Ghana’s elections: looking back, things to be thankful for

Ghana's elections were generally peacefulIn the first of this three-part series I invite you to look at things from another point of view.

So we almost disgraced ourselves and came quite close to looking like the rest, but did we? I followed the broader issues quite closely and here are my observations.

The conclusion is, we have a lot to be thankful for, and as they say “if it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger”. In this case if it didn’t kill us, it revealed strengths we had which we didn’t know.

A different kind of tension

Tension was high, but it is quite interesting to note the kind of tension we had, the opposition was determined not to be cheated and they made that clear, and it created tension, but a lot of the tension was created and felt by people who voted for the ruling party, and were unhappy that they would not concede, many commented freely and publicly that the ruling party was acting like a bad loser, and in this stalemate, the ruling party lost some significant goodwill.

This was not the classic political tension where two parties are at each others’ throats, it was more about the general feeling to get this over with, and get on with our lives. We were eager to put the politics behind us more than we were eager to win! Many people didn’t care who won or lost, people wanted the system to determine the outcome more than they wanted their party to win, and to that extent the tension was partly positive.

I can say, by virtue of the interactions I have had especially with people from the ruling party, that the peaceful outcome was more due to internal pressures (from the ruling party) to concede, than the pressure from or fear of the opposition.
I see a difference, our political tension sought resolution and not just parochial victory; that made a world of difference and ensured that we didn’t implode, that gives us something to be thankful for.

Reports of incidents of violence

There were incidents of violence which were usually from mob action. Anybody suffering from the effects of violence won’t be happy if it is described as minor, but we need to make some comparisons here. The kind of violence such political tensions unleash and the effects on people, of lost limbs and death does not compare with what we had. In that sense we can say our case was mild, and indeed not many were hurt, or maimed.

It particularly feels good to note that despite the strong tensions in some places, THERE WAS NO LOSS OF LIFE DUE TO THE ELECTION. I have checked, but I have not found even one case of death due to all that has happened since December 7th.

Many leaders including the ruling party candidate admonished everyone publicly, many times over, that there was no justification to lose life or even shed blood over any election, and that it was not a do-or-die affair, they even coined a phrased for it “ballots not bullets” that sentiment worked to ensure that there were no fatalities. Even in the third round at TAIN, there was order (mainly because of the strong security presence).

On hindsight, we have to admit that we have had a great escape! In a country where a football match can lead to great disasters, and very little can spark a fratricidal war, we have to be thankful that there are no funerals because of the tensions from the election.

Ignition of latent disputes

The Brinksmanship and sabre-rattling came mainly from the hawkish politicians and their close followers. The general populace was quite calm, and it seemed even the youth had heeded the admonishing not to be used by politicians for their wrong ends. That was a good thing.

I see a difference between this and the other situations where people take advantage of such tensions and settle their latent scores, spreading violence as old flash-points and issues (especially ethnic animosities) become ignited.
Ghana has its share of ethnic tensions, intertribal, land, chieftaincy, disputes, squabbles and the rest, and we have recently had serious civil strife especially in the Northern and Upper regions, and many of our disputes and issues have been politicized. Researchers have estimated that there are about 100 flash points which could easily ignite especially in tense political standoffs such as what we had. Fortunately we didn’t see instances of these latent disputes igniting because of this stalemate. Maybe some don’t, but I see something to be thankful for.

The ruling party and legal redress

The ruling party’s refusal to concede and their resort to the courts created the stalemate, but indeed, was it such a bad thing? To the contrary I think that was a good thing! Elsewhere Ruling parties are not known to rush to courts when they are threatened with loss of power due to electoral defeat!!

Not resorting to mayhem or show of power to get what they wanted cannot be bad. They were criticized as undemocratic and seeking to subvert and deny the express will of the people etc.

I do believe that time will show that going to court would place them in a good position to claim they are law abiding democrats and that would allow them room to make a political comeback, indeed there were hawks in that party who did not agree with the legal approach, remarks such as “what are we doing with power” were made, to the effect that if they had “power” they should use it to get what they wanted, but the leadership did the right thing, and resorted to the courts, (who threw out their case anyway), they didn’t use their incumbency nor activate their thugs (every party has some).

They must be commended, but not before mentioning that what they did was in their own interest, if they had resorted to “power play” it would have been political suicide because the broad masses in the nation (especially their own party followers) had no stomach for such ruling party indiscretion.

The view to look from is that, in Ghana our people and leaders (and we are not saints) regardless of being incumbent, find the law a useful resort even when it doesn’t promise us what we want. I see something to be thankful for.

Our outgoing president

President Kufour whose party was losing at the time (and now has lost), was markedly dignified and statesman-like in his neutrality, and indeed did a good job to preserve his legacy. He was quite deft in his handling of the situation because somehow he managed to maintain his support for his party’s candidate but did nothing to give him an undue advantage.

He has been gracious and credible as a leader of the nation and not just his party, to the point of asking his candidate to accept the verdict of the EC (when it was clear it would be against them) his words have also not fallen to the ground. His party has respected him, and the nation has one more reason to love him. It feels good that soon Ghana will have two former presidents who have earned our love and gratitude. May be some won’t, but I surely see a lot to be thankful for here.

Our state institutions

Ghanaians have never really trusted their state institutions, and mostly for good reasons, but this test showed us another part and hopefully the emerging part of our state institutions (at least those that were active over this period).
Our stability and cohesion today was truly due in large part to the effective and unprejudiced performance of our state institutions. Imperfect as they may be, they have shown great resilience and earned a lot of respect and trust.

The electoral commission

Over the years, election after election they have been steadfastly neutral and impartial, both major parties complain about them and praise them (depending on who is winning or losing) and that is a sure sign that they have been neutral. The general populace have come to trust them, that was shown during this test when everyone was happy to say “let us leave it to the Electoral Commission” to many, that may be a simple thing, but we Ghanaians must step back a bit and count our blessings!!

How many Countries (not just in Africa) trust their Electoral Commission as we do in Ghana? And this trust has not been forced on us, they have actually earned it!!

I have had my issues with the Electoral Commission, and there are a few things they can do better, but I trust them to be fair. I recently spoke to a US citizen who remarked that she voted early in their recent election to ensure that her country’s officials won’t cheat on her vote as they have done in the past! Even in the US they have some distrust for their election officials. In Ghana we clearly trust our Electoral Commission, we have for many years, and we now take it for granted. I see a lot to be thankful for.

Dr Afari-Gyan

Because of the principle of ultimate responsibility, I must mention for particular praise, the head of the EC, Dr. Afari-Gyan.

He has proven time and again that he is trustworthy, even in the face of great danger. Dr. Afari-Gyan has saved this country many times over by being an honest and steadfast man. He, his family and all he has, has been threatened many times, and all manner of things have been said and done about him, but he has remained strong. I don’t think he is a man without any fear, I think he understands his higher calling and lives up to it despite his fears. After Dr. Kofi Annan, Dr. Afari-Gyan is perhaps the most trusted person in Ghana today, and he has earned it.

Leading a Commission (where staff were sometimes accused of various forms of corruption) to deliver credible elections 5 times in a row, is testament to exemplary leadership. He and his managers have not bowed to incumbents or anyone, and their resoluteness and transparent management have led to the acceptability of the results and the inability of anarchists to use elections as an excuse to create problems. I see something to be thankful for, hope you do too.

Ghana Police Service

Our Police have not always endeared themselves to us, and recently after the national awards, one of the most criticized was that given to the IGP, many people simply didn’t believe he or the institution merited it.

My close monitoring of the work of the Police during this election showed that they have been impartial and dealt with all parties evenly; they provided protection for all parties and the citizenry and clearly showed that their allegiance is to Ghana.

We are used to Police and Army being loyal to ruling governments, but our Police showed great professionalism and were clearly under nobody’s illegitimate control; they acted fairly to all parties and were extremely effective in their duty. The confidence with which people voted, especially in TAIN was mainly due to their presence.

I have never seen Ghanaians this confident of our Police; though this is what we should expect, once again we need to count our blessings and not take this for granted; they should also build on this goodwill. Mr. IGP and your men, we are thankful for you, and your work.

The Ghana Army

The Army was helpful, effective, yet rarely seen. Wherever they appeared, people seemed to feel some extra security. This is commendable in a country that had once been brutalized by the Army. The Ghana Army has over the years been reformed significantly and has worked hard to earn our trust. They are perhaps the most professional and best behaved Army in Africa!! I carefully observed their actions, and being an African army, they made me proud.
They were calm and cool headed, did not interfere except when invited. And whenever they were needed they performed exceptionally without attracting much attention to themselves, they served with the Police and cooperated beautifully, they did not display the usual “Army arrogance” (as is seen when they work with other forces). Behind the scenes some of us were aware that their leaders exerted positive pressure in a most diplomatic way to nudge the politicians to do the right thing. My sources in the Army told me they were standing neutral, and had clearly signaled to the politicians that they would not be used for the wrong things, the politicians largely respected that message, today we are still one nation in peace.

My Army source told me previously that their experiences in peacekeeping have influenced them a lot, and they were determined not to allow war in our country.
That is the best reward we Ghanaians get for helping others through our service to the UN over the years. This test reminded us of yet another thing we should be thankful for, our Army. God bless the Ghana Army.

Our Courts

Let me paint a picture that happens often (especially in Africa).
When the ruling party quickly puts an ex-parte motion in front of a judge who they think is “one of them”, you expect a swift judgment in their favour, influenced not by the law, but by other interests. This scenario seemed to have happened, but in Ghana it failed!!

The judge looked at the officials from the ruling party whose president was still in office, and threw out their case citing law as his authority.

Surely our judiciary is not perfect, but by many standards, especially if we are to judge by this, our judiciary has “5 star” capability!!

This is a country where judges have had to pay a very high price for standing up to officialdom, but still there are times when they give us great hope in the legal system like they did recently. We have a judiciary to be thankful for.

Did we disgrace ourselves?

So, wherever you belong, regardless of how you feel now, whether cheated or elated, whether you think your victory was almost snatched by others or you feel hard done by, and to those who feel we have disgraced ourselves and spoilt our record as the haven of peace in a turbulent sub-region, whatever you feel now, take a moment to reflect on the above.

I hope you conclude with me that despite our imperfections and the trying moments we have been through, although some may think we haven’t done well, there is a lot to be thankful for, and indeed this test has proven that maybe we have more than we know, surely our peace and stability is not a fluke, we have been tested, and we have passed with flying colors, instead of being despondent about how close we came to the edge, let us look from the other angle and see that indeed there is a lot we have to be thankful for.

…….and by the way in Ghana we know who to thank, we say “Gye Nyame” i.e. Except God, so it is he who has done this, and it is he we thank.

Credit: Kofi Bentil

Kofi Bentil is a lecturer and consultant in Business Strategy and Entrepreneurship at Ashesi University and the University of Ghana Businesses School. He is a Fellow of Imani,, a member of the African Leadership Initiative, of the Aspen Institute, and an affiliate of the CATO Institute and the International Policy Network of the UK.