We as citizens of the United States observe politics from afar and the vast majority of us may participate in the political process only to the extent that we go to the polls once a year to vote. We may endeavor to follow the news accounts of our nation's politics as they unfold, and of the consequences those political actions yield, but we have little power to influence our "democratically" elected officials. Perhaps we write an occasional letter to our senator or representative, but we almost inevitably receive a vague and impersonal response explaining why they will vote in our opposition.

Over the decades, our representative democracy has been systematically undermined and has ultimately failed in preserving the well being of the people of this nation. The system that the founding fathers painstakingly devised in order to best serve the interests and the will of the people has been corrupted and the systems of checks and balances on power that they instituted have been stripped away. Most of us accept this reality as being beyond our control and continue to observe, comment, and complain without aspiring to achieving any real change, without any hope of instituting a new system of governance that would instead take directly into account your views, and the views of your neighbors, and would empower you to make real positive change possible in your communities.

This site will attempt to explore in depth the places in the world where people are successfully bringing about that type of change in the face of similar odds, where an alternate form of democracy, which is called participatory or direct democracy, is taking root. Initiative, referendum & recall, community councils, and grassroots organizing are but a few ways in which direct/participatory democracy is achieving great success around the world.

Our system of representative democracy does not admit the voice of the people into congressional halls, the high courts, or the oval office where our rights and our liberties are being sold out from underneath us. Our local leaders and activists in our communities, and even those local elected officials who may have the best of intentions are for the most part powerless to make real positive change happen in our neighborhoods, towns and villages when there is so much corruption from above.

In places like Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Brazil, South Africa, India, and the Phillipines, new experiments in grass roots community based governance are taking place. There is much to be learned from these and other examples of participatory democracy from around the world when we try to examine how this grass-roots based governance could begin to take root here in our own country in order to alter our political system so that it might better serve the American people.

In the hope that one day we can become a nation working together as a united people practicing true democracy as true equals, we open this forum…


Thursday, June 5, 2008

Ghana: Radio Promotes Participatory Democracy

According to the piece below, much of the developing world relies upon the radio for outside information. As the social structures evolve from small village-based consensus governance to an increasingly urbanized and diversified population, modes of communication struggle to transform as quickly. Radio is used as tool to disseminate information in areas where TV and Internet cannot reach. As with any form of media, the radio is an opportunity to hold governments accountable to the people as it provides people with information regarding the issues at hand. The more radio stations and views presented, the more people will be educated about the issues and therefore more likely to participate in the debate. If radio becomes one-sided or dogmatic, it becomes stifling, and it poses risks to democracy and discourages people from standing up against decisions they oppose. -Editor

Ghana: Radio, Participation And Governance - the Nexus


Public Agenda (Accra)

16 May 2008
Posted to the web 16 May 2008

Richard Ellimah

The caller tells Joy FM's Super Morning Show host, Kojo Oppong-Nkrumah that she is caught up in the middle of an early morning rainstorm and there is a danger of her car submerging in the ferocious floods.

In fact, the panic in her voice is so palpable. Another caller, Bernard, sends an SOS to the programme host and says if help does not come in a few minutes he will be swept away by the floods. In response, Kojo calls National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO) and Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS) officials and directs them to the areas where the distressed calls came from. It is amazing the level of people's expectations of radio.

Radio is the new craze in developing countries. It is uncommon to see young and old, men and women, rich and poor, urban and rural dweller clutching at rectangular electronic devices that blare out both music and talk shows. For some of these people, radio is their companion day and night and is the closest device to contemporary technology that they possess. Welcome to the radio revolution!

Radio is simple, cheap and accessible. This makes it a real friend to many in the developing world where pervasive poverty means people cannot afford the luxury of a television set let alone access the internet. In Ghana, with as little as 2 cedis, a person can get a radio set. Families therefore purchase one set and the entire household benefits. Wherever you are, be it the kitchen, farm, bathroom, toilet, classroom, walking by the roadside or relaxing under a tree, radio can intrude and keep you company. The added benefit of radio is the multiplicity of stations one radio receiver can churn out.

It is not that there has never been a mode of sending messages in the past. Long before the advent of European colonialists, traditional societies had their own means of sending messages. In times past, the town crier was the chief messenger. It was his duty to transmit messages to the people from the chief and his elders. His mode of presenting the message galvanized people to actively participate in local governance. In traditional Akan societies, the tone of the drum beat connotes the message being sent. For instance, when the chief or a prominent person passes away, the sound of the drumbeat is different from that of a festival announcement. This way, the community was adequately informed of events both within the community and outside.

This medium of communication that promoted active participation in community governance has virtually faded out. One reason is that through increased urbanization, more and more people have moved out of the close village environment into more diversified and complex environments where community mobilization by means of a town crier is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Such communities will therefore have no need of a village crier. Furthermore, increased use of modern technology has presented other opportunities for announcing events to community people and certainly, the "tontonsansan" or talking drum is not one of them because it has outlived its usefulness.

With these disadvantages, radio presents the easiest and simplest methods of enhancing community mobilization for development. Its advantages transcend both rural and urban dwellers. In fact, the late media icon Professor P. A. V. Ansah describes radio as the only true "mass medium" because the transistor revolution has reached even "the rural dwellers".

In developing key governance indicators, the World Bank, notes that accountability of government officials, transparency in government procedures, openness in government transactions as well as reliable flow of information are all crucial to the survival of any democratic order.

Governance is therefore not only about structures or institutions. These institutions exist to further the process of governance. Ultimately however, empowering the people to actively participate in this process by feeding them with timely and reliable information is critical to the survival of the structures. It can therefore be deduced that there exist the "hard" and "soft" parts of governance. What most developing countries have done is to place a lot of emphasis on the hard part. These countries have succeeded in establishing flamboyant institutions with sweeping powers and incidentally, raised hopes that the mere existence of these institutions alone ever solved any governance questions. Why didn't Bernard call NADMO or the GNFS straight away? There are several possibilities one can look at. It is very probable that he did not even know the contact numbers of these public officials who are supposed to come to their aid in their moment of need. The other possibility is that even if he did know the contact numbers, the problem might be with how he would be received. To expand the argument further, how many Ghanaians know the telephone numbers of key governance institutions? At the district level, what is the nature of interaction between the assembly and the people within the district?

The advent of radio has contributed significantly to solving the questions of governance. How does radio contribute to governance? If indeed, the general consensus is that governance involves people, then how do people participate in governance? To begin with, there is no denying the fact that radio plays some role in enhancing participatory democracy. It provides a platform for the citizenry to share ideas, question existing policies of government, and generally hold public office holders accountable to the people. In an election year like this, radio stations are bringing politicians and the electorate together in a marriage whose fruits can only further our democracy.

What do Ghana's radio stations sound like? Check out this link:

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