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Opinions Fri, 9 Jan 2009

Ghana’s Elections: Looking Back, Things To Be Thankful For

By Kofi Bentil

In the first of this three-part series I invite you to look at Ghana’s elections from another angle. I followed the broader issues quite closely and I am thankful for a well conducted election.

Every election has its highs and lows. Ours though could be described as subtle, with the characteristic no holds barred opposition posturing while a determined incumbent unearthed all its electoral strategies to do ‘battle’. When the chips fell, a bruised incumbent acted for a brief moment like a bad loser, threatening court actions against the vote and in the process lost significant goodwill.

In the end, it was the ruling party’s big guns who internalized the pressure on its candidate to concede to the opposition victor. That admonishing was a clear admission that Ghanaians wanted their constitutionally mandated institutions to work. It did not make the incumbent less of a democrat, much less subversive even if the attempt was to shake off the unexpected pain of a loss.

With hindsight though, it makes interesting reading in Africa when a losing incumbent quickly puts an ex-parte motion in front of a judge who they think is “one of them”, you expect a swift judgment in their favour, influenced not by the law, but by other interests. This scenario seemed to have happened, but in Ghana it failed. The judge looked at the officials from the ruling party whose president was still in office, and threw out their case citing law as his authority.

Ghana triumphed again because elsewhere, ruling parties are not known to rush to courts when they are threatened with loss of power due to electoral defeat!

In the run up to the general elections, researchers identified over a hundred flash points were reported for serious security attention. In a country where a football match could lead to great disasters and very little can spark a fratricidal war, we have to be thankful that there are no funerals because of tensions from the election.

That said, there were incidents of violence which were usually from mob action. However, it was not close to what has been the character of disputed elections in some African countries where violence rendered qualified voters invalids and others meeting their untimely deaths. Here again we owe such rare grace to the conduct of political parties and security personnel who admonished the public to value their lives and votes, as the elections were about choices, not bullets. The Police and the Army in particular were at their professional best, having experienced the ravaging legacy of war through peace keeping operations around the world.

In a similar vein, Ghana’s electoral commission deserves commendation having earned the trust of every Ghanaian after successfully and impartially conducting five general elections. Africa’s recent electoral history cannot boast of such neutrality to the point that the general populace would say, as many Ghanaians agreed to “leave it to the Electoral Commission”. Indeed, Ghana’s Electoral Commissioner, Dr. Afari Djan is probably the most trusted Ghanaian after former UN Chief, Kofi Annan.

Perhaps our biggest praise should go to incumbent President John Kuffour for his markedly dignified and statesman-like neutrality. He was quite deft in his handling of the near electoral dispute because somehow he managed to maintain his support for his party’s candidate but did nothing to give him an undue advantage. His party has respected him, and the nation has one more reason to love him. It feels good that Ghana will soon have two former presidents who have earned our love and gratitude.

So, wherever you belong, regardless of how you feel now, whether cheated or elated, and to those who feel we have disgraced ourselves and spoilt our record as the haven of peace in a turbulent sub-region, take a moment to reflect on the above.

May be some wouldn’t agree, but for all the above, I surely see a lot to be thankful for.

Kofi Bentil is a lecturer and consultant in Business Strategy and Entrepreneurship at Ashesi University and the University of Ghana Businesses School. He is a Fellow of Imani, www.AfricanLiberty.org, a member of the African Leadership Initiative, of the Aspen Institute, and an affiliate of the CATO Institute and the International Policy Network of the UK.

Columnist: Bentil, Kofi