Opinions Sat, 13 Dec 2008

Some humble pies from Ghana

I envy Ghanaians. Since Sunday, they have been the cynosure of all eyes. From all corners of the globe, accolades, meant for Ghanaians and their leaders, have been pouring into Accra since that country‘s presidential and parliamentary elections held on that day.

At the current rate, the international community, the media and election observers may soon run out of superlatives. An election observer from US‘ Carter Centre, John Stremlau‘s take on the election is typical of the reactions that Ghana‘s fifth, consecutive democratic election has attracted. ”These were high quality, very transparent, orderly, peaceful, patient (and) fine elections,” Stremlau gushed to CNN.

Even Nigerians observers returned in a daze, praising Ghana‘s electoral system profusely and concluding that Nigeria had a lot to learn from her small, but better led, neighbour. ”We have a lot to learn from (Ghana) in terms of the economy, democracy and election. One is always sad seeing the difference,” said Dr Joe Okei-Odumakin of Campaign for Democracy.

Ghanaians deserve this moment. They worked hard. I trawled Ghanaian radio and newspaper websites for materials for this piece. I couldn‘t find any significant similarity between Ghana‘s Sunday elections and, say, Nigeria‘s April 2007 elections, which had recorded over 60 election-related deaths even before the first vote in the presidential election was cast.

The Ghanaian elections were free, fair and transparent. There were no ballot snatching, no e-rigging, no ballot stuffing and no ‘collabo‘ among Ghana‘s equivalent of the tripartite forces that determine election results in Nigeria: the ruling party, the electoral officials and the security agents. Yet, the campaigns were intense and the polls hotly contested. The incumbent, President John Kuffor, did not dub the election ‘a do or die affair‘; none of Ghana‘s prominent politicians led a posse of AK-47-wielding thugs to snatch ballot papers; nor did the regional heads of its Electoral Commission seek the approval of the Presidency before announcing results.

This contest, which is to be fully settled by a run off on December 28, is a watershed in Africa‘s electoral history. Just like the election of Barack Obama made nonsense of the racist assumptions of those half-baked theorists who say that the African is less endowed, the Ghanaian election rubbished the claims in some quarters that Africans are not ready for full-fledged democracy. Ghana‘s surefooted democratic steps have made her a model for countries on the continent, and beyond.

My only problem is that it is Ghana, and not Nigeria, that is receiving all this toll-free positive publicity from the global media. I wish this moment were Nigeria‘s. Success stories like Ghana‘s are the ointment that we need to burnish our nation‘s battered image, not those ineffective million-dollar adverts that the Obasanjo administration once ran on CNN.

No offence meant to our Ghanaian brothers, I am pained that the entire world is asking Nigeria, and other African nations that share our horrible electoral history, to go to Accra for tutorials. You see, as a patriotic Nigerian, I get put off when some Nigerians travel to Accra, return with tummies bursting with Kenke (a Ghanaian staple) and heads high on Akpeteshi (the local gin), and then preface every statement with, ”You see, in Ghana the roads are…,” ”In Ghana, the lights are never…”

My misguided patriotism, perhaps, was the reason why I refused to be completely bowled over by Ghana‘s efficient utilities, good roads and clean environment during a conference in Accra last year. To prove that Nigeria isn‘t that bad after all, I deliberately ignored Lagos while selling Nigeria to another participant. Rather, I zeroed in on Calabar and extolled the virtues of her spotless, major streets (I hope they still are; I haven‘t been there since 2006).

But don‘t blame me: blame my schoolboy impressions. The Ghana of my younger years wasn‘t one that had anything to offer Nigeria. It was a Ghana that spewed thousands of refugees across our borders, with each social and economic upheavals. The relatively privileged ones served as teachers, while their less-fortunate countrymen eked out a living by doing the menial jobs that Nigerians disdained. The only thing that endeared Ghanaians to me then was the specially spiced, flour coated, fried fish that Ghanaian women sold in the evenings in Lagos‘ neighbourhoods. Tunji Abioye, a colleague here at the PUNCH, who was born and bred in Ghana, has just informed me that the snack, which we bought behind our parents‘ backs in those days, is called bobi, in Ghana‘s ethnic Ga.

Nowadays, the Ghana of my adult years certainly has more to offer me than bobi. It has shown that organising consecutive, free and fair elections in an African country isn‘t rocket science. And by so doing, our brothers in Accra have tossed several Made-in-Accra humble pies our way. What with everyone saying we should seek inspiration ‘across the border’. And we can‘t even choose to ignore these humiliating pies because the global community seems bent on forcing them down our throats. On TV, news websites and in newspapers, pundits do not only tout Ghana as a model for African countries, they also contrast her elections with the sham that brought President Musa Yar‘Adua and most of the governors into power last year.

So, since we can‘t choose to ignore our humble pies, let‘s go ahead and eat them with all the humility and introspection that this occasion requires. The major fundamentals of Ghana‘s successful elections, in my view, are threefold. Without these, the election would certainly have gone the Nigerian or Kenyan way. Firstly, Ghana has strong public institutions that are not beholden to politicians or political parties. For example, although its name doesn‘t even include the word ‘Independent‘, Ghana‘s Electoral Commission, played the role of a true, impartial and independent umpire.

Secondly, Ghana‘s leading politicians offered quality and sincere leadership. They put their country‘s interest before theirs. I believe President Kuffour set the tone for the election when, unlike the ‘Father of Modern Nigeria‘, he didn‘t try to bully Ghanaians to amend the constitution to enable him get a third term. In fact, Nana Akuffo-Ado, the ruling party‘s candidate, wasn‘t even President Kuffour‘s candidate at the primaries! The president‘s man lost to Akuffo-Ado during a hotly contested primary election and the heavens didn‘t fall. Rather, Kuffour accepted the result in good faith, hit the campaign trail for the party‘s choice and campaigned vigorously for him.

Thirdly, the Ghanaian electorate recognised that their votes could make a huge difference in their social and economic lives. They queued in the sun for hours, were vigilant and stuck around to ensure that their votes were counted in their presence. In fact, Ghanaians’ insistence on voting the right people into power has given birth to a phenomenon called ‘skirt and blouse‘ voting in Ghana; a situation where party supporters vote against their party when a national or regional candidate is perceived to be of poor quality.

At this point, I have to stop; although I really would have loved to touch on the minor fundamentals too. I have had my fill of Accra’s humbling snacks.
Columnist: Adeyeye, Joseph