Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Allen, James


After the Cold War and fall of Communism in the East bloc, a dramatic transformation took place in world geopolitics known as the third wave of democratization. From the 1970s to the 1990s, third wave democracies became a foil to military dictatorships and Marxist-style juntas throughout the Third World (see Samuel P. Huntington, The Third Wave, 1991 and Larry Diamond et. al, Consolidating the Third Wave Democracies, 1997). The process of democratization in Africa seemed to have attained significant levels by the mid 1990s but the same could not be said for the turn of the twenty first century. What went wrong? The process of transition from military dictatorships to constitutional rule was fraught with problems. A perennial problem was the abuse of electoral systems which provided legitimate ways to political participation. Authoritarian governments in Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Togo and Zimbabwe used multiparty elections to legitimize and entrench their rules. Incumbents brazenly rigged elections and derailed Africa's fragile democratic experiment and return to constitutional rule. Democracy in Africa, nevertheless, was not a lost cause. The successful transition to democracy in Ghana is worth studying because it provided a test case of hope and resilience on the part of citizens who wanted to exercise their rights to political participation and governance. I argue that it is important to shift emphasis from electoral systems to associational life and broad-based political participation because this is how democracy is going to be sustained in Africa. To put an end to contested elections and perennial military intervention, broad-based local solutions were sought in Ghana in the period of political opening. The revival of associational life and broad-based political participation, and an emphasis on civil society from the late 1970s to the early 1990s became the founding stone of Ghana's Fourth Republic. The art of association and the assumed freedom it comes with is one of the founding tenets of liberal and democratic societies, and nowhere is this statement more relevant than in Ghana. Ghana's democratic Fourth Republic is the foster child of Ghana's civil society organs and social forces. In Ghana, civil associations such as the National Union of Ghana Students (NUGS), the Ghana Bar Association (GBA), the Movement for Freedom and Justice (MFJ), Christian Council of Ghana (CCG), and the Catholic Bishops' Conference (CBC) generated social movements which were critical to the success of Ghana's democratic experiment. Despite the fact that the political and social activities of the National Union of Ghana Students were crucial and complimentary to the making of Ghana's Fourth Republic, no extensive study has addressed this blatant omission. Sakyi Amoa is the only scholar who has done some substantive work on student movements in Ghana ("Ghanaian University Students," 1969; University Students' Political Action in Ghana, 1979). However, his work did not explore the relations between civil society, social movements, and student movements, and their roles in the making of Ghana's Fourth Republic. This study has a double-edged purpose: to explore and define the place of civil society and social movements in Ghana's democratic experiment; and to point out the importance of the often neglected student movements in making the democratic experiment successful. This dissertation is not just a study of student organizations and their political and social activities, but it is also an analysis of the social forces in Ghana's civil society which agitated for social change and democratization. From the Ghanaian context, I argue that African states embarking on democratization need a functioning and independent civil society which would ensure that at the time of political opening and transition to democracy, the rules of political competition are agreed upon and constitutionally implemented. Also I argue that student movements, along with other social movements, are important to the functioning and independence of civil society. Despite the apparent lack of political maturity by student movements, the student movement in Ghana did perform its functional role in conjunction with other social actors to support Ghana's democratic experiment from the late 1970s to the early 1990s.




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