Overview of Ghana’s 2012 Presidential Election
On Friday Ghana will hold its Presidential Election. Ghana presidential elections are on the same 4 year cycle as the United States, though the election is in December rather than November. Presidents are limited to two terms, same as the United States. This is the sixth presidential election since the end of military government. Twice an incumbent loosing party has peacefully turned over power to the incoming winners of the election.
The most respected pollster in Ghana, Ben Ephson, predicts that John Dramani Mahama of the NDC will win on the first round of balloting, and that the NDC will maintain a majority in parliament.
Below is a sample presidential ballot for this election.
You can find more information about each of the candidates at Ghana Decides. Click on the picture of a candidate and you’ll more information about that candidate. And you can follow news and commentary from Ghana Politics from GhanaWeb
There are a number of active political parties fielding presidential candidates, the main contest is between the NPP and the NDC. The NPP’s strongest area of support is in the Ashanti region, and the NPP candidate is Nana Akufo-Addo. The NDC’s strongest support comes from the Volta Region, although its presidential candidate, John Mahama, is originally from the Northern region. There is more information on Ghana’s regions here.
Both parties have supporters throughout Ghana. Below you see totebags with the symbols of these two largest parties.
Savvy and enthusiastic young internet users in Ghana have carried on an active get out the vote effort on Facebook, BloggingGhana, BloGh, on Twitter #GhanaDecides, and Ghana Decides on Youtube. AlJazeera featured this internet presence in an article Turning Likes Into Votes.
A candidate they call “The Facebook president,” another who trended worldwide on Twitter, and a third who is speaking directly to voters via Google hangout. With only 10% internet penetration in a country with more than 14 million registered voters, what role will social media play in Ghana’s upcoming presidential election? And will online support for the candidates translate into offline votes?
In the days and months leading up to Ghana’s December 7 elections, candidates and civic organisations are using social media-savvy techniques to engage the Ghanaian electorate to get out the vote.
From #GhanaDedides comes word map of keywords used by the candidates, about the issues, and in news stories about the election.
Ghana has begun using biometric identification for voting. I have serious reservations about this, but will watch to see how it works. My question is who has access to this information, and who will gain access over time. We know the US government wants to collect biometric information on African political figures and activists based on the Wikileaks cables. We know the Pentagon is expanding its spy network in Africa.
Some electoral backstory
In 1992 Jerry John Rawlings ended his tenure as military leader of Ghana and was elected president. He was the flagbearer of the NDC party, which he founded. He won reelection in 1996, serving 8 years, which is the Ghana Constitutional limit, just like in the US. In 2000 he peacefully turned over power to the NPP and newly elected President Kufuor. Rawlings remains very popular but has bitter enemies as well, whose enmity he has earned. In 2000 his Vice President, John Evans Atta-Mills ran as the NDC candidate against John Kufuor, the NPP candidate. Many people thought it was time for a change, that the NDC had been running things long enough. Kufuor is a very likable guy, and he and the NPP won the 2000 election and were reelected in 2004.
Unfortunately the NPP leadership chose to work on enriching themselves rather than the country. Corruption has always been a problem, but Kufuor and the NPP leadership institutionalized corruption to new levels. They sold off Ghana’s assets and land to themselves and to foreign interests, and pocketed the profits. Money for public projects disappeared with nothing to show for it. Kufuor spent much of his terms in office traveling at taxpayer expense. In 2007 it was officially announced that significant deposits of offshore oil would be coming into production for Ghana from the Jubilee field. Kufuor arranged with Barclays Bank to set up Ghana with tax haven offshore banking.
In my observation, the NPP is very similar to the Republican party in the US. It is a party that wants to reward and advantage existing elites. Many of its leaders come from the families of people who were elites before colonialism, and enjoyed privileged status during the years of colonialism. Many of them opposed independence and then opposed the projects that would help Ghana become economically independent, such as the building of the Akosombo dam and Tema harbor. I think if the NPP had been able to dial down the corruption a bit, and produce a bit more, it would have stayed in power. The battle for votes and battles over counting the votes were fierce in the 2008 election, which went to three rounds. John Atta-Mills finally won the 2008 election. It was decided by one constituency, Tain, in the Brong-Ahafo region. Rawlings campaigned energetically for Mills. Rawlings had helped some to build up the area, but it had been mostly ignored during the tenure of the NPP. Roads were neglected and farmers could not get their cocoa to market to sell.
John Atta-Mills was distinguished by his rare degree of wisdom and honesty. That was not necessarily the case with the people around him. He was good natured and people worried he might not be a strong enough leader, though he could be tough. Rawlings wanted to continue running things through Mills and Mills quietly did not let him. Rawlings frequently railed against Mills from the sidelines throughout the 4 year term. Mills also successfully resisted the persuasions of US AFRICOM to send Ghanaian soldiers into Ivory Coast as US proxies in January 2011.
In July 2012 President Mills died suddenly and unexpectedly, though he was known to have health problems. In another democratic triumph, Ghana moved smoothly and quickly to swear in Vice President Mahama as President, following prescribed Constitutional procedures and without incident. At the time he died Mills was a very popular figure and the entire country mourned his passing. Mahama then became the NDC nominee for President and has shown himself to be knowledgeable and able.
In the NPP, Akufo-Addo, who was Kufuor’s Vice President, and who had run for President in 2008 was nominated again. In 2011 in a speech in Koforidua, speaking about his intentions for the election, in a voice shaking with intensity he said three times “all die be die”, meaning that violence is entirely acceptable if needed to win, deaths are an acceptable price for electoral victory. Akufo-Addo has shown himself prone to violence before, as when his bodyguards beat and killed fellow NPP member Seth Michael Ahyiah. Akufo-Addo has tried to weasle out of the meaning of all die be die, but has never withdrawn the words. Many are afraid he will stir up violence if he does not win. Soon thereafter the wild talking NPP member of parliament, Kennedy Agyepong said “if we do not win, Ghana will become like Rwanda” and
… he has declared war on all Ewes living in the Ashanti region, and that the NPP activists in the region should attack Ewes with machetes and cutlasses. He warned that any security personnel who will try to keep the peace in the region will be lynched.
This did get Kennedy Agyepong in trouble with the law, as it should. And there are more recent reports of danger: Akufo-Addo’s all-die-be-die militants unmasked. NPP supporters are not the only source of danger and potential violence, but with “all die be die” they have been the most overt.
Most of the politicians and parties are urging peaceful behavior during the election, and that is a major message of the online electioneering. There is a strong push for peace and respect for the law from all parties.
I have dealt mainly with the political history and maneuvering here, without sufficient attention to the issues. For an understanding of the issues, you might do best listening to the IEA, Institute of Economic Affairs debates, which are on YouTube: IEA Debate in Tamale (30-10-12) [Full], and the edited IEA Final Presidential Debate (21-11-12). Overall my impression was that John Mahama was by far the most knowledgeable with the most breadth and depth of understanding. The most visionary platform (pdf) as I see it comes from the GCPP whose candidate is Henry Lartey, who wants to build a new solar energy based economy. I know little about him or the party, though his father was highly respected.
As mentioned above, you can find more information about each of the candidates at Ghana Decides Click on the picture of a candidate and you’ll find more information about that candidate. Wikipedia has articles on Ghana’s main political parties and candidates. And you can follow election news and commentary from GhanaWeb Ghana Elections 2012
Update December 9, 2012
John Mahama wins.
Dr. Afari-Gyan, head of Ghana’s Electoral Commission, reports all the votes have been counted and all constituencies have reported. 79.43% of Ghanaian voters turned out to vote.
John Mahama is President Elect with 50.70% of the vote.
Nana Akufo-Addo received 47.74%.