The recent NPP special delegates conference in Kumasi to amend the Party’s Constitution and attempts by some groups of members to exclude other members from full participation in the Party’s affairs lends credence to a theory by a German sociologist at the turn of the 20th century.
In his treatise, The Iron Law of Oligarchy, Robert Michels theorized that all organizations, especially political parties, irrespective of their democratic ethos at their inception, eventually develop into oligarchies, a precursor of authoritarianism.
The history of the New Patriotic Party from its inception as the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) and its metamorphosis into the United Party, Progress Party, and Popular Front Party is littered with the rather “negative” characterization of this great political tradition as elitist.
Historically, this elitist trait of the tradition, far from being by design, was rather a function of the social origins of the bulk of its founding members who came mainly from aristocratic, professional and business backgrounds to oppose first the exploitative and undemocratic colonial administration and later the dictatorial administration of Nkrumah’s Convention Peoples Party (CPP).
Despite these noble aims espoused by our founding fathers through the tradition, the rather elitist DNA of the tradition has historically made it difficult for it to gain state power consistently as evidenced by the tradition’s loss of power to Kwame Nkrumah.
Nkrumah was brought from overseas to be the Party’s first paid General Secretary, when he eventually broke rank with the UGCC to form his own political party – the core of which was the ordinary masses of the then Gold Coast.
The phrase “Veranda Boys” is now an urban legend in our political historiography in regard to political party organization as a result of the central role ordinary people of the country played in the organization of the CPP. In fact, the Chroniclers of our history attribute the several electoral feats of the CPP to the central role played by the masses.
Yet, at crucial periods in our evolution as a party, this historical lesson about the acquisition and maintenance of political organisation appears to have been lost on us because in 1979, after 13 years of the near extinction of the CPP, this political formation re-grouped under the name of the Peoples National Party (PNP) and used this mass-based organisational strategy to wrestle power from us again.
After this ignominious electoral defeat in 1979, we wandered in the political wilderness for over 30 years before President John Agyekum Kufuor led us back to the promised land of political power in 2000. I have always argued with members of our party who attribute our party’s victory under Kufuor in 2000 to the deteriorating social and economic conditions prevailing in the country at the time.
Granted, the socioeconomic conditions in the years preceding 2000 were not the best. However, what has escaped analysts is Kufuor’s role in gradually making our tradition a “mass” organization through the Party’s invasion of the “social democratic” space.
The Party’s planks on the myriad social intervention programs were all evidence of our tradition’s efforts to defend democracy in the country by expanding its base in a country facing enormous economic and social challenges.
While some have argued that these social intervention programs represented an abdication of the conservative ideology that has always been the hallmarks of the NPP, they forget that the West’s pursuit of the Capitalist ideology has always been underwritten by certain moral principles as exemplified by Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments in the Wealth of Nations.
It was with the same spirit of jettisoning the elitist image of the Party that after yet another electoral defeat in 2008, Nana Akufo Addo pushed for the broadening of the Party’s base through the expansion of its Electoral College before the 2012 national elections.
It is against this background of strenuous efforts by the Party’s contemporary leaders to move away from our pathetic atavistic past of elitism that we welcome the intervention of our current leader and President’s role in withdrawing some of the most bizarre proposals for constitutional amendments, namely:
- The proposal to ban dual citizens, who by definition are diasporans, from occupying certain positions in the party; and
- The proposal that MMDCEs who intend to contest parliamentary elections should resign at least one year before they contest the position.
In fact, the proposal to bar dual citizens from holding certain positions in the party’s structures would have discounted the role of external branches of the Party who play a vital role in giving sustenance to the Party. We welcome the President’s role in ensuring representation of external branches on both the NEC and the National Council of our great party.
Similarly, the rejection of the proposal that MMDCEs who intend to contest in the Party’s primaries should resign their positions at least one year prior to the primaries and its concomitant proposal for sitting MPs to appoint Constituency officers is a welcome relief as the proposal smacked of the gate-keeping which is subtly creeping into the organization of the Party.
Without a doubt, this self-serving proposal is the brainchild of MPs who, by virtue of their long tenure in Parliament, have come to see their Constituencies as their personal fiefdoms and would therefore do anything to perpetuate their stay in the august House.
Some of us who have had the opportunity to contest in the Party’s primaries in the past are aware of this stance by some of our MPs who claim that they contribute to the Party’s financial viability more than any group of members. However, what such MPs fail to realize is that they are able to play this role because the Party has given them access to the resources they control.
Every living organization like a political party needs a constant mutation through the ”procreation” and breeding of new, young and dynamic leaders to survive in the rough and tumble world of competitive democratic politics. Thus, such oligarchic tendencies of gate-keeping could only mean that in the long run the Party becomes endangered and extinct!
Finally, membership of the Party that converged in Kumasi to consider the constitutional proposals must be applauded for seeing the wisdom in establishing a school or institute to prepare the younger generation of members for leadership roles in the Party.
This is an idea I mooted a long time ago and sold to some senior members of the Party and believe me, this idea predated the NDC’s idea of a training institute. However, because of the tendency for gate-keeping on the part of those with vested interests in the Party, none of such people bothered to give the idea the traction it deserved at the time. I am still in possession of the concept paper I spent my time and effort to write to operationalize the idea.
But, perhaps this is the time to implement such an idea because it couldn’t have been implemented a few months ago when the thinking in the Party was to prevent new blood from occupying leadership positions in the Party by those who are already in such positions.
Long live the great Elephant Party!!
Acheampong Yaw Amoateng, PhD, is a Professor of Sociology at North-West University in South Africa. He writes in his personal capacity as a Founding Member and Vice Chairman of the South African Branch of the Party.