Ghana Shows the Way: Though Democracy Has Gradually Taken Root in Africa, Some Elections in the Recent Past Have Not Been Pleasant. Not So in Ghana Where Elections in December Provided So Many Positive Points Worth Emulating across the Continent. Our Editor, Baffour Ankomah, Returned to His Homeland to See How the Ghanaians Did It

Article excerpt

It is 7 January 2009. Ghana's new president, Professor John Evans Fiifi Atta Mills is being inaugurated. The Independence Square in Accra, a huge arena along the Atlantic Ocean built by Kwame Nkrumah's government for such grand occasions, is full to the brim. An estimated 100,000 people have forced themselves into the Square, and more are on the way--on foot, in buses, in trucks, in vans, on motorbikes, on bicycles. Fears are high that too many people might create a security problem. But it is a special day, and who can stop the people from coming. They voted for change, in the closest-fought election ever in the country, and now they have their man--the third consecutive John to be elected president in 17 years.

Well after midday, a voice comes on the loudspeakers to announce that the losing candidate, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, has arrived and taken his seat among the visiting presidents and dignitaries on the first floor of the Independence Arch on the south side of the Square, close to the roaring Atlantic Ocean.

A Zimbabwean female journalist working for the French news agency, AFP, who has travelled all the way from Harare to cover the elections, turns to me and asks: "Did the announcer say Akufo-Addo is here". I tell her I didn't hear him say that. A Ghanaian photographer standing next to me joins in. "Yes, he said that. He is up there on the first floor of the Independence Arch," the photographer says, pointing to the Independence Arch. The face of the Zimbabwean is overcome with emotion. "I am impressed, hugely impressed," she says.

"You mean you wouldn't get that in Zimbabwe, the opposition or the losing candidate wouldn't attend the inauguration?" I ask, teasing her, having myself covered Zimbabwe in detail over the past eight years and knowing what goes on there. "No way," the Zimbabwean replies. "Not on their lives. Thumbs up for Ghana, I am really impressed," she repeats, rather dramatically.

I tell her that the other losing candidate who came third, Dr Paa Kwesi Nduom, is sitting right behind us. "Yes, I know. I saw him come," she says. "I am really impressed. Really impressed! Ghana is showing Africa the way," the Zimbabwean adds.

Across Africa and the world, the sentiment was the same. "It's a triumph for Africa," said the headline of Kenya's Daily Nation on 7 January. "The sentiment was repeated around the continent and the world, often with pointed comments on the contrast with other recent elections in Africa," reported the AfricaFocus Bulletin, an independent electronic publication providing re-posted commentary and analysis on African issues, on 13 January.

Our own Nigerian correspondent, Osasu Obayiuwana, wrote from Lagos: "I doff my cap to Ghanaians for doing what my countrymen have been unable to do--organise a transparently credible election. Unlike Obasanjo and the PDP, Ghana's elections were not a 'do or die' affair for Kufuor and the NPP. I hope that a day will come in Nigeria when an opposition party will defeat the ruling party and they will respect the wish of the people enough to quit the place without trying to cause mayhem by falsifying the election results!"

After the first round of voting in Ghana on 7 December, the head of the African Union observer mission, Dr Salim Ahmed Salim, the former OAU secretary general, praised the elections as a "consolidation of democracy" and " a good example" to Africa.

Well said, and in fact Ghana deserves all the accolades heaped on it for not going the way other recent elections had gone in Africa, especially in Kenya, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Angola, etc. But truth be said, it was that close--in terms of the tension, the tipping point, and the results!

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Since 1951 when the British organised the first of such elections in Ghana (which was a British colony for 113 years), no election in the country had been this close. The first round had produced no outright winner in the presidential race, even though the ruling party--President John Kufuor's National Patriotic Party (NPP)--had been soundly beaten in the parliamentary polls. …