Magazine article New African

Looking to Ghana

Magazine article New African

Looking to Ghana

Article excerpt

In its 60th year, Ghana, the first of sub-Sahara's independent states, has emerged as its exemplar of citizen democracy, defying entrenched notions of Africa's failures with democracy. Now, even Trump's America could learn something.

Many Africans were totally absorbed by the election battle between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The obsession with the implications of the US elections contrasts with the lack of serious commentary on significant African elections which mean more for people's lives.

This is partially because there is a deeply held belief that American democracy is the democratic exemplar.

However, it is important that as Africans we consider the importance of our own democratic journey and develop our own exemplars. Were we to do that then the Ghanaian elections would be an important moment for reflection on our democratic journey. The transition in Ghana happened smoothly, the third time power has changed hands, "without any fuss", as the new president reminded us.

The journey to this moment of peaceful transition is worth understanding. This year Ghana celebrates its 60th anniversary of independence, the first African country south of the Sahara to achieve independence from colonial rule and establish democratic governance. The organising principle of the new state was "Freedom and Justice". If these two principles are key factors in measuring Ghanaian identity, what does being a Ghanaian mean in 2017? The answer surely must involve an exploration of the ups and downs of recent Ghanaian history, and the struggle between state and citizen enacted between the first and fourth republics.

The ambitious founding father Nkrumah named the new country, locating its identity in an earlier West African multi-ethnic empire, and with a vision of Ghanaian "freedom", inseparable from a continental Pan-African freedom project. Without necessary resources, the project over-reached domestically, and suffered Western-inspired bankruptcy, followed by years of conservative military rule and stagnation. This was in turn interrupted by a Sankara-style radical militarist revolt, and attempts to erect a mass populist democratisation movement. This was then tamed by a structurally adjusted neo-liberal austerity, finally leading to a period of economic recovery and citizen-democratic consolidation. …

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