A reflection on elections in Ghana by Dr Kayode Fayemi , Director, Centre for Democracy & Development, in Nigeria.
In the arena of post cold war democratisation in Africa, Ghana clearly hit the ground running. From the first election in 1992 that saw the transformation of Flight Lt Jerry Rawlings to President Jerry Rawlings, through the 1996 'stolen election', to the 2000 election, which resulted in the alternation of power from Rawlings' NDC Government to John Kuffuor's NPP government, the 2004 election promised all the elements of a consolidation election. This was the context of the ECOWAS-West Africa Civil Society Forum's observer mission to Ghana's election this week. Although ECOWAS deployed its own official observer mission, the leadership of West African civil society bodies affiliated to ECOWAS also felt we needed to undertake our own mission. It was a small team of ten led by Sierra Leone's civil society activist and politician, Zainab Bangura and we deployed in five regions - Greater Accra, Volta, Ashanti, Eastern, and Northern regions. I was in the Greater Accra region with our Team Leader, Zainab Bangura, and coordinated the reports from our colleagues in the hinterland.
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 for inadequacies. In terms of the preparation and even-handedness of the electoral commission, we were not disappointed. The Electoral Commission arranged our accreditation promptly even though we applied late, it sent its officials to train us on the peculiarities of elections observation in Ghana, and the training covered a range of subjects from security to the voter register. Finally, the EC invited us to contact its officials immediately we notice anything unusual during the voting exercise. In the period 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-run election. All espoused non-violence and all said that if they lost they would seek redress through legal means or accept defeat. It was apparent that campaigning also involved an element of voter education, for example in how to mark the ballots correctly, making the point that those with a vested interest can be the most committed teachers.
The parties were not without complaints, especially officials of the official opposition - NDC and these were extensively documented in a "Memorandum for Foreign and Domestic Observers and Monitors" which was shared with us by its officials. Their concerns ranged from the Voters Identification Card system, delays in disbursement of funds to the EC, manipulation of the media and biased coverage in favour of the ruling party, training of foreign mercenaries and importation of weapons and the alleged partisan involvement of President Obasanjo of Nigeria. On the eve of the election, the NDC insisted on a meeting of all the political parties with the Electoral Commission to discuss lingering concerns about the "flawed process". We attended the meeting as observers and it was interesting to see the manner the Electoral Commission responded to all the allegations made by the NDC, both in the way it conceded on some of the gaps noticed by NDC and in the manner it held its own grounds on other aspects of its preparations. I am familiar with many of these allegations as a Ghanaian resident and felt the EC did a good job of demonstrating its independence.
On Election Day, our team visited no fewer than forty polling stations in the Greater Accra region. It was only in one station that the election did not start promptly at 7.a.m because materials did not arrive there due to a vehicle breakdown. We made a point of speaking particularly to party polling agents and it was remarkable that not a single polling agent, particularly those from the opposition parties had any complaints to make to us. In a few polling booths with unusually large number of voters, there was some rowdiness, but by the time we brought this to the notice of the Deputy Chairman in Charge of Operations at the EC headquarters, the Commission promptly took action. In all cases, police presence was hardly noticeable as they stood some distance from the polling officials, except when their attention was requested. Our colleagues in the other regions painted pretty much the same picture, except the Northern region where there were pockets of violence in the Bawku constituency. With respect to counting, this was done at each polling station immediately after voting stopped at 5.p.m. In a unique collaboration between Joy 99 FM station, the Institute of Economic Affairs and Ghana's largest mobile telephone company, Spacefon, results were relayed by phone to the news studio and broadcast, across the country.
What Ghanaians have managed to do with this election is prove that election management is no rocket science. It requires adequate and competent preparation, a high degree of transparency, a responsible government, which respects its own citizens and an alert citizenry ready to protect their vote. It does not matter who wins the election in Ghana as the results were still coming in by the time this was written, but the process that I witnessed was without exaggeration better than what transpired in the last US election.
Yet in spite of all one has written, Ghana is not without post election challenges. If President Kufuor wins the election, he would be mistaken to interpret the verdict as a vote of confidence in his government's performance. Ghanaians still worry that their economy is too aid-dependent with sixty percent of the budget coming from external assistance and extreme poverty still stalking the land. My own assessment listening to Ghana'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 stability count more for ordinary Ghanaians than immediate economic gains. But this may not be for long. As long as many Ghanaians see the shadow of former President Rawlings lurking in the opposition NDC though, the likelihood of its victory in presidential election is remote. The irony is that the NPP government has not necessarily performed 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 region remains a major source of tension and there are those who see the NPP as responsible for this, given the prominence of major NPP figures like Aliu Mahama (current Vice President), Joshua Hamidu (former National Security Adviser and now High Commissioner to Nigeria) and Malik Alhassan Yakubu (former Interior Minister) in the conflict. Indeed, the only area that witnessed serious conflict during the election was the North, especially the Bawku constituency where Hawa Yakubu, prominent civil society activist and ECOWAS Parliamentarian was a candidate.
Equally, in terms of development, the property owning democracy and golden age of business that NPP promised Ghanaians is yet to materialise four years after it came into office. Generally, the economy is no better than where the NDC left it. Over the past two decades, market forces have dominated the economy and this trend has continued with the NPP government. The economy is reliant on the export of primary products and thus making it vulnerable to the general shocks of the global economy including price fluctuations. Further, since the 1990s, the economy has been characterised by high rates of inflation, high interest rates, depreciation of the cedi, dwindling foreign reserves, excessive public debt overhang and stagnant economic growth, implementation of the Government Poverty reduction strategy notwithstanding. The real test of NPP's popularity will come in 2008 when Kuffuor's term expires, and the opposition parties have managed to re-organise themselves.
There are lessons too for other West African countries, especially the most populous of them all, Nigeria. It is arguable that elections in Ghana have resulted in enhanced legitimacy because the chain has remained 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 the whole of Africa. Its Executive Chairman, Dr Kwadjo Afari-Gyan and his fellow commissioners have become well-known elections gurus in the continent, earning the respect of peers across the board. Sitting in on one of the Commission's meetings with political parties, one can understand why. Dr Afari-Gyan demonstrated a mastery of his brief without being arrogant, entertained legitimate complaints from the opposition parties and left all with a clear impression that he was not in the pocket of any government or opposition party. The challenge is therefore to organise an Electoral Commission that is truly independent of Government and wholly accountable to the people. The Ghanaians can help by sharing their experience with other West Africans, and since Dr Afari-Gyan is already the Secretary-General of the Elections Management Bodies in Africa, there is a platform on which this objective could be achieved. Also, given the plans by ECOWAS to establish a full Elections Unit in the ECOWAS Secretariat, that Unit has the specific challenge of assisting to enhance election management in West Africa, by providing capacity strengthening initiatives and strictly upholding the provisions of the Supplementary protocol on Democracy & Good Governance signed by all Heads of States in West Africa, but yet to be ratified by majority of these leaders.
Another lesson that West African states should take to heart is the relevance of freedom of information and the vigilance of civil society. A major credit for the transparent conduct of the Ghanaian election goes to the several FM stations dotted around the country and the vigilance of CODEO - the local domestic observer mission of 7,000 people. Although some of the FM stations can be a bit over the top in the use of inelegant adjectives to describe President Kuffuor, ex-President Rawlings and other opposition leaders - depending on which camp they belong to, but they feed the public with regular, minute-by-minute updates on the elections, and in the process prevent potential problems. They also broadcast provisional election results as soon as counting is completed at the polling 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 produces another winner as it happens in Nigeria is immediately nipped in the bud.
Finally, what Ghana proves is the importance of distance between the Electoral Commission and the political leadership in any state and the confidence that comes from understanding and surefootedness. We need a better understanding of electoral geography in all of our countries in West Africa. Two, we should let the public nominate elections commissioners and subject them to public scrutiny before Parliament appoints them in our countries; three, we must fund the electoral body direct from the Consolidated Account without any interference from the ruling government; four, the electoral body must be supported by an independent bureaucracy, not the regular civil service, and finally, we must ensure that the electoral law promotes independent candidacy and proportional representation rather than winner takes all mentality in our countries where diversity should be celebrated, rather than pilloried.
In many of these areas, Ghana is light years ahead of other West African states but that is really where the greatest hope lies. Here is a country that was a complete basket case in the early 1980s and many never thought it could recover from its abysmal state. It also defies political science theory up to a point, in that material economic benefit seems to weigh less in the mind of the average voter in Ghana. Ghana is an example and a beacon of hope for the rest of Africa. It shows that the democratic deficit in many of our states may yet produce concrete transformation and I believe that if the chain remains unbroken, electoral legitimacy will come.