Six lessons from Ghana’s 2012 elections

Ghana held its sixth consecutive elections since its democratic transition in 1992 this past weekend and once again has earned its reputation as a stable and thriving democracy, in spite of predictable cries of fraud by the losers, the New Patriotic Party (NPP). As I predicted here before the elections, Ghanaians elected the incumbent president John Dramani Mahama in a close vote and his party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) expanded its majority in parliament. Mahama, who took over as president in June when then-President John Ata Mills died, faced the NPP’s veteran leader Nana Akufo-Addo in Friday’s polls. Mahama’s “one-touch” victory–meaning a second round run-off election was avoided–was not unexpected, since he led Akufo-Addo in independent polls before the vote. Nonetheless, there were surprises, such as the defeat of several prominent parliamentarians and the record number of women elected to the legislative body (29 out of 275 seats). As Mahama sets up his transition team and the NPP threatens to challenge the results in court, here are six lessons from Ghana’s sixth elections:

1. Not only is Akufo-Addo the Ghanaian Mitt Romney, but the NPP are the Republicans of Ghana. Like their ideological cousins in the United States, with whom they share the symbol of the elephant, the NPP was so confident of victory that they were totally unprepared for defeat. No NPP representatives attended Sunday’s press conference at which Dr. Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, Chairman of Ghana’s Electoral Commission, announced the official results and the party is claiming electoral fraud, as they have every time they have lost an election since 1992. Yet, their support base is limited mostly to the Asante and a few related Akan ethnic groups, as evidenced by the fact they won only two of Ghana’s ten regions, and every one of its presidential candidates has come from these two regions. The ruling NDC is a national party, drawing support from all of Ghana’s major ethnic groups, and each of its three elected presidents has hailed from a different ethnic group and region of the country. Both the NPP and the Republicans faced a reality check in their back-to-back electoral loses.

2. The NDC can win elections without the help of its founding father, former President J.J. Rawlings. This is the first election in which the charismatic and popular Rawlings, who ruled Ghana for almost two decades before handing over power in 2000, did not actively campaign for his party’s candidate. In fact, his wife, former first lady Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings, attempted to run for president on the ticket of the recently formed breakaway National Democratic Party, but her nominating papers were rejected by the Electoral Commission in October. Rawlings had supported his wife’s efforts, repeatedly expressing disappointment with the Mills-Mahama administration, then was absent from the NDC campaign trail. While Rawlings’ participation in NDC rallies probably would have added to Mahama’s margin of victory, the party won without his support.

3. The Nkrumah and Convention People’s Party (CPP) name brands are virtually irrelevant today. Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s anti-colonial leader and first president, undoubtedly is a hero to Ghanaians, but his glamorous daughter, Samia Nkrumah, failed to win re-election after one term in parliament and the present-day incarnation of the party he founded, the CPP, had its worst showing in a Ghanaian election, earning less than 1% of the vote. Moreover, the other presidential candidates (there were a total of eight) and small parties that claimed the Nkrumahist legacy all performed as poorly in the elections. The reason is most Ghanaians who identify with the Nkrumahist tradition vote NDC, and indeed Mahama proudly proclaims himself a Nkrumahist as did former president Mills. Despite the plethora of candidates and parties, no credible third parties exist, as Ghana has become a two-party democracy.

4. Ghanaians are strategic, informed citizens who voted “skirt and blouse.” In numerous constituencies across the country, the results were mixed, with one party securing the parliamentary seat and the other winning the presidential race. While the national map suggests an irrefutable NPP victory in the center of the country, namely in the Ashanti and Eastern regions, surrounded by the eight regions which voted NDC, a closer examination reveals some constituencies elected an NPP parliamentarian while giving the presidential vote to the NDC or vice versa. Local dynamics, such as the popularity of a particular candidate or generational conflicts over party primary results, led to these mixed results.

5. Despite the aforementioned pre-election polls, many so-called experts wrongly predicted an NPP victory. At an academic conference at a prominent midwestern university last month, for example, a political scientist bragged about her recent “de-briefing” of the new US ambassador to Ghana, confidently informing the diplomat that the NPP certainly would prevail in the elections based on insights from a Ghanaian academic. Yet, based in their university departments and think tanks in Ghana’s capital of Accra, as well as at European and American campuses, many of these political scientists often are clueless about “facts on the ground.” Surrounded by like-minded elites, it is not surprising Ghanaian democracy “experts” falsely think all Ghanaians will vote like them, but out in the countryside the story was different. Rural voters have witnessed practical, significant improvements in their lives over the past four years, ranging from newly-built school blocks to recently inaugurated electricity. These voters form the majority of the Ghanaian electorate and they voted solidly NDC.

6. Despite some glitches, Ghana remains a model democracy, not just for Africa but the world. Ghanaians may have to endure the NPP’s petty challenge to the results in the courts (doomed to failure as the Election Commission has won every case brought against it since 1992), but the elections were praised as free, fair, and well-run by local and foreign observers.  Minor problems which arose, such as delayed starts at some polling stations, were quickly remedied by extending voting on Saturday, and the final results were declared about 24 hours later. Moreover, voter turnout was an impressive 80 percent. Contrast this efficiency and enthusiasm with American elections that are plagued by apathy, widely divergent registration and eligibility rules, and painfully slow vote counting particularly in the always inept battleground state of Florida. Who could forget Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe famous offer to send election observers to the US after the controversial 2000 Bush-Gore elections?

In the coming weeks and months, as the NPP surely abandons its fruitless challenge to the results and jockeying for leading the party in the 2012 elections commences, additional lessons will emerge, but the significance of this weekend’s elections for Ghana and the rest of Africa is immediately clear. At yesterday’s NDC victory rally, President Mahama pointed out that an entire generation of Ghanaians has grown up knowing no other system but democracy. And many of these young Ghanaians texted local vote counts to radio stations, followed the release of provisional results on the internet, and tweeted their reactions. In short, democracy is working in Ghana, despite the incredible challenges it faces like all underdeveloped nations in this capitalist world.

Finally, I have to comment on the blackout on Ghanaian elections in US media (most notably absent from television, including cable news): While Ghana’s elections did not make headlines–as they should, for some of the reasons outlined above–or barely even a mention, as they say “no news is good news.” It seems some American mainstream media only report on African elections when they see “tribal violence,” massive rigging, or power-sharing deals.


21 thoughts on “Six lessons from Ghana’s 2012 elections

  1. elections around the world barely merit a blip on the american media screen. not everything is a conspiracy fer chrissake. WSJ did run a rather ‘applauditory’ piece and then a bunch of people i know complained that pundits in the u.s. should comment at all. damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

  2. Here in Kenya it seems at times that democracy IS the problem. When a charlatan from a populous tribe can use freedom of speech to instigate ethnic hysteria, and carry the vote fair and square to get a mandate to loot public funds to his (It’s normally a him) heart’s content one does wonder if democracy is worth the trouble. Kindly comment

    • Just go to any country that is not democratic and try and live. While you are there, publish something derrogatory about the leaders or go out on the street with a poster to express your dissatifaction with something or some decision and see how quickly you answer your own querry.

  3. Very biased aren’t you?, you clearly demonstrate that you are an NDC believer who has crafted his so labelled six lessons to mirror an obvious NDC opinion.

    You clearly are not a student of history nor have you objectively dealt with your own six lessons. Your assertion that Ghana has demonstrated that it is a stable democracy is in question as the opposition party raises many pertinent issues which you obviously failed to investigate. You are the dangerous ones, the ones who will sing praises to their paymasters instead of objectively ensuring that truth and justice reign instead of unbridled sycophancy. Europe’s history will remind you that one day the real power of the people will ascend when leaders desperately hang on to power without delivering real development and instead enrich themselves and their cronies, when they lure people with crumbs into voting for them and forget once the they have voted….

    Minor problems that occurred were quickly rectified??? Ha!!! simply amazing. Verification machines that only refused to work in one day and suddenly were super the next? Plain theft of numbers as shown on TV in Dome Kwabenya? People made to vote without verification? Are those your minor problems that were solved quickly? And please be corrected, numbers released were not texted by young people in polling stations , numbers were transmitted from collation centres to the EC strongroom. BY your saying Ghana remains a model democracy for the world , what you really mean is that Ghana is a shining example of what a growing democracy should avoid becoming, where incumbency and desperation will make a party do anything to keep it in power and blame problems on those who cry foul.

    ANd i beg your pardon, Ghanaians are not strategic people who see the need to vote skirt and blouse, they are a people who are still poor and begging for literacy and therefore vulnerable to any one with deep pockets… i am sure you can make your own deductions from there…

    You also failed to comment on the fact that NDC only fund its campaign message after the elections stealing from the other parties what they think Ghanaians want to hear. The NDC government has been rightly accused with evidence, of every infraction of good governance since they came into power..from unprecedented corruption to incompetence to looting state resources to abuse of incumbency to running a lavish funded campaign when they couldn’t even ensure that teachers got paid. Yet you think they are the right people to rule Ghana. I cry for you and Ghana. But one day true democracy shall rise and i am sure come that day you will cower in shame and sing a different song.

    i am a true democrat. if the president of Ghana feels he won this election fair and square , then his conscience will tell him to give the opposition a fair hearing with a clear objective investigation of the evidence…..that is what a true leader does.

    • One can easily bury her/his head in the sand and get all emotional at the same time because they have invested in a particular political party and therefore refuse to be graceful in their loss. The election in Ghana has been declared free and fair by independent local and external observers. Why is the losing party crying foul (which is not unusual knowing their track record in past elections; Busia, Boahen, Kuffour when he did not win the first time, and now Nana )? In a democracy you will always have winners and losers and your party needs to learn to accept defeat otherwise it may never win an election in Ghana. Going to court to challenge the verdict is your right, however, if you know case law of Ghana elections challenges under the current Electoral Commission, I can advise you that this is an exercise if futility. Please read this:

    • You are not a true democrate you are a true NPP sopporter. I think there are more than six lessons to be learnt with this election, but there is an element of truth in the lessons he highlights

    • Kofi,
      You forgot to mention shamefulness of crying wolf when there is none. NPP has rejected every election it has ever lost, a trend brought about by arrogance. It seems you forgot history not Peter..


    • 1. All the presidential candidates of the NPP , and those of the ideology of the “Elephant” in earlier years- Busia, Victor Owusu, Kuffour, Nana Akufu- Addo , William Ofori Atta , Danquah Adu Boahen etc originate from either Eastern Region or Ashanti region. This shows how these very tribally centred. The Late Vice president Aliu Mahama despite working very hard under President Kuffour could not be endorsed by these tribally minded individuals to lead the party. And what was his crime? he came from the North of Ghana. He must be from Eastern region or Ashanti region, but Ghana is much more than two regions.

      2. From the offshoots of CPP , the writer is very correct that the presidential candidates have come from different parts of Ghana. which makes the current NDC broad based. Kwame Nkrumah – ( Western region), Rawllings ( Volta Region) , Hilla Limman (Upper West region), Prof. Atta Mills ( Central Region), John Mahama( Northern region). How can any body not comprehend the objective analysis of the writer?

      3. Presently the NDC has 150 seats, and the NPP has only 128 seats. The NPP has been defeated doubly, You wish to force issues for Nana Addo to rule with a Minority in Parliament.

  4. Thank you for thoughtful insight. I agree with your concluding thought about the American media. As an African American with a deep love for Ghana and fervent belief that as goes Ghana so goes Africa, I was disappointed but not surprise not only by white mainstream media in US but also the black media. Even though I visited Ghana in 2010 and have plans to visit again in 2013, I admittedly did not know enough about candidates and parties to have a preference, my desire was just that the process would be fair and representative which I think that was. Still praying and believing

  5. The elections were free and fair for the most part. There are some allegations by the losing party which need to be addressed by the appropriate parties. Having said that, the elections were such that most of these allegations could have been settled at the polling stations and/or at the collating centers. The only other option is through the court system at this juncture..
    Ghanaians must be commended for patiently enduring long queues in order to exercise their franchise. Some people actually camped overnight at the polling stations. We owe it to them that a final peaceful resolution should be the order of the day.

  6. Though l agree with most of the you raised there real issues with the collation of votes. You deliberately ignored the massive monies thrown by the ruling party.

  7. This electoral process was one of the freest and fairest Ghana has experienced since democracy. The NPP is a sore loser and its leaders are willing to hold the whole nation to ransom to furnish their greed. Most embarrassingly, former president Kufuor who could have remained neutral and earned the moral right to moderate this seeming impasse, has sided with his party in bringing false allegations (as the courts will prove) against the very highly credibly electoral commission that declared him winner twice in the past. He has shown that he is hardly a former president for all Ghanaians. Nana Akuffo Addo will not be president in this term. The earlier he and his party people grow up and deal with this fact, the better for them. As God your write-up, spot on!

  8. What a load of tosh! The NDC govt gave out millions of dollars in fraudulent so-called ;judgment debts’, that were actually ‘corrupt out of court settlements’ to spurious claims, to cronies. The country is in the grips of a permanent fuel shortage (gas) and rolling blackouts. Many major road and railway projects bequeathed to the NDC have stalled, and govt communicators spend their time picking petty fights with everyone in sight. Where did you go when you went to Ghana? Your dangerously ignorant, bias, nonsense is mere pollution! The NDC govt won by inciting tribal hatred in the East and North of the country, and spent huge amounts of money buying the elections in the South and the hinterlands. All this escaped your jaundiced eyes? Already the Opposition has produced evidence of systematic rigging amounting to dozens of thousands of stolen votes. And you say what? Crass ignorance, that is your problem.

  9. really,i fink ur article is on point,the npp are a lot like the republicans and i reported for a media house so i was on the ground,voting was very smooth,like u are all sayn,the problem is really with the collation as there were some disparities with what was collated at the centre and what actually got to the E.C’s office.

    what the npp must know is that Ghana is still a developing country and with their elitish tag the rural folks can simply not identify with them.

    They shd relate more with the rural folks and really the npp has contested all elections it has lost.

    On using state funds to bribe ppl,the level of judgements debts really went up this year but that is not to say to say the people wd not have voted otherwise

    the resulys can be contested in court but the reality is that no matter hw smart u are as a party,rigging with over 300,000 wd be quite magical.As for the breakn down of the verificatn devices,it was becos the batteries were changed and the polling agents guarded the ballot boxes with their lives.

    Well done Electoral Commission of Ghana and NPP supporters.pls accept defeat and strategize for 2016,long live Ghana.

  10. This Philip guy above is an angry man and very toxic. I do not live in Ghana but have keenly followed events. The author of this article may belong to a party and that is his right but his piece is very insightful and worth reading. I suggest you take anger management course because your anger has deepen the perception that NPP is a violent party. The article is free and fair just like the elections. You have to deal with that my friend.

  11. Insightful article, let’s not ruin it with churlish argument. As a Ghanaian I can see we are moving forward, still a long way to go but moving forward none the less. However the two party system, foreign money influence and tribal politics needs to be dealt with urgently. Only when we have true progressives in Ghana can we Ghanaians then claim to have not only one of the most robust democracies in Africa but in the whole of the world.

  12. NPP are a group of elite fools who do who walk on their hydrocephalus heads. How do you win with only two regions, which you have not even won completely? How do you win with a minority in parliament? It did happen before BUT NOT today!!!!! Chwakai!! Appuitor!!! Appooo!!! Who deceived akufo-addo that he is divined to be a president, who? After his father had looted this country and stoked it in all over the world for him and other family members, he has come snout us of our last breath, eh? This man is suffering from some kind of mental derangement. I am very sure.

  13. Korsi .. Ghana is not a federal Republic and if it were, many regions will be deprived because they do not have any resources to support themselves as it is in a federal state. if we want to move toward a Federal model that is something that can be discussed
    Secondly, I am at a loss as to why people drag Nana’s name in the mud simply for political reasons.
    Many Ghanaians do not know what Nana Akuffo Addo has done for Ghana. Go to Ghana law School, and many of the landmark court cases in the law textbooks were filed by him. He filed many lawsuits for press freedom, the introduction of political parties, and the creation for radio stations in Ghana… and today people insult him on the airwaves… even his hotel -Ringway hotel was bombed in the 1990s.
    Finally, the population of Upper West region is 370,000…it is a fact that biometric machines were not used in many towns in the Upper East and West regions.. whiles voting took two days in NPP strongholds, in the North it took one day and the biometric machines were not used.
    NPP has every right to go to court. That is their constitutional right. It is better this issue is settled in court and we will all know the truth. This will entrench and strengthen our democracy.

    Once the precedent is set, we will all respect the rule of law and not resort to violence. We don’t have to brush irregularities under the carpet ..

  14. It may be true that NDC won the election 2012 but it still has to do with the court issue carefully because my area where voted, Fulani people were just trooping in their numbers to vote without anybody challenging them. Many cases, people voted without verification and also NPP Part Agents were rather from NDC because after counting the ballots at their own polling station and went to NDC, I say them jubilating, so why can they compromise with any rig or change where necessary ? Lets reason with the aggrieved people since they are going by the constitution or the Law. If wasn’t good, they wouldn’t had made such law or put it the Constitution. Long live Ghana, long live Democracy.

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