There may be some hiccups in the December, 2010 District Assembly (DA) elections, a key face of Ghana’s 23-year-old decentralization exercises, but the programme reflects the grand attempts to let Ghanaians take profound hold of their progress from within themselves and not imposed on them from the Big Men in Accra.
This is to cut-down the historical Leviathan central government that unrealistically dictates to the average Ghanaians’ progress and let Ghanaians have the ultimate say about what they actually need in the face of competing priorities. This is against the set of backward social infrastructure. In some parts of Ghana children still hold classes under trees.
The idea that “all by-laws are approved by the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development … The President has the power to dissolve defaulting or non-performing DAs without consulting the electorate …The Minister of Local Government and Rural Development has power to issue guidelines, in respect of fees to be charged by the DAs for the service and facilities provided, licenses and permits issued or rates levied by DAs” make local voices minimal in their very affairs that are to affect their well-being.
This makes the decentralization project still encircled in autocracy and yet to have full traditional Ghanaian cultural accoutrements weaved into it as deeply as practicable. While the decentralization programme was born under military dictatorship and quasi-one party autocratic system, the ensuing never-ending schisms facing the programme, 23 years after its birth, shows it is yet to have a deep democratic face, where local Ghanaians actually drive the programme themselves for their well-being against their competing priorities.
I saw this first-hand in September when I was staying off the T-junction at Mile 7, New Achimota, in the Greater Accra Region. My observations there are symptomatic of the challenges of the decentralization exercises Ghana-wide. I read an article by Joe Klein in the USA-based Time magazine entitled How Can a Democracy Solve Tough Problems? to consider in relation to Africa’s development.
Joe Klein is concerned about how complex decision-making has become in the United States. The central concerns are how “credible” and “conclusive” are Americans taking hold of their development process against the impasse of gridlock. The solution: Klein found one among the ancient Athenians, using the work of Stanford University Professor James Fishkin. The Athenians called it kleroterion. It worked by randomly picking people (mostly males) everyday and delegating them to make major decisions that affect their well-being.
The Chinese coastal district of Zeguo (pop. 120,000) has adopted and improved upon the kleroterion. Yearly, 175 people of Zeguo are randomly selected to reflect its population. “They are polled once on the major decisions they'll be facing. Then they are given a briefing on those issues, prepared by experts with conflicting views. Then they meet in small groups and come up with questions for the experts - issues they want further clarified. Then they meet together in plenary session to listen to the experts' response and have a more general discussion.
“The process of small meetings and plenary is repeated once more. A final poll is taken, and the budget priorities of the assembly are made known and adopted by the local government. It takes three days to do this,” explained Joe Klein. Over the last 5 years the process has grown remarkably: “from a deliberation over public works (new sewage-treatment plants were favored over road-building) to the whole budget shebang .. By most accounts it has succeeded brilliantly, even though the participants are not very sophisticated: 60% are farmers. The Chinese government is moving toward expanding it into other districts.”
I had the kleroterion in mind when I observed the development process at T-junction. Where I was staying, the road is unasphalted. This has made the beautiful modern houses in the area dusty as vehicles ply the road and blow dust all around. I asked residents about the road and they told me it has “no name” and “the houses have no addresses.” Most of the schools are full, most rotate the children from mornings to afternoons to evenings; despite this some children in the area cannot get access to education.
The electricity is erratic and this has affected businesses in the area. Water is a big issue at the T-junction area. The normal, official water system runs through the pipes only three days per week, sometimes nothing comes. Most times the water isn’t drinkable. People use it to wash clothes and for other domestic chores. People drink from bottled water and ones in sachets. Each day, early in the morning, I saw people carrying big buckets, moving back-and-forth, to buy water up the road. Sometimes the water sellers may not be around and the residents have to wait painfully for hours.
At the T-junction area, the dirty gutters are choked with rubbish dumped in them over months and the ensuing rot brewing menacing mosquitoes. People get whacks of malaria often, some dies as a result. This has made malaria tablets fast sell at the T-junction area. In front of a house, there is a toilet erected beside the road that spews terrible odor. In the night, the street lights are dim, in some places there are no street lights. The darkness creates perfect cover for criminal activities. Over night, Spiritual Churches and Mosques create unbearable noise from their God businesses.
As the District Assembly elections are announced, there is a bridge being hurriedly re-built in the rainy season that has created huge crater, floods and misery for the residents. Twice, I saw a teenage girl and a middle-aged women fall into the big cavern by accident as they try to cross over the plank mounted over the vast gutter. Once I went to see off some visitors, on my return home a drunk driver, perhaps coming from a Ramadan party, sped pass the road leading to the unfinished bridge and run into the gutter created by the re-construction. A horrible scene, there was pandemonium at the T-junction area as the good people fall over each other to help the poor driver. At the T-junction area, the builders of the bridge being re-constructed had misguidedly cut-off the Internet cable that transmits Internet interchange, and for almost two weeks Internet access was off at the T-junction area.
I asked Linda (she gives me only her first name), a convenient store operator opposite my dwelling, who the Assembly Member of the area is. “I don’t know him … I have never seen him … I don’t even know his name … He doesn’t come here … I understand he comes here when elections are coming, that’s every two years or every four years … We don’t have deliberations with our Assembly Member and our Member of Parliament about our development concerns so most of the problems have been there for years.”
Linda and most of the courteous people I spoke to are smart and know from first-hand the development challenges facing them at the T-junction area. It is as simple as that. There are no complications. The Mile 7’s T-junction development dilemma reveals the lack of “deliberative democracy” in Ghana’s 18-year democracy despite all the ingredients, especially the traditional institutions and values, there to be appropriated for progress.
"The public is very smart if you give it a chance," Prof. Fishkin told Joe Klein. Prof. Fishkin has been conducting experiments on “deliberative democracy” in a number of countries that gives local people actual hold of their development concerns. “If people think their voice actually matters, they’ll do the hard work, ask the experts smart questions and then make tough decisions. When they hear the experts disagreeing, they're forced to think for themselves.”
According to Joe Klein, “In Texas, he ran a deliberative-democracy process for a consortium of utilities, from 1996 to 2007, which gradually transformed the state from last to first in the use of wind power.” “Over that time, the percentage of people — and these were stakeholders, utility customers - willing to pay more for wind went from 54% to 84%,” Prof. Fishkin says.
The kleroterion scheme, as a way of un-entangling the clogs in the development process, is being discussed in South Africa as a way of making people get firmer grip of their development. Bert Olivier, professor of philosophy at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, thinks the kleroterion method is ripe for South Africa in the face of arrogant Big Men from the center ordering those in the periphery around. Writing in the Mail & Guardian Online, entitled People are tired of the elites telling them what to do,<.i> Prof. Olivier said he was reminded, after reading Joe Klein’s piece, of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s Multitude (2004), that explains what they described as the “crisis of representation” in democracies.
“What they mean by such a “crisis,” has to do with the fact that democracies in today’s world are so populous that any kind of “direct” democracy, where people “represent themselves,” seems to be out of the question, and hence it is taken for granted that “representative democracy” is the only viable option. Such representation, they argue, falls woefully short of the democratic ideal of “government of the people, by the people,” or “government from the bottom up,” as it were. Instead one finds that, at every level of “representation” - local, regional, national and international - the “people” are never truly represented.”
New Achimota’s T-junction’s Linda, like most Ghanaians hungry for progress, will agree with Bert Olivier. In a situation where “representatives” are likely to be loyal either to the main opposition New Patriotic Party or the ruling National Democratic Congress “interests or policy, or worse, milk the system for their own material benefit, with scant thought of the poor constituents that they supposedly “represent,” as Bert Olivier argues, the kleroterion, mixed with traditional Ghanaian values, would resolve some of the inadequacies in representative democracy and Ghana’s development process. In the real Ghana, most of the challenges facing the decentralization programme that emanates from the “crisis of representation” would be solved if traditional values are skillfully coupled to the decentralization processes.
Kwamena Ahwoi, Ghana’s leading light on its decentralization programme, has proposed that the power given to the President of Ghana to make 30 percent appointments to the metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies, under the decentralization programme, should relatively be given to traditional rulers. Why? Against the backdrop that the assembly model is supposed to be non-partisan, Ahwoi’s argument, partially a reflection of the kleroterion, is that the traditional chiefs are non-partisan, live with the people in the communities, and “know the competent ones” who could drive the decentralization programme. But the President, a party member, according to Ahwoi, “is likely to be influenced by political interest to appoint his party members who might not be qualified enough” for the decentralization jobs.
The Athenian kleroterion via deliberative democracy is no more or less different from the Ghanaian/African traditional systems, especially if worked out from the traditional structures and local development challenges. As Paul Evans Aidoo, the Western Regional Minister, would say, if this could be done (the traditional, the democracy and the kleroterion appropriated proportionally), the deepening of local level deliberative democracy would have been rationalized. This would strengthen the decentralization exercises for the larger progress of Ghanaians.