Five years ago, when Dr. Kwadwo Afari-Gyan turned his back to the doors of Ghana’s Electoral Commission for the final time, bringing a relatively long and successful career as one of Africa’s most-respected election administrators to an end, I paid him glowing tributes.
A colossus was leaving the stage, leaving the public glare and dimming himself into obscurity.
That must be hard for a person who has lived in the limelight for all the while, but that also confirmed that no matter what, the twilight years always come, to be followed only by a final goodbye.
Interestingly, though, one comment someone left on the article, presumably because s/he only looked at the title of the article, “A Tribute to Dr. Kwadwo Afari-Gyan: A Colossus Leaves the Stage”, was something that read like: “But how do you pay tribute to someone who is alive?”
First, I chuckled. Then I smiled, having come to the realization, almost immediately, that in many parts of Ghana, tributes are only read at funerals…
Well, on that score, the person was right, because one type of learning is called “learning-by-association”. Thus, here, we may have all come to understand “Tributes” in one way, that tributes are associated with funerals, only paid to a person when they are dead… Not true at all.
This past week, what has been suspected for the past several months, that Ghana’s Electoral Commission (EC) was sleepwalking itself into a problem ahead of Election 2020, a problem that many foresaw and warned about, came to a head.
Of note, though, is the fact that many, including the EC itself and the Supreme Court, denied such problems ever existed or would ever occur. The truth is that the Supreme Court (SC) could have effectively stopped the EC from creating problems for everyone if it wanted to… by listening to those who appeared before it claiming they had a substantial grievance backed by evidence. But it did not.
Instead, the SC castigated those who appeared before it with what was a relatively well-researched and sustainable argument against the compilation of a new voters register, a process that would require completely overhauling an entire system that has worked fairly well over the last several years, all within six months to an election.
In June this year, many mainstream news media reported, quoting the SC as saying that regarding the ‘voters registration dispute’, the EC has a discretionary power in the performance of its duties and that the EC “should be deemed as authorised to be acting within the law and the regulations therein, and cannot be faulted even if it is considered that there is a more efficient mode or method available.”
By appearing to argue that some state institutions in Ghana were free to choose less efficient methods of doing things if they so pleased, even if more efficient approaches existed, the SC was signaling that it would rather be an inactive participant among state institutions that must act as the guardrails of a democracy―to prevent a maturing democracy from falling off the cliff.
Which leads me to the question of tenure.
In academia, and in many judicial systems, there is something called tenure. In North American Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) for example, a person typically becomes tenured at the rank of associate professor. This means that a person who is promoted to the rank of associate professor with tenure (or without term) is free to pursue or “inquire into” the truth (referring to the pursuit of knowledge) as they please, while still operating within the rules.
Academic tenure is the liberty to pursue a line of scientific inquiry without being afraid that someone will come after you. This security of tenure also means that you cannot be fired without cause, and that you retire when you want. Hence, in most North American HEIs, professors never truly retire. Tenured professors close their offices and/or laboratories when they want, some going all the way into their 90s…
Similarly, in the judiciary, justices in most supreme courts are tenured, which means they cannot be fired without cause, and retire only when they are due. Indeed, in the United States, SC appointments are for life. A justice cannot be replaced without cause, or can only be replaced if they are dead!
Just like in the academia, here too, the reason for tenure in judicial systems is so that justices can vigorously pursue the truth, and to follow the evidence wherever it may lead, without caring whose ox is gored, or who may be embarrassed by the evidence that may be unearthed in the process, even if it is the appointing authority.
The question then is, what is the purpose of tenure if it does not give one the security of their job to follow the evidence wherever it may lead?
Because in one of the SC rulings regarding the ‘voters registration dispute’, one of the justices was noted as saying they were aware of what some Civil Societies opposed to a new registration were doing outside the court, it follows that they, the justices, do take “judicial notice” of things occurring outside the courts, or that just like other Ghanaians, they too follow social media or read the news. So, hopefully, they have become aware by now that after all, it was not for the purposes of mischief that many persons were opposed to what remains, in the opinion of many, an unjustified procurement of a new voters register by the EC… It was for good reason.
Needless to say, no one should be able to take $150 million or so of the Ghanaian taxpayer monies for no reason, just to spend it how they like, without consequences.
Today, as Ghana appears to be taking giant miscalculated steps forward into the darker pages of history, when we think about the totality of all the things going on, and as we mourn what seems the dearth (or probably “death”) of credibility at the EC, let those charged with the task of shepherding the course of one of Africa’s model democracies jolt themselves out of their sleep, to regain control of a train that appears headed for a derailment, lest we all fall off the cliff.
And let those with grievances continue to pursue justice in the courts that someday, our country may attain true strength and greatness.
Greetings to you Dr. Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, wherever you are today. You are sorely missed. Wishing you God’s many wonderful blessings, as always.