Speech by His Excellency John Agyekum Kufuor, Former President of Ghana on the topic ‘Leadership in Ghana: Meeting Global Standards’ as the keynote speaker at the University of Professional Studies – Accra’s Annual Leadership Lecture on 12th December 2018 in Accra.
Mr. Chairman, Dr. Kofi Ohene-Konadu, Chair of UPSA Council
Mr. Chancellor, Drolor Bosso Adomtey I
Vice Chancellor of UPSA, Professor Abednego Okoe Feehi Amartey
Other Members of the Governing Council of UPSA
Faculty and Members of the Administration of the University
Nananom and other traditional leaders
My dear students
Ladies and Gentlemen
It gives me pleasure to be delivering the University’s Annual Leadership Lecture for 2018 on the topic ‘Leadership in Ghana, Meeting Global Standards.’ One may ask; what kind of leadership? Political, Corporate, Academic, etc, etc? Given the spread, permit me to limit it to political, which is my field. The import of the topic is acknowledging the interdependency among nations of the world today!
The idea of these annual leadership lectures, I must say, offer an excellent supplement to the classroom curriculum that is provided to the students of this budding institution of higher learning. They allow experienced people to impart knowledge and bring their acquired experiences to bear on your academic work. I hope that the university will continue to find interesting topics for speakers to share their thoughts on.
My friends, the topic for the day is an extremely important one. In round terms, in a modern polity like Ghana, political leadership is the delegation of the power of the people, from whom power emanates, to the leader to wield on the people’s behalf; to use and manage the authority and resources of the land for the greater good, in terms of the security, stability, and development of the people as a whole.
Good leadership transforms societies and makes life worth living for the people. It makes for judicious use of a nation’s resources, both human and natural, for the upliftment of the society for now and into the future. However, from what I have observed in my many years in politics, and it is over five decades, it has become obvious to me that the dearth of effective and enlightened leadership has been the bane of Africa’s development. In our world today, societies that have gotten the leadership quality right have made appreciable progress in their socio-economic development. Such quality leadership must exist within sturdy institutional frameworks for it to be effective and beneficial to the generality of the people.
As President Obama said here in Accra in July 2009 in his maiden visit to Africa, “Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.” Rather, permit me to add this, it must be said that Africa should need well-groomed, knowledgeable, committed, focused, and caring leaders, who respect their peoples and humanity and truly uphold the national constitutions by which they become vested with the people’s power to govern.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, the topic talks about ‘meeting global standards.’ However, till three decades ago, such a phrase would have been moot since in the Bi-polar world of the times, talk of global standards would have depended on the concept of the West or the East. With the end of the Cold War, and the collapse of the Berlin Wall at the end of the 1980s, however, Liberal Democracy seems to have gained ground and is spreading globally to attain the attributes of “GOLD STANDARDS” for governance among nations. Into the early 1990s, almost all nations that did not have a democratic systems of government joined the democratization bandwagon, and a fresh air of democratic awakening blew across the world.
Here on our continent, Africa, it saw the Constitutive Act of the African Union being promulgated in the year 2000. This Act proscribed non-constitutional changes of government among its member nations. It also prescribed the rule of law and democratic constitutions that uphold the centrality of the individual and the upholding of fundamental human rights in sovereign governance. Transparency and accountability, with institutional checks and balances, a functional private sector for wealth creation and employment generation, and responsible civil society organizations were to be the bedrock of good governance. Independent and robust press and media would also be watchdogs for sustained accountable governance.
Unfortunately, Ladies and Gentlemen, within Africa, over the last decade, it appears that some countries are backtracking on democracy, somewhat. Some leaders appear to relish going back to the strongman era, seeking to extend their mandates, and generally, democracy has deteriorated in such countries.
Globally, there has arisen totalitarian tendencies among many leaders. Some used the democratic constitutional way to come to power, then seek to rule as dictatorships in countries where institutions are not strong enough. Others seek to govern as autocrats by subverting robust institutions, thereby stretching the systems to see what they can get away with. These are manifest in the numerous so-called populist governments that we see around the world these days, which try to buck the international liberal order that had, hitherto, taken root in many countries since the end of the Cold War. Such leaders take advantage of the xenophobia, the racial intolerance of minorities and immigrants, as well as the frustrations of natural-born citizens. These frustrations arise out of changing economies from manufacturing to the digital economy, which have seen their jobs currently non-available anymore, and rendered these citizens frustrated with their place in the knowledge-based economy.
So, Ladies and Gentlemen, when the topic talks about ‘meeting global standards,’ I do not for once contemplate that it is such recent aberration in democratic governance around the world that is being referred to here. Rather, I take it that it is leadership that is in consonance with a liberal democratic constitutional order where the rule of law reigns supreme; a liberal order where there is equality before the law; equality of opportunity, and humanity is at the center of governance. This, obviously, prescribes the upholding of fundamental human rights, and especially, responsible freedom of speech and of the press.
Governance according to global standards in the prevailing international order must also emphasize private enterprise and markets, and private wealth creation, employment-generation by the private sector, with governments concentrating on providing the enabling environment for the private sector to operate and grow. The global expectations on sound economic management requires the private sector to be encouraged as the engine of growth, with governments providing the requisite infrastructural development to drive and buttress the efforts of the private sector. It is instructive to acknowledge the Chinese example in pragmatic economic management, even within a Communist system, with the private sector taking centre stage, and with public-private partnerships taking the lead role in the economy and proving the efficacy of market forces in the process.
In addition, regulatory frameworks under which economic activities are undertaken must seriously take cognizance of the protection of the environment, especially, in this era when climate change has been adjudged to be a serious menace to humanity, with debilitating consequences. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has long sounded the alarm about the devastating effects that Climate Change is having on ecosystems, health, agriculture, food production, costal settlements, island nations, etc., and ultimately, the overall sustainability of life itself as we have known it on our planet earth. As a global requirement, development must be sustainable and must subscribe to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that is being spearheaded by the United Nations, the other Bretton Woods institutions, the international community, and many global civil society organizations, and almost all nations. It is a plan of action for people, our planet, and posterity.
Into current times, aside what is prescribed for development in the face of climate change, the new development paradigm is the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The human development element of these Sustainable Development Goals, which is essentially the first five goals, together, seeks to address the human insecurities of our times.
Mr. Chairman, among the essential goals as captured in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development are: Ending poverty in all its forms; Ending hunger by achieving food security and improved nutrition through sustainable agriculture; Ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages; Inclusive and equitable quality education for all; and Achieving gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls. The remaining goals all reinforce the earlier ones to guide the world towards sustainable development of the earth’s resources.
Social development by governments must also be equitable and undertaken within structures where equality of opportunity is judiciously adhered to.
Another major global expectation of national leaderships is a vigorous fight against corruption. Indeed, it is very instructive to note that frequently quoted global estimates of the cost of corruption is that more than 5% of global GDP, or approximately US$ 2.6 trillion, is lost to corruption each year around the world. It is further reported by the ONE Campaign that an estimated US$1 trillion flows out of developing countries each year through a web of corrupt activities including illegal tax evasion, money laundering, use of shell companies, and shady deals in natural resources exploitation. And, there is a substantial body of research regarding the macroeconomic effects of corruption which indicates that, overall, corruption has a serious negative effect on economic growth. Not only these, there is also a reported correlation between higher levels of corruption and increased inequality, and, in turn, higher levels of poverty. The international community therefore seriously frowns on corruption and enjoins all governments to intensify the fight against this menace. Indices such as Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index are thus used to gauge the level of corruption in different countries.
Mr. Chairman, these are some of the leadership expectations that currently enjoy near universal global acceptance. Coming home, our dear country, Ghana, has had a chequered history as far as its leadership is concerned. At independence, we began with a multi-party democratic dispensation. At the time of the overthrow of that first republic, the country’s political dispensation had been changed to a one-party state. Then, we alternated between military and civilian constitutional governments for twenty-seven years, with military governments taking a substantial number of those years, until we ultimately ushered in the current fourth Republican Constitution in 1992.
So far, Ladies and Gentlemen, this fourth Republic has been the most enduring. And, to all intents and purposes, the Constitution is in consonance with international protocols such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with all the protections that that sacred document of 1948 prescribes for citizens of our world. By our Constitution, sovereignty resides with the people, and our leaders are chosen by universal adult suffrage. Leadership, in exercising power, has been made to be accountable to the people, by way of its submitting of itself to the people’s renewal or otherwise of its mandate, every four years. The constitution has also prescribed a lifetime limit of a maximum of two terms that one can be president of the republic. So far, the leaders that Ghana has had in this fourth republic have subjected themselves to these obligations, and no leader has even remotely attempted to subvert these constraints.
Distinguished Audience, our Constitution prescribes the separation of powers among the three branches of government; the Executive, the Legislature, and the Judiciary as pertains in a presidential system of government, which ours is. However, the lack of a full delineation between the Executive and the Legislature is an area not properly congruous with what is to be expected in a truly presidential system, which I will come to later in my submission. So far, leadership in Ghana has dutifully respected the sharing of power among the three branches of government, and there hasn’t been any rancor among them. Our judiciary is adjudged among the most independent on the African continent. Indeed, government losing cases at the courts is not a big deal here in Ghana, and governments have always taken those occurrences in stride. My friends, I am very proud to say that the rule of law is deeply entrenched in our country, for which we should all be extremely gratified. Need I remind you, in 2012, the governing party, the then-governing party had the election of its presidential candidate, who was the incumbent president, challenged in the Supreme Court for almost eight months, to the consternation of many political observers the world over. Indeed, the possibility of seeking legal redress in the judicial system of Ghana when one feels legally injured gives a lot of confidence to both foreign and domestic investors.
Mr. Chairman, since the advent of constitutional rule in January 1993, Ghana has held successful and peaceful elections every four years. As I alluded to above, where a losing side was not comfortable with the conduct of the election in 2012, it exercised its constitutional right to resort to the court system for redress. This, I believe, is a feather in the cap of leadership in Ghana, which points to the reality that they are striving to meet global standards in this regard.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Thomas Jefferson once remarked that “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” This emboldens the fact that the existence and independence of the press is so essential to the effective running of a democracy.
Accordingly, when I assumed office as president of Ghana in January 2001 and realized that a criminal libel law was still on the books, I had it repealed in July 2001. It was one of my government’s early legislative accomplishments. Paradoxically, the law was then still on the books despite that our Constitution guarantees free speech, and freedom of the press, and other media as fundamental human rights and makes elaborate provisions to protect the freedom and independence of the media. The repeal of the criminal libel law has had a positive impact on the development of the Ghanaian media and freed it from needless censorship and thereby promoting a robust and critical media culture. Though, the press is sometimes overtaken by sensationalism, succeeding governments, since, have continued to ensure that the press is free in our country to the admiration of the international community.
As a result, in publishing the World Press Freedom Index in April 2018, Reporters Without Borders adjudged Ghana number one in Africa as having the freest press on the continent, and number 23 overall in the world. Undeniably, if this does not meet global standards, I do not know what else would.
Ladies and Gentlemen, as I have said before, the 1993 Constitution of Ghana offers a lot of fundamental human right guarantees to the citizen. Happily, successive governments have strived to live up to these tenets of the constitution. To this end, there has been no prisoner of conscience in Ghana since the inception of the current Constitution. Successive leadership in Ghana have also strived to be inclusive in their appointment of individuals to government positions, by making sure that all regions of Ghana are represented in government. Because of these practices and others, Ghana consistently ranks very high on global indexes on good governance practices, and its democratic culture is the envy of Africa.
When I was president, my government was the first to subject itself to the African Peer Review Mechanism whereby it was reviewed by a team of experts put together by the African Union to assess whether Ghana’s democratic and governance practices were in tune with best practices. Ladies and Gentlemen, I am happy to report that my government passed exceedingly. In addition to these, when in 2015 Ghana’s performance in the Millennium Development Goals was assessed, it was determined that targets such as halving extreme poverty (MDG 1A), halving the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water (MDG 7B), universal primary education (MDG 2A), and gender parity in primary school (MDG 3) were attained. A substantial progress has also been made in reducing HIV prevalence (MDC 6C) and reducing the proportion of people suffering from hunger.
These achievements are in relation to set international targets, i.e. the Millennium Development Goals that were prescribed by the United Nations at the dawn of this century. They were the global standard. Leadership in Ghana has already committed itself vigorously to the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals. Recently, it launched the framework for the achievement of zero-hunger in Accra.
Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, from the foregoing, one can easily conclude that leadership in Ghana over the last several years is trying to meet global expectations. However, there are a few areas that I believe we can do better at. As a matter of fact, since the inception of the fourth Republic, advocates have consistently called on all governments to pass a ‘Right to Information Bill (RTI), and this bill is still before parliament.’ Unfortunately, up till date, successive governments have been grappling with passing such a bill. The real challenge is not government refusing to pass the bill, but the text of, the bill, the content of the bill, has not been revisited enough to offer guarantees to information that are of security and stability concerns. This bill must be passed to help achieve better governance, but it shouldn’t be to the cost of security and stability. It is obvious that government not passing the RTI frustrates the fight against corruption, and civil society groups are up in arms for the lack of passage, and they are rightly so.
Corruption is still a major problem currently for the nation, and indeed, it has always been. I just recently came across a newspaper headline on social media whereby Prime Minister K. A. Busia was in March 1971, lamenting about bribery and corruption having eaten so deep into the very fabric of the Ghanaian society. However, successive governments have had varying degrees of success in the fight against this social canker, and there is still much more work to be done. If one wants to determine whether corruption is still with us, just get hold of an annual Auditor-General’s Report. I would surmise that robust economic progress, effective policing and judicial mechanisms, access to gainful employment with realistic remuneration which will not make the individual succumb easily to corrupt practices are some of the avenues to fight corruption. However, with the creation of the Office of the Special Prosecutor by the current government, there is the hope that the fight may now be enjoined and intensified even within the limited constraints.The work of many civil society organizations in this fight, and for accountable governance and transparency in government actions must also be commended and supported.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this brings me to parliamentary oversight of the executive to ensure serious accountability of executive actions. As I have mentioned earlier, our constitution has this hybrid system whereby a majority of ministers of state must necessarily come from parliament. Unfortunately, this impedes effective parliamentary oversight of the executive. It should be noted that in effective presidential systems of government, parliamentary oversight is one of the bedrocks of the checks and balances that ensure the necessary accountability of government. Ghana, is the loser for having such a hybrid system and I believe the time has come for us to open a debate on the matter to seek changes in the constitution in this regard.
Distinguished Audience, I believe our country is on the right track in performing to global standards on so many fronts, though there is more room to grow. Therefore, I believe that we just must recommit ourselves to better our governance as democracy itself is always a work in progress. I wish you well.