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Reflections on Ghana's Election 2008

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  • 1. Reflections on Ghana’s Recent Election By ‘Kayode FayemiIn the arena of post cold war democratisation in Africa, Ghana clearly hit the groundrunning. From the first election in 1992 that saw the transformation of Flight Lt JerryRawlings to President Jerry Rawlings, through the 1996 „stolen election‟, to the 2000election, which resulted in the alternation of power from Rawlings‟ NDC Governmentto John Kuffuor‟s NPP government, the 2004 election promised all the elements of aconsolidation election. This was the context of the ECOWAS-West Africa CivilSociety Forum‟s observer mission to Ghana‟s election this week. Although ECOWASdeployed its own official observer mission, the leadership of West African civilsociety bodies affiliated to ECOWAS also felt we needed to undertake our ownmission. It was a small team of ten led by Sierra Leone‟s civil society activist andpolitician, Zainab Bangura and we deployed in five regions – Greater Accra, Volta,Ashanti, Eastern, and Northern regions. I was in the Greater Accra region with ourTeam Leader, Zainab Bangura, and coordinated the reports from our colleagues in thehinterland.Although we were prepared for a well-run election, as Africans who have also„monitored‟ elections in several African countries, we were on the lookout forinadequacies. In terms of the preparation and even-handedness of the electoralcommission, we were not disappointed. The Electoral Commission arranged ouraccreditation promptly even though we applied late, it sent its officials to train us onthe peculiarities of elections observation in Ghana, and the training covered a range ofsubjects from security to the voter register. Finally, the EC invited us to contact itsofficials immediately we notice anything unusual during the voting exercise. In theperiod prior to the polls we also met with the leadership of the major political parties,NPP, NDC and CPP, and they all evinced a strong desire for a peaceful and well-runelection. All espoused non-violence and all said that if they lost they would seekredress through legal means or accept defeat. It was apparent that campaigning alsoinvolved an element of voter education, for example in how to mark the ballotscorrectly, making the point that those with a vested interest can be the mostcommitted teachers.The parties were not without complaints, especially officials of the official opposition- NDC and these were extensively documented in a “Memorandum for Foreign andDomestic Observers and Monitors” which was shared with us by its officials. Theirconcerns ranged from the Voters Identification Card system, delays in disbursementof funds to the EC, manipulation of the media and biased coverage in favour of theruling party, training of foreign mercenaries and importation of weapons and the 1
  • 2. alleged partisan involvement of President Obasanjo of Nigeria. On the eve of theelection, the NDC insisted on a meeting of all the political parties with the ElectoralCommission to discuss lingering concerns about the “flawed process”. We attendedthe meeting as observers and it was interesting to see the manner the ElectoralCommission responded to all the allegations made by the NDC, both in the way itconceded on some of the gaps noticed by NDC and in the manner it held its owngrounds on other aspects of its preparations. I am familiar with many of theseallegations as a Ghanaian resident and felt the EC did a good job of demonstrating itsindependence.On Election Day, our team visited no fewer than forty polling stations in the GreaterAccra region. It was only in one station that the election did not start promptly at7.a.m because materials did not arrive there due to a vehicle breakdown. We made apoint of speaking particularly to party polling agents and it was remarkable that not asingle polling agent, particularly those from the opposition parties had any complaintsto make to us. In a few polling booths with unusually large number of voters, therewas some rowdiness, but by the time we brought this to the notice of the DeputyChairman in Charge of Operations at the EC headquarters, the Commission promptlytook action. In all cases, police presence was hardly noticeable as they stood somedistance from the polling officials, except when their attention was requested. Ourcolleagues in the other regions painted pretty much the same picture, except theNorthern region where there were pockets of violence in the Bawku constituency.With respect to counting, this was done at each polling station immediately aftervoting stopped at 5.p.m. In a unique collaboration between Joy 99 FM station, theInstitute of Economic Affairs and Ghana‟s largest mobile telephone company,Spacefon, results were relayed by phone to the news studio and broadcast, across thecountry.As a Nigerian partly resident in Ghana and whose organisation also observed theApril 2003 election in Nigeria, I can‟t help but feel a sense of personaldisappointment and national shame. As I saw Dr Abel Guobadia, Chair of INECambled his frame into the lobby of La Palm Beach hotel in Accra, I wondered what hethought of the process he had just witnessed. What Ghanaians have managed to dowith this election is prove that election management is no rocket science. It requiresadequate and competent preparation, a high degree of transparency, a responsiblegovernment, which respects its own citizens and an alert citizenry ready to protecttheir vote. It does not matter to me who wins the election in Ghana as the results werestill coming in by the time I returned to Nigeria, but the process that I witnessed waswithout exaggeration better than what transpired in the last US election.Yet in spite of all I have written, Ghana is not without post election challenges. IfPresident Kufuor wins the election, he would be mistaken to interpret the verdict as avote of confidence in his government‟s performance. Ghanaians still worry that their 2
  • 3. economy is too aid-dependent with sixty percent of the budget coming from externalassistance and extreme poverty still stalking the land. My own assessment listening toGhana‟s proliferating FM stations and to ordinary people in my four years of part-residence in Ghana is that the legacies of authoritarian rule and the search for stabilitycount more for ordinary Ghanaians than immediate economic gains. But this may notbe for long. As long as many Ghanaians see the shadow of former President Rawlingslurking in the opposition NDC though, the likelihood of its victory in presidentialelection is remote. The irony is that the NPP government has not necessarilyperformed creditably in ensuring the security and safety of ordinary Ghanaians,especially Ghanaians in the Northern region. The brazen murder of the local monarch,the Ya Na in Yendi District, a centre of traditional influence in the Northern regionremains a major source of tension and there are those who see the NPP as responsiblefor this, given the prominence of major NPP figures like Aliu Mahama (current VicePresident), Joshua Hamidu (former National Security Adviser and now HighCommissioner to Nigeria) and Malik Alhassan Yakubu (former Interior Minister) inthe conflict. Indeed, the only area that witnessed serious conflict during the electionwas the North, especially the Bawku constituency where Hawa Yakubu, prominentcivil society activist and ECOWAS Parliamentarian was a candidate.Equally, in terms of development, the property owning democracy and golden age ofbusiness that NPP promised Ghanaians is yet to materialise four years after it cameinto office. Generally, the economy is no better than where the NDC left it. Over thepast two decades, market forces have dominated the economy and this trend hascontinued with the NPP government. The economy is reliant on the export of primaryproducts and thus making it vulnerable to the general shocks of the global economyincluding price fluctuations. Further, since the 1990s, the economy has beencharacterised by high rates of inflation, high interest rates, depreciation of the cedi,dwindling foreign reserves, excessive public debt overhang and stagnant economicgrowth, implementation of the Government Poverty reduction strategynotwithstanding. The real test of NPP‟s popularity will come in 2008 when Kuffuor‟sterm expires, and the opposition parties have managed to re-organise themselves.There are lessons too for Big brother Nigeria. The first is the humbling lesson that norespect would come our way from Ghana and the rest of Africa through hegemonicdisplay of hollow power until we perfect our own governance structures at home, byenhancing domestic electoral legitimacy. The widespread impression that those rulingNigeria are not really the true representatives of the people actually undermine ratherthan enhance the way we are seen outside our shores. Indeed, the impression that weare „big for nothing‟ and a disappointment to Africa is a regular view that I encounterin my four years of part residence in Ghana, even as Ghanaians acknowledge ourboundless energy, proud carriage, rare intellect and our government‟s readiness tocome to their rescue in times of economic stress. Indeed, many Nigerians aresuccessful in Ghana and they run the major companies quoted on the Ghana Stock 3
  • 4. Exchange, but ever present in their relations with the Ghanaian elite is the subliminalarrogance and unspoken contempt that reifies the view that “Yes, you Nigerians maybe brilliant, smart and rich, but we are well bred, and good breeding is not somethingto be purchased in the marketplace.” In political science language, Ghana haspolitical culture Nigeria lacks it.The second lesson is the more optimistic one of practice makes perfect. It is arguablethat elections in Ghana have resulted in enhanced legitimacy because the chain hasremained unbroken since 1992. Having run the fourth election in an unbroken cycle,the Electoral Commission in Ghana is regarded as one of the best managed in thewhole of Africa. Its Executive Chairman, Dr Kwadjo Afari-Gyan and his fellowcommissioners have become well-known elections gurus in the continent, earning therespect of peers across the board. Sitting in on one of the Commission‟s meetingswith political parties, one can understand why. Dr Afari-Gyan demonstrated a masteryof his brief without being arrogant, entertained legitimate complaints from theopposition parties and left all with a clear impression that he was not in the pocket ofany government or opposition party. I don‟t believe that Dr Abel Guobadia ispersonally beholden to the PDP government in Nigeria, but the current structure andconstitution of INEC does not help promote the view that ours is truly an independentElectoral Commission. The challenge before us is therefore to organise an ElectoralCommission that is truly independent of Government and wholly accountable to thelegislature and ordinary Nigerians.The third lesson for me is the relevance of freedom of information and the vigilanceof civil society. A major credit for the transparent conduct of the Ghanaian electiongoes to the several FM stations dotted around the country and the vigilance ofCODEO – the local domestic observer mission of 7,000 people. Although some ofthe FM stations can be a bit over the top in the use of inelegant adjectives to describethe President and opposition leaders, but they feed the public with regular, minute-by-minute updates on the elections, and in the process prevent potential problems. Theyalso broadcast provisional election results as soon as counting is completed at thepolling booth and follow this to the collation centres until final results are delivered.And, more importantly, they are encouraged to do so by the Electoral Commission.So, the idea that a result known to everyone at the local level suddenly producesanother winner as it happens in Nigeria is immediately nipped in the bud.I have always said to my own friends in the current government that one legacy thatPresident Obasanjo can bequeath Nigerians even if he fails to do anything else is thelegitimacy of our electoral process. This government would be deluding itself if itbelieves that Nigerians generally see its victory in the last election as legitimate. It iscommendable that the recently announced National Conference Planning Committeehas as one of its central objectives the future of the Electoral Commission and thelegitimacy of the electoral process. The government does not have to go far. We 4
  • 5. need a better understanding of Nigeria‟s electoral geography and the census next yearshould help with that, if it takes place, Two, we should let the Nigerian publicnominate elections commissioners and subject them to public scrutiny beforeParliament appoints them; three, we must fund the electoral body direct from theConsolidated Account without any interference from the ruling Government, four, theelectoral body must be supported by an independent bureaucracy, not the discreditedNigerian civil service, and finally, we must ensure that the electoral law promotesindependent candidacy and proportional representation rather than winner takes allmentality, in order to ensure that even minority parties have a stake in deepening ourdemocracy.In all of these areas, Ghana is light years ahead of Nigeria but that is really where thegreatest hope lies. Here is a country that was a complete basket case in the early1980s and many never thought it could recover from its abysmal state. It also defiespolitical science theory up to a point, in that the people are still poor but they valuedemocracy. Barely two decades later, Ghana is an example and a beacon of hope forthe rest of Africa. Our transition too may yet lead to transformation and I believe thatif the chain remains unbroken we will improve electoral legitimacy. For now, whatthe Anambra saga demonstrates is that we are still a long way away from that goaland the Ghanaian election just confirmed this.Dr Kayode Fayemi is Director, Centre for Democracy & Development, in Nigeria. 5