Ghana's Democratic Transfer Of Power Hailed Internationally
The election of Ghana's new president, John Agyekum Kufuor, marks the first time in Ghana's history that one elected government has been voted out of office and another voted in to replace it. Calling the process a real achievement for the infant democracy, the president-elect has appealed to both supporters and opponents to work together to make Ghana a model for the new century.
The optimistic view of last week's polling was echoed by the secretary-general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, who is himself a Ghanaian. Ghana has demonstrated that democracy and its institutions continue to take root in Africa, Annan said, adding that the international community should rejoice at this "orderly and democratic transfer of power".
Kufuor, an opposition challenger who won over a sitting vice-president, has praised his fellow citizens for his victory and thanked the man he beat in the race for the country's top job. His acceptance speech - which drew members of his New Patriotic Party to his home, along with colourful crowds of supporters dressed in elaborate variations of the party blue, white and red -emphasised harmony and healing.
Ghana's new leader asked for prayers and support, saying that all citizens "must now together take hold of the challenges that face our country and resolve to solve them in a spirit of unity, of reconciliation, of compassion and understanding."
The backdrop of a giant national flag of Ghana in red, gold and green with a black star behind and beside Kufuor, rather than the NPP flag, lent a presidential and unifying air to the surroundings and the proceedings.
Looking up at the assembled masses -- some nestling in treetop vantage points -- the president-elect, known as the Gentle Giant , told Ghanaians, "Yesterday I was the candidate of my party, the New Patriotic Party. Today, thanks to the votes of so many millions of our citizens, I am the President, not of the New Patriotic Party, but of all Ghanaians." Kufuor emphasised that everybody will have his or her part to play in his new administration, adding there will be no room for witch-hunting of individuals or groups.
Kufuor received a phone call on Friday evening, described as cordial and gentlemanly, from the vice president and governing National Democratic Congress candidate John Atta Mills, conceding defeat and congratulating the new president. The call followed a sometimes bruising and acrimonious second-round presidential campaign and run-off election.
In his low-key victory speech, Ghana's new leader called Mills' gesture "a gracious concession", thanking both the vice president and the outgoing president Jerry Rawlings, who he said had presided over an historic election.
The chairman of the electoral commission, Kwadwo Afari-Gyan also praised Mills, calling him "a fine gentleman who had done the right and democratic thing." Afari-Gyan announced on Saturday morning that, with official results in from all but one of the country's two hundred constituencies, he could declare John Kufuor the new president of Ghana. The NPP candidate won 56.7 percent, ahead of the vice-president who polled just above 43 percent.
Flanked by his wife and senior members of the NPP, as well as the leaders of five other opposition parties -- eliminated from the presidential race after the first round, who then backed Kufuor in the second -- the president-elect praised Ghanaians, telling them that their faith in multi-party democracy, as well as their patience and fortitude in the face of so many challenges "have brought us here to this momentous day."
Shifting the focus to the immediate future, Kufuor called on his compatriots to congratulate each other on a job well done and to pat themselves on the back, while not forgetting that this was only the beginning. He said he was preparing to work, in cooperation with Mills and a transitional administration, on a new government and was expecting a call from President Rawlings and a request for a meeting.
He warned that ahead of Ghanaians lay the challenges of a deteriorating economy, a depreciating currency and other unspecified problems. He called on his compatriots to unite to face the future. Ghana, he said, must move forward into the future as one nation and one people with one manifest destiny, concluding that at the start of a brand new century, Ghanaians should work to make it a Ghanaian century.
Ghana is still haunted by the chequered legacy of military coups, which have deposed elected leaders and governments since the mid 1960s. The Kufuor victory ends the twenty-year leadership of Rawlings, the military coup plotter-turned-elected president of the past eight years. The sometimes controversial, charismatic and flamboyant Rawlings has been praised for bowing out democratically. He has mentioned a new career trying to help in the fight to eradicate malaria in Africa.
Some see the defeat of Vice-President Mills, the president's chosen successor, as an indictment of Rawlings and his governing NDC. Ghanaians, it seems, voted for a total change -- what Kufuor's campaign slogan called "positive change" -- and not the change in continuity that Mills had hoped would win him the presidency. But observers note that it is the personalities rather than the policies of the outgoing and incoming governments that are likely to change.
Rawlings successor, John Agyekum Kufuor, has pledged to Ghanaians that he will "work as hard as I can each and every day, to bring about a positive change in the lives of all our people." Describing the road ahead as a "mission", the president-elect assured Ghanaians that with the cooperation of a powerful and competent team in government, he had "the inner strength" to succeed in the job.