A Bumpy Election, But Ghana Can Handle It

Voters in Ghana headed to the polls on Friday and Saturday to elect their new president. While the electoral commission has announced that the incumbent, John Dramani Mahama, won the vote, tensions have been simmering as the opposition party is contesting the results. The opposition candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo, a UK-trained human rights lawyer and two-time presidential hopeful (Akufo-Addo lost by one percentage point in the last election), is being touted as the winner of the election by party loyalists, who insist that a pattern of fraud has marred the electoral process. And while there have been some incidents of violence – and at least one instance of police firing tear gas on opposition supporters – Ghana has a strong democratic process, with many layers of safeguards and checks and balances that should ensure that Mahama’s apparent victory is sealed without delay.

While some technological issues arose in the first day of voting on Friday, forcing an additional day of voting to take place on Saturday, Ghana’s new biometric voting machines appear to have been successfully deployed. International election observers didn’t report any major issues, and declared the election “free and fair”.  In a region haunted by the possibility of political violence, coups d’etat, and autocracy, Ghana has had remarkable success in holding successful democratic elections for the past 20 years. In addition to the national electoral commission, which seems to enjoy a high level of legitimacy, Ghana has also instituted the National Peace Council, a multi-party platform with the mission to ensure that elections remain peaceful and creating space for dialogue between competing political parties. Another initiative worth noting is the creation of two public complaints secretariats, announced today by Ghana’s Chief Justice, which will handle post-election complaints and claims.

The institutional architecture backing Ghanaian democracy is impressive, in particular as it attempts to undercut any accusations of partiality or unfairness. Claimants have a variety of channels they can appeal to to make their case heard. Even as they contest the results, the opposition party continues to call their supporters to remain calm – when legitimate institutional avenues exist, the need to take the streets decreases.  Ghana also has a thriving national media – print, radio and increasingly online – another key ingredient to ensuring openness and transparency not just during elections, but throughout the political process.

As Ghana continues to cultivate its reputation as a growing, economically strong, democracy, it will need to tackle some important challenges. Mr. Mahama – who came to power in July 2012, when his predecessor, John Atta Mills, passed away – will need to look closely at the growing gap between rich and poor in Ghana – while some parts of the country take off, others are left behind – a complex issue which is often observed in rapidly growing, middle-income countries. Mr. Mahama will also have to ensure that revenues generated through foreign investment are fairly redistributed and invested to continue to improve on health, education and economic outcomes for all Ghanaians.