Ghana’s two main Presidential candidates refuse to debate each other for the second time since 2016- Is Ghana’s democracy at risk?
It appears the more things change, the more they remain the same. That is the story of Ghana’s democracy because for the second time in a row Ghanaians will not have the chance to watch the two main presidential candidates, John Mahama and President Akuffo Addo face off each other in a debate over ideas.
It started off well in 2000 when Ghana was hailed as the shining star of Africa, hopes were high because for the first time since the return to multiparty democracy the country witnessed its first Presidential debates, organized by the Institute of Economic Affairs. It was attended by all presidential aspirants except the candidate of the then ruling party, the National Democratic Congress, Professor John Mills. The aim was to provide a platform for Presidential candidates to articulate their policy and programs and to answer questions from the public
It got better in 2004 with a second debate which was organized for the presidential aspirants of the parliamentary parties. Regrettably, the candidate for the then ruling party, J.A. Kufuor of the NPP, refused to take part at the last minute.
In 2008, the IEA introduced the Evening Encounters and Vice Presidential Debates which saw debates amongst the running mates of the presidential aspirants of the 2008 presidential elections. In the Presidential debates, however, all candidates of the parliamentary parties took part with no incumbent President contesting for re-election
However, the year 2012 was unique in the history of Presidential Debates because, for the first time, a sitting President contesting the elections took part in the debates together with three other flag bearers.
With such an enviable history of Presidential debates, many were hopeful that Ghana was truly on a democratic path and had become a model for peace, stability, and development on the continent.
But In 2016 and typical of how politicians have bastardized every democratic institution in the country, allegations of bias started flying against the IEA. The opposition candidate boycotted a debate organized by the state broadcaster and since then while some had thought that the IEA will take steps to repair its broken trust all the major actors of the 2012 Presidential debate from the Executive Director of the IEA to the two moderators have all taken up appointments in either of the two main political parties and the IEA which has prided itself as the only organization to have successfully organized Presidential debates since 2000 has lost its magic wand.
Today, Ghanaians from all over the world have been robbed of the opportunity to see the two main contenders, John Mahama and President Akufo Addo debate each other. Instead, we gather around our television sets to watch the heated debates between President Donald Trump and Joe Biden. American politics despite all its imperfections and tensions have respected their citizens and offered them proper accountability. The Americans have organized two successful debates with the first described as one of the bitter clashes in Presidential encounters, each side lobbing bitter attacks and frequently talking over each other. But same cannot be said of the small West African nation which is widely seen as a beacon of democracy and stability in the region.
Ghana’s hybrid constitution which is a fusion of both the US Presidential and British Westminster systems of Government despite its challenges appears to copy everything except what is widely accepted and proper and you tend to wonder if the two candidates hate each other that much to even face off in a debate over policies and ideas? I guess for these advanced democracies it is not about the two parties or individuals but the national interest which they have sworn to uphold and protect.
Researchers have argued that Presidential debates help undecided voters to make an informed choice as to who to vote for. They are important indicators of an accountable democracy that respects and regards its citizens but none of the two main political parties, the NDC and the NPP can trust any individual or institution to put up a neutral debate.
Sadly, there appears to be a general decline in democracy on the African continent with growing intolerance and a culture of free speech not guaranteed by “freedom after”. There is a decline in accountability and transparency as well as citizen engagement and demands. It is disheartening to think that after 63 years of independence we cannot agree that some things must take place regardless of our individual differences and opinions. The big question is how do we revive this fledgling democracy that continues to fail as the years go by?
What do we do now?