Democracy: Rethinking Governance for a Developing Nation Like Ghana

Foster Lartey
7 min readJul 26, 2023

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With each passing day, a growing segment of Ghana’s population is growing disillusioned with the current state of Ghana’s democracy. The frustrations are palpable and multifaceted, encompassing economic and social stagnation; heightened polarization and low sense of common purpose; the short-term thinking due to frequent elections; divisive electoral competition; the perpetuation of an unqualified, corrupt ruling class; the obsession with rhetoric and ideology over activity; the elite capture and inability of the state to assert itself over big business and powerful families; the marriage between money and power and its accumulation at the top; the infantile populism and manipulation of the voter mass; the lack of meritocracy or technocracy; voter ignorance and irrationality that influences leadership and policy choices; the paralysis of common sense; and the constraints that face any well-meaning individual who wants to bring about true change (limited power, limited time, and machinations that detractors including political rivals, lobbyists, corporations and foreign powers can use to bring them down).

As a form of governance, democracy in its current form has become an obstacle rather than an enabler, is brutally expensive, inefficient, simplistic, cumbersome, and paralyzing. Change does come at an incredibly slow and painful pace, and through the highly complicated, time-consuming interplay and behind-the-scenes machinations among parties.

Another of the key issues with democracy lies in its idealistic premise, which often clashes with the realities of human nature and practical governance. A dangerous consequence of this idealism is that people tend to accept the failures of democracy as inevitable, adhering to faith in the system’s fundamental principles even when evidence suggests otherwise. When the system fails, we try to repair its errors within the confines of the system. We believe democracy can fix itself when there isn’t enough evidence to prove so. Ghana, despite its status as an African success story, grapples with these very issues, highlighting the shortcomings of democracy in meeting the nation’s unique requirements.

And while democracy’s design flaws and practical failures are becoming more glaring, not just for Ghana but all around the world, authoritarian practices appear to be enjoying a global revival (consider Singapore, China and Rwanda) with more voices arguing that authoritarian regimes might be more capable and effective. This group regularly points out the US as the most convincing argument against democracy, and the best evidence that this form of government has simply run its course and needs to give way to better alternatives. You can’t challenge them, can you?

However, it’s also quite easy to make arguments against authoritarianism as a suitable alternative for Ghana’s aspirations, the easiest being that there are no guarantees as for every authoritarian country that has managed to grow rapidly, there are many others that have failed. The Lee Kuan Yews are rare and generational in frequency.

Ghana’s development necessitates an agile and effective government capable of swift decision-making and action. Endless debates and recurring elections impede progress, and the country needs to find a way to focus on solutions to problems old, current and foreseen rather than becoming mired in political wrangling.

Interestingly, many of life’s most vital institutions, such as families, schools, businesses, and religious organizations, operate without democratic voting systems, instead relying on experienced leaders and meritocracy. The father, the mother and the kids don’t come together to vote for the head of the home. Neither does the entire family vote for the head of the family. Students, teachers and other workers don’t vote in a general election to select a headmaster. In a company, the employees and owners do not assemble to vote for a CEO or General Manager. Congregants have no say in who becomes the pastor or Imam. So why do we ignore wisdom from all of these institutions and create an unnatural system when it comes to governing a country?

Ghana’s current parliamentary election system, with its 275 constituencies elected via First Past The Post, warrants examination. Take a deep breath and think about this: any form of government that requires you and me to choose lawmakers based on geography alone does not align with the nation’s contemporary needs. While geographic diversity, equity and inclusion may have been crucial in uniting an ethnically and tribally divided country some decades back, they are certainly not as relevant today. It’s the same story for many other democratic countries. Shouldn’t the country’s lawmakers in parliament be experienced achievers and thought leaders first and foremost from the country’s key sectors, regardless of their geographic origins?

My solution to this mess

A fresh perspective is required to forge a path of progress and prosperity. A paradigm shift towards a unique and agile form of governance tailored to Ghana’s specific needs could be the answer to the nation’s aspirations. Drawing inspiration from our natural institutions — the family, the school, business and religion — I propose a novel approach to governance that prioritizes expertise, collaboration, and efficient decision-making.

The system envisions a cross-functional (not cross-geographical) parliament, representing 17 vital sectors — finance; energy and natural resources; agribusiness; health; engineering and construction; law, governance and social protection; trade, industry and business development; foreign relations; education; transport; labour; communication and technology; tourism, arts and culture; youth and sports; defence and security; religious integration; and traditional leadership (chieftaincy). Instead of relying on geographical representation, this model seeks to have each sector put forth two candidates, forming a 34-person Cabinet/Parliament amalgamated into a single body. These representatives will serve as lawmakers based on their selection by the sectors they represent, rather than their place of origin or residence, fostering a focus on collaborative leadership and shared goals.

Similar to the structure of a private company’s board, the 34-person Cabinet/Parliament will work collectively to create a national Charter, defining Ghana’s vision and long-term development plan. From this document, a concrete plan with deliverables, schedules, timelines, and resource requirements will emerge, in collaboration with the President, who would be appointed by the Cabinet/Parliament on behalf of the nation. This approach ensures that decision-making is driven by the country’s vision and is not bound by rigid electoral cycles.

The President and Cabinet/Parliament then work together to appoint a well-vetted sector minister and deputy minister for each of the 17 sectors. There would be no regional ministers. Metropolitan, municipal, and district chief executives (MMDCEs) would be elected by voters in the local authority area on a term limit.

Crucially, the Cabinet/Parliament will regularly assess the President’s performance at publicly-aired Annual General Meetings (constituting of the Cabinet/Parliament, the President, the Sector Ministers, and the MMDCEs), focusing on delivery rather than a fixed four-year term. The President, together with the appointed sector ministers and deputy ministers, would be accountable for the progress of their work, and decisions about their continuance in office would be made by the Cabinet through a public vote based on recommendations from the AGM.

At its core, this Project Ghana governance structure embraces Agile principles, transforming the Cabinet into a product owner, the President into a scrum master, and the Government into the development team. The citizens and development partners add up to the stakeholders, fostering a collaborative and adaptive environment.

Key features of this governance approach include:

  1. Adaptive Planning. By applying Agile’s adaptive planning, Cabinet creates a long-term Charter but breaks the work down into short iterations for the Government to implement, continuously reassessing and adjusting scope based on feedback and changing circumstances.
  2. Backlog. The government maintains a backlog of prioritized projects and initiatives that need to be addressed. The backlog would be continually updated based on emerging needs and public feedback.
  3. Sprints & Progress Updates. Governance adopts sprints, defining short timeframes during which specific objectives must be met. The team also uses these meetings to discuss progress, obstacles and plans. At the end of each sprint, reviews are conducted to assess progress, gather feedback, and adapt based on the outcomes. Summarized reports from these sprint reviews are then shared with the general public while town halls or public consultations are organized to gather feedback and input from the public. Quarterly retrospectives are also conducted to learn and improve. This ensures transparency and accountability and facilitates quick decision-making.
  4. Iterative Policy Development. Policies are developed iteratively by the 34-person Cabinet, allowing for multiple rounds of feedback and refinement. Pilot projects test policy effectiveness before full-scale implementation.
  5. Continuous Improvement. A culture of continuous improvement is instilled within the Government, encouraging innovative solutions, learning from mistakes, and striving for better outcomes.

It is essential to recognize that governance is a complex and multifaceted process where the degree of changes expected is very high and the frequency of deliveries required is also high. This environment is perfect for the application of an adaptive mindset and needs to become the practical blueprint for running a country.

The successes of China’s effective hybrid governance system, integrating elements of authoritarianism and democracy offer valuable insights for Ghana’s own tailored model and should provoke some introspection. China is an unbroken political continuity, a system that is not just the majority, but the only game in town. It is a dictatorship, a meritocracy and a technocracy sprinkled with the key elements of secularism, rule of law, human rights and responsibilities, strong institutions, transparency, and decision-making consensus.

In essence, while democracy may make room for incremental progress, true transformative change demands a paradigm shift towards a bespoke governance model, designed specifically to address the unique needs of a developing nation like Ghana.

Drawing from business examples, retail innovation came from Amazon (not Walmart). Media innovation came from YouTube, Facebook and Twitter (not CNN). Space innovation came from Elon Musk’s SpaceX (not NASA). Car innovation came from another Musk company, Tesla (not Toyota and BMW). Entertainment innovation came from Netflix (not Blockbuster or Hollywood). it is evident that groundbreaking advancements rarely emerge from established systems, but rather from bold disruptions willing to challenge the status quo. We can’t trust democracy to innovate and reform itself. Ghana must chart its own course and devise a governance system that embraces adaptability, collaboration, and decisive action. By rethinking governance from the ground up, Ghana can unleash its true potential and forge a path towards a prosperous and sustainable future.

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Foster Lartey

Data Analysis | Business Intelligence | Project Management