In a show of unity of purpose, the seven presidential candidates contesting the December 7 general election yesterday signed a peace declaration at a ceremony in Accra that attracted the attention of the international community.
A momentous occasion coming just five days to the general election, the declaration sent positive signals to the rest of the world that Ghana is keen on maintaining its enviable credentials as a beacon of peace and democracy on the African continent, even in the face of the fierce competition that has characterised the political contest.
Known as the “Accra Declaration”, the agreement, signed at the Movenpick Ambassador Hotel, was the brainchild of the National Peace Council (NPC) and the National House of Chiefs (NHC), with support from international organisations, including the United Nations (UN), the African Union (AU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Commonwealth Secretariat.
With the exception of the presidential candidate of the Progressive People Party (PPP), Dr Papa Kwesi Nduom, who was represented by his running mate, Ms Brigitte Dzogbenuku, the six other candidates — President John Dramani Mahama of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), Nana Konadu Agyemang Rawlings of the National Democratic Party (NDP), Dr Edward Mahama of the People’s National Convention (PNC), Mr Ivor Kobina Greenstreet of the Convention People’s Party (CPP) and the independent candidate, Mr Jacob Osei Yeboah, were all present to append their signatures to the declaration.
In attendance were Mrs Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the President of Liberia and Chair of ECOWAS; a former South African President, Mr Thabo Mbeki; the Leader of the AU Observer Mission; Dr Mohammed Ibn Chambas, the UN Representative for West Africa and the Sahel, and Ms Josephine Ojiambo, the Deputy Commonwealth Secretary-General.
Also present was former President Jerry John Rawlings, who electrified the packed conference hall of the hotel when he kissed his wife, Nana Konadu, as he went round to shake hands with the presidential candidates who were seated according to how they are positioned on the ballot paper.
The Chief Justice, Mrs Justice Georgina Theodora Wood, supervised the signing of the declaration.
Attendance at the ceremony was strictly invitational, but a few supporters of the NDC and the NPP gathered outside the hotel trying to fathom what was going on inside the hotel.
The conveners, the NPC and the NHC, were strongly represented in the persons of the Most Rev. Prof. Emmanuel Asante and Togbe Afede XIV, the Chairman of the NPC and the President of the National House of Chiefs, respectively.
Both gave powerfully inspiring speeches focusing on nothing but peace, with the Most Rev. Asante saying that this year’s declaration should be the last for the country.
“Ahead of the forthcoming elections of December 7, 2016, we shall forcefully and publicly speak out against all forms of electoral violence, whether perpetrated by members of our political party or other political parties.
“We will seek to collaborate with the Police Service and allied law enforcement agencies to professionally discharge their duties without fear or favour.
“We shall conduct our political campaigns in such manner that the ability of the police or other security agencies to perform their roles and duties in enforcing the law would not be impeded whatsoever,” the declaration said.
President Mahama interacting with Nana Addo and Ms Bridgette Dzogbenuku
Affirmation and commitment of candidates
Then came what everyone in the conference hall was waiting for — the candidates were called one after another to pledge their commitment to peaceful elections.
President Mahama described himself as a non-violent politician whose commitment to peaceful elections was unquestionable.
"I pledge my utmost commitment to peace," he said, adding that he had asked his supporters to keep the peace of the country.
He said he had more to lose than any of the candidates if Ghana plunged into violence.
He said Ghana had gained recognition as a beacon of peace and attributed it to factors such as a free and vibrant media.
"Our people have never feared to express themselves," he told the gathering .
As the President touted Ghana's democratic credentials and the general progress the nation had made, he stated, "Our democracy is too precious to be gambled with."
Although Nana Akufo-Addo pledged his commitment to peace in the election, he mentioned some conditions that would guarantee the peace that all were looking forward to.
He said the government, the police and the Electoral Commission (EC) needed to be fair in their dealings to guarantee the peace.
He alleged, with concern, that the police failed to take action on attacks on the party's supporters in Asutifi South, Odododiodoo and Asunafo South.
Nana Akufo-Addo touted his democratic credentials that spanned over 40 years and said, "I want to be President of a united country that is at peace with itself."
When she took her turn, Nana Konadu said the NDP believed in people, as against politics.
She expressed the hope that the elections would be peaceful to protect the image of the country.
Mr Greenstreet stated that pledging peace must not be misconstrued to mean that strong differences of opinion should not be expressed.
He praised the EC for the work it was doing.
Togbe Afede XIV, the Chairman of the NPC in a chat with Prez Mahama. Looking on is Mr Ivor Greenstreet
"We have confidence in the work of the EC. And by this, we should have nothing to do to breach the peace in our beloved country," he said.
Mr Osei Yeboah said casting ballots must be a peaceful exercise.
In an attempt to sell his candidature, he argued that voting for an independent candidate was the solution to the threats to peace during elections.
He said no one should die because of elections. “I would rather wish that the seven of us should be killed rather than the nation killed for the seven of us," he said.
Dr Mahama said for a long time he had demonstrated that he stood for peace.
He said every actor in the political process had a role to play in ensuring peace.
Ms Dzogbenuku said supporters of the PPP had been educated on the maintenance of peace.
"We will go and vote with the thumb and not the fist," she stressed.
Speaking after the signing of the agreement, the ECOWAS Chair, Mrs Sirleaf, urged Ghanaians to ensure that nothing was done to destroy the country’s enviable record of three successful transitions of power.