Africa’s beacon of democracy votes
The date is 7th December 2012 and it is Ghana's date with history and destiny. For a 6th consecutive time the people are on the threshold of honing democracy in a country where democratically elected governments hardly survived their first term in yesteryears. It is quintessential and a consummate feat in Africa.
Two decades ago many might have dismissed the possibility of free, fair and peaceful elections in Kwame Nkrumah's country with a simple shake of the head and with good reason too. Between 1966 and 1992, the first African country south of the Sahara to achieve independence from colonial rule, recorded a history of grave political instability to the chagrin of its own citizens.
The norm was the dictatorship of the military with one coup d'état after the other. First, they came in 1966 as liberators. In 1972 they were redeemers. Within years they became supreme but not invincible to the revolutionaries in 1979. When again they returned in 1981 they came as defenders and only provisionally.
The nation was in birth pangs. The rule of the powerful took sway over the rule of law; civil society crumbled, a culture of silence reigned, institutions weakened and development stunted. The country lost out big time but thankfully not forever.
In Ghana the clock had always ticked in only one direction, democracy. When the voices for change mustered speech in the late 1980s and early 1990s the eloquence was unequivocal. Not even the military could turn that clock back. Reason prevailed over intransigence and democracy was healthily delivered in 1992.
There is nothing like voter apathy in Ghana. As if Ghanaians can't get enough of their democracy turn outs on election days remain record high. The politicians know it. They know that incumbency does not pay in Ghana's democracy. They know that being in opposition does not guarantee sympathy.
Candidates for presidential and parliamentary office do not rest their oars; they up the volume of their promises amidst accusations and counter accusations. Sometimes it is difficult not to ponder whether it is not just another exercise of self-serving ambitious elites wishing to actualise themselves or fighting for control over natural resources so symptomatic of elections in other parts of the continent.
That is when the voices of moderation tune in, traditional and religious leaders stake their claims to reason and common sense. They want peace and unity! In a conservative country where people are incurably religious the politicians like to be seen to listen. For the first time in the democratic dispensation of the country they joined hands under one roof and pledged peace by consensus.
Of all the elections so far this one has a unique significance. The sitting president dies, and like they say in monarchies 'the king is dead, long live the king'! The Vice was sworn into office without anybody batting an eye.
This was an accomplishment in democratic Ghana. Never in the history of the country has a President died in office. Never has the vice President had to step into the shoes of the President and immediately start running for the office he was but only a mate to. All these came and passed as if they were second nature to Ghana.
So mature is Ghana's democracy today that when the international community was invited to monitor the elections some found it extraneous. The European Union (EU), the apostles of democracy and the 2012 Nobel peace laureates, was one of those that politely declined the offer. Could there be a better validation from the international community?
In all its remits and nuances Ghana has since been the pride of Africa in the modern version of the Athenian system of governance. In 2010 Ghana ranked 1st in press freedom in Africa, a testimony to the independence and vitality of the fourth estate. Ghanaians are aware that this record position would be difficult to sustain with sections of the media becoming increasingly aligned to political parties with little or no recourse to their own standards of objectivity.
Once upon a time the state was almost infallible in the courts of law. Today it is not exactly spectacular for it to lose or win cases. Certainly, justice and access to justice is fundamental. So much is said about the judiciary, so much more is expected.
Elections can be a zero sum game in Ghana in which losing is not necessarily graceful. When politicians are perceived to indulge in purchasing the conscience of poor voters with handouts they lose their own conscience inevitably. Surely, merit and quality become automatic casualties, and parliament in particular becomes the worst off for it. Ghana can do much more!
From the beacon of freedom in Africa, Ghana is back to centre stage as the beacon of democracy in the continent. As in the early 1950s and '60s when Ghana was the torchbearer of Africa in the liberation struggle it is again carving a niche for itself, this time as the beacon of constitutional governance and the rule of law.
Many correlate democracy and development. Ghanaians are no exception. 7th December 2012 is not just another election but the election that defines and refines Ghana's democracy. Ghanaians have seen it all and will vote to vindicate their resolve to better their lives through good governance and institutional democracy.
Samwin John Banienuba
Liverpool, United Kingdom