For the first time in the history of Ghana there has been sustained stability over more than a decade in the practice of parliamentary democracy. The Parliament of Ghana has continued to contribute to democratic governance in Ghana since 1993 without any disruption. This is a marked improvement from the years of military coups and political instability (1966–81) when at the very best; Parliament would sit for only two and a half years before a coup d’état put an abrupt end to its existence.
Within the new political environment of stability and peace, has also come an increasing effectiveness in parliamentary performance. The 230-member Parliament (200 until 2004) has performed creditably its legislative, financial, deliberative, oversight and appointive functions.
A welcome development in Parliament is the growing balance in its composition. In 1993, Parliament was almost a single-party debating chamber. As a result of the boycott of parliamentary elections by the opposition in 1992, the NDC commanded 96 per cent of the seats. In 1996, when the opposition parties returned to parliamentary elections, the NDC majority fell just short of two-thirds. Parliament in 2001, it was more balanced; the NPP commands 55 per cent and the NDC about 40 per cent of the seats, with a handful of other parties represented and one independent MP.
Perhaps the greatest source of parliamentary strength is the human resource base. The composition of the Ghana Parliament reveals a relatively youthful and well-educated set of lawmakers, capable of coping with the high demands of contemporary legislative work. Approximately half of all members are less than fifty years old, the youngest is 26 and the oldest 76. In terms of education, 75 per cent of all members hold second degrees from various universities and nearly 40 per cent are teachers and lawyers. However, women’s representation – only 25 out of 230 MPs, or 10.6 per cent – is far from satisfactory
Apart from Ghanaians, and in fact, many Africans, who had almost become accustomed to martial law, there were skeptics outside the continent who, by virtue of Ghana being an African country, simply laughed off any prospect of the country sustaining democracy. To such skeptics, democracy would forever elude Africa! While these skeptics may have reason to doubt Ghana’s, and indeed Africa’s ability to practice democracy, they have woefully failed to do a critical study of our history which is replete with examples of our practices which only serve to show our essential nature as very democratic. In fact, without stretching the imagination past our practices during the colonial era, there are sufficient examples of how our commitment to democracy has been critical in our political evolution.
Although at times such “democratic” processes led to isolated incidents of violence, this is not unique to our society, since again, even a cursory examination of the history of the West’s political evolution will reveal similar and perhaps, more serious incidents in such societies. Apart from the formidable opposition mounted by the New Patriotic Party (NPP), a critical review of our modern political history would show that the constitutional developments spanning the period 1992-2000 had reached such a point where no amount of coercive power would stop the inexorable march towards true democracy in the country.
It is important to note that in 1996, when the NPP decided to participate in Parliament, after boycotting it in 1992, that decision was not based on any faith or trust in the National Democratic Congress (NDC) rule. Rather, in a move that resonated with Nkrumah’s strategy in the pre-independence negotiations, the NPP saw Parliament and the existing dispensation as some sort of a “Trojan gift horse” which was worth trying”. But, besides the formidable NPP opposition and the internal political dialogue, which forced multi “partyism” on the ruling NDC, events elsewhere on the continent ensured that the cost of undemocratic behavior would be high, and conversely that democratic behavior would pay handsome dividends.
This is the period when South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki had powered the imagination of the continent with his proclamation of the African century or millennium. South Africa’s liberation and its subsequent transformation agenda have resulted in the rapid development of a critical mass of Black elite that has readily bought into Mbeki’s concept of the African Renaissance, the unofficial African development ideology.But is this change to democratic behaviors inexorable or is it simply a long lull in our cyclical history of change and stability? In other words, if we are as committed to democratic values as any other society, what are the signs that this transition will be a permanent one in Ghana?
If we make the claim that democracy is an essential part of our social organization, and then in fact, there is absolutely no doubt that, since the return to civilian rule in Ghana, the country has been on track as far as the promotion of popular participation in politics is concerned. Citizens’ rights are fully protected in the Constitution and the laws of the land. Institutions and opportunities for popular participation in decision-making are freely available in the political system. In particular, citizens can participate through Parliament, district assemblies and civil society organisations. It cannot be denied however that there is a long way to go before many sections of the citizenry can fully utilise the opportunities and institutions of participation. The government, civil society and development partners should join hands to remove all major obstacles to participation.
The peaceful alternation of power from the NDC government to one of its archrivals, the NPP through the ballot box in January 2001 has been a highly significant development, especially by the standards of sub- Saharan Africa. With the promulgation of a liberal Constitution, inclusive of provisions on human rights protection and promotion and the establishment of independent commissions of horizontal accountability, there have been considerable improvements in the respect for human rights since the restoration of multiparty democracy in 1993. The democratic transition has significantly changed the country’s political environment, enabling non-state actors in civil society and the private sector to assert themselves more proactively in influencing government policies than in the past. Accordingly, the past 15 years have seen the emergence of vibrant, independent media and an active civil society in effective exercise of the freedom of association guaranteed under the 1992 Constitution.
Ghana’s 2008 general elections ushered in the country’s second peaceful change of government since its return to multi “partyism” in 1992. This happened against a background of generalised anxiety and distrust about electoral processes in Africa, where elections have often been depicted as sources of tension and threats to national stability. In Ghana’s case, instead of providing evidence for further pessimism about democratisation, the country’s electoral monitoring bodies and political actors delivered a widely accepted and credible electoral process that helps Ghana to strengthen its progress towards democratic consolidation and socio- economic development. The defeat of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the peaceful transfer of power to the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the erstwhile leader of the opposition offer a number of lessons for countries struggling to hold transparent and violence-free elections in Africa, or leaders locked into elitist power-sharing arrangements.
There remain numerous challenges requiring the new leadership’s continuous attention, and certain flaws observed during the elections require effective corrective measures. Notwithstanding the challenges the country faces, however, peaceful power alternation in Ghana may be explained by three principal factors: President John Kufuor’s decision to uphold the constitutional terms limit; the respect shown by social and political actors to the democratic consensus; and, above all, an efficient national electoral machinery.
The peaceful transfer of power in Ghana stands in sharp contrast to the frequent setbacks to the democratisation process elsewhere in West Africa. In Mauritania, the political transition process has been halted abruptly by a military coup; in Guinea Bissau, the emergence from domestic political conflict has been interrupted by the assassination of the president and army chief. These dramatic cases are merely suggestive of some of the more extreme problems facing the establishment of multiparty democratic systems in Africa.
There often seems to be a wide gap between political elite behaviour and their citizens’ demands for a coherent political system based on good governance and accountability. In Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire and Togo, elected governments remain mired in corruption, incompetence and instability. It is in this environment that Ghana’s elections took place in December 2008. Ghana, the first sub-Saharan African country to obtain its independence in 1957, held its fifth legislative and presidential elections since the return of multi-partyism in 1992. Some 12.5 million Ghanaians went to the polls to elect a president and 230 parliamentarians in what was seen as a fierce contest between the four most prominent political parties – the New Patriotic Party (NPP), National Democratic Congress (NDC), People’s National Convention (PNC) and Convention People’s Party (CPP). In the volatile sub-region of West Africa, there was a considerable amount of interest in the Ghanaian electoral process. There was also a great deal of concern, since Africa had already witnessed two protracted outbreaks of electoral violence earlier in the year: in Kenya and Zimbabwe.
The mere fact that Ghana has so far succeeded in managing its electoral process without major violence may help consolidate African people’s adherence to the democratisation process and the promotion of political stability. How has Ghana got it right? Ghana’s own political history and the electoral machinery continue to play a role in the steps taken towards effective political system based on democratic principles. Regarded by both local and external observers as one of the most stable countries in Africa, with bright prospects for socio-economic improvement, Ghana’s is now seen as one of the most promising democratic experiments in Africa. Yet, although these elections provided the opportunity for the country’s citizens to express or reconfirm their adhesion to the democratic process, many challenges lie ahead, including the consolidation of economic development, a continued fight against corruption, the equitable distribution of resources and, above all, maintaining the confidence of the people in the institutions of government and in the legitimate political leadership.
In its 2005 report on Ghana, the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) praised the achievements of Ghana’s political leadership and citizens in terms of their efforts to strengthen the democratic environment and the rule of law. However, the report highlighted a number of issues that needed action in order to consolidate democracy and promote good governance. These included concerns about the poor resourcing of the Electoral Commission and other key institutions, notably in human, financial and logistic capacity. The APRM also raised concerns about the sustainability of the Commission’s budget, which is donor dependent, and highlighted the lack of internal democracy within political parties. The report warned that the potential long-term effect of these shortcomings might weaken the democratisation process in the country. The underrepresentation of women and what this portends for participation and representation in politics, and the ethnic voting patterns that seem to be emerging in national elections were also seen as sources of concern for the consolidation of democracy.
Although some of these criticisms received prompt responses from political actors including those in government, others have yet to be addressed. The Electoral Commission improved the management of the electoral process, and political parties progressively have established internal democratic mechanisms to elect their leaders, which reinforce the democratic culture in the country. But it is to basic social services delivery that citizens in Ghana expect the political leadership to show coherent and sustainable commitment. Ghana has recorded noticeable economic improvement over the past eight years. .
Notwithstanding the economic progress realised by the country, a third of the population remains in acute poverty. According to the 2007 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Ghana ranks 135 out 177 in the Human Development Index (HDI). More than four million of Ghana’s estimated 22 million populations are extremely poor, struggling to access basic social services in terms of health, water and education. The slow pace of poverty reduction will remain a constant threat that could undermine efforts to consolidate democratic gains in the country. Though in the long term, the 2008 elections were vital to the survival of Ghana’s democratisation process, more immediately they were a public assessment of Kufuor’s administration’s performance and legacy and whether the citizenry would renew its confidence in the New Patriotic Party (NPP). The discovery of oil and the prospects of its exploitation by 2012 added an extra element to the contention
A number of useful lessons stand out from Ghana’s elections of 2008. First, democracy is a long process rather than an end state, requiring constant work to address the many challenges it faces. Although regular and well-planned elections are key to the democratic process, peaceful power alternations can be seen as a major ingredient in consolidation. It is important to stress that President John Kufuor did not contemplate the possibility of amending the constitution to stand for a third term. This not only reflected the maturity of Ghana’s democratic experiment, but also demonstrated the fallacy of the arguments that a capable leader ought to be given a “third chance” or that Africa should be left to chart its own course towards democracy. A number of African countries have seen their constitutions amended to remove presidential term limits in order to perpetuate de facto one-party rule. In the long run this might lead to political decay, and possibly to violence.
Second, the results of the 2008 elections revealed some of the challenges to democratic consolidation. The number of elections held does not necessary guarantee the stability of institutions and the consolidation of the democratisation process. On the one hand, the claim that elections facilitate conflict management or resolution and the consolidation of democracy in multi-cultural and multi- ethnic settings seems to be validated by the Ghanaian 2008 electoral process. It is clear that the process was contentious and its outcome unpredictable. A power contest in a tense political environment without adequate mechanisms to handle it is likely to lead into violence and instability. In such circumstance, power-sharing deals hardly succeed in restoring the credibility of the institutions. On the other hand, it is important to stress that multi-party politics and elections, if poorly managed or subverted, may deepen existing ethno-regional and other socio-economic cleavages in specific socio-cultural and political economic contexts. The 2008 elections, therefore, called into question the much-acclaimed steps towards the consolidation of democracy in Ghana.
Ghana’s experience could serve to underline the importance of the machinery of election organisation, which, though expensive and challenging, is not intellectually problematic. “It just requires adequate and competent preparation, a high degree of transparency, a responsible government, which respects its own citizens and an alert citizenry ready to protect their vote”. If well managed and accepted by all, elections even serve as peaceful means of conflict resolution. People have the power to sanction a poorly performing government as well as the ability to renew their confidence in a particular government that delivers on its promises. Peaceful and transparent elections are always a sign of maturity and a step further toward the consolidation of state institutions.
Political succession remains contentious and highly challenging in many African countries. The privileges associated with power and the fear of being prosecuted by their successors causes some leaders to maintain control of the political process even through electoral manipulation and violence. For some years, the design of electoral systems to encourage cooperation, bargaining and interdependence between rival political leaders and the groups they represent has become increasingly crucial for the promotion of democracy in poor and divided societies. This seems to have made it increasingly difficult to hold elections without violence or protest in such settings. As political elites see elections a means to capture the state apparatus and the resources it commands, electoral processes have come under severe threat.
The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook,
La Verle Berry, ed.- Ghana: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1994.
Leslie Fox, Team Leader
Dr. Barak Hoffman, Political Scientist
Dr. Amos Anyimadu, Local Expert
Michael Keshishian-Local Governance Advisor, USAID
A review by- AfriMAP and The Open Society Initiative for West Africa and The Institute for Democratic Governance
Professor Yaw Amoateng, PhD
Abdul‐Gafaru Abdulai -Human rights, Power and Civic Action research project, Universities of Oslo, Leeds and Ghana
Kwame Boafo-Arthur -Claude Ake Memorial Papers No. 4
Antoinette Handley -The World Bank Made Me Do It?” International Factors and Ghana’s Transition to Democracy
David Zounmenou -Ghana’s 2008 election: towards a consolidated democracy?