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A Ritualistic, Political Tokenism: A Mockery of a Democracy – Yaw Nsarkoh

You have a democracy that claims to be for the people but the people’s participation is a cyclical four-year token ritualistic element where they come out to cast their ballot and they are forgotten.

Yaw Nsarkoh, the former Executive Vice President of Unilever Ghana and Nigeria, and an ardent commentator on Ghanaian and African political and economic issues has described the kind of democracy Ghana is practicing as a ritualistic political tokenism.

“You have a democracy that claims to be for the people but the people’s participation is a cyclical four-year token ritualistic element where they come out to cast their ballot and they are forgotten,” he said.

He made the statement in a new episode of “FRANK TALK,” an Accra Times flagship current affairs show hosted by Fred Avornyo. In the thought-provoking conversation with Fred, Yaw Nsarkoh shared from his deep well of insights, wide-ranging issues confronting Ghana’s system of governance and the resultant economic woes.

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“You are talking about people who are going to manage the affairs of 32 million people. They are making life and death decisions and then you say to me somebody was prominent on the campaign trails and so they are the best person to do the job? I don’t think we need to belabour the point; it is a disastrous recipe. I call it a Santa Claus Democracy; you get involved so Santa Claus gives you something as a result meritocracy collapses,” he explained.

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In defining an incompetent state, Yaw Nsarkoh says it is one that fails to enforce its good laws, resulting in a democracy where the state cannot implement its laws, and various sources of funds emerge thereby diluting the political culture. The combination of an incompetent state and a Santa Claus democracy leads to a Robinson Crusoe society where values and principles collapse, the country drifts without ethics and results in problems.

“The combination of an incompetent state and a Santa Claus democracy then leads to what I call a Robinson Crusoe society, which is a season of values collapse, principles collapse, the country drifts without ethics, and then you are in a real problem and today we have all the features of a Robinson Crusoe society,” he said.

When asked about dialogue between political parties ahead of the election, Yaw Nsarkoh said many politicians do not touch on real important ideas but resort to populist ones which are sensitive to the people.

“The simple answer to that is, yes the opportunity is always there but in an election year it becomes even more prominent because at that time the politicians are a bit more sensitive to what people are saying… but where are the real issues of development being discussed? Which of the political presidential aspirants has touched on fundamental land reforms? But there’s a distinct fear that if you touch on these issues, you are touching on real controversial issues and you may lose certain votes and because of the short-termism and now that it has ingrained in our politics, nobody prefers to touch on these issues,” he added.

Mr Nsarkoh argued that Ghana’s politics is an upper-class thing layered around people who barely look beyond the fundamental objective of improving livelihood.

“Therefore when you speak about reforms, what we are actually thinking about is tinkering around and nobody is fundamentally challenging how the epicentre of our politics moves from being considerably located on upper-class interests to taking on the character of broad-based national interest across all the relevant segments and making sure that fundamentally the objective of development is to improve the livelihood of the people.

He further added that Africa, and more specifically Ghana has yet to be fully decolonized after independence.

“The essential character of the state in Africa, not just Ghana, was that Africa was not sufficiently decolonized after independence, so what you had was a new indigenous black elite taking the place of the colonialists and capturing the state apparatus for themselves,” he added.

He emphasized the need for leadership to engage with the people, rather than the elite dissociating themselves from the broad masses. He questioned whether Ghana has a true democracy, given the lack of accountability to the people.

“Today the reality is that we have an attention span of not more than two weeks, so if you are leading Ghana, you have to sail through two weeks and the people forget what is the issue that came up,” Yaw Nsarkoh said.

In any democratic country, effective political leadership is essential, Ghana is no exception. The quality of its leaders affects the country’s economic growth, social progress, and stability. Unfortunately, Ghana’s political leadership has been confronted with various challenges in recent years.

For Ghana to have strong political leadership, leaders must prioritize trust-building with the citizens, transparency, accountability, and enhanced public service delivery. Strengthening independent institutions capable of efficient service delivery and upholding the rule of law is also crucial. They must also unite a diverse nation while forging a shared sense of purpose and belonging.

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