New Year Brings New Era to Ghana
Ghana is starting the year 2001 at the dawn of a new era, with a new president, John Agyekum Kufuor. The victory of the opposition party candidate ends almost twenty years dominated by the outgoing president and former coup leader and flight lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings.
Rawlings bows out of office on 7 January after serving two four-year terms as an elected president, preceded by eleven years as a military ruler. Kufuor will be sworn in as president next Sunday in the first democratic handover from one elected leader to another since Ghana gained independence in 1957.
Marking the nineteenth anniversary of his second coup d'etat on 31 December 1981, which he calls a revolution, Rawlings broke his silence Sunday after his National Democratic Congress lost the second round of the presidential election on Thursday 28 December to the opposition leader, Kufuor.
Rawlings was addressing the security agencies and progressive voluntary organizations as well as his wife's 31st December Women's Movement, for the last time as president, at El Wak Stadium in the capital Accra. He congratulated Kufuor for winning the election, and his vice president John Atta Mills for losing it graciously, and he promised the government's cooperation to ensure a smooth transition.
In a speech that was partly conciliatory and partly defensive, the head of state said he and his government were willing to share their experiences, especially the difficulties, with the newcomers and do everything possible to make sure the handover was efficient.
Rawlings cautioned his NDC party not to undermine Kufuor's administration, but assist it in uniting the spirit of the nation. Let us help them so that the foundation we have laid is built on, he concluded.
But there was also a warning for the incoming government. Rawlings said he hoped that Kufuor and his New Patriotic Party would be able to deliver on their campaign pledges and promises to the Ghanaian people. He cautioned that nothing would come easy, even for a fledgling government, though he was confident that with goodwill from all sides, Ghana would move forward as a nation.
Rawlings appealed for calm after the bitterness generated in the run-up to the run-off presidential poll. Now that the elections are over , he said, I expect tensions and acrimony to subside so that we can all work constructively together for the common good.
The head of state called on both victorious opposition supporters and backers of rival political parties to desist from any acts that could lead to violence and reprisals from the other side. He said the preservation of peace and stability was paramount in Ghana in the coming days and weeks.
On the eve of the new year, Rawlings again spoke about the killings of women in Accra, which have reached a total of thirty one in the past three years, the latest two in December. Implying that he was still convinced that there was a political motive to the murders, the president said the introduction of new scientific methods in police investigations could help track the killers.
The president elect, John Kufuor, has already outlined his immediate plans for Ghana. Over the weekend he pledged to accord all the respect and support that is due a former head of state to his predecessor, with this message for Rawlings: "I will ensure that he is treated as I would like to be treated at the end of my term of office."
Kufuor outlined some of the policies he plans to pursue, which he said would be radically different to those of the outgoing government, particularly in economic strategy. While previous officials paid lip service to the private sector, said the next president of Ghana, "It won' be lip service with us; it will be real support for the private sector. That is a very, very different approach.
The president-elect said the outgoing administration would be remembered for allowing the currency, the cedi, to plummet, and he pledged to generate wealth for all Ghanaians, to modernize agriculture, broaden the economic production base and woo foreign investment.
He said he would encourage more manufacturing and service industries to insulate Ghana against the external shocks that have affected its two primary exports and revenue earners, cocoa and gold, whose prices have been prey to the vagaries of world markets.
Those aims will likely be popular, as economic issues dominated the presidential campaign. As they enter a new year, Ghanaians are likely to welcome the new president's plans to concentrate on the economy, but they may be less happy to hear that Kufuor has not ruled out a period of austerity.