Richard Asante, a political scientist from the University of Ghana (currently based at Northwestern University) spoke at SAIS today on “Deficit in Social Trust: A Paradox in Ghana’s Democratic Development” (although this differed from the title on his PowerPoint, ‘Informal Institutions, Trust, and Democracy in Ghana’). In his introductions, Peter Lewis spoke of the significant role that Asante has played in US Africanist convocations in recent years, presenting at the African Studies Association meeting in 2012 and participating in the American Political Science Association’s Africa workshop in 2011.
First some disclaimers, I have briefly worked with Asante (although I don’t know him at all) and I left at the conclusion of his prepared remarks. Asante spoke from a methodological scientific view point, not going too much into specifics, preferring instead to hammer home concise points to support his theory that democratization in Ghana was not due to luck, but rather the strong role of both formal and particularly informal institutions. He suggested that Ghana provides an interesting case study that refutes the ethno-pessimists who believe that a strong nation needs to be built around a single ethnic group.
He emphasized the role of the Inter-Party Advisory Committee (IPAC) as a strong example of the role of informal institutions and how they can help overcome ethnic divisions. I have to confess that I’m not particularly clear what IPAC is, but it seems to have been some sort of forum under the national electoral commission that brought together Ghana’s various political parties.
Asante argued that Ghana’s 2012 election was its most contested since 1992 and convincingly argued that the IPAC was weakened in 2012. He highlighted a specific case where in previous years the announcement of new political constituencies came via an IPAC forum, whereas in 2012 the formation of 45 new constituencies was announced via a press conference just months before the election.
I haven’t heard much about the Ghana elections since the NPP lodged their challenge a couple of months ago. I suspect someone may have raised that during the Q&A and I would have enjoyed hearing an update on that.
I’ve gotten away from making demographic observations recently – but it was interesting to note that no middle-aged women attended the event and no black males (aside from the speaker) were present.
Congratulations on making it to the end of this post! You’ve done better than one elderly gentleman who kept dozing off and briefly snored/snorted during the talk.