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.