Reuben Abati, famous journalist, praises Ghana's democracy in a piece for The Guardian.

I ARRIVED in Accra last Saturday, to meet the last moments of the
campaigns for Ghana's 2004 elections. The Presidential seat and 230
seats in parliament were up for grabs, and although there were eight
political parties on the hustings, and four main candidates for the
Presidential office, only two parties, the ruling, liberal New
Patriotic Party (NPP) and the authoritarian, opposition National
Democratic Congress (NDC) were the main contenders. This is
understandable. NPP is the party of the incumbent President John
Agyekum Kuffour, and NDC, the party of former President Jerry
Rawlings, who has been complaining bitterly about real and imaginary
irregularities in the electoral process.

Arriving Accra about 72 hours to Ghana's fourth general election
since the country's return to multi-party democracy in 1992, I was on
the look out for areas of similarities and differences with the
Nigerian experience. It did not take long to discover that whereas
Nigeria is wobbling and fumbling with democracy, Ghana is on the path
to consolidation and renewal. The city of Accra, the nation's capital
was unusually quiet and peaceful three days to such a major election.
It was the last day of campaigns and it was clear that the candidates
respected this. The streets were not littered with campaign leaflets.
There were a few posters here and there, but they were mostly those
of President Kuffour and a few of his principal rival Professor John
Evans Atta Mills.

Public buildings were not defaced with posters or election materials.
And I did not see even one, big, gigantic billboard taking over an
entire street and blocking the motorist's view as is always the case
in Nigeria. There were no area boys in view reminding everyone that
the country is at the threshold of a major cataclysm. In Nigeria
nobody respects the directives of the Electoral Commission. When INEC
directs that campaigns should end, that is in fact when the Nigerian
politician begins his own campaign, in the expectation that this
would give him an advantage over other candidates. Ghana's democracy
is a statement on the Ghanaian attitude and character.

At the Palm Royal Beach Hotel, I had hardly settled down when I
learnt that Abel Guobadia, the geriatric who is in charge of
Nigeria's elections had also been sighted around the hotel. I was
amused. Guobadia must have gone to Ghana to observe and learn a few
lessons from Ghana's management of the electoral process. By Sunday,
there were so many Nigerians and other foreigners: election
observers, NGO workers, pro-democracy groups, correspondents, milling
around and the main subject of course, was Ghana's elections and
democracy. There is no doubt that Nigeria has a lot to learn from
Ghana. In the 2004 elections in that country, there were only 10
million voters up from six million in 2000. Ghana is a relatively
small country compared to Nigeria, but its electoral commission led
by Chairman Kwadwo Afari-Gyan is independent.

The opposition parties complained about the possibility of fraud and
irregularities in the voter's register, but no one could doubt the
integrity of the electoral commission. This is important to any
electoral process. So supremely confident was Afari-Gyan that he
dismissed the complaints as rumours: "these rumours are part of our
election landscape all the time", he said. He and his men gave a good
account of themselves subsequently on Tuesday by conducting in 21,
000 polling stations an election that has been adjudged free,
peaceful and fair by both local and international observers. There
was violence in the Northern part of the country resulting in the
death of two persons, but generally the election was peaceful, and it
was not that kind of peace induced by fear or the conversion of
democracy into a piece of blackmail.

There was violence in the North because there has been ethnic and
cultural tension in that part of the country following the killing of
a local chief and 40 of his associates, and not because the
politicians seized the initiative. In Nigeria, the situation is
different. Before, during and after elections, our own politicians go
about with bodyguards and thugs, every election, there is always the
fear of death and violence in the air; political thugs and agents
boast openly about their capacity to inflict terror; they scare away
the people and turn democracy into a test of muscles. Not so in Ghana.

To buttress this point, I only need to add that on Saturday, after
lunch in Dele Momodu's house which is a block away from President
Kuffour's personal home and his residence as President, I could not
fail to notice that Kuffour lives among the people, not in a fortress
that reminds the whole world of his importance. As we drove past the
building in the Airport area of Accra, I observed that there were no
armoured tanks in sight, no stern-looking soldiers on parade.
Neighbours strolled past the house and in fact, one lady stopped and
could be seen chatting with the policemen on duty. This was a few
hours from an election in which Kuffour's future as President was at
stake, and yet there were no thugs at his doorstep protecting him
from the enemy and reminding him of his power of incumbency. Such
simplicity. Such humility.

I was promptly reminded of a similar experience in Gaborone, Botswana
a few years ago. I was in a taxi, going to keep an appointment in
town when I was shown Sir Ketumile Masire's residence. I asked the
taxi driver to drive towards the gate of the building. He did so
without any second thoughts, knowing that in his country, it is not a
sin for an ordinary person to go near the homes of elected officials.
There were about two policemen around. Nobody challenged us. We made
a U-turn and drove off. I would later try a similar adventure around
our Presidential villa in Abuja. This was in the days of General
Abacha. In the first place, the taxi driver was nervous and he kept
complaining that I was taking a risk and we should stop driving too
close to Aso Rock.

The truth is that we were a bit far away from the emperor's gates. I
wrote about the experience later in this column, and even that
attracted the displeasure of the powerful men in Abuja. A senior
colleague got a phone call, from one of those people asking him to
call me to order and that I was merely inviting trouble by driving
round Aso Rock and describing what I saw. The senior colleague told
me he tried to explain to them that if they had read the article
carefully, they would see that I was playing around with a literary
form, and that I did not mean any harm. They told him they were more
concerned not about literature, but national security. Abacha has
since left Abuja and the Presidential Villa, but the men of power in
Nigeria's capital have remained inaccessible. Aso Villa is so far
away, the ordinary Nigerian regards it as a fortress. Personal homes
of politicians are guarded by a whole detachment of security agents,
and private thugs. The Nigerian politician is forever hiding because
he is afraid that he might be killed.

The people of Ghana are different. They have a Presidential jet in
Ghana, but Kuffour has refused to use it. Dele Momodu told me about
how his magazine, Ovation West Africa once did a story about "the
richest men in Ghana". He was bombarded with threats of libel suits
and general protest. The rich men of Ghana did not want anybody to
tell the public that they are rich. In Nigeria, many of us go to
great lengths to advertise wealth. Even those who are struggling and
have no riches like to be identified as rich. Not surprisingly,
Ghana's election 2004 was not about the flaunting of cash at the
polling stations but rather about democracy. Ghanaians are very proud
of the fact that they are Africa's first politically independent
nation; they wanted to use this year's election to show that they are
ahead of other African nations in the management of the electoral
process. They have managed to learn from the mistakes of 1992, 1996
and 2000, and this much was on display. To start with, the people
have confidence in their Electoral Commission. They believe that
their votes count, and hence they turned out in large numbers. The
Ghanaian media kept talking about "the power of the thumb"; that is
the power of the vote. On Sunday, I saw an expression on
television: "kokromoti voter": I didn't need an interpreter to know
that the media was focusing on the right of the average Ghanaian to
There are about 20 FM stations in Accra alone, and it was amusing
being told that the airwaves had been seized by those a German friend
who was in Accra to cover the election called "intellectual
warlords". In the run up to the elections, these warlords were on
radio and television, particularly radio which is the most powerful
medium in Ghana, analysing Kuffour's administration and the other
candidates and advising the voter. Some of these warlords were so
brazen that they called Kuffour names. Nobody has been jailed in
Ghana or harassed for being an intellectual warlord. I told my German
friend that the only warlords we know in Nigeria are those fighting
religious and ethnic battles not with ideas but machine guns,
explosives and human skulls. Ghana is different because it is still
driven by ideas. Both the people and their leaders listen to the
intelligentsia; civil society has a voice that is loud and robust,
and there is such a level of freedom of information that is moving
that country upwards as an open society.

By last weekend, most Ghanaians were rooting for Kuffour. They were
looking forward to another four years of his economic reforms. For
them it was a choice between Kuffour's "So far so good" slogan and
Mills's "For A Better Ghana". Indeed, Ghana can be better. Close to
40 per cent of its population still lives below the poverty line;
there is unemployment across the country, ethnic tension in the
North, and in the last four years, fuel prices have gone up
repeatedly, (although kerosene and aviation fuel are cheaper in Ghana
than in Nigeria). But Kuffour has helped Ghanaians in the last four
years to stabilise their democracy. He has brought government closer
to the people. Social infrastructure works with clockwork precision;
exports have increased. The country is a major tourist attraction for
all categories of foreigners including Nigerians who are setting up
homes and companies in Ghana. Accra is only forty-five minutes away
from Lagos by air; every weekend, there are Nigerians heading in that
direction to experience the humanity of that country; I know a number
of families planning to spend Xmas in Accra away from the confusion
in Nigeria.

Under Kuffour, Ghana has re-discovered its rhythm as a land of hope
and possibilities. The relative success of Ghana's democracy extends
the boundaries of African renaissance and Afro-optimism. When Abel
Guobadia returns from his trip to Ghana, hopefully he would be able
to tell his bosses and supervisors what they should be told: that the
integrity of electoral frameworks is central to the sustenance of the
rule of law, that the people should count so that their votes may
count; that the independence of the Electoral Commission is important
and that Nigeria is still in the woods compared to Ghana" a country
that we like to refer to as small. Ghana has just shown us that it is
not size that matters but values, integrity, systems, processes and