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A divided government in Ghana?

I’m in Cambridge, MA today at a Berkman Center conference on Internet and Politics, an event that seems to roll around every four years as a review of how internet and community technologies were used in the US presidential campaign. I’ve come prepared to discuss the internet and politics with a copy of BBC’s Focus on Africa under my arm, a reminder that there are, in fact, other elections taking place this year, some of which are exciting and newsworthy as well.

With almost all votes counted, the election is apparently headed towards a run-off. The ruling NPP party candidate, Nana Akuffo Addo has received 49.13% of the vote, while NDC’s candidate, Professor John Atta Mills, which ruled the country from 1981 – 2000 received 47.92%. Since no candidate will receive a majority of votes, the election will head to a run-off on December 28th between the two leading candidates. While third-party candidates like Kwesi Nduom of the CPP haven’t attained a large share of votes, they may find themselves in a powerful political position, encouraging their supporters to vote for one of the candidates. (As the leader of a socialist-aligned party, we’d expect Nduom to side with the center-left NDC, but it’s hard to predict what he might do in this situation.)

Should Addo prevail in this next round, he’ll face an interesting challenge – a divided government. While NPP had firm control of the National Assembly for the past eight years, NDC made huge strides, winning at least 115 seats in the 230-seat legislative body. While competitive, free and fair democratic elections are unfortunately rare in sub-Saharan Africa, divided governments are exceedingly rare. It will be fascinating to watch if Addo has to compromise with his Assembly on ministerial appointments and annual budgets. (Okay, maybe you’re not fascinated, but I am.)

There’s lots to feel proud of in this election thus far. Former Botswanan president Ketumile Masir, monitoring the election with the Carter Center, noted, “Ghana is becoming a model of democracy in the region and abroad.”
Nana Oye Lithur, a Ghanaian gender activist, argues that a divided, “discering” electorate is the sign of something that’s especially powerful in Ghana, a free, diverse and energetic press. Everyone who cares about this country, and the continent as a whole, is holding their breath that the next round of the election is as free, fair, smooth and peaceful.

2 thoughts on “A divided government in Ghana?”

  1. It is great to see that these elections in Ghana have been conducted in a ‘free and fair manner without violence’ when one thinks about the problems faced by the electorates in the DR Congo (ref: the recent HRW report on Kabila’s brutal repression of the opposition), Zimbabwe (Bob the Beast feeding upon the nation), and Kenya (a ‘political misunderstanding’ that was eventually resolved through international mediation, successful negotiations and a power-sharing deal).

    It was also interesting today to read the article titled ‘Peaceful elections just ain’t news…’ over at Journalism.co.uk where journalists and bloggers have been complaining about the lack of coverage in the “Western media”___ as if the press and media in other parts of the world (Asia, South America, the Middle East) have been all over the Ghana Elections 2008 with wall-to-wall coverage.

    In my neck of the woods (northern Germany) there has not been a heck-of-a-lot of interest in the Ghana national elections amongst the West African diaspora in my neighborhood. As a matter of fact I have been running around since Sunday asking “Who won, who is the next President of Ghana?” and none of my African friends and acquaintances could answer that question until this morning. Their trusted news source: CNN International. Imagine that!

    So I asked, “Why is that, why are these elections not important to you as a West African? Hasn’t President John Kufuor been a good leader for Ghana and Africa?”.

    The answer: “Because no matter who wins, it will be more of the same in Ghana. The ruling party will favor their people (read tribe and cronies) with appointments to government ministries and other important positions while the losers (read the opposition and the rest of the nation) walk away with nothing.” This young man went on to explain how appointments in the government of President Kufuor were made not based upon a person’s qualifications to do the job well but based upon political cronyism and yes, tribalism as we have seen practiced elsewhere in some African democracies over the years.

    I couldn’t debate him on his views as I know far too little about the administration of Ghana’s president John Kufuor. I had the impression that Kufuor was doing a very good job in Ghana, relatively speaking. What do you think? Will we see marked improvements in the livelihoods of average Ghanaians under a new administration___ or more of the same?

  2. I’m actually very happy with the split. While I had issues with the way Kuffuor’s government has handled some things in the last 4 years, I still think they are the most competent bunch in Ghana with a realistic chance of winning.

    The closeness of the race and the loss of parliamentary seats should make them realize that they can’t assume the electorate will stay theirs.

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