- By Emily TamkinEmily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. She writes for FP’s The Cable, a real-time take on the news in Washington and the wider world. She has been at FP since the fall of 2016, before which she was an associate editor at New America, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington. She has a B.A. in Russian literature from Columbia University, an M.Phil. in Russian and East European studies from the University of Oxford, and studied Soviet dissidence in archival centers in Moscow, Tbilisi, and, on a Fulbright, in Bremen — all of which means that at FP, she writes when she can on Russia and Central and Eastern Europe.
While the United States holds intelligence hearings about outside meddling in its election, and the president-elect tweets to remind all the “losers” and “enemies” that he won, Ghana prepares to peacefully welcome its new president.
On Saturday, sitting president John Mahama will turn over the reigns to Nana Akufo-Addo, whose New Patriotic Party will take over a majority in parliament. Mahama delivered his final State of the Nation Address on Thursday, and encouraged Ghanaians to support his successor.
On the one hand, this is not surprising: Ghana has been a multi-party democracy since the early 1990s. On the other hand, things looked dicey this year.
The last election, in 2012, ended up in the courts. In the run-up to elections this year, held on Dec. 7, there were concerns that the electoral commission, which was under new management, was politicized. Akufo-Addo skipped the presidential debate. The police had identified 5,000 points at which violent conflict could break out. On election day itself, someone tried to hack the electoral commission’s website. When Akufo-Addo called on Mahama to concede before official results were delivered, Mahama’s camp called Akufo-Addo actions “treasonous.”
How did Ghana get from there to here?
“It was the shared determination of the people of Ghana to maintain their reputation that the country has acquired” as committed to peaceful transfer of power, Christopher Fumonyoh, senior associate and regional director for Central and West Africa at the National Democratic Institute, told Foreign Policy.
Those in the opposition who had been critical of the electoral commission acknowledged efforts taken by the body to make sure that elections were free and fair, and to be more open with the public and politicians about electoral processes. In the United States, meanwhile, more than 40 percent of Democrats don’t believe Trump’s election victory was legitimate, and the president-elect has spent weeks attacking his own country’s intelligence services.
Saskia Brechenmacher, an expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who has outlined Ghana’s electoral challenges, told FP that Ghanaians had a responsibility not to sully their reputation as a democratic country, a message pushed both by international actors and civil society.
There was widespread awareness, she explained, that Ghana had to do its part once again to serve as a democratic example in Africa. The ruling party did, both by not escalating the situation when opposition supporters started celebrating before the official results were out, and by conceding in the end. (The lopsided margin probably made that concession easier, she noted.)
This is not to say that Ghana is out of the proverbial woods. Mahama made last minute appointments, including a new head of the Commission of Human Rights and Administrative Justice. Brechenmacher noted that this post typically deals — or doesn’t — with corruption, a perennial issue in Ghanaian politics.
Akufo-Addo and his party have reportedly said they will review the appointments. But so, too, has Akufo-Addo promised the establishment of a new office, untethered to the executive, to deal with corruption. Whether that will mean a witch hunt for corruption in the outgoing administration is still to be seen.
So, too, is the extent to which Akufo-Addo can deliver on his campaign promises, particularly in terms of job creation and economic rejuvenation. It is one thing to win a mandate; it is quite another to carry it out.
But at least he will have the chance to do that, because, as Fumonyoh said, Ghana “is cementing its position as the trailblazer when it comes to peaceful, meaningful transitions and orderly, peaceful transfer of power in Africa.”
Photo credit: CRISTINA ALDEHUELA/AFP/Getty Images