What Africa can learn from Ghana’s peaceful election

Ruling party supporters react during Ghanian President John Dramani Mahamas final campaign rally ahead of Friday’s presidential election, in Accra, Ghana. Photo credit: Gabriela Barnuevo/Associated Press

Ghana is a country I’ve come to admire profoundly for its democratic credentials over the last five elections since 1992. And now, I have seen that country successfully transfer power for the sixth time in a row without an implosion. Ghana has done it again… it’s pulled off yet another peaceful election last week on December 7!  

What makes this truly commendable is the fact that Ghana has maintained its reputation as an oasis of peace in a troubled region where smooth elections are not always taken for granted. Ghanaian activist and Free Africa Foundation President Professor George Ayittey highlighted a number of key factors that account for Ghana’s political maturity in an article for CNN this week.

I want to focus on three critical factors — from Professor Ayittey’s article — that Africa can learn from. These factors have helped Ghana in becoming not only the political inspiration of the continent, but the country from which we have come to expect much.

First, the existence of a free media, particularly print and broadcast media and the proliferation of FM radio stations in Ghana, has provided a precious tool for exposing problems, holding government accountable and ensuring transparent elections.

A second underpinning aspect has been the existence of a strong and vigilant civil society – enabled by freedom of association, of expression and of movement as well as the use of new technology and social media.

The third important dynamic has been the maturing of political leaders, which in the words of Professor Ayittey, was “stupendously displayed in the 2008 elections,” and has been demonstrated in this recent election where once again the difference between votes for the two leading candidates has been marginal.

Ghana concluded its elections on Sunday, and voted in President John Dramani Mahama of the New Democratic Congress, who beat his rival Nana Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party.  President Mahama avoided a run-off by a whisker, garnering 50.7 percent of the votes, compared to Akufo-Addo’s 47.7 percent.

The elections were declared free and fair by the African Union, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO), and the US government amongst others.

However, even with an election that close, Ghana’s main opposition party will not be taking to the streets to challenge the results, in which they are sighting counting irregularities.  According to the chairman of the main opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP), Jake Obetsebi-Lamptet they will be taking their matters to the Supreme Court. Yes, in the midst of an electoral dispute, Ghana continues to bolster its image as a peaceful nation.

You really do have to admire Ghana. My sincere congratulations to Ghanaian citizens for a peaceful election.