Ghana: living the promise of democracy

African Update – 16/12/12

It is official! John Dramani Mahama is President elect of the Republic of Ghana. It follows free, fair and peaceful elections in the West African country on 7th December 2012. This is the commendation of the international observer community. It is also the verdict of the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers. Obviously, Ghana and Ghanaians are living the promise of their democracy.

Some eight candidates took part in the presidential contest and all eight of them were optimistic of winning in the first round. In reality it became a two horse race between the 54 years old John Mahama of the ruling social democratic National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the 68 years old Nana Akufo-Addo of the main opposition conservative New Patriotic Party (NPP).

Mahama is the son of a former Member of Parliament in the 1st Republic. He was the immediate past Vice President and was running for the Presidency in his own merit for the first time after the mantle was thrust upon him following the demise of the sitting President. Akufo-Addo, on the other hand, is the son of a former President in the 2nd Republic and this was his second shot at the presidency following a failed attempt in 2008. Two astute men of privilege with legendary family names, both veterans of the 4th Republican parliament; divided only by age, ideology and party.

Campaigning was typically African, full of colour and vitality. It will take months, may be years, for rains to wash away the tons of posters that gave it instant visibility. In towns and villages the elections were a buzz, much more so on radio and TV as well as in the print and online media. People seized every available opportunity to interrogate the promises and propaganda of the parties. When day broke on 7th December almost 80% of registered voters turned out and cast their ballots. Such is the importance Ghanaians attach to their democracy.

Resource management was particularly at stake in these elections. Since 2010 Ghana has added gas and oil to cocoa, gold and a long list of other natural resources. John Mahama suggests a better Ghana agenda would be advanced if revenues from the oil are invested in infrastructural development. Nana Akufo-Addo would rather it is invested in free Senior High School education to transform lives. Whatever they mean by these positions the oil is good reason for great expectations and hopes for quality living standards in all aspects of the economy.

Ghanaians take their role as pacesetters very seriously and it dates back to the liberation struggle when Ghana became the 1st African country south of the Sahara to break free from colonial rule in 1957. In a region perceived to be highly volatile Ghanaians had everything to prove that the country is exceptionally exceptional. The elections are not the end but a means to progress democracy, deepen stability, accelerate development and demonstrate leadership on the continent.

Hence, when verification machines broke down it was the voters themselves who called for calm and urged each other to keep the peace. When arrival of ballot papers delayed at some polling stations, men and women of different partisan affiliations stood shoulder to shoulder through thick and thin. The love for peace and democracy united them and waited they did, patiently.

By this 6th election in the 4th Republic, the country has put to sleep the notion that Africa is a continent ruled by strong men and weak institutions. The Electoral Commission (EC) of Ghana is no weak institution. Since 1992 they have delivered credible elections that witnessed the loss of parties in power to parties in opposition. They have continued to awe neighbours and the international community alike. The introduction of biometric machines in this year’s elections for purposes of voter verification demonstrates their resolve to raise the bar at every stage of their evolution.

In development terms a stable and credible democracy is an invaluable asset. In Africa especially it can make all the difference between stagnation and progress. While some economists have argued that export earnings from the recent commercial production of oil are responsible for the high economic growth rate in the country it remains plausible that the role of a stable and peaceful democracy is not insignificant either. It is what reposes confidence in the economy and attracts Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) including FDIs in the exploration, production and export of oil.

Yet the 7th December elections were not totally incident free. The most reported glitch was some 18% of polling stations where the new biometric verification machine malfunctioned. In other cases it was electoral materials that failed to arrive on time. These two logistical problems sufficed to force the elections into a second day without much grumbling.

What probably raised the temperature were alarms by the opposition NPP that the ruling NDC was planning to collude with the EC to massage the results. Some members of the NPP are said to have stormed buildings deemed to be places where the alleged electoral offence was being hatched. It calmed nerves when those allegations turned false and everyone was re-assured with clarifications from the EC that it was impossible to doctor the elections.

Just as the EC was in the middle of counting the votes, the NPP declared Akufo-Addo the winner. It received swift condemnation from the National Peace Council and restored calm once more but not for long.  Before the EC could finish winding up collation of the polls the NPP cried foul. This time they alleged fraud and served notice they would not accept any outcome short of an investigation acceptable to them. No sooner had the EC declared John Mahama won with 50.70% of the vote than the NPP activated their misgivings with statements, demonstrations and rallies backed up by an implacable resolve to head to court.

Never has the repute of the EC been so targeted with such momentous apprehension, almost to a point of indicting the neutrality at the very core of its legitimacy. The actions or reactions of the NPP may have caused many within Ghana to view them in very poor light as a party incapable of conceding defeat. There are also those in the international community who are possibly beginning to revise the long held reverence for Ghana as a top model of democracy in Africa.

The genuine advances made since 1992 notwithstanding, what is palpable is that democracy in the former British colony is still under construction and hiccups such as the allegations of the NPP are symptomatic of it. To the extent that the party subjects their claims to a test of the laws of the country without recourse to anything untoward might restore goodwill and essentially add a building block to entrenching democracy in Ghana. The rule of law must prevail in every democracy after all.

Of course, it is early days yet and the dust will take a while to settle on the euphoria of the winning NDC and the vexation of the losing NPP. For most Ghanaians it is already time to pull together and celebrate the promise of their democracy of one nation with a shared history and common destiny. For John Mahama, Nana Akufo-Addo and all well meaning politicians across the political divide this is the moment to demonstrate sterling leadership, work even harder to heal the wounds and steer the affairs of the nation in ways that will advance the forward match of a united country and ultimately put bread and butter on the tables of Ghanaians. There is no time for anything else.

Samwin John Banienuba

International Spokesperson for Humanitas Afrika, UK

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