Sun, May

Ideological Confusion of Ghana's Political Parties: A Take on NDC

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Strangely, the first NDC government led by Flt Lt JJ. Rawlings could be said to have been characterized by ideological inclarity. The party, whilst in government between 1993 and January 7, 2001, did not appear to have positioned itself in a clear-cut ideological stand.

Written By Nicholas Mawunyah Gborse - Ideologies are to churches, doctrines or beliefs. They are the mission and vision statements of companies and organizations. To academicians and researchers in general, they are theories. Ideologies, just like doctrines are unique identifiers; they set apart one political orientation from the other. They are the guiding posts and the lifeblood of political groupings. They are the glue that holds like-minded adherents and followers together either permanently or temporarily.


The author, Nicholas Mawunyah Gborse

The author, Nicholas Mawunyah Gborse

In the church, doctrines or belief systems distinguish a sect from the other. The Catholic Church is unique for its doctrine of celibacy for its priests. It is famous for its upholding of the immaculate nature of the Virgin Mary. Its Mass and communion set it apart from the rest of Christian sects. These and many other unique belief systems make the true practitioners of the Catholic faith unique.

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In the corporate world, companies couch their vision and mission statements in key 'SMART' terms or words. These mission and vision statements give direction to their short, medium and long-term aspirations in every facet of their operations. So, ideologies like their twin sisters: doctrines and mission statements provide direction to political parties. Thus, as we say in research that theories guide practice, so it is convenient to say that ideologies shape policies and political decisions and actions. They are at the core of political manifestoes and strategies. They either help to congregate like-minded individuals or alienate others who may have an aversion to a given ideology.

Ghana's body politic, especially in the 4th Republic has been bereft of true ideological convictions and orientation. Although the two largest political parties stand accused of this lack of ideological conviction, it appears the NDC stand more accused.

The NDC, being the offshoot of the AFRC and PNDC military juntas came into being in June 1992 after the ban on active party politics was lifted by the PNDC junta upon internal and external pressures led by the Bretton Wood Institutions and the West were mounted on it. Being a brainchild of a true military regime, the NDC, although in a post-military dispensation, was expected to have its ideological orientation rooted in Marxist/Leninists/ Rawlingsist ethos and practices of its founder, Flt Lt JJ Rawlings. It was expected to be a leftist or Centre-Left political grouping despite it being a Congress of people with various ideological orientations.

Strangely, the first NDC government led by Flt Lt JJ. Rawlings could be said to have been characterized by ideological inclarity. The party, whilst in government between 1993 and January 7, 2001, did not appear to have positioned itself in a clear-cut ideological stand. Accordingly, the government drifted from one ideological disposition to another in the kinds of policies it pursued. Thus, whilst it characteristically pursued rural electrification programmes, built new schools and health facilities, it notoriously carried out divestiture of many state-owned enterprises among many pro-capitalist or neoliberal policies to the chagrin of some of its ardent fanatics, sympathizers and the watchers of Ghana's Democratic trajectory. By this singular act, the NDC had alienated one of its bedfellows - workers - as more of them were made to face the wrath of retrenchment and layoffs as a consequent of the downsizing and rightsizing programmes pursued by the local and offshore new owners of these state parastatals. The government also pursued cash and carry policies in the health sector, thereby making health care unbearably high to the masses, who are incidentally, the party's core support base.

By 1998, the government was overwhelmed with key challenges such as graduate unemployment, perceived corruption and arrogance of its appointees, general despondency and malaise, unfavorable world economic order or downturn, the yearn for change by the masses and a formidable opposition in the New Patriotic Party. Faced with this myriad of issues, the party and government appeared not to have had any clue to resuscitate the ailing economy and restore some modicum of hope to the people.

The party unsurprisingly lost the Presidential and Parliamentary elections of the year 2000 to the New Patriotic Party and its candidate, Mr. John Agyekum Kufuor. In other words, the political disenchantment especially in the NDC's perceived 'World Bank' of the Volta Region was so much that not even the candidature of corruption-aversed Prof. JEA Mills could help do any damage control. The party lost power after two rounds of elections.

Out of power, the party, led by Dr. Obed Asamoah embarked on party reorganization strategies which included the proscription of the dual chairmanship concept and ideological rebranding. The Party, by majority decision, adopted the Social Democratic ideology championed by stalwarts such as Dr. Tony Aidoo. By the adoption of this philosophy, the Party committed itself to key principles such as Mixed Economy, Promotion of Social Security; Affirmative Action Programmes; Education for All; Equal Opportunity; and Laws Regulating Working Conditions, Subsidy regimes among others.

As was to be expected, the Party fought the 2004 General elections on this ideology by espousing some pro-poor policies including the continuation of housing schemes for workers, although that was not enough to win the 2004 elections.

Going into the 2008 General elections, the Party expediently re-committed itself to the Social Democratic principles by premising its campaign on the 'Better Ghana Agenda' and the 'I Care for You' mantra. This time, luck shone on the Party when it won albeit narrowly the Presidential elections in the run-off. Whilst in government from January 7, 2009, the party and government attempted some pro-poor programmes in line with its ideological orientation.

The government initiated the distribution of free school uniforms to some needy and deprived areas of the country. The government also provided infrastructure at many of the country's public senior high schools when the then four-year SHS policy was in full spring. But perhaps the boldest symptomatic ideological intervention of the NDC Three was the implementation of the Single Spine Salary Structure as initiated by its predecessor government of H.E President J.A Kufuor.

By the implementation of this policy, the party drew itself closer to one of its ideological bedfellows, workers, by bringing some instant relief to them. So, the Police Service and the GES to mention but a few experienced an enhanced reward package.

The historic demise of the then President JEA Mills in the year 2012, few months ahead of the general elections of that year, saw the emergence of H.E John Mahama as the party's standard-bearer and President subsequently after winning the elections of 2012. With this feat, and against the backdrop that he was the Vice-President of JEA Mills, the country, especially, supporters and sympathizers, expected it to continue with most of the policies and programmes of his boss. Alas, J.D Mahama had his own plans - to change focus and direction.

With the mantra of 'Working for You', the government pursued many ambitious programmes and policies most of which were not necessarily in sync with its ideological stance of Social Democracy. Whilst some analysts might interpret the pursuit of these Neo-liberal and sometimes Capitalist policies such as the cancellation of teacher and nursing trainee allowances, electricity hikes, eroding of workers' take home pay through draconian tax regimes, an embargo on recruitment into the public sector among others as pragmatism, political realism, and expediency, it is important to recognize the hard fact that with the pursuit of these policies and programmes, the Party was beginning to alienate its core support base, which had always guaranteed it of at least forty-four percent in every general election.

The government's lack of direction and clear-cut policy on social intervention programmes was also a disconnect from its orientation. Despite its expansion of the LEAP programme, the government was not ambitious enough to pursue any monumental social intervention programmes beyond what it met in office. This was contrary to its principles as a party. Its attempts at progressively free senior high school education was not far-reaching enough, so it did not solve much of the existing cost problems. Its austerity measures which saw it cut resources to MDAs such as the GES district offices all put it in a bad light.

Further, by the cancellation of the trainee allowances, it was shooting itself in the foot by hurting the core of its support base majority of whom use these training institutions as stepping stones to propel themselves on the academic and career ladders. As expected, many of these trainees and their families were not happy with the government, so they either voted against it or abstained.

The overall effect of all these harsh policies was that the government wittingly or unwittingly became remote from its support base as they also join in the chorus of 'hardship' which was being sung by the opposition at the time. Consequently, the Party suffered its historic defeat by losing the presidency by a heavy margin and losing control of the Legislature. The defeat was in such a way that the Party even lost or had reduced turn out rates in some of its traditional support bases such as the Volta Region.
However, the straws that broke its back were the perceived corruption and the massive unemployment, much of which should not have characterized Social Democratic regimes.

Meanwhile, the crux of this article is that although the NDC conveniently prides itself as a Social Democratic Party with the poor and the marginalized as the focus of its policies, the party, since its inception in 1992 has not been too bold in the initiation and implementation of structural social intervention programmes. What we have noticed surprisingly is its half-hearted opposition and doomsaying whenever attempts were made by the Neo-liberal and a typical Center-Right party of the NPP with credentials in a free-market economy, property-owning Democracy and individualism to introduce any social intervention programmes.

Whilst we cannot gloss over the structural challenges that often characterize the implementation of these interventions, we cannot also underplay their utility and social transformation effects especially to the poor and the marginalized, majority of whom I daresay support the NDC.

As it stands, nearly all the social intervention programmes - National Health Insurance Scheme, Youth employment, Free Maternal Health Care, School Feeding Programme, Capitation Grant and newest, Free Senior High School Programme- have all been initiated and implemented by the NPP.

Whereas the NDC whilst in government did quite some work in expanding the frontiers of these programmes, to the extent that it is a Social Democratic Party, but has not initiated any of these policies itself is a big blot on its conscience. It calls to question its commitment to its own ideological principles and ethos. It calls to question whether it is interested in identifying with its base. It also calls to question whether its numerous appointees really appreciate the Party's belief system and are ready to abide by them in government and opposition.

By this, I am in no way calling for jingoism and unbridled ideological loyalties in our body politic. I am in no way oblivious of the fact that political parties whilst in government are always faced with realities for which they are compelled to make changes or be expedient. I am also not oblivious of the fact that there are no pure ideological pursuits today in the world, be it in the USA or the EU.

But to the extent that parties are a congregation of like-minded individuals and institutions, there should be a glue that joins them together. That glue should be their belief system. That glue should be what they do in government and more importantly how they do what they do in government. And this is where ideologies - loved or loathed - matter.

The NPP when in government acts and behaves like a Social Democratic Party which the NDC is supposed to be; whilst the NDC when in government behaves like a party with Neo-liberal and free-market economic credentials by pursuing policies and programmes which the NPP should rather have found comfortable implementing. Policies such as One Village One Dam, One District One Factory and the much talked about Free Senior High School programme are all typical Social Democratic agenda. So, it beats imagination when a Social Democratic Party is heard saying the implementation of these programmes is not possible because of challenges.

The unfortunate implication of all these is that the NPP, mostly in government is beginning to eat into the core base of the NDC whilst the NDC is finding it difficult to make significant inroads into the NPP's strongholds.

So, for the NDC to remain vibrant and competitive, it ought to rededicate itself to its ideological values, reconnect itself to its core and support base, be ambitious in policy terms and formulation and more importantly, erase the perception of lack of competence of its appointees. The Party, when in government must put its best foot forward by making use of its best and competent human resource some of whom are professors, PhDs, and experts in their own right.

I believe the NDC, just like the NPP, has the capacity of assembling a cadre of fine technocrats and policy experts to administer this country for the good of the teeming masses of our people if it is able to self-introspect and reconnect with its core values.

Nicholas Mawunyah Gborse is a Social and Political Researcher, Analyst, Leadership Incubator, Change Agent, and a Public Speaker.

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