Wind of Change: Ghanaian Elections, A Thing or Two

by Abena Kyere

It has been two months since Ghana went to the polls and the wind of change that blew in Ghana on the 7th of December, 2016 calls for some reflection. The euphoria surrounding the elections left most Ghanaians on tenterhooks. Veiled threats by some members of the opposition parties of a possible civil war hung in the air. There were incessant calls by many of the populace, especially religious bodies and civil society groups to political parties to rein in their supporters to ensure calm through tolerance. As usual, musicians were not left out of the fray. The airwaves were bombarded with campaign and peace songs. Political seasons in Ghana come with it two sets of musicians—those who make songs for political parties and those who write and perform peace songs. Seasoned musicians like Daddy Lumba (Kwadwo Fosu) and Lucky Mensah, to mention a few, are known to be National Democratic Congress (NPP) and National Democratic Congress (NDC) sympathizers, respectively. The wind of change, however, caught up with Lucky Mensah in last year’s election when he abandoned the NDC and hitched his wagon to the NPP. In the end, Ghana emerged the winner with the inauguration of a new government on the 7th of January, 2017.

The results of the elections may be described as shocking for politicians from the reigning ruling party who seemed to take a return to power for granted. The political landscape of Ghana has been characterized by some particular geographic biases in terms of voting. These areas have come to be called ‘world banks’ for the two major political parties, NPP and NDC. The three Northern regions and Volta region are known to be the world banks for the NDC and the Ashanti and Eastern region are known to be the world banks of the NPP. The remaining four regions are mostly seen as the swing regions, whose votes can favor either party during any given voting season. When the results of the elections were declared, the incumbent NDC had lost to the NPP by a significant lead of 53.85% against 44.40%. The traditional swing regions went to the NPP.

The final result that was pronounced by the Electoral Commission was a clear indication that one thing has been called to a halt, the autocracy of the politicians; the populace had rejected to a great degree the tradition of vote buying and voter loyalty. Stories were told of outboard motors for fisher folks, cars for traditional leaders and even cash distributed at campaign rallies. A pre-election survey conducted by the Centre for Democratic Development indicated that the NDC was leading vote buying by 51%, followed by the NPP with 32%. Indeed, Mahama and his wife, the then-first lady, were accused by an anti-corruption group, Ghana Integrity Initiative, of buying votes prior to the elections. The December 2016 elections revealed that though incumbency can enable attempts at vote-buying, Ghanaians are now more sophisticated than politicians give them credit for. Parliamentary candidates who had consistently won their seats and served several terms in parliament and who felt sure of victory were shocked when they lost their seats. Indeed, some of them lost their seats to rookie politicians. The story is told of a popular NDC MP from Akwatia in the Eastern Region of Ghana called Baba Jamah who had admonished the electorates not to vote for his arch opponent because as he argued, his opponent was a mere ‘hairdresser’ while he was an accomplished lawyer. The electorates chose the hairdresser!

A number of reasons have been offered for the election results. Some have argued that the result was part of the wind of change blowing throughout the world, the electorate’s fatigue with the establishment and its institutions. The victory was, in other words, a happening whose time had come. Others also hold the view that Ghanaians were just outraged and upset with abysmal performance of the government that appeared to be insensitive to their plight and lived a life of excess. A greater portion of Ghana’s youth supported the NDC, and President Mahama led government four years ago because he had professed himself to be a ‘youngman’, able and willing to turn the country around. But Ghana was to experience some of the most corrupt moments of its history under this government, not to talk of the appalling and insulting behaviour of his so-called ‘babies with sharp teeth’ ministers. Indeed, the government was admonished by the founder of the party and former president of Ghana, J.J. Rawlings, to reign in these young government and party stalwarts who hurl invective at anyone known to hold a dissenting view from the government. The former president’s advice was succinct: “Throw the babies with sharp teeth from government out.”

Still others argued that the results were in line with the political history of the country. They note that Ghana changes its government and MPs every eight years, irrespective of how successful the government is. If this is true, then one can only advise the NDC party to wait patiently for eight years and the now-ruling NPP party to be weary of the sophisticated Ghanaian electorate.

Ghana’s success at the polls has something positive to offer the world, especially Africa, and specifically Gambia. It is sad that Yayah Jammeh of Gambia could not learn a thing or two. The whole point of democracy is to provide the populace the right to choose, and when a man has been president for 22 years, he should know that the people truly voted for Adama Barrow. Mr Jammeh did not have to wait for the threatened military intervention of ECOWAS before relinquishing power. This subverts the will of the people and the rule of law, something that seems to have suddenly taken root even in advanced democratic dispensations. Indeed, the USA, which is the perceived hub of democracy, has had its 2016 presidential elections leveled with fraud allegations, and this calls into question the very essence of democracy. Undeniably, President Trump’s scary approach to the ‘others’ coupled with his unpopular immigration ban does not help in making a case for democracy, and for most of us on the African continent, President Trump is beginning to resemble the democratic dictators the continent has witnessed over the years.