Over the years, several Ghanaian civil society groups, politicians, and ordinary citizens have suggested that Ghana needs a “third force political party” (GhanaWeb, 2015; BusinessGhana, 2020; ). In a recently conducted poll by GhanaWeb, “3,205 people representing 62.43%” of all respondents responded ‘Yes’ when they were asked “Do you think it is time for a third political force other than the NPP and NDC” in Ghana?”
These calls for a Third Force in Ghana’s politics are not new. In the course of my historical research, I came across this notice (image below) published in the Daily Graphic in 1979.
Calls for a third force political party now in 2020 aren’t likely to change much, just as they changed nothing in 1979.
Because a third force, or even a fourth or fifth, is not the way to attempt to fix the problems that we associate with having only two dominant political parties. We do not need any more powerful political parties to join this game of musical chairs that is electoral politics in Ghana. What we need is truly equitable and representative systems that see and treat all of us as worthy of living in safety and comfort. But while we work towards that, for a start, no political party should be able to grab and control as much power and resources as the NPP and the NDC currently, and the CPP in times past. And one way to achieve this is to take the money out of politics.
More about how to take the money out of politics later, but first, a brief story:
I had conversation some years ago with a then aspiring aspiring Member of Parliament for the Ayawaso West Wuogon Constituency. Among the things we talked about was how difficult and expensive it was to run for political office in Ghana. He told me that he had calculated – from consultations with various stakeholders and gatekeepers in the constituency, and other politicians – that he would need at least USD 200,000 to get even close to having a campaign. Not a successful campaign – that would cost at least three times that – but a campaign that would get him noticed. He also said that while those seemed like high figures, it was much higher for other “hot” constituencies and political positions. It was also lower in other regions, and so he had been advised to try running in the constituency that his hometown is located in, but because he did not really know anyone there, it might actually cost him more to run a campaign there because he would have to spend more to access influencers, gatekeepers, and voters.
Apart from those high figures, two things struck me from our exchange:
- That someone would consider spending USD 200,000 on a parliamentary election campaign in Ghana just to get noticed. Noticed by who? For what? To what end.
- That it is considered perfectly normal to go to parliament to represent people you have no community with, in places you have barely lived in, just as long as you can cough up enough money to pay people to organise votes for you.
Our “bad” political system is not set up for “good people” to “change” it.
As we have seen in recent times, it swallows these so-called good people whole. And then regurgitates them either broken and defeated, or more often re-formed in the image of the system. This is in large part due to how expensive it is to contest for political office in this country. In effect, if you are not already extremely wealthy, by the time you get into parliament, the presidency or other elected offices, you would have a lot of people to pay back. And even the people who were already wealthy and so did not have to borrow money and promise favours in exchange for financial support, will have to replenish their coffers.
Now, taking the money out of politics looks like this (for a start):
- Removing cost-related barriers to entry such as expensive nomination forms and filing fees. Apart from helping to clean up the processes, this will make it easier for non-wealthy people who actually represent their communities and community interests to run.
- No more “bribes“, “incentives“, “motivation”, or “gifts” for delegates. Aside the costs of transportation and living expenses during the congresses, anyone who wants more should not be a delegate anyway. And anyone trying to offer more is a candidate who is already corrupt.
- Rules against extravagant electoral campaigns, and an upper limit set for how much a person can spend on a campaign.
- An upper limit to the number of campaign posters. This will also help reduce the extra unsightliness and pollution that comes with campaign season.
- An independent, multiparty commission with civil society and general public representation that oversees electoral malfeasance… which is not a part of the Electoral Commission.
There is also a lot of work to be done about the perceptions of people in the country concerning politics, politicians and publicly elected officials. It is disappointing that so many of us live in such fear… the fear of death from diseases we cannot afford to treat , the fear of death from poverty… that we look upon public officials donating money and houses to individuals as something heartwarming, something to be encouraged. It is unfortunate that not enough people ask the important questions such as where the money comes from, why a few people are singled out to be saved because their cases got to social media, and why our health and social welfare systems have been underfunded, mismanaged to this point. We, as Ghanaians, have to want the country to work for everyone in it – instead of only for those who know big men… or have connections. It’s just not fair, it is not right, and it is not a dependable or sustainable way to build a nation.
Rather than creating, or attempting to create third force political parties, we should direct our energy towards fundamentally changing the nature of the political system. There is an overwhelming amount of work that has to be done to make a Ghana that is for all of us, but for a start, let’s take the money out of politics.