Is Ghana truly the beacon of hope for democracy in Africa?

Ghanaians went to the polls on Friday 7th and Saturday 8th December 2012 to elect an executive President  and 275 Parliamentarians for a four year term January 2013 to December 2016. Less than 48 hours after the voting was closed, the caretaker President  H.E. John Dramani Mahama of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) was declared a winner with 5,574,761 votes representing 50.70%  of the valid votes cast (10,995,262) by the Chairman of the Electoral Commission (EC), Dr Afari Gyan.

  • Kwaku Acheampong

According to the EC, the flag bearer and presidential candidate of the NPP got  5,248,898 votes representing 47.74% of the total valid vote cast. The total turnout was 80.15%   and the elections was held in 26.002 polling stations across the 10 Regions of the country. For some people in and outside Ghana, including this writer, the result was a big surprise. The Economist Newspaper of 15th December 2012 in a short article over the elections wrote that “Mr Mahama’s victory was surprising”. Reasons for the surprise are explained further in the article.

The largest opposition party New Patriotic Party (NPP), has refused to accept the results as declared by the Electoral Commission, and is gathering evidence of “vote rigging” to challenge the results in court. Although some demonstrations termed “march for justice” have been organized by the opposition, no violence has broken out in the country and people are going about  with their work peacefully.

Many local and international electoral observers have declared the elections to be free, and fair. The Chairman of the African Union  and also the leader of the Economic Community of West African States’ observer Team, Mr Olusengo Obasanjo (a former President of Nigeria ) have also declared the elections to be free and fair  and have already sent their congratulatory message to the President –elect.  Mr John Mahama  will be officially sworn-in on 7th January 2013 as the President.

Considering the independence of the Electoral Commission and its ability to have conducted six consecutive elections successfully in Ghana, and the declarations of the various observers, several important questions that people are asking are:

  1. Does  the opposition  party NPP has really convincing evidence to term the election result as “a stolen verdict”?  The opposition allege that the collating of the figures ate the regional Centres was where the manipulation took place. Can they prove this?
  2. Is it possible to have a trial at the Supreme Court in Ghana  which will produce a fair and independent verdict?
  3. What will happen should the Supreme Court in Ghana overrule the verdict of the Electoral Commissioner and declare Nana Akufo-Addo the true winner of the elections after Mr Mahama has been sworn-in?

The answers to these questions will prove that Ghana is indeed providing the path to true democracy for other African Countries to follow.
But before we get to that stage, let us look at the situation just before, during, and after the elections which make one wonder if the results really reflect the wishes of the Ghanaian populace. A short background information of Ghana’s political history is necessary here for readers who do not follow Ghana’s political development.

Ghana was led by Dr Kwame Nkrumah to achieve political independence (the first country South of the Sahara) from Britain in 1957. Dr Nkrumah’s political party was Convention People’s Party (CPP) which broke away in 1949  from the only political party in the country at the time which was  called United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC). The current NPP has its roots from the UGCC.  After several military coup d’états  and two other democratic dispensation, a former flight lieutenant by name Jerry John Rawlings(JJ) took over the reins of the country at the end of 1981. He ruled the country through a military junta called Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) till the end of 1992. Through internal and external pressures, the country was forced to embrace democratic dispensation from 1992 onwards. The military leader JJ Rawlings then formed his own political party and named it National Democratic Congress (NDC) and won the Presidential and Parliamentary elections in 1992, (the NPP boycotted the elections) and again in 1996. His mandated two terms of office came to an end in 2000 so a new leader for the NDC was chosen to contest the elections with the candidate of the NPP and others.

The then NDC candidate in the person of the late Mr  John  Atta Mills lost the Presidential elections in 2000 to the NPP candidate Mr John Agyekum Kufour, who then took over power from the NDC. President Kufuor won again the Presidential elections in 2004 and stayed till the end of 2008. When his mandated  two terms ended, the NPP selected a new candidate in the person of Nana Akufo Addo to contest the elections of 2008 with then Candidate Atta Mills who was representing the NDC for the third time. As the saying goes, the third times are the best,  the then Candidate Mills won the Presidential elections( during a run-off) for the NDC in 2008 with the slightest margin of just over 40.000  votes out of a total valid votes of 9 million. The NPP candidate Nana Akufo Addo had won the first round of the elections with a margin of 100.000 votes but he could not secure the requested 50%+1 vote to be proclaimed the winner.

During the period 2009 till the election date of 7 December 2012, the NDC government was plagued with unprecedented challenges from its own circles.  The most obvious was disunity in the party. The founder of the party, former President JJ Rawlings  criticized the leadership style of President Mills  and accused the Ministers of incompetence. He  even labelled some of the Ministers as Team B  players and at some point  called them “greedy bastards”.

  • Series of corruption scandals broke out as the government paid so called “judgment debts” to persons and companies who sued the previous government for breaking their contracts unlawfully. One of the payments about  51 million Ghana Cedis (about 50 million euros at the time) was paid as judgment debt to an individual (called Mr Alfred Woyome) who as it turned out did not even have a contract with the then Government but could claim the amount. Ironically the same NDC government which made the payment, turned around to go to court to reclaim its paid monies. The case is still pending. Some  Cabinet Ministers were forced to resign but the  Attorney General and Minister of Justice was dismissed when he decided to fight the corruption among his colleagues. He later launched a ‘one man vigilante’ to seek justice and retrieve the monies for the Country.
  • Again, for the first time in Ghana’s political history, the wife of  former President Rawlings , Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings challenged the sitting President  Mills for the nomination of a candidate for the second term. She lost the contest and this compelled her to break away from the NDC and formed her own party called National Democratic Party (NDP).
  • To make matters worse for the NDC, the sitting President Mills suffered from serious illness and died just five months before the elections. This led to a situation where the then Vice-President, John Mahama was sworn in as a care taker President and became the new candidate for the NDC for the 2012 December elections.
Can Ghana show the rest of Africa and the World in general that democracy has taken root and flourished in the country?
With all these challenges within the NDC, the NPP  took advantage and was  hitting hard on these corrupt practices in press conferences and through media reports. They also launched an  election manifesto in which a promise was made to make  Senior High school education free of charge. Ghanaian Children were to enjoy free compulsory education from the basic level up till the Senior High school Level. This campaign promise of the NPP  took centre stage in the election campaign and it force the NDC to come out with counter argument that it was not feasible at this time of Ghana’s economic situation. Mr Elvis Ankrah, the NDC campaign Co-ordinator, in an after elections comment on 18 December indicated that “ the NDC campaign team was able to unlock the fallacy of the free Senior High School (SHS) policy of their opponents which worked in favour of the NDC”.

It is important to note here that the NDC labels itself a social democratic party whiles the NPP is known in Ghana as the free market Liberal democrats. Paradoxically, the NDC in 2003 did not support the launching of the National health Insurance Scheme  to address the universal health coverage by the NPP Government. In 2012, they did all they could to fight against the free high school promise as something that cannot be implemented.  These are two major policies which can be placed under Social Protection to fight inequality. Strangely enough, the President Mahama himself enjoyed a free high school education  introduced by President Nkrumah in the ‘60s for the three Northern regions(out of the 10 regions) in Ghana due to the high poverty levels there. Yet a Social Democratic party fight against a system which will make this free for the children in the whole country.

The NDC presented a new manifesto  as a follow-up of the previous  “Better Ghana Agenda “ and campaigned strongly based on  their “unprecedented performance and achievements in the last four years.

Then comes the elections itself.  One of the major handicaps in Ghana’s Electoral system is the voters Registry. Many observers claim that minors do register and sometimes some people go in for multiple voting. So before the elections, all the parties called for the introduction of a biometric registration system. Initially the NDC government was opposed to this but it was later pushed to accept. Then both the NDC party and  the EC itself stood firm against the introduction of verification machines to check the veracity of the persons who have registered to vote. It was through tough negotiations and the provisions for funds from outside that the NDC and the EC finally agreed to the use of the verification machines.

Another thorny issue was the decision of the Electoral Commission to increase the number of electoral constituencies from 230 to 275 (an addition of 45 new Constituencies) three months before the general elections. According to the EC , they took the decision based on the new figures of the censures conducted in 2010. The NPP and all the other parties beside the NDC contested this decision in court because they  considered the timing to be  too short. They also alleged the demarcation of the constituencies were done to favour the governing NDC. Yet the courts overruled the other parties and went ahead to create the new constituencies.

Tensions grew high during the last days to the elections as various personal attacks and counter attacks were launched on the airwaves. This prompted the King of the Ashanti , Nana Osei Tutu II to call on all  political leaders in Kumasi (the second city) to sign a Peace Declaration some two weeks before the elections. All political parties and their leaders promised to eschew violence and signed a pact not to incite their followers for violence and attack. The Leaders of the Peace Council, a body made up the senior clergy and civil society organizations called on all parties to promote peace during and after the elections.

With all these challenges, it was not surprising that the elections which was scheduled to take place only on Friday 7th December 2012 had to be extended to the next day because many of the verification machines got frozen. Some of the electoral officers in the 26.002 polling stations were not adequately trained to deal with the machines. Many people especially in the rural areas in the northern regions and some part in Accra  stood to be disenfranchised had the election not been extended for another day.

Then on Sunday 9th December, the NPP leadership made a petition to the Electoral Commission claiming some malpractices in some electoral areas. The National Peace Council which is led by the high level clergy men /women called for a meeting between the NDC and NPP and the electoral Commission where the NPP was asked to present evidence of their alleged malpractices. The Chairman of the EC, in his own words was not convinced of the evidence provided so at  22 hrs local time on Sunday, less than 48 hours after the close of the elections,  the EC Chairman declared the NDC candidate H.E John Mahama as the President elect with 50.7% of the valid votes cast.

The NPP leadership held a press conference on the following day to reject the results as declared by the EC chairman who was heard on the BBC radio saying that the option left to the NPP was to go to court as he could not wait to declare the results.

So officially, a president –elect has been declared and he is to be sworn in on 7th January 2013 as President of the Country for the next 4 years.
The NPP candidate has not conceded defeat yet, at the time of writing  and the party is gathering evidence of “massaging figures” to be presented to court. Their claim is that the announced figures by the EC for the President- elect do not tally with the figures recorded at the polling stations. They alleged that the figures were altered in favour of the NDC candidate at the regional collating Centres through the connivance of some EC officers.

So the question remains: Can the courts in Ghana live up to the expectation of giving a fair and independent judgement ?  The Economist Newspaper wrote again that “ a disputed presidential election in Ghana took some of the gloss off that country’s reputation as a model democracy”. Democracy is not only through elections but should also mean the optimum functioning of state institutions such as law courts.

Can Ghana show the rest of Africa and  the World in general that democracy has taken root and flourished in the country? The battle and the times ahead will provide answers to these questions.

Kwaku Acheampong is Head of Policy & Southern Programs Department of fos (Fonds voor OntwikkelingsSamenwerking)

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