Little violence, no blatant vote-rigging and likely no surprises – Monday’s presidential poll in Ghana is shaping up to be Africa’s most dull election this year.
But on a continent which many experts say has fallen into a “democratic recession,” being without incident marks Ghana as a rare example where democratic principles are seen as stable.
“Here in Ghana, who wins, wins,” said Mavis Nai, a 23-year-old working at a snack bar in the Ghanaian capital, Accra.
Contrast his country’s electoral process with contested polls in Africa and the recent US elections, where President Donald Trump has persisted with allegations of vote rigging, she said, “Nobody’s like, ‘I don’t take it.’ Anyone who wins accepts it. And whoever loses accepts it.
In Monday’s election, incumbent Nana Akufo-Addo of the new center-right Patriotic Party is seeking a second four-year term. He is expected to beat his opponent, John Mahama, a former opposition Democratic National Congress chairman who served from 2012 to January 2017.
Chidi Odinkalu, senior director for Africa at the Open Society Foundations, which provides grants to organizations promoting democracy, said Ghana has a deserved reputation for its strong democratic standards. “If you look across the continent, this is the least dramatic and boring election – and it’s an absolutely great story.”
Emmanuel Gyimah-Boadi, who co-founded Afrobarometer, a voting organization, said Ghana had a well-established two-party system in which power regularly changed hands. However, he cautioned against complacency, urging Ghanaians to “give democracy a good look in the mirror to capture its many flaws and imperfections”.
Mr Gyimah-Boadi said the two main parties need to do more to curb the youth gangs they are using as proxies to intimidate their supporters.
He pointed to the corrosive effect of money on politics, saying that the government’s access to unconditional finance from oil, commercial debt and China was dangerous in the absence of meaningful finance laws. campaigns. In the past, when Ghana borrowed mainly from multilateral and Western donors, there were more controls over election-related spending, he said.
The Mo Ibrahim Foundation, which oversees governance, classroom Ghana is eighth out of 54 African countries on its overall index, a broad measure of the provision of political, social and economic public goods. However, he said Ghana’s score has been declining since 2015.
Just weeks before Monday’s poll, Ghana’s special prosecutor Martin Amidu resigned after accusing the government to obstruct its investigation into a controversial plan to secure future gold revenues.
Wunpini Mohammed, assistant professor at the University of Georgia, warned that Ghanaian democracy is better than it actually is.
“When we talk about democracy, it shouldn’t be limited to holding peaceful elections, but how the most marginalized in society benefit,” she said. From this point of view, democracy has failed many Ghanaians, she said.
“Africans tend to put Ghanaian democracy on a pedestal,” Ms. Mohammed said. “But that’s not necessarily how we Ghanaians see it.
However, Mr Odinkalu compared the Ghana poll with a series of elections in Africa this year. Across the continent, incumbents have learned to use violence, money and constitutional tricks to play out the electoral process, he said.
In Tanzania, John Magufuli won 84% of the vote in October after the opposition candidate was threatened with death. That same month, Alpha Condé, 82, won a third term in Guinea in a violent election after a new constitution allowed him to reset his presidential clock, exceeding a two-term limit .
In Uganda last week, opposition candidate Bobi Wine suspended his campaign after escalation violence during which at least 16 of his supporters were killed and Mr. Wine was arrested and repeatedly beaten. Yoweri Museveni, 76, president for 34 years, is seeking another term after removing a constitutional age limit.
In Ghana, by contrast, there have been steady peaceful changes of power since the country’s return to a multi-party system in 1992, said Gyimah-Boadi. “In the minds of most politically literate Ghanaians, it has been understood that democracy is the normal form of government,” he said.
Mr. Akufo-Addo operates with a record of perceived competence after the economy, which benefited from the discovery of oil and high gold prices, racked up three years of growth above 6% until Covid-19 strikes. The government has also been lauded for its relatively strong response to the pandemic and for the implementation of free secondary education, despite issues of quality, capacity and underfunding.
Mr Mahama’s campaign has been hampered by allegations of corruption during his previous government and memories of lingering power cuts. But his party is supported by around 40 percent of the electorate, meaning he only needs to win in two of the three transition regions, covering 20 percent of the 17 million eligible voters, to have a chance.
“Ghana’s economy is not working for the people,” Mahama said recently, tapping into popular discontent with what many describe as a stagnant standard of living.
A survey of the University of Ghana found that although loyalty to the party was strong, voters were ready to change allegiance, with 54% saying they would vote according to policies and only 7% saying they would. according to ethnic criteria.
Mr Odinkalu said democracy in Ghana, while imperfect, was something other countries could aspire to. “It’s a policy [race] there will therefore necessarily be blues, ”he said. “But most of what you see is [realm] of civil and civilized combat.