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Celebrating the inauguration

I’m not going to brave DC for Obama’s inauguration in a couple of weeks, as much as I’m thrilled about his victory, I’m not too sad about missing a a city packed to the gills, balls that I can’t get into and thousands of people lined up on the national mall.

Ghana’s inauguration, on the other hand, looks like it was a really good time.

The video above, shot by Amos Anyimadu of AfricaTalks at Accra’s Black Star Square, gives a sense for the excitement, craziness and scale of the event. But a single, brief tweet today from ghanaelections: “Nana Akufo-Addo arrives the Independence Square for the swearing in ceremony, amid cheers from Ghanaians”

Calling Ghana’s election close is an understatement – the final margin was less than 41,000 votes out of more than 9 million cast, or less than half a percent of total ballots. It wasn’t an easy election to conduct, with two rounds of voting and a revote in an area where a round of ballots never reached the polling place. There were cases of intimidation and scuffles at polling places, and both parties had difficulties placing observers at polls in the opponent’s strongholds. As the process dragged on, the situation got quite tense, with both sides threatening to contest results in court and take to the streets.

It’s less than a week from the revote in Tain, and as thousands of NDC supporters gathered in Accra to celebrate their victory at the inauguration, they cheered for the opposition candidate as he entered the Square. Akufo-Addo could have challenged election results in court, refused to accept the outcome, or simply stayed home. He came, his opponents cheered him, and Ghana moves forwards.

Needless to say, anyone who cares about Ghana – or Africa as a whole – has been celebrating this past week, whether or not they supported Atta Mills. Sokari Ekine notes, “Ghana has held a ‘free, fair and transparent election in which an opposition candidate defeated a candidate of the ruling party’ and for this we should all celebrate and hopefully people from elsewhere on the continent will take notice of what is possible.” Comparing Ghana and Nigeria in terms of educational systems and crime, Oz notes, “Ghana is quickly becoming the first sustained example of what a large African state ought to look like.” And media outlets that usually don’t cover Africa too closely are taking notice. Matthew Green of The Financial Times seems to understand just how critical the election was and how good we feel about the outcome: “At a time when scenes of violence and intimidation have played prominently in the imagery surrounding polling in Nigeria, Kenya and Zimbabwe, the scenario navigated by Ghana could have tipped less stable peers into turmoil.”

Green’s story notes that the election helps cement Ghana as an African success story. I’d add that Ghana’s increasingly becoming an example for aspiring democracies on the continent. Ghana’s success in overcoming ethnic divisions, empowering women (the incoming speaker of Parliament, Justice Joyce Bamford-Addo was sworn in by Chief Justice Georgina Wood in today’s ceremony), creating a healthy environment for business and trade and maintaining economic and political stability is powerful encouragement to other nations wrestling with similar challenges.

If Atta Mills wants Ghana to be a more impressive example, here are a couple of things he and his administration need to get right:

– Oil. Ghana’s got it, and starting in 2010, Ghana will be a producer of a modest, but significant amount of oil. Very few governments handle oil well, and the wealth associated with the resource is a major temptation towards corruption. Despite well-intentioned efforts from the World Bank, Chad managed to use new-found oil wealth to build military might rather than schools and hospital. Embarassed, the World Bank quietly pulled out. Ghana needs to do much better, and Ghana’s wisely looking to Norway for advice.

– Corruption. Government corruption in Ghana isn’t as widespread as in many of her neighbors, but it’s a real problem, one that hurts poor people and harms economic growth. Atta Mills campaigned on a promise to address government corruption… but so does every opposition candidate. A crackdown on corruption will be more convincing if it affects members of both major political parties, not just entrenched NPP supporters.

– Inequality. As Ghana’s economy improves, we’re seeing the emergence of a middle class and a small number of very wealthy people. That’s not a bad thing – inequality happens in healthy economies. But Ghanaians who aren’t seeing their lives improve are getting – understandably – pissed off. Mills needs to improve the educational system, build infrastructure (especially roads, rail and other facilities for improved trade) and encourage businesses (international and run by diasporans) to invest in projects in Ghana that create jobs not just for the wealthiest and best educated.

– International leadership. African leaders tend to be too respectful of one another, unwilling to condemn rigged elections, political violence and repression of dissent. With a double alternation of power in Ghana’s immediate past, Mills can speak to governance issues on the continent with a great deal of weight, authority and influence.

There’s a tendency for bad news to travel much faster than good. In an African context, it sometimes seems like the good news never reaches audiences at all. The good news around Ghana’s election is something very much worth celebrating, and I hope it gets celebrated far and wide.

5 thoughts on “Celebrating the inauguration”

  1. Thanks for this – stumbled upon your blog by accident but enjoyed this post a lot. I’ve been to Ghana and thoroughly enjoyed it and am happy to hear a potential sticking point has been passed. I recently spent some time in Cameroon and have come to believe very strongly in the need for positive (sub-Saharan) African role models. I sincerely hope Ghana, along with Kenya, South Africa and a few notable others, can really push forward to give hope and ambition to the rest.

    And the point about oil is entirely taken!

    As for Obama, I – like a lot of Brits – can’t wait for him to get started. I know it’s a pointless thought but I wish that Blair and Obama had been in office together. For all his faults I think Blair had (at least pre-Iraq) his heart in the right place… it was a combination of Bush’s relentless idiocy and the popular opposition to the Iraq war in the UK drove him over the edge mentally. Him and Obama or any other relatively progressive US president could really have got some shit done together. But, as they say, life is all about timing… !

    Just some thoughts.


  2. Excellent post as usual and yes, let’s all celebrate an African election success story. However, as Belle asks in her blog, how “largely” free and fair do elections have to be in a given country to be considered reasonably free and fair?. Did international observers and the international media move the bar a few centimeters lower, just in case. Were too many benefits given to too many doubts? If we really believe that Ghana can be one of the beacons of hope of Western Africa then hopefully the 2012 elections will be as free and fair as those in Holland or Denmark. Is that standard too high? And what about Koranteng Ofosu-Amaah‘s uncle. Did he feel personally reassured by how few incidents of violence there were? Apologies for not spewing enough positivity. Sean Murphy

  3. It’s a really good point, Sean. I think the enthusiasm is a combination of being impressed that a tense, hard-fought election decided by such a small margin could be carried out without widespread fraud or violence. I’ve tried to be careful in not asserting that the election was flawless or free of violence, but you’re right – the dominant narrative on this blog and elsewhere has been a positive one.

    I think, for the most part, that is the lesson to take away from the election. But situations like that involving Koranteng’s uncle are heartbreaking. I hadn’t read that post – thanks for bringing it up and calling attention to it.

  4. Pingback: …My heart’s in Accra » Which coups count?

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