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Of Abuse Of Freedom And Abuse Of Power   
 
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09-Jul-2013  
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Why is the Ghanaian seemingly more concerned about "abuse of freedom" than about "abuse of power"?

Ghana is rife with abuse of power. Nearly every person vested with a modicum of power--be it political, bureaucratic, judicial, professional, academic, or managerial power--very soon becomes a petty despot, lording it over the population they are supposed to serve and often using the entrusted power for private gain rather than the public good. We tolerate and accept such abuse of power from our public "servants” on a daily basis; so much so that we have developed a collective numbness to it, unable to recognize it as abuse when it occurs.

We witnessed recently in the Supreme Court the regrettable spectacle of our Justices in open court, using their elevated positions on the bench, to harangue, humiliate, and bully fellow citizens into submission. Because the judges had decided, without the benefit of due process, that those individuals had abused their freedom of speech, we, too, took it for granted that the judges were right in the manner in which they proceeded to exercise their power. We have gone further to justify the abuse of judicial power demonstrated in that courtroom with statements like "the judges had to crack the whip", unmindful of the implications of legitimizing such gratuitous flexing of judicial muscle. Disappointingly but not surprising, even the bar association has joined the chorus of praise for the judges for “cracking the whip”.

The trouble with Ghana is not abuse of freedom by citizens. It is, and has always been, the flagrant and ubiquitous abuse and misuse of power by persons entrusted with such power for the public good. The pervasive problems of underdevelopment, corruption, injustice, tribalism, poor service delivery, neglect of the population, and wastage of public assets that we live with from one government to the other are not problems caused by the abuse of freedom. They are problems of abuse and misuse of power.

There is no doubt a good deal of abuse of freedom in our society. We must not condone or excuse that.

But we need to bring to this issue a sense of perspective and proportion. In fact, a fair amount of the abuse of freedom we see in our society, including the proliferation of foul and irresponsible speech in our media, is a product or symptom of abuse and misuse of power--and is often sponsored by those in power as well as by their rivals for power. Much of the lawlessness we see in our society has its root in persons in positions of authority abusing their power openly and with impunity and, in the process, setting a precedent or sending a signal for the rest to follow likewise. In an important sense, then, abuse of power tends to breed abuse of freedom.

Witness, for example, the flagrant flouting and disregard of traffic regulations by road users who exhibit the trappings of power. By every measure, the greater evil we must confront, the one that more than any other threatens and retards our development and democracy, is the misuse and abuse of power by persons in positions of authority. Fixating on abuse of freedom only works to excuse and divert attention from the rampant abuse of power that continues to drag this country down.

There is a good reason why democratic constitutional systems are designed to be concerned, first and foremost, with abuse of power and only secondarily with the abuse of freedom. Constitutionalism is founded on a mistrust of power and a presumption in favor of freedom. We, however, seem to have turned this logic on its head, privileging power at the expense of freedom.

It is in the interest of ruling elites to make the people believe that the greater danger we face is the abuse of freedom, rather than the abuse of power. We should not allow ourselves to be fooled. We should be far more agitated by the routine abuse of power that surrounds us than by the abuse of freedom. Some of the abuse of freedom, particularly of speech, may indeed be a modest price to pay in order to expose, prevent, and check the worse evil of abuse of power.

To trust power and distrust freedom, as we seem to do, is to put ourselves perilously on the "road to serfdom".
 
 
Source: Professor H. Kwasi Prempeh
 
 

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