Saturday, December 8, 2012

Ghana election results: is a "one touch" victory possible?

With only 55 of 275 constituencies called on Ghana's most reliable news source (myjoyonline) the results remain far too close for any decisive prediction. From these 55 the NDC candidate incumbent President John Mahama is winning, however given how votes are regionally distributed in Ghana little can be confirmed without more constituencies' results. Throughout the campaign everyone knew it would be close, and indeed it looks like if any candidate takes victory it will be with a roughly 1 or 2 percent margin of victory or less. Two big questions are taking over Ghana's newswaves today. Firstly, will either candidate get over 50 percent of the votes and win the presidency "one touch"? Secondly, is Ghana heading for a divided government with opposing parties taking the presidency and winning a majority in the parliament? This would be unprecedented in Ghana's democratic history.

In order to win the first round ("one touch") the presidential candidate must get over 50 percent of all votes. In 2008 no candidate achieved this which led to a second round. Ghana also saw a second round in 2000 when President Kufour was also unable to get over 50 percent in the first round. If no candidate wins today the second round will be on 28th December.

The NPP campaign manager has confidently informed the public that NPP has secured a one touch victory. They claim that a massive turnout in the Ashanti region (over 80 percent), their stronghold, as well as a reduced turnout in the Volta region, the NDC's stronghold, will help them secure victory. The party claims only 1 percent of stations are continuing voting today and conclude that the process has be largely successful. Dr Afari-Gyan chairman of the Ghana Electoral Commission has also claimed the election to be Ghana's most successful On record. Indeed, the introduction of a new biometric system across the country with minimal problems seems like a great achievement for the EC.

Keep up to date on results here:

Will try to update as we hear more.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Ballots, boxes and biometric verification: election logistics in Ghana

Today I travelled with a team of CODEO/UCLA enumerators to interview political party agents at polling stations in rural parts of the Ashanti and Brong-Ahafo regions. Most of these stations had between 100-350 registered voters and things were pretty quiet. All locations had a police officer overseeing the proceedings as well as EC officials in their blue jackets. Despite the remoteness of the polling stations, in villages without tarred roads or electricity, it was amazing to see that all the election materials had been successfully deposited. This included electronic voter verification machines at each station. Earlier this year Ghana composed a biometric vote register, and with fingerprints already captured, today all voters had to verify their ID using the machine. As the adverts in Ghana have been saying: no verification, no vote.

Problems with the verification machines in some parts of the country has led to a continuation of the polls tomorrow. However, nowhere we visited was there a problem.

Ghana is famed across Africa for its well conducted election and today I saw much evidence of this The ballot boxes remain transparent, the voting slips printed in colored ink with large boxes for easy thumb printing and photos of candidates (way simpler and user friendly than slips in UK and US), and all ballot counting is done in public at the close of the polls. Despite some problems with the verification machine it appears Ghana's election logistics remain quite remarkable, and with 26,000 stations to cover this is no insignificant achievement. Tonight all eyes are on the swing regions to see if NDC will retain Greater Accra, Western and Central or whether they will swing back to the NPP. Tonight, it is far too close to call and it will most likely be Sunday until final results are out.

Below: photo of voter using verification machine, polling station in Brong-Ahafo, rejected ballot with two candidates marked (sadly saw quite a few of these).

Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO)

The Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO) has dispatched 4,000 non-partisan and independent observers across the country to independently verify the veracity of the election results. Before 8.00AM when polls opened, 87% of observers were at their stations.

Each observer will SMS information to the data centre in Accra throughout the day.

Within this 4,000, there are a random selection of roughly 1,500 observers whose results direct from polling stations will be used to project the results as part of a nationwide Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT). This is the second time Ghana is conducting a PVT. 

For more, check out: and

Photo: George in CODEO uniform heading to assist with transport in Bia East, Western region.

Ghana goes to the polls

Polling stations opened up at 8am as Ghanaians head to the polls. We will be bringing live updates from the Ashanti and Western regions where George and I will be today. We are heading to the most remote parts of these regions to assist a team of domestic UCLA /CODEO election observers. Most people are predicting a second round, neither candidate has a clear margin over the other. The second round should it happen which will be held on 28th December. Stay tuned for photos from today's events...

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

NDC: John Mahama as Ghana's new action man

Following Atta-Mills' death the NDC had the challenge of re-branding themselves and selling their new flag bearer, John Mahama, to the public. 

NDC first released posters mourning Mills' death, vigorously followed by freshly printed campaign posters of Mahama which have been plastered across Accra and beyond. 

As shown in the photos below NDC's tactic has been to suggest the continuity that John Mahama (Mills' VP) represents, as well as trying to promote his image as Ghana's new man of action. Young, articulate, and easy on the eye, the NDC have had a pretty easy job of selling their new candidate. 

Billboard of John Atta-Mills handing over the baton to John Mahama (Osu, Accra).

Billboard of Mahama- Man of Action! (North Airport Residential, Accra) 

Next up: NPP billboards... 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Use of SMS Technology in Ghana's Provisional Voter Register Exhibition

On September 3, 2012 the Electoral Commission (EC) of Ghana launched another technological tool in its effort to expand access to the Provisional Voters Register (PVR). The new technological platform employs the use of SMS technology to allow voters to text in to check that their names and other details have been properly captured on the newly composed Voters Register. 

This launch comes at the back of the successful completion of the country’s maiden Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) exercise that was held from 24th March to 5th May of this year in which the EC compiled a brand new voter register. Concurrently, the EC is holding a 10-days exhibition of the PVR (September 1st and 10th, 2012) at all polling stations across the country. This exercise similarly enables prospective voters to confirm their personal details and to provide any additional information where necessary.  The exhibition of the PVR exercise is also to help expunge names of unqualified or deceased persons from the voters’ list.

Beginning from today, until the conduct of election on December 7, 2012, voters from across the country on all mobile phone networks can text in their voter’s identification number to a mobile short code (1413) and in return receive an SMS message containing their Voter Identification number, name, polling station, age, sex, constituency, district and region. However, voters will not have their electronic photos as captured by the EC displayed. Voters, who have problems with the information as captured in the voter register and received via SMS, are then advised to visit their polling station to seek assistance of EC officials to correct any errors. According to the Electoral Commission, the system has all the necessary security features to guard against potential hacking and thus should help allay fears of citizens and political parties of possible dangers that may be associated with this expansion of access to the PVR.

On the face of it, the EC’s SMS platform designed to facilitate information flow between the EC and the general public, is a laudable initiative. However, arguably, this exercise is flawed, in numerous ways.  

Firstly, although the donor world (and indeed it is the UNDP that funded this project) have eagerly embraced mobile technology as the latest tool to “empower citizens”, it should be recognized that there are limits to how successfully citizen-based SMS projects can be executed. The fifth round of the Afrobaromter (2012) indeed shows that only 36% of Ghanaians ever used SMS when communicating, and the vast majority instead relies on voice calls. This suggests that for all of its efforts and related costs, the EC may be targeting a relatively small voter population. Arguably, the money could have been better spent educating citizens on the importance of visiting polling stations, organizing community meetings for voters to check the register, supporting a free voice hotline to allow voters to verify their details, and allowing for a longer exhibition of the voters register.

Secondly, the project has been launched very late in the day, after two days of the ten-day voter exhibition at polling stations has already been completed. Furthermore, there has been no public education on this new service and a lack of advertising. As it stands, voters are likely to be confused as to how to verify their Voter ID detail, that is whether to use the mobile phone text messaging method or visit their polling centers. Although the EC has printed thousands of pamphlets to advertise the service it is difficult to see how these will reach the average rural voter in Ghana and once they do reach them the physical exhibition of the register is likely to be closed. In this case it is not clear how citizens are supposed to communicate with the EC if their registration details are missing or incorrect.

Thirdly, given the relatively low level of literacy among Ghanaian voting population it is unclear how they would be able to accurately check their information on the voter’s ID card and that sent to them via the SMS text message.  

Lastly, the cost of the SMS service provided by EC’s technology partner, Mobile Content.Com Ltd, is relatively expensive An SMS message to the short code provide the EC will cost a voter GHC 0.30, compared to the usual GHC 0.02-0.03 prices of SMS in Ghana. Furthermore, this price is not advertised on the pamphlet. In not displaying the cost many citizens may be unwilling to text the number worried that it will cost a lot. This may therefore reduce participation in the process and therefore defeat the intended purpose of this introduction.

Moving forward, the EC should endeavor to intensify its public education on the ongoing exhibition exercise and get voters to physically crosscheck their information at their polling stations. In this way, voters will be sure of which polling station they will be able to cast their ballot and mitigate the difficulties of locating ones polling stations on December 7.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

“Uncle Atta” dead, as Ghana swears in Vice-President Mahama

Today, 24th July 2012, President John Evans Atta-Mills passed away while in hospital in Accra after a long battle with throat cancer. Aides report that he had been admitted to 37 Military Hospital hours before, after complaining of pains the previous day. The Presidential Office made a press statement to report the “sudden and untimely death of the President of the Republic of Ghana”. Mills’ death comes just four months before what are predicted to be highly competitive presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for 7th December. Atta-Mills’ death follows in the wake of other recent presidents in Africa to die while in office including Malawi’s president Bingu wa Mutharika earlier this year, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in Nigeria in 2010 and Zambia’s President Levy Mwanawasa in late 2008.  It is a testament to the increasing acceptance of the formal rules of democracy that as per constitutional provisions, in each of these cases the vice-president has taken office. Indeed in Ghana, within hours of reports of his death an emergency meeting was called at Parliament and at 18.00 GMT on the same day Ghana’s Vice-President John Dramani Mahama was sworn in.

The health of the president had been a regular news topic in Ghana even before Atta-Mills took office in 2008. Over the last four years there were frequent reports of his deteriorating health including increasing loss of vision and shortness of breath. The president and ruling party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), knew the president’s health was becoming a concern to voters and following his last check up in the U.S.A. Mills, in an out-of-character theatrical display, did a short jog on the landing strip when he set down at Kotoka International Airport. Increasingly however, Atta-Mills shied away from public meetings and recently declined his invitation to speak at the nationwide televised presidential candidate debates organized by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA).  Earlier this week the NDC began to state that Mills would not address the crowds during the 2012 campaign rallies across the country, but would sit and wave on the podium.

Atta-Mills will be remembered as a fatherly president, nicknamed “Uncle Atta” and famed for beginning his public addresses with the phrase “My brothers and sisters”. He spoke slowly and gently and his relatively simple demeanor helped his 2008 platform as a man with an incorruptible nature and good intentions for office. Mills will be remembered for overseeing the introduction of important legislation to Ghana perhaps most notably the Petroleum Revenue Management Act, 2011 which spells out in clear terms how Ghana’s new oil revenues should be managed, including the establishment of a stabilization and heritage fund, stringent internal auditing, and the creation of a Public Interest and Accountability Committee whose latest report Revenue Watch International say “sets a new standard for accountability” in Africa. Domestically, Mills’ attempt to reorganise the pay structure of the public sector with a move to a “single-spine” pay scale, as well as establishing a national commission to review Ghana’s current constitution were also highly popular moves.  

For political analysts the death of Ghana’s president means that the next few weeks and months will be highly interesting. The main opposition party (the National Patriotic Party) have expressed their condolences and stopped their campaign tour. Today the NDC has been quiet on how it will proceed, although discussions are emerging to schedule a party congress to select the new flag bearer. It is difficult to see how the newly incumbent president John Mahama, popular both inside the party (although factions do exist) and with voters, will not win the ticket. If Mahama wins who he runs with will be the next big question. The Rawling’s family have displayed clear ambitions to regain a central position in the NDC with Nana Konadu (wife of ex-president Rawlings) competing against Mills in the NDC flag bearer elections last year. Although she received only 3 percent of delegate votes, ex-President Rawlings remains popular on the campaign trail and many inside the NDC would prefer to retain their alliance with him. For the Rawlings’, prior to the death of Mills they have been in the process of establishing their own party with its inauguration date set for 15th August.  Now it remains to be seen whether the NDC will make a final attempt at trying to re-establish an alliance with President Rawlings and his wife or take them on in the December election. At least for today however, election fever has respectfully ceased in Ghana as Uncle Atta is remembered.

For more information on John Mahama check out his recently published book semi-autobiographical book:

Monday, April 23, 2012

The tale of two ex-presidents: Kufuor to support NPP in their first rally as Rawlings continues to snub Atta-Mills

May Day will mark the beginning of the campaign season for the NPP's presidential candidate Nana Akufo-Addo, with a rally planned for the town of Bekwai in the Ashanti region. Akufo-Addo will be joined by his running mate Mahamudu Bawumia (who was his running mate in 2008) and a host of party elites including the current Minority leader in parliament, the party's National chairman,  the Ashanti regional chairman, as well as MP for the constituency. Most significantly, ex-President Kufuor is also set to join the rally, the first sign that he will be active in the NPP's 2012 campaign.

In the 2008 campaign Kufuor, who after two terms was illegible to run again, did not take an active role in the NPP's campaign. This was compared to Rawlings who actively supported the Atta-Mill's team, attending rallies and drumming up support in regions of Ghana in which he is still considered the modern-day father of politics (most notably in the Volta region and some parts of the three northern regions).

Rawling's support for Atta-Mills dwindled since he took office and over the last two years has seen him out-rightly condemn the NDC's handling of the country's affairs. Last month, ex-president Rawlings went to the trouble to announce that he would not join the NDC's first rally that took place in Jamestown, Accra, said to be annoyed that his name was used to publicize the event without prior agreement.  Again this week, Rawlings restated that he remained defiant in his position against the president. It should be noted that the Rawlings' dissatisfaction earlier this year culminated in his wife Mrs Nana Konadu-Agyeman Rawlings running against Atta-Mills in the NDC party primaries (although she gained only 3% of the party votes).

Many analyst suggest Rawlings has the power to make or break the NDC campaign precisely because of his popularity in certain parts of the country, with turnout likely to decline in these areas without a significant effort from the Atta-Mills team.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Getting Ghana’s Voter List Right: a Critical First Step Towards a Credible 2012 Election

In February 2012, Dr. Kojo Afari-Gyan, Electoral Commissioner of Ghana, announced the timetable for the much-anticipated biometric voter registration exercise ahead of the country’s 2012 general election.  If all goes well, the registration exercise will be held between March 24 and May 5, 2012 with the aim to compile a new ‘credible’ voters list ahead of the country’s sixth general election after its transitional elections in 1992. Like in any election, the compilation of a clean voters list is a first critical step to conducting a genuine democratic election. Ghana’s EC has been praised in repeatedly increasing the quality of elections in the country, and given this reputation perhaps we shouldn’t be worried, however, recent events suggest the need for us to stay alert ahead of the inevitably competitive elections later this year.

In 2008, allegations of a bloated voter register and the logistical and administrative bottlenecks that characterized the conduct of the revision exercise, as well as the crudely organized 2010 District Assembly Elections have brought the Ghana EC’s reputation into question lately. Going into the 2012 general elections, the success of the EC in conducting the voter 2012 registration exercise would earmark a crucial first step towards rekindling trust in its competence and assuring Ghanaians that it could once again conduct a ‘free and fair’ election. In the coming weeks, as the EC prepare (through its scheduled pilot registration exercises) to undertake the first biometric registration, the EC must marshal its reputable technocratic experience to ensure that Ghana is placed on a sound footing for the 2012 elections.

In 2008, Ghana went to the presidential polls with a ‘compromised’ voters’ list. It all started with disputes over alleged inflation of the summary figures of the 2006 voters list that was due for revision ahead of the 2008 elections.  The then opposition party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), raised this allegation generating immense doubt about the credibility of the list. In a press conference following the heated exchanges amongst political parties and some EC officials in the media, the EC finally announced that the mistakes identified on the summary figures were due to a technical hitch and assured that the list was intact. Subsequently, the revision exercise itself suffered severe challenges. The EC could not start the exercise as scheduled due to supposed delays in procuring equipment, release of funds from the government, and hiring of qualified temporary staff. Consequently, the voter registration finally began on 31st July 2008, with only one day’s advance notice.

When it came to implementation of the exercise, although each of the approximately 4,800 electoral areas in the country was expected to have a registration workstation, only about 2,500 workstations were available. Moreover, these items were received late at the district level and consequently at the registration centers for the exercise. Furthermore, consequent to the delays the local official barely had time to draw the appropriate schedules, and thus no advance information was available centrally on where the mobile registration workstations would be located on which dates. The Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO) for example reported that in at least one region, the distribution of equipment and materials among the numerous districts was haphazard and did not follow any formula that considered the size of the districts. As in previous voter registration exercises, newspaper reports suggested that the political parties actively bussed people to registration centers and aided the registration of minors in their strongholds.

At the end of the 11-day voter registration time period, long queues remained at the various registrations center; a great number of prospective voters had been unsuccessful in placing their names of the voters list. Consequently, the EC extended registration by two days to enable all qualified voters to register. After the exercise the EC exhibited the provisional voters list to help identify and expunge unqualified persons from the list. Accordingly to the EC, approximately 0.4% of new registrations were challenged in 2008, which is 10 times the rate of challenges against new registrations in 2004, and this provisional list was cut down to a final list of approximately 12.5 million voters. In spite of the attempts to clean the voter list of unqualified voters, the EC reported that 2008 revised list was inflated by about a million. This raised much concern for an election that was later won by less than 50,000 votes. No voters’ list is clean. Yet if elections are highly competitive, and political actors lack trust in the voters list, narrow winning margins could serve as a springboard to violent contestation. Bogus voters registration processes and questionable voters list undermined democratic processes in Senegal in 1993 and recently presaged the electoral debacle in neighboring Cote D’Ivoire’s 2010 presidential polls.

In Ghana, the organization of subsequent elections after 2008 suffered similar challenges. For example, in 2010 the District Assembly Elections were postponed several times (owing partly to the failure of the EC to secure early passage of a legal instrument that was to aid the re-demarcation electoral areas) and subsequently the staggering of the elections coupled with opaque and inadequate voter education, raised heavy eyebrows from the political parties and other stakeholders on the competence of the EC in conducting the 2012 election. The EC thus must use the impending registration exercise to rekindle and boost the nations confidence in its competence.

The above account suggests that Ghana’s elections have not been entirely clean and still face both technical and logistical challenges. In 2008 the CODEO and other observer groups (including EU-Delegation) reported on the logistical challenges that nearly marred the exercise in some registration centers and illegal payments of prospective voters to get their names on the list. Moreover, systematic studies the 2008 voters’ revision exercise suggests that despite the vigilance of the EC and election monitors, political parties maneuvered their way around unsuspecting electoral officers to inflate the register to their electoral advantage. Some of the recommendations made by the observer groups are being implemented by the EC ahead of the 2012 polls. Significant among these has been the implementation of a biometric voters’ registration system.

As the EC prepares for the registration exercise special attention should be paid to providing adequate registration materials to all registration centers to avoid mistrust in its judgments and allegations of purposeful disenfranchise to sections of the population. Special attention should also be paid to the needs of Persons with Disability and other vulnerable groups. Voter education should be extensive, and straight-forward.  Adequate arrangements should also be made to adequately register qualified prisoners as approved by the courts. The EC should also come out clearly on progress towards the registration of Ghanaians in the diaspora.

If Ghana’s 2012 election is to be a success, other stakeholders must also play their part in ensuring a credible registration exercise and events preceding the election. The Police Service (and the security service) must ensure a peaceful atmosphere throughout the process and the strict and impartial application of the law. Political parties should continue to engage collaboratively with the ECs technical committee and resolve issues amicably. Political parties must desist from attempts to subvert the process by illegally ferrying people across constituencies and aiding the registrations of minors. The Government should keep its side of the bargain by releasing allocated funds to election related bodies in a timely manner to facilitate the process. The National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) should undertake extensive civic education to encourage participation in the exercise. Finally, civil society group should monitor the process and audit the final voters list to boost voters’ confidence in the credibility of process and list ahead of the 2012 elections.

So far, the EC’s pilot exercise seems to be on schedule and has been a tremendous success. The momentum should be sustained and maintained to boost the confidence of Ghanaians in the EC to conduct a credible and peaceful 2012 elections. Ghana cannot fail the continent in its march towards democratic consolidation and it starts with getting the voters’ list right.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Can Nduom re-invent himself under the new PPP?

The Progressive People's Party (PPP) are a new political movement in Ghana headed by the long-term presidential aspirant Dr Papa Kwesi Nduom. Dr Nduom broke away from the CPP at the end of last year to head the new party. The inaugural party convention was held today (Saturday 25th February) at the Accra sports stadium. The PPP aims to 'reinvent' Ghana; reinvent 'our attitudes, our way of life, and our way of life as Ghanaians'. The PPP's ten point agenda can be read here. The party focuses on jobs, health and education- the undisputed problems that will be nothing new to Ghanaian voters. It is yet to be seen whether the public will see the PPP as a truly fresh political force in Ghana or merely the reinvention of struggling Ndoum who gained only 113,494 votes in the last election as flagbearer for the CPP.

Interestingly for constitutional scholars, the PPP makes it their priority if elected to repeal the practice of having the president select his ministers from the parliament, instead supporting a presidential constitution with clear separations of powers between the executive and legislature.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Ghana's 2012 election goes bio-metric...

Ghana's Electoral Commission has revealed a budget of  243 Mn Cedi (~$144 Mn) to conduct this year's presidential and parliamentary election. Of this over 60 percent will be spent on the creation of a bio-metric voter register. This will involve the finger-printing of every eligible Ghanaian voter, and generation of new photographic ID cards. The voter registration process will be rolled out across the country between 24 March and 25 May.

The EU have contributed over 7 Mn Euros to the registration exercise, which includes money to be spent on educating voters on the new registration process. A pilot of the process has begun in the Northern region. 

Ghana's "Woyome-gate" scandal

Trying to keep up with the Woyome scandal that has been front-page news in Accra since the beginning of December is not easy; almost every day new personalities enter the fray of this corruption saga, with little clarity of detail and tremendous amounts of political spin, but well, what does one expect? The legitimacy of President Atta-Mill’s administration has been undermined, and with elections set for the end of this year he is hastily trying to contain what on the face of it appears like a disastrous lack of leadership.

Let us start at the beginning; what exactly is the Woyome saga? In 2009 a businessman and prominent backer of the governing NDC party- Alfred Agbesi Woyome- claimed a ‘judgment debt’ on the government for the illegal cancellation of contracts to build three football stadia. So far so good, as a recent (gated) article in the Africa Confidential reports, judgment debts are somewhat normal practice in Ghana, having cost the government 640 million cedi ($380 mn. USD) over the last three years (I assume this figure does not include Woyome’s case). However, Woyome’s claim and treatment was abnormal on two counts, firstly, his claim was in the region of 51mn cedis ($30 mn.), secondly, the state did not put up a defense for his allegations of illegality, but instead the former Attorney General requested the Finance Minister to release the funds to Woyome. So far little justification has been offered on why the state did not defend the case and the former Attorney General- Betty Mould-Iddrisu- handed in her resignation on 23rd January.

President Atta-Mills’ initial reaction to the scandal was denial of any knowledge that monies had been released. Subsequently, Atta-Mills retracted this and claimed to have tried to stop the transfer to Woyome. Either way (whether oblivious or impotent), things are not looking good for the president who otherwise has sustained a good reputation for curbing corruption and whose government has received much praise for overseeing the adoption of seemingly robust financial management legislation to manage Ghana’s newly incoming oil revenues.

Following this apparent confused state the President has taken more decisive action to get to the bottom of what is now in Ghana popularly called ‘Woyome-gate’ and mandated the Economic and Organised Crime Office to investigate. The EOCO arrested Woyome at the start of February. The saga was a white elephant in the President’s State of the Nation Address to the parliament address early this month, although he claimed to remain “undaunted by attempts to thwart the fight against corruption by legal and technical means.” So far numerous personalities from both the governing NDC and opposition NPP have been ‘exposed’. For more details and to watch the Woyome saga unfold interested readers can refer to the page of and alike, here we seek briefly to understand what the Woyoma saga tell us about institutions in Ghana.

Although corruption is not a word typically associated with Ghanaian politics, relative perhaps to countries such as Kenya and Nigeria, allegations of corruption have locally held much sway in determining electoral outcomes. Many observers cite corruption allegations as a prominent reason why the NPP lost power to the NDC in the 2008 election. The Woyome scandal gives us reason to think that institutions in Ghana are getting stronger. For example, it was the scrutiny by the parliamentary Public Accounts committee of the Auditor General’s report that led to the airing of the whole affair. That the government have been exposed in this way will provide a strong incentive for the future line-by-line scrutinising by the opposition (whether NDC or NPP) of the Auditor’s General report, and will sustain pressure for timely presentation of these reports, which is the past were running roughly five years behind. Overall, Ghana’s Woyome-gate is evidence of increased horizontal accountability in Ghana’s democracy.

Monday, February 20, 2012

'An African Election': reflections on Ghana's 2008 elections

(This post is our post on Dr. Nic Cheeseman's Democracy in Africa blog).

In less than eleven months, Ghana will be conducting its sixth presidential and parliamentary elections following its democratic transition in 1992. Ghana’s 2008 presidential election was won by a razor-thin margin by the opposition candidate, Professor John Evans Atta-Mills, and resulted in Ghana’s second peaceful alternation of political power since the reintroduction of multipartyism. By this landmark achievement, Ghana retained its democratic reputation on the continent, and restored the faith of the international community in the viability of multiparty democracy in Africa; a commitment that was on shaky grounds following Kenya’s post-election crisis in 2007 and the botched elections in Zimbabwe in 2008. While Ghana’s 2008 polls can be seen as comparatively free and fair, the election period was not without significant challenges and Ghanaians must not sit back and relax if they want to retain their exemplary electoral record. It is now time for all interested actors and stakeholders to look back, reflect, and prepare for what is likely to be a highly competitive election in December 2012, when the political stakes will be even higher because oil rents have started flowing into state coffers.

Fortunately, ‘An African Election’, a newly released documentary on Ghana’s 2008 presidential elections directed by Jerreth Merz, will aid this process. Featuring interviews with presidential aspirants, journalists, political analysts, and ordinary citizens, the film offers great insights into the political atmosphere in the run up to election day. It offers a unique avenue to learn at first hand the joys and trepidation of the political hopefuls and their campaign teams. At the same time, the film well captures the rapture that the electioneering season brings to cities and towns across the country, with constituents decked out in complete party regalia chanting their vision for a ‘Better Ghana.’

Importantly, the film also shows how a largely peaceful and progressive campaign can degenerate in the face of an unexpectedly tight margin of victory. After neither candidate secured over 50% of the vote in the first round of the presidential election, Ghana went to a second round run-off on 28th December 2008. The film reveals that both parties expected to win. Invaluable footage from inside the electoral commission’s “strongroom”, where election results from the districts were faxed for national aggregation, demonstrates the tension between the two sides – the National Democratic Congress (then the opposition) and the New Patriotic Party (then the incumbent). As both sides accused each other of trying to rig the polls, some party leaders resorted to threats of violence should the election be ‘stolen’ by the other side.

During a delay in the official announcement of the results, the media was used by both political parties as a tool of mobilization as Ghanaians took to the streets - and in the absence of widespread respect for the electoral commission the dangerous mixture of confusion, suspicious and mass protest could easily have spiralled out of control - they did in Kenya, which such devastating effect. 'An African Election' successfully brings into sharp relief the challenges that Ghana’s democracy faces and the need for immediate steps to ensure a peaceful poll in 2012.

Ghana’s electoral management system is heralded as one of Africa’s most robust, aided significantly by established processes such as visible public counting of the ballots at each polling station and inclusive vote-count authorization at each stage in the process. However, this system can not ensure a peaceful electoral process in the face of emotionally laden and hasty claims of ‘foul play’, accompanied by knee-jerk calls by political actors for supporters to take to the streets.

Ghanaians must work to support the continuation of a peaceful rhetoric throughout the next campaign, and call upon politicians for responsible electioneering. Government, electoral agencies, political parties, civil society, media and security forces may have to double their collaborative efforts and adopt innovative way to secure a calm and credible 2012 elections which will test again the internal strength of one of Africa’s otherwise impressive democratic darlings.

To see the trailer, click here.

For reviews of the film, click here.

For a Q&A with the director, click here.