In the last election in Ghana, I stayed up all night glued to the television as ballot papers were counted and compiled. The excitement that heralded the announcement of the election result was palpable in my town and in every corner groups of people huddled together to discuss the possible outcome. When the results were finally announced, I was awed when I found out that the candidate I had cast my vote for was victorious. I paused to think about what had just happened; my single vote had made a difference. It made me feel powerful and grateful that I was living in a democracy; a system where the ordinary man, like me, regardless of all other considerations can have a say in the governance process. No matter where it is practised, the core principles of a representative and inclusive government, respect for the rule of law and human rights as well as checks on the powers of the different arms of government are always self-evident.
Hitherto, I used to conceptualize democracy as a system of governance where there is majority rule. This view, however, sounds like an abridged version of a dictatorship, just that this time, the dictators are the majority. In a true democracy like the one I live in, the views of everyone matters. To trample on the minority is to trample on the whole essence of the governance process. In fact, in democracies like Ghana, the constitution recognizes minorities and mandates the government to institute policies to ensure that such groups are supported and accorded special attention.
Perhaps the most important reason for which living in a democracy is a necessity is that everyone is recognized to have certain inalienable rights in the state. In a true democracy, the individual is not viewed as a subject as is the case in a dictatorship but rather as a master to be served by those in government. The individual in a democracy is the fulcrum around which the society revolves. My government seeks each day to make my life better and to enhance my dignity and well-being. In dictatorial regimes, the people are treated as mere subjects with less value than the few who hijack power.
To quote the great American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, ‘’ the old nations of the earth creep on at a snail’s pace; the Republic thunders past with the rush of the express.’’ Democratic countries turn to develop faster than dictatorial regimes. A textbook example of this is the case of North and South Korea. Whiles the democratic South has become a self-reliant industrialized country which is now exporting sophisticated equipment and its culture to the rest of the world, the North values its nuclear arsenal more than its poor citizens. To zoom from a poor nation to a developed country which is now rated the 11th largest economy in the world within one generation is a testament to the great possibilities in a democracy. Though figures may bore you, one thing that sums up the chasm between the North and South is a picture of the two countries taken from space at night. In that picture, whiles South Korea is all lit up, the north almost blends into the Sea of Japan as if it were a wasteland.
The economy in a democracy is driven by creativity and innovation. The government creates an enabling environment for people to bring to the table what they have to offer. Ideas that have the potential of causing positive change are supported by the government and the people. This encourages people to invest in education and skills training. On the other hand, dictatorial regimes have an allergy for people who try to think up new ways of doing things. The irrational fear of people with potential pushes such regimes to adopt draconian measures that kill the initiative of such individuals
Most dreams are just what they are—dreams. However, in a democratic environment, dreams come true. That a man from a poor family like Andrew Carnegie could brave the storm to become one of the richest men in America’s history is a dream that can only be realized in a democracy. Kofi Annan, the former United Nations Secretary-General (who unfortunately passed on a few days ago) could not dream of becoming the world’s top diplomat if not for the democratic climate within which he nurtured his dreams.
Growing up with many women in the family, it hurts me to see how they are treated in authoritarian regimes. Rather than harness their resourcefulness and giving them opportunities like any other citizen, they are often relegated to the background and treated like second-rate citizens. Intentional bottlenecks are put in their way to stifle their personal development. I would not like my daughter to live in such an environment. I would want her to have as much an opportunity to be whoever she wants to be like my sons. Such a goal I believe can be achieved in a democracy.
The good thing about a democracy is that it is not a one size fits all kind of system. It can be infused into existing cultures and norms without losing its core principles. In Ghana, though we have maintained our chieftaincy institution, it has been seamlessly woven into our democratic dispensation.
Notwithstanding all the above, to think that our current democracy is without challenges is to live in a fool’s paradise. There are many anxious moments in a democratic dispensation when we all pause to ponder if perhaps we made a wrong choice. Recent history such as interference in the elections of one of the oldest democracies in history (United States) and the use of money to buy votes in many developing countries remind us that the tendency to pervert the tenets of democracy is ever present. Democracies, however, have an inherent quality to heal themselves and can overcome these challenges if the necessary mechanisms are put in place.
If you think it is fair to give everyone a level playing field; if you think that human dignity and rights must be preserved at all times; if you think that the ordinary man in a country should be the fulcrum around which the governance process revolves, then pack up and come to Ghana, we have a democracy for you.