Interest Groups and National Politics

Among the politically active and influential organizations and interest groups are the Trade Union Congress (TUC), the Ghana Bar Association (GBA), the Christian Council of Ghana (CCG), the Catholic Bishops Conference (CBC), the Ghana Journalists Association, the National Union of Ghanaian Students (NUGS), the regional houses of chiefs, and the National House of Chiefs. Because political parties in Ghana have been weak and the national political system itself has been unstable, the enduring nature of some of these firmly established interest groups has often substituted for political stability. As a result of their stabilizing and quasi-political institutional role, interest groups such as the CBC, the CCG, and the GBA have exerted enormous influence on national policy. The relationship between incumbent governments and these powerful interest groups has never been easy, however; the government has invariably tried to co-opt or to control, if not to intimidate, the leadership of these urban-based organizations.

Of all politically active organizations, the TUC has always had the largest following, with a total membership in the early 1990s of more than 500,000. This figure includes workers and salaried employees in the public and the private sectors who are members of the seventeen unions that are affiliated with the TUC. Since independence, successive governments have made repeated attempts to control it. Rawlings enjoyed the support of the TUC during the first two years of PNDC rule, but the stringent austerity measures introduced in the ERP in 1983 led to discontent among union members adversely affected by devaluation, wage restraints, and lay-offs. By 1985 the original support enjoyed by the PNDC in labor circles had all but disappeared. The PNDC worked hard to regain union support, however, and the National Democratic Congress government of the Fourth Republic has continued to woo the unions through tripartite consultations involving itself, the TUC, and employers.

From the inception to the end of PNDC rule in 1992, the CCG, the CBCA, the GBA, NUGS, and the National House of Chiefs played prominent roles in the transition to democracy. These organizations took the provisional nature of the PNDC regime quite literally, calling for a quick return to democratic national government. Although NUGS and the GBA consistently demanded a return to multiparty democracy, the CCG, the CBC, and the national and regional houses of chiefs favored a nonpartisan national government. While the NUGS and GBA leadership used methods that frequently provoked confrontation with the PNDC, the CBC and the national and regional houses of chiefs preferred a more conciliatory method of political change, emphasizing national unity.

The CCG, the CBC, and the national and regional houses of chiefs function openly as independent national lobbies to promote common rather than special interests. They insist on negotiation and mediation in the management of national disputes, and they advocate policy alternatives that stress the long-term needs of society. In the past, they have taken bold initiatives to attain the abrogation of state measures and legislation that violate human rights or that threaten law and order. All three bodies share a commitment to democracy, the rule of law, and the creation of political institutions that reflect Ghanaian cultural traditions.

The GBA, like the other professional associations in Ghana, is concerned, among other things, with maintaining the dignity of the legal profession through a code of professional ethics and with promoting further learning and research in the profession. The main objectives of the GBA according to its constitution include the defense of freedom and justice, the maintenance of judicial independence, and the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms as defined under the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. These objectives, by definition, have inevitably pitted the GBA against both military regimes and one-party governments, which on their part have considered the GBA at best a necessary evil. NUGS and its national executive, representing the more than 8,000 students of Ghana's three universities in Accra-Legon, Kumasi, and Cape Coast are among the most vocal and articulate pressure groups in Ghana. By reason of their higher education, in a largely illiterate society, students have often been in a position to agitate for far-reaching political, economic, and social change. Indeed, students have been in the forefront of political activism in Ghana since independence. NUGS was most vocal in its support of Rawlings and the PNDC in 1982, but this changed as the PNDC adopted policies that NUGS considered to be against the welfare of students in particular and of Ghanaians in general.

The CCG, another vocal and influential interest group, was founded in 1929. The CCG's principal function is advisory; it acts through consultation among its member churches. The CCG operates through several committees, including education, social action (national affairs), and literacy campaigns. The CCG is a member of the World Council of Churches and other ecumenical bodies, and it is a strong advocate of human rights.

The CBC, the highest local unifying authority of the Roman Catholic Church in Ghana, dates to 1950, although the church itself has been in Ghana since the fifteenth century. The CBC has established a Joint Social Action Committee for cooperation between it and the CCG.

The National House of Chiefs and the ten regional houses of chiefs represent more than 32,000 recognized traditional rulers who exercise considerable influence throughout Ghana, especially in the countryside. As trustees of communal lands and natural resources, chiefs are often the pivot around which local socio-economic development revolves. The 1992 constitution, like all previous constitutions, guarantees the institution of chieftaincy together with its traditional councils as established by customary law and usage. To preserve their role as symbols of national unity, however, chiefs are forbidden from active participation in party politics.
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