Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Political Parties and Social Media in Ghana

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Political Parties and Social Media in Ghana

Article excerpt

Introduction

Political parties have long been considered the pillars of contemporary representative democracy. The most distinctive feature of political parties, when comparing them to any other political interest groups, is that they are the only entity whose primary goal is that of contesting and capturing state power through peaceful means. Therefore, parties have traditionally been considered as the main vehicle for political representation, the main mechanism for the organization of government and the channels for maintaining democratic accountability (Heywood, 2007; Guy and Peters, 2005). Because they occupy such a central place in contemporary democracies, political parties have increasingly become targets of democracy assistance, especially since the beginning of the twenty-first century. Today, a large and ever-growing number of U.S., European, and multilateral assistance programs seek to help parties become effective pro-democratic actors.

The Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD) for instance was founded specifically to take up the challenge of supporting political parties and assist them in strengthening their democratic roles in society, to better influence national development agendas and to effectively control the executive branch (Meijenfeldt et al., 2015) This support is in recognition of the fact that in emerging democracies, political parties often struggle to take on their conventional roles (ibid).

While the normative framework and mandate upon which actors base their support to strengthen political parties may remain static, the social and political context in which parties operate has significantly changed since their heyday in the middle of the 20th century. The most remarkable changes are the breakthroughs in information technology and social media. Today, the use of social media is not only changing whole sectors of society, it also offers numerous possibilities for modern, meaningful and equal participation and deliberation, as well as chances for new forms of transparency and accountability, in ways and on a scale that was until recently unheard of. Social media driven campaigning political organizations appear more attractive to citizens at the expense of traditional party political activism (Murthy, 2013).

In many parts of the world, people have found alternative ways to participate in politics through online petitioning and action groups rather than through political parties (ibid). This may appear to be a phenomenon that is mainly common in the developed world. However, the rate at which information technology is penetrating countries of the south means that this is a reality that will soon be the norm rather than an exception, also in Africa and for that matter, Ghana. Particularly in the wake of Arab Spring, one can note several commentators and opinion makers suggesting that social media or digital technologies can play enormous role in shaping the activities of political parties as well as help advance democratic participation in countries that believes in the tenets of democracy like Ghana.

The Literature Lacuna

Studies on political parties in Ghana have largely highlighted their evolution and formation; their role in democratic consolidation; their internal democratic practices; mobilization of their support base; inter-party dialogue; funding; and violence. Scholars like Shillington (1992), Jackson (1999), Fobih (2010) and Ayee (2008) have extensively discussed the evolution, formation and administration of political parties in Ghana's Fourth Republic. Ayee (2008) for instance discussed the emergence and development of political parties in Ghana's Fourth Republic with specific emphasis on the rationale for the formation of the New Patriotic Party, its manifesto, structure, constituency and power brokers. In discussing the role of political parties in Ghana's drive towards democratic maturity and consolidation, the works of Abdulai and Crawford (2010), Anebo (1998), McKwartin, (2001), Gyimah-Boadi (2009), Abdallah (2013), Ninsin (2006), Debrah (2007), Boafo-Arthur (2006) comes in handy. …

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