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.