Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Democracy the Ghanaian way 2009

The new year has begun in earnest in Ghana. I missed it, being away in the cold calm of Canada, but the New Year was ushered in with the dawn of a new political era here.

The whole world has been looking to Ghana as the beacon of democratic hope for Africa, and indeed it might be. But on the ground I just can’t help rear my skeptical head.

The elections were very tight this year, which is nothing new, the two main parties in Ghana,the NPP (who’d been in power for the past 8 years), and the NDC (the party of JJ Rawlings who secured victory many years earlier in multiple bloody coups, but had surrendered power after losing the first democratic elections in 2000). This year however, the difference was that oil has been discovered off the shores of Ghana, and with Nigeria as the neighboring role model, this means lots of cash for the boys at the top once the oil giants start pumping…

The process of democracy in Africa, when it works, cannot be compared to anywhere else really. Just like religions that are adopted by different cultures and are adapted and molded, so it is with democracy in Africa.

From far off Canada, we eagerly tuned in each evening to the news to hear the progress of the process back in Ghana. After the first elections held on December 7th had produced an inconclusive result, there was a lot of concern in town that the second round would be quite contentious.

Indeed there was tension, and even warning shots fired one day when a mob stormed the electoral commission. Not to mention the hoards of election day poll workers who stormed the Electoral Commission when they had not been paid... This and other incidents were described by the international media as 'pockets of violence' in an otherwise peaceful process. The democracy I grew up with, learned from the Americans and the Brits, for all it’s faults, definitely did not include any pockets of violence. And to be fair, we were wary of returning to Ghana for a few days there…

Back here in Ghana, a local radio station was broadcasting war songs and urging the NDC supporters to come ‘in their numbers’ if the ‘wrong result’ was announced. The NDC crowd were the same group who descended on the EC…

Both parties accused the other of results fixing and on the day of the run-off election on the 29th, it was widely reported that NDC ‘strong men’ kept the NPP would be voters ‘at bay’. Not all Ghanaians on the ground were so proud of their leaders, over the course of the proceedings...

In the end, the victory of the NDC, the opposition, was announced. The numbers still hovered within 1% and the margin quite tight – could have gone either way. The NPP leader conceded the victory for the safety of the country. I think every Ghanaian will agree that had the result gone the other way, there would have been mayhem, chaos, a civil war. Luckily the ‘guys at the top’ took the route of peace.
Whether ‘democracy’ has won, and whether ‘better policies’ were chosen is not an issue here.

The $38million presidential palace has been inaugurated and the new Prez will move in ASAP.
Back in November before the elections, there was public concern about the fact that Ghana, as a developing nation, where the majority of people live on less than $2 a day, went ahead to spend $38 million on a palace for the president. In fact, the opposition leader at the time, Prof. Atta Mills of the NDC openly criticized the building. But he has no problem moving in now that he’s taken office.

I’ve heard that $30 million of the money was provided by the Indian government. I’ve never heard of such a huge donation to Ghana from another developing nation before? But then the population of India is now about 1 billion, and resources will be very important in the upcoming years, and as they’ve recently discovered a huge oil reserve off the Ghanaian coast, this is as good a time as any to make friends….
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2 comments:

EthanZ said...

Holli, thanks for this perspective. I think it's a good reminder that an election which was largely free and fair, and which went far better than recent African elections, wasn't free of violence, hyperpartisanship and intimidation. Ghana has lots to be proud of and some real concerns coming out of the 2008 poll.

As for the donation from India to Ghana for a presidential residence - that doesn't surprise me at all. The National Theatre, a far more expensive building, was a gift from the Chinese government. As countries like India and China stride onto the stage as emerging world powers, countries like Ghana are well positioned to benefit from their largess. It is, of course, worth asking what Ghana might be giving (or expected to give in the future) in exchange for receiving gifts like this one...

The pale observer said...

Oil!!!!!! :)

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