC, UTC, and PZ) to monopolise both the import and export trades; when indigenous traders — led by Nii Kwabena
Bonne, Osu Alata Mantse — organised a ‘boycott’ of imported goods brought into the country by the “AWAM” [Association of West African Merchants] cartel of companies; and when the workers of the Gold Coast downed tools in one of the most effective general strikes ever to take place in the country, in support of the ‘boycott’, what did the British do?

ANSWER: The British unceremoniously picked up the leaders of the political movement that had been highlighting the grievances of the populace – the United Gold Coast Convention(UGCC) – and deported them to the remote “Northern Territories” of the Gold Coast (where they were incarcerated.) Workers’ leaders were given a similar treatment.

That undemocratic action was the beginning of the end of British rule in the Gold Coast. Within three years, the British had realised that the people would no longer tolerate foreign rule, and conceded to them, in the Coussey Constitution, the right to elect its own legislature and form a Cabinet. In another six years, (1957) the Gold Coast had won full independence under the name of Ghana.

On Independence Day – 6 March 1957 – the new Ghanaian political leaders were full of praise for the British, for listening to their demands and granting them independence. But the party that had won independence for Ghana, the Convention People’s Party (CPP) refused to listen, in its turn, to the voices of many of its own people, and within ONE YEAR of independence, had enacted a noxious Preventive Detention Act (PDA) under which Ghanaians could be detained WITHOUT TRIAL for five years.

Not even the worst days of British oppression had seen such a law that mocked democratic principles enacted against the Gold Coast people. The PDA in effect imposed on Ghanaians, a formal form of democracy, that dispensed with the tenets and conventions that constitute the informal but crucial “spirit of democracy”. The absence of that “spirit” rendered formal “democratic constitutional rule” in Ghana a “toothless bulldog’’, with the Government having confiscated the important rights of citizens to enjoy the rights of free speech; free assembly; and freedom to organise political parties.

Okay, so the British were bad “teachers” of democracy to their colonies. But by granting independence to Ghana, they had recognised the political maturity of the people. They were, in fact, touting Ghana as an ex-colony whose leaders could be trusted to show the world that they knew what real democracy was about. Tacitly, they were telling the people of such colonies as Kenya and the Rhodesias (which were employing violence in their agitation for independence) that they should have faith in Britain when it came to decolonisation.

Immune to its responsibility to practise real democracy in Ghana and thereby hasten the granting of independence to the other British colonies in Africa, the new Government of Ghana went the whole hog to suppress the Opposition, and within three years of attaining independence, formally declared Ghana a “one-party state!”

That was a fateful decision of the first order, for the CPP was then forced to learn a painful and terminal political lesson, namely, that there were other political forces in Ghana (as in other countries). Thus it was that six years after declaring Ghana a “one-party state”, the “supreme one-party” state was dissolved, thus, it was being overthrown by the army it had itself created.

If the CPP had learned to respect the idea that the “spirit of democracy” was as important as the formal elements of democracy (as enacted into laws on paper) would it have lost power in February 1966?

That’s a “moot” question! What the sad episode teaches Ghanaians who reflect on politics Is that historically speaking, Governments in Ghana have not been as sensitive to public opinion as they could have been.

Some Governments have in fact repeated the CPP’s mistakes, and have, in particular, allowed power to go to their heads. Mention the CPP and they treat its errors with quiet embarrassment while turning a deaf ear to the wishes of the electorate whose goodwill gave them the reins of power.

The practice of hypocritically ignoring the real needs of the people, or paying lip service to them until election time arrives – has seriously disillusioned many Ghanaians about politics. It may, and is sure drive the country to the rocks in the near future, for it is dangerous for a country’s politicians to act in a manner that drives the populace to regard all politicians as insincere or as opportunists who do not care to use power to effectively better the lives of the populace..

Now, let us go back to Britain, for a minute. As I write, there is a major political crisis in Britain which has been caused by the dramatisation, on television, of what has been characterised, by the British media, as “the greatest and most scandalous miscarriage of justice” in the country.

The scandal relates to the introduction by the British Post Office in 1999, of a new software, called “Horizon”, that was installed in all post offices as the
system of accounting for sales. The software, produced by a Japanese company called Fujitsu, turned out to be fatally flawed: it consistently engaged in “false accounting” by “detecting” that post office personnel were “stealing” money from their tills. Not small sums, either, but thousands of pounds! {You can read about the scandal by Googling “British post office scandal”. I assure you you won’t have wasted your time!)

The astonishing fact was that the software’s false accounts were used by ruthless – and possibly criminal – Post Office investigators to bully and prosecute about 1,000 sub-postmasters, none of whom had ever had a case of embezzlement made against them. The British Post Office bosses thought the computer software couldn’t make a mistake and despite the very unusual features of the accounting catastrophe, many postal personnel were jailed.

Almost all of them were made to “repay” shortages allegedly found by the
“Horizon” software. This led to some being ruined financially, and losing their homes and jobs. One person who refused to accept the conditions imposed by the investigators and went to court incurred legal costs amounting to 341,000 pounds! The social ruination and losses forced some of the wrongfully accused
personnel to take their own lives.

The current British Government has been tremendously embarrassed by the
“Horizon” scandal, due to the TV coverage. It is reported to be preparing to enact new legislation that will overturn the convictions of the innocent post office personnel who fell victim to the “Horizon” errors and pay compensation to them.

I ask you: suppose the “Horizon” scandal had occurred in Ghana, would our
government and its agents have admitted it and sought to repair the damage done?

Our Government would, in all probability, have reacted as it has done to the
existential threat that the people of Ghana have been facing, due to the wanton
destruction of their water-bodies, farms, and forest reserves, caused by malefactors of Ghanaian and foreign origin, engaged in the evil practice
called galamsey.

Although members of our Government and their officials; Paramount chiefs and
their subordinates; church elders and other “leaders” of public opinion (including many brave journalists) have been routinely condemning and urging the EVIL actions of the galamseyers, and the destruction steadily continues.

It’s as if members of the Government were completely deaf or did not exist.