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The recent elections point to the increasing legitimation of liberal democracy and suggest a political culture that seems to reiterate Nkrumah’s belief that “the black man is capable of managing his own affairs”

In the run-up to the 2012 presidential and parliamentary elections many were those, including this writer, who expressed grave concern over a seemingly looming catastrophe (see for example, Is Ghana at the brink of election after-shocks? . Thank God a catastrophe never happened, and once again Ghana has given hope to the rest of Africa and the world in general, that peaceful elections and political stability on the continent are not illusive. While commending all Ghanaians - the electorate, political parties, the victorious President Mahama and returning members of parliament (MPs), the vanquished presidential aspirants and outgoing MPs, and the Electoral Commission - it is hoped that Ghana’s achievement will have the domino-effect on the rest of Africa.

More often than not, we tend to forget that elections constitute only one element of the democratic process; not the ultimate exercise of political power. Neither is it more important than the substantive act of governance itself, and its outcome, although it is a critical step. As a critical step it needs not be violent, or end in fatalities, especially if its purpose is understood and the rules of the game and principles of transparency, accountability and honesty are adhered to. Where there are grounds to suspect election fraud, as the NPP does suspect, it should be possible to challenge the election results in the courts, not in the streets with arms, and in this event the National Patriotic Party is within its rights to resort to the courts. This, in itself, is a healthy indication of political maturity that contributes to sustaining political stability and progress. For this the NPP, living up to its middle name, deserve commendation, although many are likely to agree with this writer that conceding defeat before, rather than after, a court ruling would have been a nobler option, which could have endeared the party to the hearts of its sympathisers.

There have never been elections without official manipulations anywhere on the planet; not even in the advanced democracies although this is often not apparent; and the mediating factors have included the magnitude of the manipulations and perceived or real threats to national security or national interest which is often fluid. Besides, based on precedence, the chances of a court overturning presidential election results are very slim. In the US in 2000 Al Gore had a seemingly strong case against George Bush but the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the latter. Likewise in Nigeria in 1983, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the late President Shagari instead of the late Awolowo, when it was clear that mathematically Shagari had not won the presidential elections as prescribed by the constitution. (The winner had to win 12⅔ of the then 19 states; Shagari won 12 states but failed to garner ⅔ of the votes in the 13th state). It is against this backdrop and other less strong arguments such as the cost of a run-off, that the NPP should have weighed its court action rather than just the existence of evidence of election fraud.

Although the NPP may have a point, claiming that President Mahama was given over 150 000 extra votes without which a run-off would have been unavoidable , the party could have avoided this unfortunate situation by preventing a repeat of the “close contest” of 2008 through effective campaigning, especially in the stronghold of the NDC, and oversight of the election process.

While the nation awaits the Supreme Court’s verdict, speculations are rife that President Mahama is more likely to rule for the next four years. In accordance with the constitution, he was sworn into office on January 7, 2013. In 2016, however, he would have to account for his stewardship, and much is likely to happen before then. To be sure all eyes will be on the new government’s performance in relation to, the economy in particular. In spite of the oil hype and the astronomical growth rates in recent years, Ghana is still a poor country. Public perception of the state of the economy is unfavourable; and objective living conditions, especially in peri-urban and rural areas, are deplorable. Much needs to be done in regard to distribution of wealth, social advancement of households and individuals, access to social services such as education, health, water and sanitation, electricity, and housing. Other elements that will be on the radar are employment, environmental stability and the safety and security of persons and property; and the ability of citizens to exercise their freedoms and make choices.

Perhaps, the single most important item that cannot disappear from the radar is oil and gas, and how moneys accruing from this resource will be utilised for the common good of all Ghanaians. There has never been a bride without a bridegroom; and it is increasingly becoming a truism that there will never be oil and gas without corruption. The ability of the new government to debunk the latter could be a key indicator of its chances of returning to the ‘Castle’ in 2016.

For the NPP, the rational thing to do is to return to the drawing board and critically appraise its performance in the 2012 elections, after suffering a double jeopardy - the loss of the presidential election and control of parliament by even a bigger margin compared to 2008. They may ask themselves some critical questions, and regardless of the immediate explanation for the loss of the 2012 elections, particularly the presidential election, it is pertinent to look deeper into the cracks in the party, for the purpose of long-term planning.

A revelation of the Elections 2012 is the transfiguration of the NPP from a national party to a tribal party - a party for Asantefoͻ and Akyemfoͻ. This is empirically founded. Whilst NDC (Mahama) won at least five constituencies in every region and 80% of the regions, NPP (Akuffo-Addo) failed to win a single constituency in three regions - Upper East, Upper West and Volta Region. The party won only Ashanti and Eastern Regions, and whilst this was expected, it conceded some constituencies in these regions to NDC (Mahama).

Clearly, the NDC has proven to be more of a national party than the NPP, and the latter has a lot to do to shirk this debilitating image of a tribal party. Tribal parties have the unenviable reputation of having leaders who may possess sterling qualities to become great presidents but never get elected. The late Awolowo of the erstwhile Action Group (AG) in Nigeria and Mangosuthu Buthulezi of Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) in South Africa, are cases in point. Is the NPP heading in this direction, after John Kuffuor? This may be far fetched, but interesting to bring to the fore.

Whereas the absolute votes in the 2012 presidential election give an impression of NPP as a strong party, this is not likely to translate into wining the presidency if it is unable to garner decisive or swing votes in the seemingly stronghold-regions of the NDC, namely, Upper East, Upper West and Volta Regions, or control the Akan Regions, Brong Ahafo, Central and Western Regions. The scenario of being “so close, yet so far away” is likely to repeat itself in 2016 unless the party digs deeper and strategises in a manner that could enhance its penetration and entrenchment, not mere presence, in every political space of the country.

It is pertinent to note that the NDC strikingly won three Akan regions – Brong Ahafo, Central and Western Regions – and throwing the notion of the NPP as an Akan Party into question. Whilst this is doubtless a credit to NDC, and good for democracy, it also suggests political maturity of the Ghanaian electorate, a significant factor in the swing of political allegiance. The swing in political allegiance may also be explained in terms of the NPP’s failure to transform itself as a foil of the CPP of old (now almost defunct) as a traditionalist formation, to embrace modernity and change - a shift that would allow mobility of new political actors from hitherto non-royal status within its ranks, into political leadership. As it were, concentrating power and opportunities to ascend to power in the hands of the inner circle of the so-called Danquah-Busia tradition has proven to be costly. This tradition carries a traditionalist baggage, and a leadership that can characteristically be described as “sons of neo-colonialism” (with apologies to Ifi Amadiume) in an era of the surge of pan-Africanism. Although the party has been trying to come to terms with the indelible legacy of Nkrumah and the wave of pan-Africanism, its efforts are more of a tag than an embedded principle.

From this perspective, it might be in the interest of the party to rebrand itself. Perhaps, among other things, it might want to interrogate its so-called “Danquah-Busia tradition” or aspects of it (the debate on J. B. Danquah as a CIA agent in the run-up to the elections in the forum was not helpful) which appear to be self-serving, and arguably are becoming more of a liability than an asset in the politics of modern progressive Ghana. Similarly, the party is likely to benefit from committed leadership behind its presidential flag bearer and much greater efforts to reach the Ghanaian electorate of all cultural persuasions and/or other social formations that cut across the economic and cultural divides than the Asante and the Akyem. Failure to do so could spell a disaster again in 2016.

Without a doubt, Ghana’s 2012 elections have revealed interesting nuances in the country’s evolving political culture that political analysts would talk about for a while. One of them is the increasing legitimation of liberal democracy; arguably, an ideal form of politics, which rightly or wrongly, is hitherto seen as a means of primitive accumulation of capital and, hence, the violence often associated with it in Africa. As this political culture deepens with time, it would be the pride of the Ghanaian (and the African in general) to reiterate Nkrumah’s belief that “the black man is capable of managing his own affairs”. The least expected, however, is the threat of a dominant party, assuming the NPP continues to lose ground (this may, however, be a wild speculation). Nonetheless, having two strong political parties is healthy for Ghana’s democracy but having two strong parties that derive their legitimacy across all regions and socio-cultural formations is even healthier.


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K. Owusu-Ampomah is at the Centre for Human Excellence and Development in Africa (CHEDA), Durban, South Africa. He can be reached at [email protected]

* This article was first published on on 19 December 2012