Chairperson, our valued colleague, Dr. Kizza Besigye... distinguished guests, members of the media, ladies and gentlemen.
It is a great pleasure to be here among like-minded people and an honour to be asked to give the keynote address at this conference.
Welcome again to our visitors. Akwaaba is our word of welcome.
You might have discovered on arrival in our country that the decibel level is quite high. The reason for this, just in case you haven't found out yet, is you are here right in the middle of the campaign towards our presidential and parliamentary elections on December 7.
For Ghana to host this year's annual DUA conference is of immense symbolism. Some 80 days from now we return to the polls, for the sixth uninterrupted time under the Fourth Republic, to elect a president and members of parliament. For the third time, and the first time in Africa's history, we expect power to change hands democratically from one political party to the other under the same uninterrupted constitution. Myself, as leader and presidential candidate of your sister party, the New Patriotic Party, wishes to assure all of you that we will play a very proactive role in ensuring that this year's election is peaceful, free and fair. At least, those of you observed our elections in 2008, know that I have personally tasted the painful experience of losing an election by the slimmest of margins in Africa's history, 0.46% (some 40,000 votes), after leading the first round of the ballot by over 100,000 votes. I am sure that you will all agree with me that it is about time that I taste some success, as well. But, the success that we seek is not of a personal or partisan kind. We seek to succeed in the all-important push of creating a free and fair society of opportunities and prosperity in Africa for every African. Africa must, Africa can and Africa will succeed in this new and exciting challenge that confronts us in the 21st century. We believe the path to this victory is democracy and freedom.
However, there are still many parts on our continent where this basic right to decide how you should be governed is denied. And even where there is constitutional rule, the democracies are fragile. Two months ago, a senior adviser to the President of Ghana was quoted as saying he doubted that the return to constitutional rule had been a worthy decision. Six months ago, there was a coup d'etat in one of our neighbouring countries, Mali. Up until that coup d'etat, Mali had been cited as one of the success stories on the continent. They had had three successful elections and were thought to be doing reasonably well. A group of soldiers seized the presidency and that nation is back in crisis.
My friends, as the saying goes, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. The theme for this conference "Sustaining Democracy and Economic Development in Africa - the Centre Right Way" is very apt and should concentrate our minds on what we need to do.
We have certainly come a long way, but we should not take it for granted that everybody has accepted this mode of governance. There are those who would rather have authoritarian rule, because they claim Africa is underdeveloped and democracy is cumbersome and we need to get things done in a hurry. We still have some work to do to convince such people that we are all safer under democracies.
The struggle for freedoms and liberties on this continent has consistently been led by those of us on the centre right of the ideological divide. The man who is regarded as the doyen of Ghana politics and who led the first political party to fight for independence, Joseph Boakye Danquah, of most blessed memory, articulated clearly, some fifty years ago at the height of the Cold War, the policy which continues to guide us. And I quote: "Our policy is to liberate the energies of the people for the growth of a property-owning democracy in this land, with right to life, freedom and justice, as the principles to which the Government and laws of the land should be dedicated in order specifically to enrich life, property and liberty of each and every citizen."
It has taken us this long for a consensus to emerge in our country that the democratic form of governance is preferable and that rapid growth of the private sector in an open market is the better route to prosperity of our society.
There are many young Ghanaians, who are going to be first time voters on December 7. They should know that there was a time when Ghana was a one-party state and everybody had to belong to that party. Recently, I was talking to some young people and the subject of military coup d'etats came up. One young lady sounded bemused that the government could be overthrown or taken over simply by a soldier seizing Broadcasting House and making an announcement on the radio: "but what about the other FM stations?", the young lady asked. In her lifetime, she has only known multiple radio and television stations and she was unaware that radio, television and newspapers used to be exclusively owned by the government. She did not know that, not too long ago, if you wanted to hear any voice in opposition to any government policy, you would probably have to tune in to a foreign radio station like the BBC. With more than 100 private radio stations around the country today, she was unaware that we had to fight to have private radio stations even when the Constitution of the Fourth Republic had given that right. She was unaware that a culture of silence used to reign in this nation.
Because we fought for these rights and they have become part of the everyday landscape in our politics, all Ghanaians are today the beneficiaries. This has been the longest period of stable constitutional governance in our history and the benefits are showing. Freedom of speech is taken for granted today; Parliament is making a good fist of exercising its oversight duties; the Judiciary demonstrates its independence and engenders confidence in the citizens and all who live in the country.
We are not quite there yet, but there is far more self-confidence among Ghanaians today than there has been since the very early days of self-government. Freedom and the principles of democratic accountability are strengthening the determination of Ghanaians to build a new Ghana that is neither pawn nor victim.
But, my friends, it is not enough to hold successful elections every four years or to be able to criticize the government and to have a choice of 100 radio stations. The biggest challenge that we face on the continent today is widespread poverty and, until we eradicate widespread poverty, Africa cannot really join the international comity of nations on an equal basis.
The ideological battles, as far as the handling of economies go, have been fought and won and I think it is fair to say that the centre right way has been shown to be the fastest and most sustainable way of creating wealth for a nation.
We all must feel very proud to belong to the Democrat Union of Africa (DUA). Ours is a proud heritage. We, in the centre-right, have won the ideological battle of the last century and, today, the centre-right philosophy is the one that has taken and continues to take millions of people out of poverty.
We, in Africa, have a great battle to fight and win, that is the battle to provide our people with a good quality of life. The structure of economies bequeathed to us by the colonialists was aimed at servicing our colonial masters, essentially raw material exporting economies. The time is long overdue for us to take a deep look at these structures and transform our economies to serve better our own needs. The era of Africa's industrialisation has dawned so that we can also trade in the world economy not on the basis of raw materials, but on the basis of things we make. Trade between us in Africa is minimal and our share of world trade is negligible. We have to improve both substantially. The good Lord has blessed our lands and we should exploit these resources to benefit our people.
We must start with investing in our children and young people as the surest way to guarantee a prosperous future.
My party, the NPP and I are going into the December elections with what some have described as a radical agenda. We are redefining basic education, which is the education that the state is obliged to give every child, to start from kindergarten and end at Senior High School. If you listen to some of the discussions in the country, you will hear that our opponents are claiming that we cannot do it, they call it a mission impossible, they say it is too expensive and Ghana cannot afford it.
Chairperson, Ghana CAN afford to invest in her youth. In this 21st century, it is unacceptable for Ghanaian children to be left with junior high school level education and expect them to be able to compete successfully in the global economy. The next NPP government will do what is right by the youth of Ghana.
I hesitate to prescribe policy initiatives for other countries, but, on the matter of education, I have no hesitation whatsoever in recommending that all African countries adopt the policy of free compulsory education from kindergarten to senior high school. This is one of the most important things we have to do if we are to make the transformation from our current state to prosperity.
It is a deliberate decision we have made and we have looked carefully at the figures and we know it can be done. We need to have an educated and trained workforce to be able to run the modern economy that Ghana will soon become. If God willing, we win the elections, we shall implement this policy rapidly.
The centre right philosophy has always been the champion of democracy. It has been the philosophy of freedom. It has been the philosophy of the free market. It has been the philosophy of creating opportunities for people. Today, much of Africa has embraced democracy as the model that promotes opportunity, freedom and growth.
But sustaining democracy cannot be done with just the vigilance of avowed democrats like us. We cannot help democratic sustenance by just being a union of opposition parties and shouting ourselves hoarse about how our countries are being run by half hearted democrats. To sustain democracy, we must get into power and help in the economic transformation of our countries. Now, there is no longer an argument about whether or not there is a relationship between democracy and economic development. So to deliver prosperity to our people, as Dr. Danquah and our forebears envisaged, we must win the hearts and minds of our people. We must convince our people that centre-right policies are the best that can create the societies of opportunities that we ought to create in Africa in order to raise rapidly the living standards of our people.
This is not to say that opposition is not desirable. Democracy is strengthened by the presence of a strong opposition. A voice that challenges the status quo, demands transparency and good governance, creates a vibrant public debate and checks the power of elected leaders contributes enormously to sound democratic governance. It is, in this vein, that I condemn in the strongest possible terms, all the human rights abuses that are meted out to opposition elements in Africa, whose only 'crime' is that they demand justice, transparency and accountability for the people of their countries.
Here, in Ghana, we are confident that the December elections offer the Ghanaian people a perfect opportunity to return the NPP to power. The tenure of the NPP in government, from 2001 to 2009, gave the Ghanaian people a good glimpse of what the real definition of centre-right is. Essentially, we brought back the confidence of the Ghanaian private sector and the confidence of investors, generally, in the Ghanaian economy. This is because we believe that government has no business doing what the private sector does best. Our policies led to an expansion of the Ghanaian economy by more than four-fold in 8 years, creating more jobs, expanding access to credit and taking millions of our people out of poverty. Today, all that showcases Ghana as a serious nation that provides a safety net for the vulnerable and is dedicated to the welfare of her people, stands in the name of the NPP: the National Health Insurance Scheme, the school feeding programme, the national youth employment programme, the capitation grant, the Livelihood Entitlement Against Poverty (LEAP), and the mass transit programme, that makes transportation easy and affordable for the ordinary citizen.
An effective way to sustaining democracy and development in Africa is to promote a business-friendly environment that rewards creativity and enterprise and those who play by the rules. The centre-right way is to build an environment in which government and regulatory policies enhance rather than inhibit or frustrate trade, commerce and investments. As apostles of the rule of law, our governments ensure the confidence of the investor community that their investments would be safe.
We are taking two important lessons from the global economic crisis: one, a strong recognition that the state is an indispensable agent of social and economic development and two, that the market economy is worth saving.
The urgent task ahead is captured in the words of Mthuli Ncube, Chief Economist and Vice President of the African Development Bank: "Africa is growing but there are risks. Urgent attention is needed to foster inclusive growth, to improve political accountability and address the youth bulge."
The angst and frustration that propelled the protests in North Africa in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya resonate deeply with many in sub-Saharan Africa. It is a sense of arrested opportunities. This young, hungry generation with a global perspective on opportunities and the aspirations to match, expect their leaders to help deliver social and economic transformation that will have a meaningful impact on their lives. And they have new tools to achieve their goals, with the continent having the second largest number of mobile phone users in the world. The pressing challenge for us in Africa is how we negotiate successfully the interface between elections and democratic governance, institution-building and development, poverty and economic-growth and jobs, with the overriding objective being enhancing the dignity of the African - whether they be Berber, Dinka, Wolof, Hausa, Dioula, Malinke, Yoruba, Igbo, Baoule, Peul, Bakongo, Ga, Akan, Shona, Zulu, Arab, Afrikaner, Xhosa, Ewe, Kikuyu or any of the other races that make up Africa's brilliant patchwork.
Chairperson, as Ghana's Foreign Minister from 2003 to 2007, I saw, at first hand, how collaboration with other nations can enhance the prospects of a nation and point it to a better way and a better future. My involvement in helping resolve conflicts around the West Africa region has taught me that we cannot build Berlin walls around ourselves and prosper. On behalf of my party, therefore, I want to reassure the leadership of DUA, that we shall continue to collaborate with our sister parties around the continent, whether we are in government or not. When we are outside government, we shall continue to make available to our sister parties, the human resource that we have, so that we can collectively build a truly vibrant association of centre right parties in Africa. When we are in government, we shall build economic partnerships that will expand the frontiers of our markets and create opportunities for our citizens across borders.
We, as centre-right parties, must encourage AU member countries to demonstrate a commitment to strengthening and protecting the institutions and culture of democratic governance; respecting human rights, religious freedom, and the rights of the individual and minorities; building strong market economies and facilitating the free movements of people, knowledge, goods and services across member states. Africa's small countries will continue to struggle if they go it alone, but the accelerated economic integration of committed nations will breathe new life into the AU and deliver the benefits of African integration to the doorsteps of the African peoples.
Chairperson, we cannot pat ourselves on the back and say centre right policies and philosophies have become the dominant ideologies around the world, and therefore our work is done. We need a continuous process of engaging our people on what our values are. An ideology that seeks to liberate the energies of people and create opportunities for them to realise their God given talents is perhaps the best guarantee for bringing prosperity to the African peoples.
In the eight years between 2001 and 2009 that we governed Ghana, we showed that a confident, competent and principled patriotic ruling party welcomes scrutiny, criticisms and alternate proposals. We used our time in office to deepen significantly our democracy, expand the economy, build a welfare state and create more opportunities for ordinary Ghanaians.
Chairperson, property-owning democracy is not elitist. It is about spreading wealth. Making more and more people become shareholders in the wealth of a nation. It is a philosophy that goes to the heart of human nature. Indeed the first instinct of man is to own property.
We are for social mobility; helping everybody to make something for themselves, the hand-up, not the hand-out. We seek for the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. That is why centre-right philosophy emphasises the crucial importance of education. Everybody must have an education, so that they can develop their God-given talents and enhance their chances of making a decent living. That is the centre right way and the movement of history has vindicated our position.
Friends, we do not have to look far back into history to see that stable period of constitutional government and intelligent management of the economy leads to prosperity. Brazil has shown us that these are not theoretical arguments. In two decades, they have transformed their economy and the lives of their people, lifting some thirty million people out of poverty in the last decade alone. We, in Africa, can identify with Brazil and we can learn lessons from them.
I believe in Africa's immense potential for greatness. I believe that stable democracies in Africa can help unleash energies to drive the transformation of the continent. There is a lot of talk that this will be the Asian century, the Chinese century - but do take it from me: the 21st century holds excellent prospects for Africa. This can be Africa's century. We can claim it if we believe in ourselves.
As centre-right parties, we need to commit ourselves and rededicate ourselves to the ideals, principles and practices of the centre-right tradition, including developing honest and efficient public services. It has stood the test of time. It has won the biggest ideological battle in history. It has been vindicated. We need to apply it faithfully anytime we get an opportunity to be the ruling parties in our respective countries. If we do this well, I am confident that we shall be the preferred parties of government from Cape Town to Tunis.
May I again say akwaaba, and formally welcome you to Ghana. Try the Golden Tree chocolate, it is one of the hidden secrets of this land. Enjoy yourselves amongst a people who pride themselves on their sense of hospitality and come back next year, when God willing, there will be a centre-right party in power at Jubilee House!!! Long live Ghana, long live Africa, long live our centre-right parties and may God bless us all.