Opinions Mon, 7 Jan 2008

The Tale of two elections - Ghana and Kenya

Imagine hearing the blood cuddling cry of an eleven year-old calling for help: “Uncle, Uncle!” and hard as you try, you only watch in horror as he burns to death. Worse yet, this happened in a church where the fire was intentionally set to kill tens of people who were fleeing for their lives. In the end the little boy was one of more than three hundred people burned and hacked to death in a period of three days following the declaration of Presidential results in Kenya on December 30, 2007.

The Kenya Electoral Commission declared the incumbent President, Mwai Kibaki as the winner with 232,000 votes ahead of the second place finisher, Raila Odinga. The opposition immediately countered that at least 300,000 votes were falsely included in Kibaki’s total and refused to concede defeat, and instead demanded that President Kibaki do precisely that. Allegedly, the “stealing “ happened in the offices of the Kibaki-appointed Electoral Commission who wrote down numbers different from what the polling stations were reporting. Instant protest from Mr. Odinga signaled the beginning of mayhem and murder. With the Rwandan genocide still raw in African minds, this ominous predisposition forced the current Chairman of the African Union, President J.A. Kufuor to offer to hurry to Nairobi to stem the politically engineered and tribally driven slaughter.

Now cast your mind just a week earlier to Accra on December 22, 2007 when Ghana’s Electoral Commission announced the winner of the NPP (New Patriotic Party) Presidential Candidate race. The winner was Nana Akufo-Addo (1,096 votes or 48%). The second place finisher, Alan Kyeremateng, whose dream of becoming his Party’s flag bearer for Ghana’s 2008 Presidential Elections, ended on the campus of University of Ghana on that fateful day, received 738 or 32% of the votes. The doors of the 2007 NPP Congress in Accra were opened at 8:00am and closed at 8:00pm the following day on December 23, 2007. After this marathon session, Mr. Kyeremateng conceded defeat, Mr. Akufo-Addo gave his gracious acceptance speech, the incumbent President, Mr. J.A. Kufuor, who is not a candidate, applauded the “good sportsmanship” of Mr. Kyeremateng and urged all the losing sixteen “aspirants” to close rank and support the winner, Mr. Akufo-Addo.

Yes there was some drama and commotion for about an hour that most agree was to the detriment of Mr. Kyeremateng, yet he did not complain, congratulated the winner, pledged his support and spared the 2306 voting delegates another tiresome 24-hour stretch of a run-off. The NPP Constitution requires that where no one achieves 50% plus one of the total valid votes, there would be a run-off election featuring the top two vote getters. In the course of the confusion on the 22nd, there were stories of attempted attacks on a few people, but the police took control, the Party’s Executives restored order and as far as I know, not one drop of blood was shed on account of the elections.

What are the differences between the two December 2007 elections in Ghana and Kenya and what lessons can be learned? There have been reports that the Chairman of the Kenya Electoral Commission, Mr. Samuel Kivuitu, was forced to prematurely declare a winner in favor of the incumbent President while loud protests of fraud and demands for recount were being lodged. In any close race, this is a recipe for disaster. Of course, the Kenyan December 27, 2007 election was countrywide and the stakes were much higher (the Finals- President of the nation of 39 million). Transparency and counting done in the open in front of witnesses and signed off by representatives of all contestants is a requisite of elections and must be religiously followed everywhere. The NPP Congress in Accra fielded 17 flag bearer hopefuls, each very confident of victory. Laborious and time consuming as the voting and counting were, they were done in the open in front of all the seventeen aspirants, their representatives, TV cameras and the delegates. From Nana Akufo-Addo’s 1,096 votes to Dr Kobina Arthur Kennedy’s one (1), none of the seventeen or their representatives could raise any protest of fraud and lack of transparency. Ghana should thank the experience and impartiality of its Electoral Commission who took over and conducted the elections on December 22-23rd in Accra. Indeed in the course of the brief pandemonium, they summoned the police to quickly secure the ballot boxes and election paraphernalia.

Certainly this was a one-location election but the dynamics could and should be replicated in a multi-site election. During national elections, all available tools should be used to ensure that multiple stakeholders keep and announce the final tallies- telephone and text messages from returning officers, radio, TV and wherever possible, computers should all be employed as counter-checking mechanisms. What happened in Kenya on December 30, 2007 has reportedly happened in Ghana before leading to the publication of “The Stolen Verdict” after the 1992 Presidential elections that featured NPP’s Prof. Adu-Boahen and the incumbent head of state and winner, Jerry Rawlings. It is enough to say that Kenyans are not unique and Ghanaians are not immune to electoral fraud hence the need for continuous vigilance and improvement over electioneering.

The big undertone of the 2007 Kenya Presidential election crisis is tribalism and patronage politics that bedevil Africa. The presumed winner, Kibaki, is Kikuyu while the distressed loser, Odinga is Luo. Centuries of tribal animosities and intolerable continued dominance by the majority Kikuyu are finding murderous expression behind the flicker of alleged political malfeasance. Before the NPP Congress, there were rumblings of groups of tribes and clans not supporting any other candidate except their preferred one and breaking away if their choice lost. There were even outcries and threats of protest against Asante dominance. We must as well catalogue the not-so-hidden disapproval of a Muslim candidate. I dare say that the biggest winner of the just-concluded NPP Congress in Ghana is the dampening of tribal and religious embers that simply do not mix well in the political pot.

Governments have an unusual dominance over the economic structures of Africa. This occasions patronage politics and directs personal and tribal support. Ghana cannot beat its chest in victory and lull itself to sleep as a “peaceful oasis in a conflicted neighborhood”. As I write, the Kokombas and Mamprusis are at each other in Bawku with some five people reported dead. The scourge of tribalism must be permanently affixed in our front view. The distribution of jobs, contracts and development projects must not be seen as spoils of the winning tribe, clan, village or family. Certainly all-national political parties must truly represent the entire nation in membership and influence. Akufo-Addo (NPP), Atta Mills (NDC), Kwasi Nduom (CPP), Mahama (PNC) and whoever emerges from DFP must pledge to uphold national integrity devoid of any taint of tribalism in Ghana. Ghanaians are inherently no different from Kenyans and Rwandans. Conscious and strategic efforts uphold peace as was displayed at Legon on December 22-23, 2007. Patronage politics must give way to impartial national development accompanied by a diminishing position of the government in the economy. I invite ALL Ghanaians to join together in this quest. If you are so inclined, become a dues-paying member of NPP-USA so we can build a force to influence the direction of our country’s development. Even if your political persuasion is elsewhere, let us participate in mutually respectful dialogue and watch our language, especially when we hide behind our computers. You can complain about dominance by this or that tribe or you can start to change the perception and reality, one voice at a time. Find out more on nppusa.org.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Columnist: Boateng, Kofi A.