Keynote Address – 34th GNUPS Week Celebration

24 03 2011

Keynote Address By Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings At The Launch Of The 34th Gnups Week Celebration By The Ghana National Union Of Polytechnic Students – Sunyani, March 24, 2011

Mr Chairman, Honourable Regional Minister, the Rector of the Sunyani Polytechnic, Polytechnic Students, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for the opportunity to join you in launching activities marking the 34th Ghana National Union of Polytechnic Students (GNUPS) week, here in Sunyani.

I am particularly happy that you have chosen a topic that seeks ways of enhancing democracy on the continent. It is interesting to note that you want direction on how Ghanaian youth can deepen democracy in Africa because it is obvious Ghana always sets the example for others to follow.

The youth have always played a significant role in the political evolution of Ghana. During the difficult days of the revolution it was young university and polytechnic students who combined their efforts to help resuscitate the Ghanaian economy.

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, democracy denotes governance that is borne from the will of the people – Governance that has broad support across the length and breadth of the country and a government that derives legitimacy from its ability to pursue the aims and aspirations of the people.

What this means is that in applying the electoral process to choose leaders, the final result does not necessarily confirm that the democratic process has gone full circle.

Democracy is legitimate only when the eventual winner in an electoral process accepts to govern by continually consulting the electorate and implementing policies that have the broad support of the people. And because such a method is a tough call, a true democratic leader can only survive on the truth. There can be no situation where government refuses to declare the true state of the national economy and expect the people to be able to offer logical recommendations on national policy.

Before I go into the role the youth can play to deepen democracy, I will first mention some guidelines relevant to the sustainability of democracy.

1. Regular free, transparent and fair elections – it is imperative that the electorate have the absolute right to free, transparent and fair elections on a regular basis.

2. Zero tolerance for corruption – there must be structures in place that protect the electorate from corrupt governance.

3. Respect for human rights and democratic principles – Citizens must be guaranteed and enjoy fundamental freedoms and human rights. The most important of these rights are the rights to demand that governments focus resources of the state to create jobs, alleviate poverty, and provide basic amenities and food security for the people.

4. Separation of Powers – Democracy must always guarantee an independent and just judiciary.

When we talk about separation of powers and checks and balances, the youth should not be left out even though the constitution does not expressly mention them. We are witnesses to the situation were the various institutions of state from the presidency, legislature judiciary and the media have arrogated themselves untouchable powers which makes it impossible to challenge their authority. What better group can challenge the excesses of these so-called Four Estates of the Realm?

The youth in my estimation should be the First Estate of the Realm because national policy should first centre on youth development so our countries can be guaranteed a constant supply of competent human resource in all facets of the national developmental agenda. We should be seen to be voicing out strong opinions and suggestions on the way all the afore-mentioned institutions of state can operate more competently and in the interest of true freedom and justice.

Ladies and gentlemen, having highlighted what the true tenets of democracy should be I would now attempt to define the role Ghanaian youth should play to deepen it on the continent.

Of primary importance is the need for traditional and political leaders to recognise the value of the youth and embrace them in the decision-making process.
It is easy for us politicians to assume that experience in terms of age is the only prerequisite for higher office, dialogue and decision-making on national issues.

Time was when young university students took on governments who refused to implement policies that were beneficial to the aspirations of the youth. Today though the youth still take on government occasionally, there is too much disunity and political interference in student leadership that majority of the time students are bickering or even sometimes in court over who should be their leader.

For the youth – students, young people from all facets of our national character to have the strength of character to be recognised – not as an opposition force – but as a recognised national grouping of significance, they have to be united and command respect within society.

Respect as has been overstated, is earned, so young men and women here today please note that it is imperative that the perennial confusion that plagues various youth groupings whenever election time is near is critically assessed and effort made to understand and respect the laid down regulations that govern these processes.

Our youth are endowed with fresh ideas and strength of character emotionally and physically. They also have age on their side. They bubble with ideas, which we sometimes fail to tap adequately or appropriately. It thus behoves on you to help change the status quo by exposing yourself as a large homogenous unit that has a voice that carries weight.

It is not enough looking up to our leaders to unilaterally accept you into responsible roles. The first responsible role as young person is to act responsibly and be seen to have the qualities of a future leader.

It is not enough to see some young people hand-picked into political appointments all in a bid to sow seeds of dirty rivalry as others jockey for positions within student leadership so they can be recognised.

Civil society in Ghana has been quite active in Ghana for a considerable period even though their impact on governance has not been much felt, apart from hearing them hoarse on radio and the issuance of report after report, which gathers dust where they are supposed to be recognised and implemented.
The youth can help deepen democracy if they make conscious effort, particularly those of you in educational institutions to adopt some of these quite competent reports as part of your study.

I know a lot goes into working on your thesis but it will do our democracy a wealth of good if authorities in our tertiary institutions identify the quality reports that have been published by civil society and encourage their students to critically analyse them as part of their educational training. That for me is a more pragmatic form of education that can expand the horizon of our students and also allow them to analyse some of these suggestions at better governance.

A serious problem that has engulfed our societies and threatens to destroy its moral fabric is the spate of indiscipline that almost everyone in society is guilty of. I need not tabulate as the list could leave me standing here till the morning, but it is truly unfortunate to notice the chaos on our streets, the failure of various contractors to either complete their jobs on time or their uncanny ability to come up with works of such poor quality that it lasts for only a few weeks.

Is it not sad to see all our security agencies believing that what they do is so important that in the early hours of the morning traffic is further exacerbated by horn-blaring police, military, immigration, fire service, customs, security company cars, trucks, mopeds, bipeds or whatever whizzing past and facing on-coming traffic as they rush to nowhere in particular, while we the ordinary un-uniformed workers wait patiently in traffic even though our roles are equally important?

Our youth must recognise that the discipline that they pick up in school or at home does not whittle away after a certain age. Discipline is even more important when you start finding yourselves in positions of responsibility of any kind.

Our democracy can only be deepened if our youth are innovative and progressive. When you criss-cross the coastlines of Ghana you will come across a local fish smoker manufactured mainly from red soil and clay. The Chorkor smoker as it is popularly called was a Ghanaian innovation that gained worldwide acclaim because it conserves energy.

Lately we hear little of our youth especially those who have thankfully passed through education at all levels dreaming about newer ways of doing things. The youth need to move away from the get rich quick schemes, which sometimes circumvent laid down procedure and even border on criminality to a more intuitive and progressive thought process aimed at improving their own outlook as well as helping to develop their country.

You may be asking what does agriculture have to do with the deepening of democracy. I have said before that a responsible youth makes a huge difference to the political climate of any society. If we have a large percentage of our youth unemployed or engaged in activities that bring them little income it has a debilitating effect on our socio-political development.

Our youth need to shy away from engaging in agriculture and start embracing it. Governments should also put in place machinery where youth interested in agriculture are given start-up capital and land to cultivate. A national policy needs to be put in place that will encourage the youth to see agriculture as a viable business option and a tool for national development.

Ladies and gentlemen, democracy will thrive on our continent only if we desist from the wholesale importation, which has been taken advantage of by many selfish politicians. Democracy will flourish only if we endeavour to infuse it into the socio-cultural regime that we find ourselves within our individual countries.

Democracy cannot thrive on a lack of human rights and the continued yawning gap between the rich and the poor.

The events within the Middle East and other parts of Africa should not be seen as an isolated case peculiar to that region. We all have to wake up to the realisation that side-lining the youth from actively participating in national political development eventually leads to varied forms of rebellion especially when the economic situation deteriorates.

Ladies and gentlemen, I will counsel however that the youth should rather be assertive and proactive and organise their front into a respectable homogenous unit and contribute to all facets of democratic development by ensuring that they are heard and their contributions are credible ones aimed not only at enhancing their group but boosting the fortunes of their individual countries.

I take this opportunity to wish all Polytechnic students a happy GNUPS week.

Thank you.




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