A few days after the December 2016 elections in Ghana, a cartoon appeared in Uganda’s Sunday Monitor depicting a civics lesson in a classroom where the teacher asked the question: What is democracy? The response from the pupils was “Ghana.”
This satirical take by a Uganda-based newspaper on the December elections was one of numerous plaudits Ghana had received from the international community on what was widely-acknowledged as a credible democracy-affirming election. For the third time since the country returned to multiparty democracy following elections in November 1992 (won by the National Democratic Party), Ghana has accomplished a peaceful alternation of power from one political party to another. The first occurred in December 2000, when John Agyekum Kufuor of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) wrestled power from the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) candidate at the time, Vice-President John Evans Atta Mills. Atta Mills had been handpicked by outgoing President Jerry John Rawlings to succeed him since the constitution prevented Rawlings from running, having completed two four-year terms in office. Eight years later the same scenario was repeated when Kufuor’s ruling NPP’s presidential candidate Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo lost power in 2008 to the opposition NDC party led by the previously defeated Atta Mills.
There was no chance to test the emerging eight-year power changing pattern with Atta-Mills who died while in power in July 2012, about five months before completing his first term in office. Mills’ Vice-President, John Dramani Mahama was sworn into power 24-hours after the death of the President, in accordance with constitutional provisions. The smooth transition of presidential power from Mills to Mahama was another successful test of Ghana’s democratic credentials, contrasting sharply with experiences in other countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Togo, where the sons of Laurent-Désiré Kabila and Gnassingbé Eyadéma took power following the death of their fathers in 2001 and 2005 respectively.
Ghana has long been held as the “shining star” of the continent, being one of the earliest sub-Saharan African countries to attain independence from colonial rule under its Pan-Africanist visionary leader Kwame Nkrumah. However, the country failed to live up to the high expectations of many admirers after a succession of military takeovers (five in total) within the first three decades following its independence. Now with the seventh multiparty elections under its belt, Ghana appears to have regained its former glory, deepening its democracy after each successive election.
Successful elections in Ghana have served as a morale booster for the continent following President Yahya Jammeh’s eventual refusal to accept election results in the Gambia, even after having initially conceded defeat, and President Joseph Kabila’s failure to organize elections in the DRC even as his two-term tenure came to an end.
Despite the euphoria around Ghana’s successful turnover of power, its democratic elections have not been without its challenges. Since 2000, Ghana’s elections have been closely fought, at times with margins as narrow as 40,000 votes separating the winner from the loser. Also, on two occasions (2000 and 2008), the country had to resort to runoff elections because no candidate had garnered the constitutionally required 50 percent plus one of the total votes cast during the first round. This time around, the electoral victory was decisive for the 72 year old Akufo-Addo who was running for president for the third time. He defeated the 59-year-old incumbent, Mahama by almost 1.5 million votes. It was clear the Ghanaian electorate was unequivocal in rejecting the NDCgovernment along with many of its members of parliament. The NPP now holds 169 seats in the 275-member parliament, and the NDC only holds 106 seats, since they lost more than 40 seats in the December 2016 polls.
In the end, fears that the elections would be marred by violence did not materialize and despite a few incidents of post-election violence, the country remains peaceful and expectant of the change promised during the political campaign. On January 7, President Nana Addo-Dankwa Akufo-Addo and Vice-President Mahamudu Bawumia were sworn into office. The new government now has the difficult task of putting an ailing economy back on track and restoring hope to 27 million Ghanaians to whom they promised change.