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Political Development in Ghana Essay

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Updated: May 3rd, 2019


In Africa, Ghana has been as one of the pioneering states. Ghana is a country of very many firsts-in-Africa in that it was the first African country to gain independence from its colonial masters. After independence Ghana was the first state to start one/ single party rule. Ghana was also the first new African state to suffer from a series of military coups. Ghana was also among the first African states to suffer from economic depressions.

It was also among the first African nations to formulate and implement ideologies to mobilise its citizen towards economic growth. Finally, Ghana was the first country in Africa to carry out a peaceful transition from a military rule to civilian rule. Since independence, Ghana was highly viewed as the state, which would set benchmarks for other developing states in Africa.

Although Ghana is currently an example of good governance and democracy, the road to political stability has not been smooth. Ghana and its people have endured a lot of turmoil and political conflicts coupled by economic recession and ethnic conflict. This history has affected its people and leaders in various ways.

History of Ghanas Political and constitutional development

Ghana is predominantly a multi-ethnic state, with the Akan community forming about 49% of the total population. Ghanas population demography is probably the most important tool that has helped it develop over the years. Since the Akan share a common language, it has helped foster a sense of nationhood. During the colonial era, the British used indirect rule over the colony of Ghana.

This meant that traditional chiefs became accountable to and served the interests of the colonial masters. Although, by virtue of this, the traditional chiefs consolidated a lot of power, leadership was distorted because the traditional values of leadership such as customary checks, accountability and justice were eroded. By the end of the Second World War, there was a lot of political agitation, which led to the formation of various political organisations.

Through the efforts of Kwame Nkrumah, the colonial government agreed to constitutional reforms. In the early 1950s the gold coast as Ghana was referred to, was finally given internal self-governance. When the constitutional developments happened in the mid 1950s, Ghana became the first state, in the south of Sahara, to declare independence. Ghana as a state gained its independence from the British colonial master in 1957 (Bennett, 1973, p. 665).

After independence, Ghana faced various challenges ranging from the need to channel resources from foreign companies to local developmental issues, shift of ownership of companies from foreign to local ownership, and the need to invest in sectors that were viewed as neglected by the colonialists such as social services and education sector.

Nkrumahs government in light of these challenges and the proposed system of governance succumbed to pressure and was finally overthrown in a military coup in 1966 (Bennett, 1973, p. 667). When Ghana achieved independence, there was no external debt, but during and after the coup it had accumulated an external debt of about $790 million.

Nkrumahs view of industrialisation being led and controlled by the state had failed miserably. From this time onwards, Ghana was to undergo a series of turmoil characterised by military coups and civilian government rule for at least three decades (Price, 1984, pp. 173-174).

Later in the late 1970s, Richard Jerry Rawlings led a group of low ranking military officers to overthrow the existing military government led by senior military officials. This coup was extraordinary in the sense that most of its leaders were young officers. One of its main objective was to clean up, the military junta went after people and senior military leaders who encouraged and benefited from corruption court martialed them and later carried out executions.

Barely after four months in office had, Rawlings handed over power to a new elected government only to overthrow it again in another coup after two years. Rawlings government adjusted the form of governance that mainly favoured farmers and export businesses. Although the power of corrupt leaders and civil servants may have been eroded, however the fundamental causes of patronage ideology to political control had not yet been dealt with (Sederberg, 1971, pp. 179-84).

In 1992, Ghana passed a new constitution, which paved way for the holding of democratic elections under a multi party system of governance. The new constitution was a move back to the presidential system but alterations were made so that ministers could also serve simultaneously as members of parliament a provision that the earlier constitutions had removed.

This was done to encourage cooperation between the executive and the legislature and this was informed by a case in which the third republic parliament rejected a budget presented by the executive. After the rebirth of multi-party politics in 1992, Ghana has held successful elections in 1996, 2000 to date (Williams, et al, 2009, pp. 102-114).

Political and socio-economic development

With the advent of the new constitution, Ghana moved from military rule to a presidential system of governance. The authors of the new constitution dispensation were opposed to the strict separation of powers between the executive and the legislature, hence allowed for the provision of the president appointing some ministers from the legislative assembly.

This was in reaction to the third republic parliament, which rejected the proposed budget, which was later referred to as legislative obstructionism. The authors were careful not to return the country to the events of the third republic but on the other hand, they did not want to go back to the Westminster parliamentary system, which was earlier propagated by the Nkrumah government.

This enabled the president to pick a majority of ministers from parliament and some from the private sector, which ensured that he got the required ethnic balance in his cabinet.

The president had the ability to appoint ministers from regions or areas that his political party did not have a strong hold on and hence had no members of parliament to appoint ministers. These policies emphasised on both a national interest in a strong presidency and a cooperative legislature with emphasis on the need of the cabinet to be ethnically balanced (Botchway, 1972, pp. 81-88).

After shifting to constitutional democracy many development aid partners complained about the slow rate of economic reforms as politicians and not technocrats were now taking major decisions. Parliament, which was mostly dominated by Rawlings party, was unable to pass a petroleum tax bill and fought against civil service reforms in 1993.

Rawlings administration is also credited with the starting of the National Institutional Renewal Program, which was mandated, with the task of enhancing and encouraging good policy development, public sector management and creation of an appropriate wage and grading system.

Later on the following year, an attempt to impose value added tax was withdrawn following massive outcry and opposition from the public and opposition parties. However, the liberalisation of state owned enterprises was hastened and some of the most profitable state organisations sold raising more revenue than was actually anticipated (Armstrong, 1996, pp. 72-78).

During 1994, the government embarked on a process to formulate a national development policy framework that was to be famously known as the Ghana –vision 2020. The main highlight of this policy document were development of agriculture, sustainable macroeconomic environment, development of human resource, encouraging entrepreneurship and poverty eradication, with the main goal being to sustain an economic growth rate of 8% GDP.

During the 1996 general elections, most parties came out with various economic manifestos to challenge the incumbent, with various opposition leaders promising to complete the vision 2020. Opposition parties to the battle against unpopular reforms made by the Rawlings government such as cost sharing and cost-recovery in health and education sector, promising to better the welfare of the citizens.

The emergence of independent print and electronic media after the 1992 referendum, and the constitutional provision that state owned media should provide equal coverage of the ruling party and opposition rallies, made the campaign very exciting. Although Rawlings party won the vote the opposition lead by John Kufuor were able to gunner 40% of the total vote and captured 66 parliamentary seats (Evans-Anfom, 2003, pp. 431-433).

It was however demonstrated during the 1996 elections that during competition for votes that government is at times forced to sacrifice sustainable macro-economic management and fiscal policy prudence for the temporary gain of political mileage. This is evidenced by failure to pass the petroleum tax law and commissioning of unbudgeted projects.

This election also revealed that there was a huge tendency of the population to vote as regional and ethnic blocs, which has come to become the norm in subsequent elections. After the elections and politicking was over the reforms were re-ignited as parliament passed the petroleum tax law, VAT was introduced, independent regulatory organisations in the telecommunication, water and electricity were created, and electricity tariffs were increased to cushion operating losses.

The vice president spearheaded the national institutional renewal program in 1997 and ensured that civil service reforms were implemented with urgency. Various programs were initiated to improve the government human resource capacity, monitoring systems and the budget (Leite, 2000, pp. 36-42).

Ghana was able to reduce the incidence of poverty, the population of citizens living under poverty conditions declined from 51% during the promulgation of the new constitution in 1992 to 43% in 1999. Generally, the school enrolment figure had improved, health services were improved with the help of various donors, gains were also made in the provision of social amenities and general infant mortality had reduced by 25% (Sandbrook&Oelbaum, 1999, pp. 42-45).

Political development and democracy

Before the 1992 elections, there was very limited space for democratic elections to take place. This can explain why most of the politicians, citizen and other sceptics did not expect the current system to survive for long. There had been a lot of previous history of military coups just after democratic elections. After the elections that ensued during the 1996 and 2000 elections, only did it become apparent that multiparty and democracy were here to stay.

However, the approach did not correspond to the ideal westernised form of democracy where parties would campaign on their institutional policy and developmental records; in Ghana, it took a shift to political patronage mechanisms. Chieftaincy in Ghana is considered as the pivot around which administration of the society is centred. This has been made possible through a constitutional provision that is devoted to chieftaincy.

These provisions safeguard the institution against any interference, politicisation and manipulation from the state. For example, parliament is restricted from making or conferring any authority power to remove a chief from his office; this is only a preserve of the regional, national, divisional and traditional counsel of chiefs. The national counsel comprises of about 32,000 traditional chiefs who command influence in their regions, although they are not assigned any specific role in the formal government (Ayee, 2007, pp. 141-143).

The chiefs are most effective in rural settings where the arms of government are not that strong or are not fully felt on the ground. In rural communities where there is no access to government institutions such as a police station, government office or court residents are forced to seek redress from the local chiefs.

These critical role-played by chiefs in the dispensation of justice is also recognised by formal jurists. It is also noted that would be potential investor in such of land and other investment activities also have to appear before the local chiefs.

Although chiefs are restricted by the constitution from engaging in political party activities, they usually serve as the link between the government and the local communities. Government officials and politicians who visit the jurisdiction of the chiefs are required to pay the chiefs a courtesy call. The president is also required to consult the chiefs before making appointments to the district assemblies (Biswal, 1992, pp. 22-33).

Ghanas constitution has decentralisation of executive power through formation of local governments. This has greatly helped to bring government services close to the citizens and at the same time has encouraged economic growth. Ghana has a multi-tiered government structure that comprises of municipal, metropolitan and district assemblies (MMDAs) which act as the basic level of decentralised government.

MMDAs are autonomous, have their own structures, and are basically accountable to the local society that they represent. However, the state is allowed by virtue of the law and practice to exercise fiscal, political and administrative power over them. The president is the appointing authority of the chief executives who head the MMDAs based on approval from at least two-thirds majority of the district assembly.

The government is also charged with the responsibility of financing district assemblies despite the fact that they are also required to generate their own revenue. There have been complains that government funds usually arrive late and that they are specifically budgeted for a specific purpose; this makes it difficult for district assemblies to channel this funds to locally identified projects (Tettey, Puplampu& Berman, 2003,pp. 45-52).

In matters of administration, the constitution provides for the creation of a local government service (LGS). However, the autonomy of the local government service from the national civil service has not been achieved. Generally, the powers and the agencies of the MMDAs are extremely wide.

They are described as the highest political power in the district, charged with the development of the district including harmonisation, coordination and integration of all developmental functions in the district. It was envisaged that decision-making structures would follow a bottom up approach but this has not been actualised. In many regions, these policies used as the foundation building blocks of the local government system have collapsed mainly due to the lack of financial resources (Ayee, 2007pp. 144-146).

Even though Ghana goes through competitive elections and is largely viewed as an example of good democratic state in Africa, the president dominates the legislature. They have a minimal influence on the presidential policies and agenda. Members of parliament are not allowed to introduce any legislation independent of the state.

Descent from members of parliament is suppressed by the fact that, party officials can expel a member if he or she is deemed to be rebellious. These facts dictate how members of parliament interact with the executive, constituents and fellow members of parliament. Members of parliament usually encounter a lot of pressure from their constituents in need of development projects and personal assistance but rarely get pressure for them to back any particular legislation.

Votes made by members in parliament do not necessarily affect the member’s re-election since parliamentary elections are not based on party policies or ideologies (Ghana Center For Democratic Development, 2005, pp. 12-18).


Ghana has been able to rise from a near extinction of political structures to one of the model democracies in Africa. It has been able to overcome most of the challenges that inhibit the development of many new developing nations in Africa, but some area still need to be improved for it to achieve better prosperity such as improvement of tax collection, challenges of corruption and misuse of public funds and the reliance of patronage for political support. All in all the gains Ghana has made makes it a nation to be emulated by other African states.

Reference List

Armstrong, R P 1996, Ghana, country assistance review. World Bank, Washington, D.C

Ayee, J R A 2007,Ghana at 50: government, politics, and development.,s.n.]. Accra?

Bennett, V P 1973, The Motivation for Military Intervention: The Case of Ghana, The Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 4, p. 665.

Biswal, T P 1992,Ghana, political and constitutional developments. New Delhi, Northern Book Centre.

Botchway, F A 1972,Political development and social change in Ghana: Ghana under Nkrumah; a study of the influence of Kwame Nkrumah and the role of ideas in rapid social change, Black Academy Press, Buffalo, N.Y.

Evans-Anfom, E. 2003.To the thirsty land: autobiograp[h]y of a patriot. Achimota, Ghana, Africa Christian Press.

Ghana Center for Democratic Development.2005Decentralization, economic governance, and private sector development in Ghana.Legon, Accra, Ghana, Ghana Center for Democratic Development.

Leite, S P 2000, Ghana: economic development in a democratic environment, International Monetary Fund, Washington, Dc

Price, R M 1984, Neo-Colonialism and Ghana‘s Economic Decline: A Critical Assessment, Canadian Journal of African Studies, Vol. 18, No. 1, pp. 173-174.

Sandbrook, R & Oelbaum, J 1999, reforming the political kingdom: governance and development in Ghana’s fourth republic. Center for Democracy and Development, Accra, Ghana

Sederberg, P C, 1971, the Gold Coast under Colonial Rule: An Expenditure Analysis, African Studies Review, Vol. 14, No. 2, pp. 179-204.

Tettey, W Puplampu, K P & Berman, B J 2003, Critical perspectives in politics and socio-economic development in Ghana., Brill, Leiden

Williams, Y et al, 2009, Power and Change Analysis, ODI and Ecorys; Ghana

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