Political Ferment Under the PNDC

Ghana Table of Contents

As the country prepared to move toward constitutional rule, the major concern of Ghanaians was how to ensure a relatively smooth and peaceful democratic transition. This concern was shared by the opposition, the activities of which were under constant surveillance by the national security agencies, and by the ruling PNDC, under pressure to present a clear, firm timetable and program for a return to constitutional government.

The transition process had unsavory features that many Ghanaians believed could lead to an outbreak of violence. Intense mutual suspicion and antipathy existed between the PNDC leadership and the opposition going back to the June 4, 1979, uprising and the draconian measures taken by the AFRC. On one side, Rawlings and the PNDC saw the opposition leaders not as individuals genuinely interested in real democracy but as elitist, corrupt, and selfseeking "big men" who had vowed to fight to the bitter end to reverse the gains of the revolution and to restore the old system of corruption and exploitation.

On the other, the opposition viewed Rawlings and his Ewe ethnic henchmen, notably Kojo Tsikata, his chief of security, as a bloodthirsty group--with the worst human rights record in postcolonial Ghanaian history--which was determined to retain power by any means. Many opposition leaders could not forgive Rawlings for the loss of lives, power, and property, and for the incarcerations inflicted on friends and relatives, if not on themselves, by the PNDC regime. The once respectable professional elite of comfortable lawyers, doctors, university professors, businessmen, and politicians in exile abroad could not hide their outrage at Ghana's being ruled by, to them, a young, inexperienced, half-educated military upstart.

It is against this background of intense mutual hostility and distrust and vicious political rivalry that the evolution of the democratic transition between 1988 and the inauguration of the Fourth Republic in January 1993 should be assessed and understood. This long transition process was characterized by two related struggles: the struggle for economic recovery from decades of economic decline and for better living standards for the average Ghanaian; and the struggle for "true democracy," the meaning of which was hotly debated and gradually shifted over time, especially after 1988. These national struggles led to the reconstitution of old political alliances and to the emergence of new political groupings.

That it took the PNDC more than ten years to lift the ban imposed on political parties at the inception of PNDC rule not only demonstrated the PNDC's control over the pace and direction of political change but also confirmed the shallowness of the political soil in which the party system was rooted. Party activity had been banned under all the military governments that had dominated nearly twenty out of the thirty-five years of Ghana's postcolonial existence. Even during periods of civilian administration, party organization had been largely urban centered and rudimentary. It had depended far more on personal alliances and on ethnic and local ties, not to mention patron-client relationships, than on nationally institutionalized structures. Party politics had tended to generate corruption and factionalism. The party system, therefore, never had any real hold on the consciousness of the average Ghanaian, especially the rural Ghanaian.

All the same, three major electoral political traditions have emerged in Ghana since the 1950s, namely, the Nkrumahist tradition, the Danquah-Busiaist tradition, and the more recent Rawlingsist tradition. These traditions are identified with their founders-- each a commanding political figure--and are not necessarily mutually exclusive. In political terms, the Nkrumahists are generally considered "leftist" and "progressive," the DanquahBusiaists more "rightist" and more "conservative," and the Rawlingsists "populist" and "progressive." In practice, however, the traditions are less distinguishable by ideological orientation than by dominant personalities and ethnic origins.

Against this background, the opposition call for multiparty democracy had to overcome great odds, not least of which was the intense prejudice of the chairman of the PNDC against political parties. Rawlings strongly believed that party politics had hitherto produced two forms of abuse of power--the "corrupt dictatorship" of the Kofi Abrefa Busia regime (1969-72) and the "arrogant dictatorship" of the Nkrumah (1957-66) and Limann (1979- 81) governments. Nonpartisan, honest, and accountable government would provide an effective antidote to these abuses, he argued. Indeed, Rawlings appeared to have an almost fanatical belief that corruption was at the root of nearly all of Ghana's problems and that, if only it could be stamped out, the country would return to its former prosperity.

In reaction to Rawlings's position, opposition groups, such as the London-based Ghana Democratic Movement and the Campaign for Democracy in Ghana, and individuals within and outside Ghana committed to multiparty democracy grew increasingly desperate as they focused on the single aim of overthrowing the PNDC regime. Between 1983 and 1986, at least a dozen coup plots were uncovered by an efficient and much-feared state security system. At the same time, vigorous debates occurred within the PNDC, radical organizations, and trade unions over the direction of economic policy, the content and form of true democracy, and the desirability of accepting International Monetary Fund ( IMF) support for Ghana's Economic Recovery Program (ERP).

Urban workers and students especially exhibited growing frustration at their inability to influence policy or to express dissent through readily available channels. Many urban workers felt the CDRs did not effectively represent the opinions of workers in the way that the PDCs and the WDCs had done before their reorganization. In general, public criticism of government policy was discouraged. In the face of repeated coup plots and destabilization attempts, which lasted throughout the PNDC period, the regime was eager to retain tight control of the political situation, and an independent press had difficulty surviving. All the same, the PNDC was clearly aware of the urgent need for the government to provide genuine democratic channels and institutions to enable workers, students, professional bodies, and other interest groups to express dissent and to provide constructive criticism of government policy. There was, therefore, a concerted effort to transform the CDRs and other revolutionary organs into real instruments of grass-roots democracy. The implementation of the government decentralization program and the establishment of district assemblies were likewise aimed at furthering the process of genuine popular democratization.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress