Political Science Professor Participates in Constitutional Conference in Iceland

Posted by: Elizabeth Richardson on November 20, 2018, No Comments

Samuel Quainoo, Ph.D., professor and chair of the department of political science and economics at East Stroudsburg University, was recently invited by the University of Iceland and the Prime Minister of Iceland, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, to participate in a conference on “Democratic Constitutional Design, The Future of Public Engagement.”

Dr. Quainoo, who was born in Ghana and educated in Ghana, England and the United States of America was one of the few participants and international guests who gathered from universities that included Harvard, Yale, Columbia (USA), Barcelona, and Ireland. to discuss Icelandic politics, constitutional law and reform, and public policy. The participants were invited because of their work on Constitutional crowdsourcing as well as their expertise on democracy and public policy.

From 2008-2010, Iceland faced a devastating financial meltdown and major volcanic eruptions. These events converged to create the perfect storm of chaos from which Iceland is still trying to recover. The people of Iceland realize they have to reform their constitution and public policies to be able to manage their politics, economy and environment in a more efficient manner and also to prepare for any possible future major incident. Iceland finds itself in a relatively sensitive environment in the middle of an ocean and cannot afford to be overtaken by such environmental and political surprises.

The conference, organized by the office of the Prime Minister, the University of Iceland, and the Icelandic Society for Constitutional Reform was held at the University of Iceland from September 27-29. The agenda included discussions and debate on topics such as public engagement in constitutional reform, national borders and immigration, and income inequalities.

Quainoo believes that “public engagement is the bedrock for building democracy, but the public needs to be actively informed and educated for a democracy to be truly functional.” He emphasizes the need and importance for a democratic society to have an informed public due to the current explosion in public access to all kind of information. He also views the increased ability through new technology to disseminate information as a double-edge sword for modern democracies and therefore should be managed carefully.

Upon his return from Iceland, Quainoo has been inspired to share lessons from his trip about democracy-building with his students at ESU. He teaches courses on Politics of Developing Countries, Principles of Politics, and Public Policy and Administration. Quainoo has shared his experience of visiting the site of the world’s first parliament that was established by the Vikings in Iceland in 930 A.D., as well as the building in Reykjavik where Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev met and signed the first Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 1986. He also had the privilege of speaking with the engineers and members of parliament on climate change and the politics of harnessing geothermal energy as a supplemental sources of power in Iceland. He is considering organizing an ESU Study Abroad program to Iceland in the near future.

“I thought it was a joke or mistake,” Quainoo said of receiving the invitation from the Prime Minister Jakobsdóttir’s office. “I didn’t know I was known in Iceland.” Quainoo believes that a citing of a part of his first book (Transition and Consolidation of Democracy…) on British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) brought him to the attention of the conference organizers. The book focuses on the conditions that motivate the dynamics of democracy in African Nations, but also discusses the role played by the Ghanaian public in the drafting of Ghana’s current constitution.

“When I realized the invitation really was meant for me I immediately felt an overwhelming sense of honor and began my preparations and research right away,” Quainoo said. His most recently published book, Politics 111 (2018) was a big help in his preparation for the conference. A couple of chapters in the book interrogate some of the key factors that have given rise to populism in modern democracies.

On the Icelandic constitutional reform, Quainoo concludes that “a major difficulty of modern constitutions is that these documents are expected to bring about development through harmony and fairness, because of their longevity, consistency and stability, but the same documents are at the same time expected to be responsive to modern changes and trends.”

“The question we must answer is, ‘How do we reform constitutions to provide stability and still be sensitive to a world that is fast changing because of globalization and technology?’”

Growing income inequalities within nations and among nations is another topic Quainoo discussed at the section of the Conference that was hosted at the offices of the Icelandic Society for Constitutional Reform.

He often refers to the Fanti (Ghanaian) proverb, “If you do not share your wealth, the people will share their poverty with you.” It is therefore imperative and in our national and global interest to have equitable distribution of resources and rewards. “If leaders do not enact policies that shrink the gap between the rich and the poor, the poor in many developing countries will risk almost everything to migrate to developed societies to share their wealth, deepening the immigration crises we are experiencing in both Europe and America today. It is up to political leaders, citizens, including students studying to become leaders, to effectively find new ways of harnessing and distributing resources in a manner that will benefit all.”

For more information about the political science and economics programs at ESU, contact Quainoo at (570) 422-3275 or email squainoo@esu.edu.