Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of Africa

Ethnicity and Political Participation in Ghana

Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of Africa

Ethnicity and Political Participation in Ghana

Article excerpt


Like many of its peers in sub-Saharan Africa, Ghana's journey to democracy has been a tortuous one indeed. To the extent that governance is about the equitable distribution of societal resources, Ghana, like many African societies, has been grappling with the problem of governance since time immemorial. Before the advent of colonial rule, several African societies had established a variety of political systems with corresponding political, economic, and social institutions which dealt with allocation of resources, lawmaking, and social and political control based, for the most part, on family and kinship relations associated with communalism and consensual decision making (Rodney, 1978)1.

Besides the fact that the inauguration of the colonial project curtailed the natural evolution of the democratic governance engendered by the rule of chiefs during this period in Africa's history, colonial rule was generally based on both economic exploitation and racial injustice. It entailed economic exploitation of natural resources and social and political exclusion of indigenous Africans from decision making. This twin evil of the colonial project became the main motivation for the adoption of socialist principles of organization by many African states in the immediate post-independence period.

It is significant to note that the desire of the first generation of Africa's political elite to monopolize power for themselves and their offspring was one reason for the adoption of socialism after political independence. This was evidenced by the alacrity with which the African political elite established one-party states across the continent during this period as they invariably embarked on various socio-economic development projects to redress the unbalanced development engendered by the colonial project. Skinner (2007), for example, has argued that measures similar to the Washington Consensus in the 1960s by the new African elite essentially involved an outright abolition of traditional leadership structures in some countries or a drastic reduction in their powers and influence in the affairs of the state in others. He argues that these African nationalists ignored their own "counter-racist" philosophies such as "negritude" and the "African personality" by paying only lip service to traditional political cultures, while firmly rejecting compromise with African traditional politicians. For example, in Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah rejected the view that the new African states used agriculture to build their economies and employed ethnic-based coalitions (Lewis, 1967)2.

However, since the mid-1980s, following the dismal failure of the socialist experiments in the continent and the imposition of various conditionalities by Western-inspired Bretton Woods institutions like the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), African states have gradually, but surely, reverted back to the neo-liberal development paradigm with its wholesale embrace of market and political reforms popularly known as the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) or the so-called Washington Consensus. Among the myriad reforms that these Western-inspired liberal institutions required were the establishment of multi-party democracy with its concomitant precepts of the rule of law, respect for human rights, free press and regular elections.


In recent decades the world has witnessed events which have threatened the stability of states as opposed to their stable evolution as a result of competing allegiances of people to supra-state entities in heterogeneous societies (Walker, 1978). Deng (2008) refers to diversity as the plurality of identity groups that inhabit individual countries or real or imagined (often socially constructed) markers that social groups attribute to themselves or to others in order to set themselves apart from others (we/they) and to distinguish others from one another. …

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