Democracy, Politics, Leadership and the Development of Ghana and Africa


By Mohamed Ibn Chambas

  1. I AM delighted to participate in this year’s edition of the Ishmael Yamson and Associates Business Roundtable, and it is indeed my pleasure to be presenting the keynote address. I would like to commend the organizers for once again organising such an important annual event which presents a unique platform for compelling discourse to enlighten our people and seek solutions to contemporary challenges.  
  1. On a personal note, I sincerely thank the organizers for asking me to present the keynote address and to participate in the panel discussions. It is humbling to be added to the list of esteemed panelists and speakers who have graced previous events and whose intellectual generosity has enriched the discussions. I would, in this regard, like to recognize the presence of the panelists of today’s roundtable:  Mr. Kwame Pianim, Mr. Kwasi Agyeman Busia and Dr. Emmanuel Akwetey. Gentlemen, I am anxiously looking forward to your usual insightful contributions.  
  1. The uniqueness of this year’s event cannot be overstated as it is being held in the shadows of the COVID-19 pandemic which is stalking our communities with death and socio-economic devastation and which has severely disrupted our way of life, as evidenced by our virtual meeting today. It is my fervent hope that despite the odds, you and your loved ones are keeping safe and healthy. 

Rest assured that together, we will defeat this pandemic because every time humanity has united against a common foe, humanity has always prevailed. The United Nations stands in solidarity with the countries and populations affected by this pandemic and continues to support COVID response measures across the globe. We extend our condolences to families who have lost loved ones to the pandemic and wish a speedy recovery to those undergoing treatment. 

  1. The impressive participation in today’s event, which is taking place against the backdrop of commemorations to mark the 57th anniversary of Africa Day, bears testimony to your determination to look beyond the pathogen towards the Ghana and Africa that we all desire through robust exchanges and action-oriented recommendations. Besides your admirable sense of patriotism and commitment to the ideals of pan-Africanism, I am also convinced that your presence here today is indicative of the pedigree of this event, which keeps attracting high calibre participants. 
  1. Even as we converge to reflect on “Democracy, Politics, Leadership and the Development of Ghana and Africa”, the COVID-19 pandemic and, in particular, the global response to it, reminds us of the need to pause for a moment and deeply reflect as individuals and nations on our overall conception and approach to human progress. 

The fact that the pandemic continues to cost thousands of human lives, wreak havoc to the socio-economic order, impact negatively on peace and stability and expose limitations of the global governance system which is bereft of solidarity, should be of major concern to us all.  In fact, it is even defining how we relate to each other and testing the values we place on our relationships. We are indeed in turbulent times. 

  1. As I speak, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected all the countries in our region. As of 25 May, the West African Health Organisation (WAHO), had reported 29772 confirmed cases and 627 deaths in the West African region. According to the African Centre for Disease Control, as of 26 May, the West African region was the second most affected region in the continent after the north African region. The pandemic is one of the most consequential health crises of our time with multidimensional implications. Addressing it will require the rapid restoration of unity of purpose and global solidarity to ensure an effective global response. 
  1. Having said that, I am encouraged by the actions enacted at national, regional and continental levels. Member States have taken specific steps to curb the spread of the pandemic by quickly implementing effective restrictive and sanitary protocols, tracing and testing measures, as well as emergency economic and financial interventions to cushion the effects on populations. 
  1. At the regional level, ECOWAS continues to provide the requisite political leadership and technical assistance to its member states. 

On 23 April, the Heads of State and Government during an extra-ordinary summit decided that the containment, prevention and fight against COVID-19 remain a major priority. They took key decisions to stop the spread of the virus, ensure coherence and coordination in the response in addition to taking appropriate and wide-ranging measures to contain the impact of the pandemic and revive the economies. 

  1. The ECOWAS Commission through WAHO has been assisting member States in the provision of essential medical equipment and supplies as well as technical assistance in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO).  
  1. Meanwhile, the African Union (AU) has developed a Joint Continental Strategy for the COVID-19 to promote coordination in the response. The Africa Centre for Disease Control (CDC) has been spearheading the technical assistance while the Chairperson of the African Union and the African Union Commission have increased advocacy to mobilise resources. The AU and the CDC have also launched the Africa COVID-19 Response Fund, a public-private partnership initiative to prevent transmission and support sustainable medical response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  1. The response by the United Nations has been swift with WHO in the lead. The Secretary-General Mr. Antonio Guterres has stated that UN staff will stay to deliver. 

This largely explains why UN Country Teams have stepped up engagements with Member States to contribute towards the development and implementation of national emergency response plans through the provision of financial and technical assistance. 

  1. The Secretary-General has also been very proactive in leading a number of global initiatives. Firstly, together with the African Union Chairperson, he has called for a global ceasefire in all war zones across the world to facilitate the transportation and delivery of urgent medical supplies and provide the enabling environment to address the pandemic. Secondly, he has launched a $6.71 billion-dollar Global Humanitarian Response Plan which aims to support the 22 African countries that are facing humanitarian needs or hosting refugee populations. Thirdly, he has launched the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Multi-Partner Trust Fund (COVID-19 MPTF), a UN inter-agency finance mechanism to support low-and middle-income countries in overcoming the health and development crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  1. Furthermore, the UN Secretary-General has been vocal on the need for additional financial assistance to African countries to the tune of $200 billion, freezing of debt servicing charges, ensuring targeted debt relief and a restructuring of the international debt architecture to prevent defaults. The UN is also working to open humanitarian and medical evacuation hubs in Accra, Addis Ababa, Cairo and Johannesburg to facilitate the transportation of vital medical supplies and provision of urgent medical attention. 

In two days’ time, the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP) will be visiting Accra to see the progress in the operationalization of the Accra hub and UN field hospital. United Nations solidarity flights have delivered millions of test kits, respirators and other equipment, reaching almost the entire continent. In Nigeria, the UN has assisted the ECOWAS Commission to procure US$6 million worth of medical supplies through UN procurement systems to fast track delivery.

  1. While the response has been exemplary, and much is still needed, many are wondering how to address this current pandemic and ensure rapid and effective recovery in the medium and long term. 
  1. This pandemic, just like the Ebola epidemic, has once again exacerbated profound structural inadequacies in our governance and economic systems which continue to expose States and increase their susceptibility to external shocks. I am sure that our eminent panellists will be delving deeper into this.  Nonetheless, I would like to underline that, the decline in revenue due to a fall in commodity prices, increased fiscal deficits, fall in annual growth, increasing inflation coupled with a decline in remittances and worsening unemployment, posed serious threats to the peace and stability of countries in our region.  
  1. Taking the healthcare system as one of the governance issues, you would agree that it has been subjected to perennially low levels of investment with the effect of considerably weakening its capacity to meet even the basic healthcare needs of the population. This incapacity is compounded during moments of crises. Given the correlation between health and security and health and human development, this is worrisome.
  1. You would recall that 19 years ago, African states in the Abuja Declaration committed to allocating 15 per cent of their annual expenditure to health care. Unfortunately, even after the Ebola crisis which was supposed to be a wakeup call and a call to action to fix the deficiencies in our healthcare systems and other governance challenges, Member States are still failing to meet this commitment. If the healthcare systems of richer and developed countries have been overwhelmed by this pandemic, one can only imagine the debilitating effect it has on systems of poorer and less developed countries like those in our region.  I am certain you can provide additional examples relating to the education sector and the provision of basic amenities such as water and electricity.

The question I guess is, if Ebola was the nudge, will COVID-19 provide the ultimate push required for individual States, the region and continent to engage in long term, profound and meaningful changes to our governance and economic systems that would exponentially lead to human development and make us build back better? Or, are we going to witness another prolonged period of amnesia in governance and policy making once the pandemic has subsided? These are some important questions that I think would have to be answered. 

  1. We must also find innovative ways going forward as the impact of the pandemic becomes even more evident. For instance, we are witnessing disruptions to critical political processes such as presidential elections planned for 2020, including here in Ghana, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea and Niger. The disruptions to the voter’s registration process and the electoral calendars could be real.  


  1. Tensions and disagreements linked to voter’s registration prior to the pandemic are expected to exacerbate under the current circumstances because of the disruptions caused by the pandemic and measures instituted to address it. Elections Management Bodies will come under increased scrutiny and pressure if these disruptions are not handled carefully as this may heighten resentment and the possibility of violence. This explains why consensus building is key in addressing the impact of the pandemic on the electoral process as well as in guaranteeing the legitimacy and credibility of the process and its outcome. 
  1. In Ghana, for instance, the need for dialogue among stakeholders cannot be overemphasized due to increased polarization on the political scene particularly on the issue of voter registration and the potential for a constitutional crisis in the event of a postponement of the elections. Addressing the potential impact of the pandemic on this important phase of the process and the entire process should be a priority. It is therefore imperative that solutions are consensual and guarantee inclusiveness.
  1. It is also worth mentioning that voter registration is a sensitive phase of the entire electoral process and often a source of intense disagreements and friction throughout the region. It is therefore important that voter registration captures all eligible voters. In the Ghanaian scenario, it is highly likely that the outcome of the process will be scrutinized and measured alongside previous national and regional thresholds of registered voters. The percentage of registered voters since 2004 has varied between 49% to 55% of the total population. Between 2016 and 2019, it varied between 53-55%. It is likely that these figures may be the benchmark against which any future exercises will be scrutinized by the population especially in the event of significant deviations. 
  1. To provide a regional perspective, in Guinea, the number of registered voters at the March 2020 polls was 67%, significantly exceeding the regional average of 40%. Following protests and petitions to ECOWAS, the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) and the UN, an audit of the voter’s register was undertaken, which revealed that indeed it was bloated by a figure of two million. In this regard, it is imperative for political actors and relevant stakeholders involved in voter’s registration exercises in the region to ensure credible, transparent and inclusive processes.  
  1. Beyond the political impact, the pandemic has had implications for human rights. While restrictions and other enacted measures are permissible under national and international human rights law, their application and enforcement by security forces have come under criticisms. 

There have been unfortunate instances of deaths and injury occasioned by the excessive use of force by security forces in the region. In Nigeria for instance, the National Human Rights Commission reported that at least 29 people were killed between 31 March and 4 May during enforcement of lockdown measures with security forces responsible for a majority of the deaths.  These actions have consequences on the respect of human rights. As the UN Secretary-General himself has said referring to the pandemic and its response, “It is an economic crisis.  A social crisis and a human crisis that is fast becoming a human rights crisis”. 

  1. We also continue to see the extent to which the pandemic is impacting on the rights of women. Incidents of sexual and gender-based violence are on the rise with little access to justice for victims. Some studies have revealed that in times of restrictive measures and lockdown, including closure of schools, the instances of teenage pregnancy tend to increase. During the Ebola epidemic, a survey by UNDP and Save the Children found a 65% increase in teenage pregnancy mainly due to school closures, among others. The closure of borders and lockdowns have a dire effect on the informal sector which is mostly made up of women.
  1. Nonetheless, we have also seen some positive steps being taken by States to decongest prisons and other detention facilities as part of efforts to stop the spread of the virus. To date, close to six thousand prisoners have been released or are being released in the region. It is hoped that this will provide the basis for deep penitentiary reforms that would guarantee the rights of prisoners. 
  1. Democracy, politics, leadership and development are key interrelated tenets of a peaceful and stable country, region and continent. When positively deployed, they lay the solid foundations for security, prosperity and human development. 
  1. Democratic evolution in Ghana mirrors that of West Africa and the Continent. Ghanaians will not forget the instability associated with the checkered history of military coup d’états and military rule in the sixties and decades after, the banning of newspapers and the detention of journalists and political opponents. 
  1. At one stage, only Senegal and Cabo Verde had not experienced a military regime. West Africa was a region known for political instability, which many analysts have explained as the source of its economic and social stagnation and regression over the decades. 
  1. However, in the nineties, the clamor for freedom and social justice could no longer be contained because the population and particularly civil society organisations and political actors were more determined and relentless in their pursuit for change. We began experiencing widespread constitutional and institutional reforms, open and consensual political processes, the advent of multipartism, the holding of elections, increase of the civic space and enjoyment of fundamental freedoms, more participatory governance with increased checks and balances and a significant improvement in macro-economic indicators.

The change generated excitement and nursed aspirations especially for the youth. But questions have arisen as to whether we are experiencing democratic dividend all over Africa.  

  1. In a number of African countries, constitutions have remained the “grundnorm” which regulate all other spheres of life underpinned by the principles of separation of powers, checks and balances. Multiparty politics is a reality with parties competing for political prizes. The holding of elections is now predictable and leads to the peaceful transfer of power. 
  1. Prior to the pandemic, Ghana’s growth rate was one of the highest in the region. In fact, Ghana was among the fastest growing economies in the world prior to the pandemic.  Institutional reforms have led to the creation of key entities such as the Electoral Commission (EC), Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), National Peace Council (NPC), National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) which ought to play an important role in preserving democracy, peace and stability in the country. 
  1. Meanwhile, in the West African region, over the past ten years, we have witnessed frequent elections and peaceful political transitions as the “coups d’état” are no longer recurrent. According to data from the Afrobarometer, a majority of people in West Africa and the Sahel still prefer a democratic system over other systems with support varying from just over 60% in Burkina Faso and just over 80% in Sierra Leone.  

Some of the region’s prolonged conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia ended and democratic elections brought in new and arguably more accountable governments, a prerequisite for development. Guinea-Bissau has been an exception to the overall trend of democratization in West Africa as it experienced five military coups in the past decade, and until the last elections in December 2019, no elected president had served out his full term of office. The practice of parties in power conceding defeat at elections is slowly gaining ground as seen in Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone. In West Africa and the Sahel, between 2015 and 2020, in 9 of the 16 countries, presidential elections have been lost either by the incumbent or the party in power with the losers congratulating the winners.

  1. The increase in civic space at the domestic level has translated into organized networks of civil society organisations at the regional level. The West Africa Civil Society Forum (WASCOF) and the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP) are some concrete examples. Regional integration as espoused by ECOWAS through the free movement of goods and persons is not only a force multiplier for development but is gradually moving the aspiration of a community of nations to a community of citizens to reality. Prior to the pandemic, growth within the ECOWAS space was projected at between 5-7% with Nigeria which represents 74% of the ECOWAS economic space becoming the largest economy in the continent.
  1. In fact, as far back as the early nineties, along with the changing times, ECOWAS began making considerable investments in developing frameworks essential for promoting democracy, 

human rights and the rule of law, peace and security. The 1991 ECOWAS Declaration of Political Principles envisioned a region governed by common values, including democratic accountability and respect for human rights. 

  1. In December 2001, ECOWAS signed a supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance that elaborates a set of shared “constitutional convergence principles”. 
  1. Based on these frameworks, ECOWAS has emerged as a guarantor of peace, security and democracy in the region and has acted decisively in collaboration with the AU, UN and other actors in this regard. Recent examples are its resolution of the crises in The Gambia and Guinea Bissau. 
  1. The accomplishments linked to the democratization processes alluded to above have been saddled with some ignominious challenges which require attention. 
  1. Across West Africa, and indeed throughout the continent, many fear the unfortunate return of the system of ‘state capture’, a mainstay of past military and one-party rule. This time round, observers perceive certain democratically-elected governments exercising exclusionary control of the commanding heights of the economy, such as the extractive and productive sectors as well as the banking and financial system through cronies, systemic corruption and marginalization of perceived opponents in the economy.
  1. At the same time, dissenting voices are systematically silenced through the targeted application of control and punitive instruments, such as the judiciary, investigative organs and media laws.  
  1. There are growing fears that even the beacons of democracy in the region risk undermining their entrenched democratic values and principles through exclusionary practices and related phenomena. In Ghana, political vigilantism stands out while in Benin the conduct of the legislative elections of 2019 raised concerns about its inclusiveness. Important questions are indeed being asked about the oversight responsibility and the independence of national legislatures, which are often seen as rubber-stamps of executive decisions. Critical questions are also being posed about the real and net socio-economic dividend of the new democratic dispensations on the lives of the majority of people in the region as they see the top one percent living in affluence, at the same time that extreme poverty is being entrenched in some communities. The question therefore is whether our democracy is only serving the interests of a few in the middle and upper classes, to the detriment of the general population.
  1. Furthermore, there are genuine concerns that the gradual erosion of democratic values is cooling-off interest and trust in democratic processes and institutions.

Taking elections as a barometer, we are seeing dwindling numbers of voter participation in electoral processes arguably because of the failure by leaders to meet the expectations of the population. Meanwhile, some observers have noted that electoral and political reform processes are increasingly becoming non-consensual, exclusionary and remain flashpoints for conflict. Additionally, we must strive to ensure that our politics is issue-based as opposed to person-based if it is to lead to development. Person-based politics has often led to vices such as corruption, nepotism and even ethnic and religious violence and conflict. Therefore, it is the duty of everyone involved in politics at all levels to ensure that the public interest takes pre-eminence over party or personal interests at all times. 

  1. Another concern is a perceived regression in the respect for human rights and the rule of law compounded by increased perceptions of the instrumentalization of the justice system for political ends. Yet another issue is the monetization of politics. Studies are beginning to reveal the exorbitant cost of electoral campaigns and weak and ineffective instruments for monitoring and holding parties to account. The “immixtion” of politics in business is becoming the order of the day, putting at risk the defense of the public interest in governance.  
  1. In its 2020 World Report, Freedom House indicated that out of the 12 countries with the largest year-on-year score declines around the world in 2019, no fewer than five are in West Africa including, Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, and Nigeria.

In Freedom House’s taxonomy of Free, Partly Free, and Not Free countries, Senegal and Benin fell from Free to Partly Free status, leaving Ghana and Cabo Verde as the only Free countries in the region. Benin alone lost 13 points on the report’s 100-point scale, a remarkable drop for any democracy. However, the recent inclusive local and municipal elections is a step in the right direction. 

  1. Electoral violence remains a major challenge as well. The recent by-elections in Ayawaso West Wuogon parliamentary elections in Ghana, the 2019 general elections in Nigeria, the April 2019 legislative elections in Benin and local, parliamentary elections and constitutional referendum in Guinea are some examples. Every effort should be made to stamp out violence in democratic elections.
  1. These real threats to democratic values and principles must be taken seriously and addressed through visionary, principled, inspiring and resolute leadership at all levels that promote the public good and not just the partisan interest of a few. 
  1. At the local level, we have seen examples of exemplary leadership as manifested in religious and traditional leaders of the calibre of Imam Osmanu Nuhu Sharubutu and Asantehene Otumfuo Osei Tutu II who have made immense contributions in the advocacy for peace and stability in our communities. The success of conflict prevention initiatives at the community and national levels has been largely due to their skillful leadership.  I also would like to recognize the contribution of so many unsung heroines and heroes in our communities who are also making notable contributions in this regard as local peace builders.

Your names may not be mentioned in the public arena, but the impact of your actions cut across ethnic and national boundaries.

  1. Based on my experience, I cannot overemphasize the criticality of leadership in preventive diplomacy to address political crises in the region. I have been fortunate to meet very skillful leaders at all levels in the region who in their own way are making a difference. I encourage you to follow in the footsteps of the late former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, who made it his vocation to fight for peace, justice, equality and a voice for all.
  1. Permit me to end by reminding the business community of its role as a fulcrum in contributing to development, democratic consolidation and responding to humanitarian crises in Ghana and the continent. We have seen how you have stretched your generosity to carry out philanthropic acts to complement those of government in assisting our people as they grapple with the impact of this COVID-19 pandemic as well as other crisis situations. Your contribution to reducing unemployment and empowering women and youth has been commendable. But you must realise that to whom much is given, much will be required. The expectations will keep increasing and business will be called upon to continue making these contributions.
  1. It is our fervent hope that in pursuit for profit, business should have a human face and contribute towards human development. 

Business which controls capital cannot be bullish and misappropriate political power which often leads to elite capture. In its interaction with political power, business cannot compromise its ideals to suit the personal aspirations and ambitions of political actors to the detriment of the common good. Business must continue to play its empowering role by supporting actors involved in the peaceful resolution of conflicts, development and democratic consolidation. In fact, the links between business and politics is crucial and should be underpinned by transparency, accountability and respect for national and international standards.

  1. Finally, I would like to reiterate some of the key points which have been central to my address. Firstly, our response to the COVID-19 pandemic must be long-term in order to ensure that we build back better by addressing the structural deficiencies in our governance and economic systems; Secondly, consolidating democracy requires consensus and the respect of the rule of law and human rights at all times. Thirdly, protecting the democratic dividend requires steadfast leadership that operates within a democratic space and is premised on human development and not personal interests. Fourthly, democracy will be relevant to our population in so far as it can meet their aspirations for peace, security and sustainable development that leaves no one behind.
  1. I do hope that our discussions will be able to deepen our understanding on some of these issues and proffer answers to some of the questions raised.

**Address by Dr. Mohamed Ibn Chambas, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), delivered at the Ishmael Yamson and Associates Businesses Roundtable on May 27, 2020, Accra, Ghana


– May 27, 2020 @ 4: 31 GMT /

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