Ghana votes to a background of election goodwill

This country's leadership has been exemplary when it comes to democractic handovers

Share
Related Topics

When Ghanaians go to the polls today, it will affect far more than the 24 million who live in the former British colony. It will determine whether the beacon of African democracy remains an example for the continent. 

Ghana’s 2012 election will be the country’s sixth presidential election since it democratised in 1992. So far it has passed the famous ‘two turnover test’ for established democracies, with peaceful transitions of power occurring in 2001 and 2009. In 2008/09, the country faced its equivalent of the Bush-Gore election, with the margin of victory just 40,000 out of over nine million cast. The losers accepted the results and all suggestions of ‘military involvement’ were rejected. 

The image of this increasingly mature democracy is not in keeping with the West’s traditional depiction of sub-Saharan Africa. Ghana, which had five military coups between 1966 and 1981 alone, was once the embodiment of the political instability that ravaged post-independence Africa. Now tangible progress has accompanied its stability - primary school enrollment rates increased from 61 per cent to 84 per cent between 1999 and 2010, while economic growth was 13.6 per cent in 2011.

Responsible

Perhaps above all, Ghana has benefited from responsible leadership. In 2000 and 2008, the incumbent Presidents respected the two-term limits and retired. They also admitted to the possibility of their parties losing the subsequent elections, helping create the environment whereby a peaceful political transition could occur.

Electoral commissions may sound tedious, but they are central to Ghana’s success. Jarreth Merz, the director of An African Election, a documentary about the 2008 Ghanaian election, described the Chairman of the Electoral Commission, Dr Afari-Gyan, as “the secret star of the film”. Without his calmness and scrutiny of the electoral process, a situation akin to what occurred in Kenya in 2007/08 – when the losers refused to accept the result, and murderous chaos ensued – may have occurred. In 2012, the Electoral Commission helped created the ‘Ghana Peace Campaign’, using religious and political leaders to promote a message of peace during election time.

Presidential debates have also helped to create an environment in which policy differences can be constructively debated, encouraging people to vote for positive policy reasons rather than negative ethnic ones. It was just a shame that, with this year’s first Ghanaian presidential debate nearly five hours long, it was hard to imagine viewers staying the course.

Work to do

A lack of natural resources may also have helped Ghana. The most war-torn African countries – including Angola, Liberia and Sierra Leone – are often those with the most profitable natural resources. Ghana has discovered significant oil reserves in the last five years but it may be that, as a relatively mature democracy, it is better placed than other countries to use the proceeds to generate economic growth to help the country-at-large.

And there is much work to do. Education is currently free until the age of 15, and the opposition New Patriotic Party want to extend this until 18. More urgent, however, is perhaps increasing the quality of earlier education – too often, especially in rural areas, class sizes are 70 or more. Ghanaian state healthcare is very affordable (around £10 a year) but requires further investment; almost half the population still lives on under $2 a day. An absence of infrastructure and difficulties doing business – Ghana is ranked the 64th easiest country to do business in – also deters foreign direct investment.

The elections have not been without tension. But vigorous campaigning, and controversy over the redrawing of parliamentary constituency boundaries, has not resulted in violence. Over 20 years, Ghana has shown that democracy can bring substantive gains to African countries – and, for all the difficulties, it should continue to do so.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

August catch-up: architecture, suitcases and ‘pathetic figures’

John Rentoul
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US  

Air strikes? Talk of God? Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script after James Foley beheading

Robert Fisk
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape