Citizen or Client? an Analysis of Everyday Politics in Ghana

By MacLean, Lauren M. | African Studies Quarterly, December 2014 | Go to article overview

Citizen or Client? an Analysis of Everyday Politics in Ghana


MacLean, Lauren M., African Studies Quarterly


Introduction

In the 1990s, many African states began a process of political liberalization whereby the formal rules of political contestation changed. In many countries across the continent, military rulers and leaders of one-party states begrudgingly allowed multi-party elections for the first time in decades. Ghana was emblematic of this "third wave" of democratization in Africa. (1) In the spring of 1992, a new constitution was approved by popular referendum, which led Flight Lieutenant J.J. Rawlings and his Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC) to remove the ban on party politics and prepare for elections by the end of the year. Opposition parties gained recognition and were permitted to open offices and hold rallies. Furthermore, official restrictions on the media were relaxed, and the state-run monopoly on information was overrun with new radio stations and newspapers.

The early optimism about "the winds of democracy" blowing across Africa has been tempered by events on the ground, however. (2) With devastating election violence in Kenya in 2008, and returns to authoritarian rule by coup and constitutional manipulation in Cote d'Ivoire, Mali, Nigeria, and elsewhere, many scholars have understandably turned their attention away from studying the conditions for democratic transition toward analyzing the factors that support democratic consolidation. (3) At this point in time, Ghana is often held up as a model of democratic consolidation. Indeed, the Obama administration intended to communicate precisely this message with Ghana chosen as the President's first head-of-state visit in Africa in July 2009. (4) Observers have noted that while the initial elections were imperfect, Ghana has now completed six multi-party elections and two peaceful transfers of power to the opposition, even remaining calm in the context of a razor-thin victory for the opposition in December 2008 and protracted court battles over results in December 2012. (5)

While many political scientists have focused on explaining the dynamics of party politics and voting behavior at the national level during these highly contested electoral periods, this paper shifts the lens to explore how Ghanaians think about participating in politics on an everyday basis at the local level. (6) In particular, do they conceptualize their role as citizens or clients? Hence, this paper explores the meaning and everyday practice of democracy on the ground to ordinary people in Ghana outside of and between heated national elections. In particular, the paper examines a critical turning point in the late 1990s, immediately prior to the first alternation of power to the opposition, to see how Ghanaians thought about participation in politics before the political system had become a more consolidated democracy and widely considered a model of success on the continent. The paper intentionally does not focus on the most recent empirical data on political behavior from Ghana, as its objective is to make a broader, conceptual point: it is crucial for scholars to study how concepts of political participation--whether they be based on notions of clientelism or citizenship, or both--have been constituted by Ghanaians over time at the local level. Indeed, while the democratic governance of Ghanaian politics in 2014 may not be representative of the continent as a whole, the political period highlighted in this paper from the late 1990s is more typical of the hybrid regimes experienced by many Africans today.

The paper begins by comparing the literatures on citizenship and clientelism to see how scholars conceptualize the key differences between the two. Then, the paper analyzes the sub-national variations in public opinion within Ghana from the Afrobarometer Project survey in 1999 and 2008. In the second half of the paper, I draw on original data from two villages in Brong-Ahafo Region of Ghana from 1998-99 to interrogate from below these differences in how Ghanaians conceptualized their role in politics. …

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