THE POWER OF THE THUMB? – *largely written as a fresher but still relevant in the final lap.
Power, in the Akan tradition, has been likened to an egg. If you hold it tightly it eventually breaks and if held loosely it ultimately falls. Indeed, power must be placed in the right hands to prevent a catastrophe as in the destruction of an egg and hence the essence of an authority. Politics has been called the great conversation and Aristotle called political studies the master science and not necessarily wrongly so. Since time immemorial, great men and women have sought to establish systems deemed to be the most appropriate for societal control.
Certainly, Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto in the nineteenth century seemed to delineate socialism as the system that will definitely drive the Soviet Union into a well created Utopia. If an economic heaven really exists then many would not seem to defy Marxism since Russia rose to superpower status in the bipolar world that was created in the twentieth century. But of course, their detractors would emanate from the Western Bloc led by the United States of America who would do battle with the Russians on a level ground in every sphere of life feasible. This struggle for supremacy would be called the Cold War, undeniably a clash of two opposing political systems. In terms of structural-functional analysis, the types of systems can be put into a variety of categories but for the purpose of this article, only a category I prefer to call “the necessity of political participation” will be dealt with.
Political Participation can be explained in either exclusive or inclusive terms most notably autocracy (few people make decisions for the state) and democracy (many decision makers) respectively. In the twenty-first century, the latter system has been lifted to the pinnacle of political understanding with the former being relegated to the background largely due to the break of communism in the early nineties. But this has come at a huge cost. I am a fan of democracy and a strong adherent to the rule of Sir Winston Churchill which states, “Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” What the former U.K. Prime minister sought to say was that democracy although problematic is the only reasonable option in enhancing both personal and national development.
Then there’s another question. What effect would the imperfections of this system have on a society like Ghana’s? We seemingly embraced this system after independence, abandoned it after some time, did a u-turn and then another until we finally settled on it in 1992. At first, I thought that was a wrong move until I took a second look. The choice of becoming a democratic state was not the mistake per se but instead the approach. The perfect model for democracy is obviously the U.S. system but even they did not build this system on the all inclusive philosophy but rather on the concept that earned Socrates martyrdom, the idea that virtue is knowledge.
It is for this reason that not all adult citizens enjoyed Universal Adult Suffrage. The voting age was higher than it is now, the unemployed who had no immovable property were excluded and so were women and for an even longer time African Americans. Undeniably, sexist and racist tendencies took their toll but what they did was to deny the victims of discrimination the chance of an education which would ultimately let them know how and who to vote for. If we agree that the organizing of periodic free and fair elections is an essential aspect of a democratic dispensation and that education is needed for this system to work, would I be wrong in saying that an uneducated electorate poses a threat to a democratic process?
I was appalled as a junior secondary school student to know that some months after the late President John Evans Atta Mills was sworn in as head of state, certain Ghanaians thought the first gentleman was actually Nana Akufo-Addo. As a senior high school student who followed the 2012 elections, I was also amazed at the fact that there were more rejected ballots than the combined votes amassed by some of the political parties. If we live in a country where less than 33% of students pass the West African Senior High School Certificate Examination and less than 50% of women are literate with only a fraction of that figure getting quality education, how can we say that the power lies in the thumb?
Invariably, I intend to punish certain leaders with my thumb but that mindset wouldn’t be right if I’m not properly schooled. Is voting supposed to be based on the desires of the heart with regard to tribalism? How polarized this nation is! We seem to copy blindly and fit the description of some of the characters in Kobina Sekyi’s The Blinkards so well. We forget that the America we seem to aspire to be does not even engage in direct elections like we do. They elect electors to do that on their behalf. And we who know next to “nothing” just go by the principle of one man one vote as though men were equal on all forms.
Obviously, we are equal in terms of how we should be respected and treated with human dignity and since we were all created by God. Nevertheless, it would be absolutely nonsensical for me to enter a plane and tell a pilot to let me fly it since we are created equal when I know next to “nothing” about aeronautics. It is for that reason that Plato says that justice is giving each man his due. The question is, “Can every old enough Ghanaian citizen of sound mind confidently say that based on the above explanations, voting is an act that is due him?” I will leave that for you to decide.
Perhaps we can say that the power lies in the thumb but power is just the ability to rule and as mentioned in the introduction, authority (which is the right to rule and ultimately legitimate power) is what is essential. If even the government fails, how are we sure that we can elect a better one during elections? How can we evaluate the voting trend of the rejected ballots and how can we unequivocally declare a candidate winner in an election? Are we certain that this is a democracy when it involves a government of the people by the people and for the people who do not know what they want or the alternatives available? Abraham Lincoln himself would probably disagree with this.
Actually, I write this not as a polemic against any political party but rather an attack on the whole system. As these questions run through our minds, it is my strongest hope that the country as a whole would fix the problems facing us, particularly with respect to the educational system we have. Rome wasn’t built in a day but as Confucius once said, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a step.
By Daniel Ewusi Awuku