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To What Extent Do Recent Political Developments in Ghana Suggest That Democracy Is Being Consolidated in the Country?”

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Published: 18th Mar 2021 in Politics

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Democratic consolidation is commonly understood as the process of achieving broad and deep legitimation, in both its procedural and substantive norms. Ghana became the first sub-Saharan nation to attain independence from British colonial rule in 1957, later setting the precedence for exemplary democratic consolidation. Starting with 1992, Ghana underwent a significant democratic transition in line with a newly installed constitution, reinstating the multi-party system which set Ghana as one of the more stable countries in West Africa. The country has long been held up as a model for democratic governance, as such, it became crucial to implement policies and institutions that cemented this transition. Recent political developments such as the 2008 presidential elections marked a new era for democratic consolidation in the country, along with the emergence of the Electoral Commission and a relatively independent civil society making its mark. Due to this, Ghana enjoyed its seventh consecutive general election in 2016, and has most notably, experienced three peaceful power transfers to date. Moreover, it has become clear that the Ghanaian people have accepted democracy as ‘the only game in town’, with widespread support for democratic procedures in place of alternative systems and incredibly high voter turnouts (Abdulai and Crawford; Botchway, 2018). Thus, Ghana appears to have democracy consolidated through it’s practice of procedural norms. However, this essay will explore a number of factors that undermine the substantive quality of democracy in Ghana; corruption within the state government and electoral processes, excessive presidential powers, it’s newly discovered oil reserve and the presence of neopatrimonialism. This further reinforces that although significant progress has been made towards procedural democratic consolidation in Ghana, there are aspects of consolidation that indeed remain weak.

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In order to properly consider the extent of Ghana’s democratic regime, we must first explore the definition of democratic consolidation itself. There is a great deal of debate surrounding thedefinitions of democracy and what constitutes for the correct and most adequate conception of democratic consolidation. Following Huntington’s (1991) ‘third wave of democratization’, the concept of democratic consolidation became a key and much debated area of interest in academic literature. In a general sense, it refers to the process of achieving broad and deep legitimation, such that all significant political actors deem a democratic regime as the ‘most right’ and ‘appropriate’ method of governance, better than any other alternative (Diamond, 1999). Further discussion on what constitutes for the quality of consolidation, emerged through the ‘procedural’ and ‘substantive’ or ‘minimalist’ and ‘maximalist’ dichotomy. Diamond and Morlino (2005) distinguish between the two dimensions by outlining key features of both; procedural being concerned with the rule of law, political participation, competition, rules and practices whilst substantive is concerned with the respect for civil and political freedoms along with implementation of greater equality. Minimalist definitions are often based on Dahl’s (1971) polyarchy which mainly focuses on the holding of free and contested elections on the basis of inclusive voter eligibility. However, Linz and Stepan (1996) highlight that in many cases of free and contested elections, the ensuing government still often “lacks the de jure as well as de facto power to determine policy in many significant areas”(Linz and Stepan, 1996, p.14). As well as this, the procedural definition is vulnerable to Terry Karl’s criticism that is the ‘fallacy of electoralism’ which means prioritising elections over other significant dimensions of democracy (Abdulai and Crawford, 2010). This is in line with a more substantive or maximalist standpoint, which would argue that democracy is more than political pluralism, rather it is a process and practise that involves economic and social opportunities for every individual (Botchway, 2018). Thus, the consolidation of new democracies involves much more than the formality of regular elections. Accordingly, Linz and Stepan (1996) put forth a comprehensive framework of democratic consolidation. For democratic consolidation to exist, there are three dimensions that require the presence of five interacting arenas which reinforce one another. By this definition, consolidation occurs when, behaviourally, there are no significant political groups seriously attempt to secede the democratic regime; attitudinally, there is a majority consensus that any political change must only come from within the parameters of democratic formulas, even when faced with crises; and constitutionally, when all political actors resolve conflict through the national laws, court systems and institutions. The five interacting arenas

are as follows; a free and lively society; a relatively autonomous political society; the rule of law to ensure legal guarantees for citizens’ freedoms; a state bureaucracy that is usable by the democratic government; and an institutionalised economic society (Linz and Stepan, 1996). Due to the rigorous and multidimensional nature of this framework, this essay will uphold this definition when examining Ghana’s political condition.


From the perspective of electoral democracy, Ghana has made considerable progress towards democratic consolidation in recent years. Optimistic scholars hold the view that Ghana’s seven consecutive successful presidential elections are key  indicators of democratic progression (Brobbey, 2013). They conclude that with each of the elections that took place there was significant improvement in terms of ‘free and fairness’, moreover, with three peaceful transfers to date, the country passed Huntington’s two turnover test reinforcing electoral democracy (Huntington, 1991; Brobbey, 2013; Boasiako, 2017). In particular, the 2008 presidential elections marked a new era for democratic consolidation in Ghana. The fact that violence did not occur was partly due to structural changes, including the emergence of the Electoral Commission (EC) and the development of an active civil society (Whitfield, 2009; Abdulai and Crawford, 2010;  Botchway, 2018). In this year, a run-off election was held in Tain between the two leading candidates, New Patriotic Party (NPP)’s Afuko-Addo and National Democratic Congress (NDC)’s Mills due to neither obtaining 50%(+1) of the votes as required by the 1992 constitution. The EC declared NDC’s Mills as the winner of the 2008 presidential elections, despite a margin of less than 0.5% difference between the parties. Indeed, the fact that an incumbent party peacefully transferred power to the opposition after having lost the run-off by a margin of less than 0.5%, indicates a significant shift in the behaviour of political elites in Ghana, suggesting an acceptance of the legitimacy of democratic procedures (Abdulai and Crawford, 2010; Botchway, 2018). Moreover, in the Tain run off, hundreds of NDC supporters converged on the election headquarters demanding that Mills should be declared the winner. This led the NPP to file a lawsuit seeking to delay the vote in Tain, claiming that the atmosphere in the rural district was not conducive to a ‘free and fair’ election. This is particularly significant as it marks the utilization of an independent civil society as well as adhering to the rule of law, in line with Linz and Stepan (1996)’s framework of democratic consolidation; both attitudinally and constitutionally.

Ghana’s implementation of electoral democracy is reflected in the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections respectively. The 2012 presidential elections highlights an important step in democratic consolidation, as the stakes were considerably high in light of growing demands for better living standards (Botchway, 2018). A key component of the presidential campaigns delivered by the parties, was the promise to use Ghana’s recently discovered oil reserve to initiate an industrial transformation, invest in state education and health services as well as creating more jobs. The AU Observer Mission asserted that this election “afforded Ghanaians an opportunity to assess the strengths of their democracy and to confirm that the country is gradually developing a culture of political transition” (AU, 2012, cited in Botchway, 2018, p.7). Consequently, the ability to reassess the performance of their government, and to implement change through democratic means alludes to a more substantive development of democratic political culture in Ghana.  This would explain the high voter turnout in this year, as the EC reported a 79.43% voter turnout, making it one of the highest recorded turnouts in recent time (Botchway, 2018). Election observers also deemed that this election was, for the most part, free and fair. The extent of Ghana’s democratic political culture is also reflected in the 2016 elections. This election marked the third power alternation in the country’s recent democratic history, where the NDC conceded defeat to the NPP. Thus, by logic of passing Huntington’s minimalist two-turnover-test, Ghana qualifies for a consolidated democracy (Boasiako, 2017; Huntington, 1991). Moreover, during this election period, several measures were put in place at polling stations to ensure that individuals with disabilities were able to cast their ballot, As well as this, individuals with disabilities, the elderly, sick, pregnant women and women with young kids were to be given special treatment at the polling station to vote (Botchway, 2018). These measures exhibit the level of importance the country attaches to universal suffrage, another indication of democratic consolidation.

With regards to Linz and Stepan (1996)’s three dimensions, Ghana has demonstrated consolidation on all three counts. Behaviourally, no identifiable group in the country has ever attempted to secede the democratic regime, despite the fact Ghana is ethnically and religiously polarised (Boasiako, 2017; Whitfield, 2009). Whilst the NPP has it’s support base among the Akan people, the biggest ethnic bloc in the country, the NDC’s support base is largely spread out amongst the rest of the ethnic groups. Similarly, the NPP has often been deemed a predominantly Christian party whilst the NDC has wide support among those who practice Islam (Boasiako, 2017). The fact that transfers of power have largely been peaceful with no attempts to secede, despite the ethnic and religious fragmentations, suggests successful democratic consolidation. Attitudinally, data from the 2008 Afrobarometer Round 4 Survey found that 79% of Ghanaians stated that democracy is always preferable, suggesting that they indeed believe ‘democracy is the only game in town’ (Afrobarometer, 2008 cited in Abdulai and Crawford, 2010) Additionally, Ghanaians patiently waited until the electoral process came full circle in the 2016 elections before showing the incumbent government the exit through the power of the thumb (Boasiako, 2017). Constitutionally, it has now been ingrained in Ghanaian civic culture that any conflicts would be resolved through institutions such as the EC and the official courts. An instance of this was the famous Abu Ramadan vs the Electoral Commission case about the validity of the use of National Health Insurance Cards (NHIC) as proof for voter registration. The Supreme Court ordered the Electoral Commission to expunge the names of all those who used the NHIC and allow them to re-register with the proper identification (Boasiako, 2017). These political developments reaffirm Ghana’s considerable progress in terms of democratic consolidation, notably through the implementation of laws, procedures and institutions.


Whilst Ghana has made considerable strides in it’s path to democratic consolidation, many scholars hold the view that frequent elections does not necessarily equate to democratic outcomes, instead risking ‘the fallacy of electoralism’. Indeed, many have suggested that the periodic electoral democratic success in Ghana a ‘convenient myth’, rendering it’s democratic gains as ‘merely cosmetic in outlook’ (Brobbey, 2013). Thus, Ghana seemingly exhibits a hybrid form of governance, meaning the country demonstrates the outer appearance of a consolidated democracy through procedural norms, whilst simultaneously utilizing undemocratic means in order to acquire political power (Diamond, 2002; Schedler 2002). Whilst a number of opportunity structures have emerged in efforts of consolidating democracy in Ghana, these are generally ‘top-down invited spaces’ hosted by government officials, where the “overall agendas and scope of decisions are ultimately controlled” (Abdul and Crawford, 2010, p.47). This suggests that Ghana’s CSO’s have a limited scope for independent thinking, consequently having limited policy influence. In this regard it seems that whilst there is the appearance of an autonomous political society, in actuality there is not much independence, failing to meet one of Linz and Stepan’s (1996) arenas of democratic consolidation. Along with this, there are indeed excessive constitutional powers entrusted to the President in the appointment of judges, the Judicial Council, the Council of State as well as the appointment of cabinet ministers from within Parliament. This not only fosters executive hegemony and weakens the credibility of oversight judicial institutions, but is also “harmful to the already weak systems of checks and balances that underpins Ghana’s constitutional democracy” (Abdulai and Crawford, 2010, p.48). This further reinforces the liminality of Ghana’s democratic procedures as the country occupies what Schedler (2002) calls the ‘foggy zone’, balancing between electoral control and electoral credibility in order to sustain power. Thus, it is difficult to praise Ghana’s democratic credentials purely on the basis of systems in place to deal with election-related matters, as these structures fail to check the abuses of power by the executive and corruption within the judiciary (Botchway, 2018; Abdulai and Crawford 2010). It is important to note that there have also been allegations of pervasive electoral manipulations and corruption in Ghana over the years. This is evident in the 2008 presidential elections where there were allegations of attempted electoral fraud and rigging by political elites in their regional strongholds; the Ashanti and Volta regions where there also incidents of intimidation (Abdulai and Crawford, 2010; Botchway, 2018). As well as this, the 2008 voter register was regarded as ‘unusually bloated’ with an admission by the EC that it could be bloated by more than one million voters (Abdulai and Crawford, 2010). Further allegations of voting irregularities were made in the 2012 elections, where the NPP alleged the tampering of results by the EC in favour of the incumbent party. In fact, a study by Brobbey (2013) found that various experts based in Ghana, admitted there has not been a single election conducted in Ghana that was free from allegations electoral manipulation, concluding that electoral democracy in Ghana lacks credibility (Brobbey, 2013). This reinforces the notion that Ghana’s governing structures maintain the appearance of a consolidated democracy, whilst simultaneously engaging in autocratic measures to acquire power; thereby undermining the substantive quality of democratic consolidation.


Whilst on the whole Ghana has improved in terms of electoral democracy, the substantive quality of democracy remains weak. A number of scholars name Ghana as a neopatrimonial state, suggesting that Ghana’s governing system includes the use of coercive measures to retain power as well as the careful management of patronage networks. Thus, it is suggested that Ghana’s democratic culture is actually undermined by it’s neopatrimonial dysfunctionality (Brobbey, 2013; Awal and Paller; 2016). Ghana’s political framework is combined with multi-party politics and entrenched clientelism that is rooted in informal networks. This system usually generates rivalry between ruling and opposition coalitions, encouraging ruling elites to pursue short-term strategies to win elections, rather than pursuing long-term policy choices that may benefit the general public; otherwise known as discretionary power (Gyimah-Boadi and Prempeh, 2012; Beresford 2015; Awal and Paller, 2016; Brobbey, 2013). Furthermore, evidence shows that in many cases, a number of election observes have falsely endorsed election outcomes in Ghana as ‘free and fair’ and in the case of the 2012 presidential election result, there is the allegation of electoral manipulation by the EC. As well as this, an interview with a political analyst at the CDD found that all political parties in Ghana are characterised by transformational neopatrimonialism (Brobbey, 2013). By this logic, this system allows large ‘selectorates’ to exercise their franchise in the process of selecting political elite as a party leader, in other words, they posses powers to ‘make’ or ‘unmake’ political leaders. In return these leaders are keen on divvying up the ‘national cake’ amongst current supporters (Brobbey, 2013; Bissell, 2015). Thus the use of patronage networks in Ghana explains the variations in the access to state resources, with a larger quantity being afforded to political elites. Furthermore, since the discovery of the Jubilee oil field in the Gulf of Guinea in 2007, Ghana has emerged as an oil-rich nation which presented new challenges for the country’s democracy. This newly found oil-wealth could potentially worsen the already embedded presence of patronage politics (Gyimah-Boad and Prempeh, 2012). Considering Ghana’s patronage and that associated distribution of resources are the primary pay-off for campaign and party donors, oil now adds a new dimension. As Gyimah-Boadi and Prempeh (2012) put it, the newly found “oil will exacerbate unhealthy partisanship and competitive clientelism that plague Ghanaian politics” (Gyimah-Boadi and Prempeh, 2012, p.104). Reinforcing, that not only will this discovery exacerbate party rivalry, as a result it will have deeply negative consequences for the general public. This sheds light on the widespread corruption and deeply entrenched patron-client networks that are prevalent in the country’s democratic systems, further undermining Ghana’s democratic consolidation. It is also interesting to note that with the government permitted to use petroleum revenues as loan agreements, Ghana’s public debt has doubled in the period since the discovery of oil, from $7.4billion in 2007 to $14.8 billion in 2011, alluding to the presence of excessive presidential powers (Gyimah-Boadi and Prempeh, 2012). Thus, with regards to Linz and Stepan’s (1996) framework, the pervasiveness of neopatrimonialism in Ghana’s political structure highlights it’s ineffectiveness in state bureaucracy.


The analysis of the extent of Ghana’s democratic consolidation undertaken in this essay suggests that whilst the country has made significant progress in terms of procedural democracy, there are indeed aspects of substantive consolidation that remain weak. On one hand, Ghana is successful on all three counts of Linz and Stepan’s (1996) dimensions, that is behaviourally, attitudinally and constitutionally.

To reiterate, behaviourally there have been no attempts to secede Ghana’s democratic government and attitudinally the Ghanaian people have repeatedly shown that democracy is always preferable in the 2008, 2012 and 2016 elections respectively.  Constitutionally, the country’s political system has successfully integrated the role of institutions such as the EC, independent civil society organisations and the rule of law. Where many instances of political conflict or issues arose, the government operated within democratic parameters to resolve these.

However, many have deemed Ghana’s democratic gains as ‘merely cosmetic in outlook’ or a ‘convenient myth’ in light of Ghana’s hybrid nature (Brobbey, 2013).

With the many instances of excessive presidential powers, corruption and electoral manipulation by elites, it is difficult to claim that Ghana has completely achieved democratic consolidation. Additionally, Ghana’s political framework is combined with multi-party politics and entrenched clientelism that is rooted in informal patron networks. Thus, the country’s newly discovered oil reserve immediately raised concerns about the pervasiveness of Ghana’s neopatrimonialism as well as the potential exacerbation of party rivalry that will, in turn, have negative consequences for the general population. This suggests that whilst some progress has been made, Ghana still has a long way to go in terms of democratic consolidation.


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