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Three cheers for Ghana’s election. But what now?

After Kenya’s, Zimbabwe’s and Nigeria’s recent election mayhem, observers worried Ghana might fall into the same electoral dissaray. In the runup to the recent presidential vote, both major candidates claimed they were set for victory. Initial polls in December left a tightly contested race — with the two leading candidates within just one percent of ...

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After Kenya’s, Zimbabwe’s and Nigeria’s recent election mayhem, observers worried Ghana might fall into the same electoral dissaray. In the runup to the recent presidential vote, both major candidates claimed they were set for victory.

Initial polls in December left a tightly contested race — with the two leading candidates within just one percent of each other. The governing party candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo and the opposition leader and former professor John Atta Mills bitterly contested the second round of elections. After being seperated by just 23,000 votes, Ghana’s final constituency voted on Saturday and catupluted Mills to the presidency.

And thus Ghana avoided the election trap. The first African country to gain its independence in 1960 holds its reputation as a democracy where power has been transfered peacefully and often, with only minor incidents (like this one). The outgoing president didn’t try to extend his term, and he urged a peaceful transition. Mills’ opponent conceded gracefully and the incoming president promised to be a “president for all.”

Good. But now, as many governments have learned the hard way, the more difficult part is yet to come, and Ghana finds itself in an unusually precarious (or promising) turning point.

Ghana is a commodity-dependent economy in a market reeling from bubble and burst. Gold, cocoa and timber make much of the country’s GDP, and agriculture employs over half the population. The fall in commodity prices spells hope and disaster all at once; lucrative exports will suffer, as will farmers’ bottom lines. But urban food prices — once crushing for the average Ghanaian — will come down from sky high.

And despite Ghana’s healthy growth rate, the impoverished majority is hungry for prosperity to trickle down. Offshore oil — found in the summer of 2007 — once promised to pay for a host of new public services. Now, the sunken petrol price stop drilling before it even begins.

The incoming president seems to have a good head about the economic policies needed to move forward. But he’ll need the world economy, the increasingly corrupt bureaucracy, and his country’s belief in democracy to be on his side, as well.

Photo: PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images

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