Youth participation in local and national development in Ghana: 1620-2013.

Author:Van Gyampo, Ransford Edward


'Participation' is one of the buzz and fuzz concepts in development studies today (Cornwall and Eade, 2010). The concept is crucial in identifying who does what, when and how in the process of economic development (Sharkansky, 1972; Bryant and White, 1982:126; Gavin, 2007), so writers on development planning have paid considerable attention to questions of participation, particularly types of participatory development, ways in which participation can be effective, participation by women, and scaling up (e.g., Finsterbusch and Wicklin, 1987; Warner, 1997; Corneille and Shiffman, 2004; Kim, 2011). Within these themes, it is the the debates between the two main types of participation, namely Top-Down Perspective (TDP) and Bottom-Up Perspectives (BUP) that have received the most attention (Berman 1978; Elmore, 1978; Palumbo and Donald, 1990; Matland, 1995; Winter, 1990; 2003; May, 2003; Paudel, 2009: 39; Apostol et al., 2013). To-date little is known about evolution in participatory development and its implications for governance and national planning in particular settings. This neglect may have risen because writers on participation are mainly theorists or empiricists, not economic historians, and tend to be particularly interested in issues of techniques of ensuring effective participation, such as participatory rural appraisal, community based needs assessment, participatory learning and action, and using ICT to enhance participation (Apostol et al., 2013). Indeed, the root meaning of 'participation', according to Paolo Friere, eminent Brazilian philosopher and critical theorist, was the transformation of social structures (Leal, 2010). Thus, right from the beginning, it seems that questions of evolution have not been central to the study of participation. Yet, such a historical perspective is important because it can shed light on how participation worked (or not) during different political economic times, and the nature of the institutions which shaped, proscribed, or constrained particular modes of participation, and hence how to better shape contemporary policy to enhance participation for national development.

This paper tries to fill this gap. It does so by using a critical postcolonial narrative of the role of the youth--defined as people in the 15-35 age brackets (1)--in development planning in Ghana from the 1620s to the present. The focus on Ghana is justified because of its reputation as one of Africa's leading experiments in governance (Naude, 2011). Using the 'youth' as the unit of analysis is also justified because it has been neglected in studies on development planning, In Ghana, studies on participation tend to focus on women (see, for example, Apusiga, 2009; Britwum, 2009) or the vague descriptor, 'the people' (e.g., Boyd and Slaymaker, 2000). For this reason and because the youth constitutes the bulk of the labour force (60 per cent) and voting population (76 per cent)--two groups crucial to development planning--in the country (Ghana Statistical Service, 2000; Electoral Commission of Ghana, 2008), the emphasis on the youth is apposite. The paper answers the following questions in turn: How did the youth participate in policy implementation in the periods prior to, during, and after the institution of Western governance? What are the implications of these 'participation moments', particularly, current moments, for the youth and national development in the post-colonial era?

The paper argues that the institution of Western form of governance has led to an obliteration of participatory development--contrary to popular discourses that it is 'good governance' which has gifted Africa with participatory development. Yet, contemporary, post-colonial governance has taken a whimsical view of the role of the youth in national development. In turn, in spite of their demographic weight, the youth do not have a formal participatory role in the policy (3) implementation process in modern day Ghana. Even in implementing policies and programmes intended to benefit them, the youth are marginalized. Indeed, state institutions that have no or little expertise about youth work are tasked to implement youth programmes for the youth to the neglect of the youth themselves. In some cases, such as the case of the Youth in Agriculture Programme (YIAP), government ministries with no expertise in working with the youth are tasked to implement the programme instead of the National Youth Council (NYC) or representatives of the youth groups. It seems that the only formal avenue for the participation of the youth is recruitment into the government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) which offers employment to only 2 per cent of the youth population (ISSER, 2010). Thus, the role of the youth in policy implementation is purely accidental and unintended. This experience with Western governance stands in sharp contrast with the experiences of the youth during the precolonial era during which the youth were effectively mobilized to implement 'government' policies. So, while youth participation within indigenous systems was integral to national development in the pre colony; it is accidental in the postcolony.

First Phase: The Youth in Traditional Governance

African political systems in the coastal, forest and savannah regions of contemporary Ghana were diverse. However, it is now firmly established that it was common practice as far back as the 1620s to have youth associations usually called the asafo taking active part in national development planning (Datta and Porter, 1971). Admittedly, there were more formal arrangements for youth associations among the southern Akans and especially among the Fantis of the coastal areas (Chazan, 1974). Although every individual was tied in a vertical relationship to a hierarchy of chiefs in their political unit, horizontal ties among individuals in different units were established mostly on clan basis (Finalay et. al., 1968). Within each political entity, the horizontal relationship which balanced the kin-political ties and linked members together was the asafo or, as they were sometimes calledage associations or war people. The asafo relationship counteracted, internally, the strength of kinship ties and gave individuals of different lineages a common interest which assisted in fostering the solidarity of the state. Membership of the asafo age associations was compulsory for the youth (mainly male but sometimes with female membership) (Chazan, 1974:168). Every Akan belonged to an asafo group on their father's side, just as every person belonged to an abusua or matrilineage, on their mother's side (Owusu, 1970:41). Each asafo group was divided into companies and among the southern Akans, it was further sub-divided according to age, that is, into senior asafo, (called dontsin) and junior asafo (called twafo).

Within each asafo group, roles such as taking charge of discipline, ammunition, defense, public works and political activities were allotted (ibid: 42-43). The position of the leader of the asafo was either elective or hereditary. In the case of the latter, the leader was required to be approved by the whole group prior to assuming the role (Shaloff, 1974; See Ffoulkes, 1908 and Datta and Porter, 1971 for the origins and detailed description of the activities of the asafo). Therefore, the asafo organised along democratic lines. The Fantis perfected the asafo relationship to such an extent that this associational link had assumed an importance equal to that of family ties (Chazan, 1974:165). Further to the north, in Ashanti, the asafo companies were less advanced, although membership was required and all the youth participated in their activities (Manoukian, 1971:50). In the centralized savannah areas too, the asafo or age association never fully developed, although the youth were co-opted for military and economic duties associated with the obligations of the young adult towards their polity (ibid).

The asafo companies were not part of the decision making about the policies to be formulated for the traditional community. The elders and the chief formed the government and were jointly responsible for policy making (Busia, 1968:10). The role of the asafo in the policy process was mainly to implement policies formulated by the chief in consultation with his council of elders. As noted by Busia (1968), after the meetings of the chief and his elders, decisions about which the people, particularly the youth had to be informed, were made public by the beating of gongong (talking drums) in the evenings when all the people would have returned from their work on the farms. The youth were called out in this way to provide communal labour in the construction of roads, public toilets, markets, lorry parks, hospitals, schools or to work on the chief's farm. Generally, the asafo companies were responsible for public works and town development schemes but the decision to undertake these development projects was the sole preserve of the chief and his elders (Christensen, 1954:107). Moreover, during the celebration of festivals where departed rulers were celebrated, their names and deeds recalled and favours and mercy solicited, several activities that bring about development were undertaken by the youth after esoteric rituals had been performed by the chief with only a few people present (ibid: 18).

The indirect role played by the youth and the nature of the traditional power structure were accepted by the youth themselves because of the African cultural and traditional values that place a higher premium on respect for the rule, views and counsel of traditional institutions (Austin, 1964). More importantly, the council of elders, who were the respective clan or family heads, represented and promoted the interest of the various clans or families to which the youth also belonged in the chiefs palace. The elders in the chiefs palace were so powerful that the chief...

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