Ghana: the democratic challenge

Jérome Perrot (in Ghana), translated by Marie Stagnara
16 Novembre 2013

The Supreme Court of Ghana confirmed the election of John Dramani Mahama as President last August 29, after the disputed results of December 2012. Over the last eight months, the appeal of Nana Akufo-Addo – the opposition’s leader – to the Court has been a real challenge for this country willing to embody a democratic model in Sub-Saharan Africa. Explanation.

John Dramani Mahama's inauguration, on January 7, 2013 | Credits -- AFP
John Dramani Mahama's inauguration, on January 7, 2013 | Credits -- AFP
The election of President John Atta-Mills on January 7, 2009, revealed for the second time that a peaceful change of power was possible in Ghana. But he suddenly died from a heart disease on July 24, 2012. While Vice-president John Dramani Mahama acted temporarily as President, Ghanaians were called to the polls again on December 7 and 8, 2012, to choose between the two political leaders: John Mahama for the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and Nana Akufo-Addo for the New Patriotic Party (NPP). With 50.70% of votes in favor of John Mahama against 47.74% for Nana Akufo-Addo, John Atta-Mills' successor was elected after the first ballot. On December 28, the NPP’s leader quickly protested and lodged an appeal to the Supreme Court to denounce the anomalies related to this poll.

Eight months of investigation and testimonies for an unprecedented judgment

Over these last eight months, the thirteen judges of the Supreme Court interrogated political leaders, ballot presiding officers and officials, in order to highlight all possible irregularities. Last April, the vice-presidential candidate for the NPP MD Bayumia was the first to testify that “the victory for the presidential elections had been stolen” from the party (Ghanaian Times, April 17, 2013). He also pointed out to the Court several issues, like non biometric verification of the votes, or without signatures, and even the disproportionate number of votes compared with the number of electors registered.
Thanks to this audit, the Supreme Court discovered over 905 ballot cards that were not signed and/or duplicated. These anomalies stressed the weaknesses of Ghana's electoral commission during this election, but also, more generally, the whole complexity of free elections in a country where bureaucracy is still developing.
After a final audition on August 14, the Supreme Court formalized the date of its verdict, on August 29. Immediately, the President Mahama asked the NDC, the NPP, traditional and religious leaders, as well as the media to remain calm. “Preserving peace in Ghana”, as he declared (Daily Graphic, July 23, 2013), became a priority for both NPP and NDC, who promised to accept the verdict of August 29.

Democracy in Ghana: their greatest hope

In Accra, the capital city, everybody’s thinking about this verdict. On every news channel, the judgment monopolizes almost all programs, constantly broadcasting various video clips of testimonies and calls for peace. Between two diffusions of highlife [music type originated from Ghana], the radio takes part in this wide and peaceful propaganda livening up the country. In the streets, Ghanaians are proud to explain to foreigners how their country is “peaceful and non-violent”. Most of Ghanaians are confident and particularly aware of how important the verdict will be for the country’s image.
Ghanaians fear an increase of violence due to the verdict, showing a will to preserve the democracy of the last few years, which has ensured peace in the country. According to the report of the UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) made in 2012 about global investment, this relative stability allows the country to receive international aid and  to be “the third African country receiving Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)” in 2011.
Ghanaian democracy, now synonym of development for most of the inhabitants, guarantees a favourable environment with the purpose of expanding its economy. Therefore, it is hard not to understand where is Ghanaians interest lays, between keeping peace in the country and desperately attempting to have their favourite party elected.
On August 29, at 1pm, the Supreme Court resumed its verdict. On this day, 30 000 police officers were spread out in the country to avoid any troubleOnce the electoral appeal of the NPP was declared invalid, John Mahama felt strengthened in his presidential functions. The Supreme Court then made each judge’s decision public as proof of the processtransparency. Nana Akufo-Addo quickly congratulated his rival in order to “move forward in the interests of the nation”, whereas John Mahama hastened to underline the fact that this victory “is not the victory of the NDC but of all Ghanaians” (Daily Graphic, August 30, 2013). In Accra’s streets, there were more Ghanaian flags waving than usual. The day after the verdict, Ghana woke up pride of this achievement. If the investigation of the Supreme Court highlighted obvious irregularities, admitted by everyone, the transparency of the investigation enabled the Ghanaian democracy to come out stronger of the weaknesses of this episode, which could lead to an electoral reform.
In 2009, Barack Obama chose Ghana as his first destination trip to Africa. He celebrated a democracy strengthened by two successful transfers of power in 2000 and 2008. The events of these past few months have confirmed the image of a peaceful and stable country, that is to say a democratic model in Africa. Ghana intends to take profit from this reputation in order to boost its economicdevelopment.

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