In a nation where coups are commonly feared as the gravest danger to Ghana’s blossoming democracy, a far more insidious menace lurks within the realm of political expediency – an artful weapon known as gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is the process by which the government in power, in conjunction with the Electoral Commission (EC), redraws districts and electoral constituencies deliberately to contain a specific demographic of voters who are expected to cast their ballots along reliably partisan lines. This piece aims to shed light on the crafty strategies employed by politicians who manipulate districts and constituencies to their advantage through a case study. Not only that, but also examine the constitutional foundations that enable this menace and finally call for introspection, courage, and resolute resistance against gerrymandering.
In 1992, Ghanaians witnessed a historic referendum in which the nation transitioned from military rule to a new dawn of constitutional democracy. A dawn where the rooster of democracy crowed and military adventurism was discarded. At this new breakfast table, a fresh constitutional menu was laid out, replete with provisions that catered to future population growth and the creation of new constituencies. One such item on this breakfast menu was Article 47, a provision that requires caution in its consumption, much like piping a hot cup of coffee that must be sipped slowly to avoid burning one’s tongue.
In 2004 when the first 30 new constituencies were created, we witnessed regrettable disagreements and disputes. In 2012 when 45 extra constituencies were added, we rained fire and brimstone on one another. Thirty-one years after the referendum that granted us this constitution, Article 47 has become a poisoned chalice that is impossible to drink from. Given the numerical impasse in Ghana’s legislature and the animosity towards the Electoral Commission (EC) when it gerrymandered parts of the Hohoe constituency for political expediency, thus denying the Santrokofi, Akpafu, Likpe, and Lolobi (SALL) communities fair representation in the 2020 elections, the cost of implementing Article 47 is comparable to the thirty pieces of silver Judas received to betray Jesus. This may not be music to the ears of key stakeholders such as government or the EC, but it is undeniably the consensus on the street. It plays loudly on the speakers of the local taverns, and the church cymbals echo it.
As a case study, the tale of how SALL was ruthlessly gerrymandered from the Hohoe constituency unfolds as a meticulously orchestrated saga of injustice. The Justice Brobbey Commission, which deftly plotted to relocate these communities to the Oti Region despite no requests from the residents themselves, pulled the shades. In a valiant act, the affected communities rallied together, fervently petitioning against their forced inclusion in the Oti Region. Unfortunately, their desperate appeal fell on deaf ears, and the elusive Justice Brobbey Commission Report, so often mentioned, remained concealed from public view, as if shrouded in a cloak of secrecy. Regrettably, the machinery of institutional bureaucracy and a litany of excuses were deftly employed to dismiss and obstruct the just aspirations of the people of SALL.
When the long-awaited hearing of the SALL petition finally took place, the verdict only confirmed the worst fears of the troubled inhabitants of SALL. The guardians of justice, once seen as protectors, appeared to transform into jailers, effectively trapping the aggrieved communities within a confining prison of political maneuvering. Undeterred, the resilient citizens of SALL dared to appeal, seeking a glimmer of hope in the face of overwhelming odds. However, their plea for justice has languished unheard for over two nail-biting years, lost amidst the indifference shown by those in power.
However, when the Attorney General himself challenged the restraining order imposed upon Hon. Peter Amewu, the primary beneficiary of SALL’s exclusion, the wheels of justice surprisingly shifted into swift motion. In a mere thirteen days, the court found both the space and time to entertain the appeal and swiftly quashed the ruling of the High Court.
The vanguard of this grand gerrymandering scheme emerges as the EC, cunningly engineering the creation of the Guan district a mere three weeks before the 2020 elections. Aware of its inherent flaws and insufficiencies, the EC again hastily issued an arbitrary administrative fiat on the eve of the 2020 elections, effectively stripping these beleaguered communities of their rightful representation in parliament. Paradoxically, this unsupported administrative fiat, lacking any foundation in law, now triumphs over the sacred provisions enshrined in Chapter Five of Ghana’s esteemed 1992 constitution, as if the very fabric of justice had been torn asunder.
Yes, the EC has the constitutional authority in Article 47 to review constituencies after the decennial census is done and the data is shared. But does the operational word “review” necessarily mean creating new constituencies? This smoke-and-mirrors tool not only threatens the consensus-building and cooperation that Ghana’s democracy needs to grow but also violates both the letter and the spirit of the constitution. The formula the EC uses is kept secret. However, pattern and trend followers can see through the make-believe: the “precursor” new districts, which are typically created by the president using an executive instrument, most of the time, become the new constituencies. The Guan District was created three weeks before the election in 2020; why was the constituency created if not for cutting off the parliamentary votes of the opposition candidate from her stronghold?
I am not oblivious to the reality that in every political culture, rivals are continually looking for opportunities to take advantage of one another. The EC’s actions and inactions must not lend credence to this unhealthy rivalry. Interestingly, statistics from the EC show that there are just 66 competitive constituencies in Ghana after the 2020 elections, with Greater Accra receiving 9 and the Northern Region taking 8. The Ashanti and Volta regions, the strongholds of the two largest political parties, each have a single contestable constituency. Any attempt by the EC to create new constituencies, particularly in the strongholds, is analogous to picking lawmakers for the voters rather than allowing the voters to choose their representatives. In order to fulfil its purported constitutional role, the EC should not adopt tactics reminiscent of a coercive entity but instead refrain from exploiting the vulnerabilities of the system for partisan political gain. News have filtered in that a constitutional instrument has been laid in parliament to create the Guan Constituency.
Incongruously, there is insufficient space in the legislative chamber to accommodate all 275 legislators, prompting calls to construct a new chamber and establish a shared fund for each constituency. Meanwhile, the IMF has projected Ghana’s debt-to-GDP ratio to reach 98.7% by the end of 2023, thus crowding the fiscal space for capital development. The COVID-19 epidemic has created a crater beneath the revenue reservoir for the first time, leading to the imposition of additional taxes on citizens. The rate of inflation crossed 50% at the beginning of the year but eased to 38.1% in September, making the prices of goods and services still very high. The cost of living is just unbearable for the citizens. Currently, Ghana is a patient under the IMF’s surgical knife with wicked haircuts for the vulnerable, yet we clamour for new constituencies?
As a nation, we must first reflect on the reality that we have been spared the turmoil in the sub-region, not because we are more religious than the Vatican, but because God’s favour is bountiful. This offers us the opportunity to see the capping of the number of legislators as an excellent governance gateway drug. This offers us the chance to lessen the mistrust and suspicion between the EC and the masses. The latter’s concern is for basic needs such as food, shelter, and clothing.
Article 47 is frequently mentioned in partisan jockeying for gerrymandering, but we must remember that it was created by man, not for man. Utilising every legal option to gain a party advantage, especially when doing so violates widely recognised normative values and expectations, is not indicative of societal development. If we want our politics to mature, then we must prioritise truth over lies, tolerance over prejudice, open-mindedness over fixation, and objective experts over enthusiastic party people. Considering the current government’s slim majority in the legislature, the focus on manipulating legislative control through gerrymandering does not align with the normal ebb and flow of democracy.
Releasing the gerrymandering kraken to fulfil a constitutional article because of migration into urban constituencies has the potential to derail the forward march of Ghana’s nascent democracy. When urban bias development stops, migration from the countryside to the city will significantly slow down. Make the countryside attractive because that is where the food comes from. Certainly, if the purpose of new constituencies is to deepen the representation of the people, then gerrymandering appears to be ineffective. As is the case with the District Assembly Common Fund formula, constituencies with large populations should receive additional resources. It is about the prudent management of scarce resources rather than just the delegation and reconcentration of central government authority. That is the way to put food on the tables of over 14 million Ghanaians who are multidimensionally poor and answer the question of accessibility to clean water and other basic needs.
As a country, the equal number of legislators in the chamber makes the gerrymandering drumbeat louder by one decibel. However, our hope and anchor can drag us down and cause us to drown in grief in the sea of partisan political pressure if care is not taken. We must remember that the jewel of wisdom is in-depth meditation on what we intend to do. It develops through experience. The EC has seen the discord and animosity and heard the political drumbeats of war, brimstone and thunder in past episodes of creating new constituencies. History has a tendency to repeat a tune it has previously played. Do we still want that?
The writer, George-Grandy Hallow holds a Ph.D. in Development Studies from the German-Ghanaian Center for Development Studies. He is a Development Practitioner and a student of Theory of Knowledge. He can be reached via the email: [email protected]
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