For a quaint, prosaic vision of the national elections underway in Ghana, see Elizabeth Ohene’s account of campaigning in the former British colony. All orderly: pomp and ceremony, full of song. A member of the opposition party and a former journalist, Ohene’s gracious writing presents an election to be determined by the quality of the presidential candidates’s T-shirts. Rather drolly, Ohene recounts her own losing campaign some years ago, and how she still spies some folks wearing her campaign clothes.
If only Ghana’s election was unfolding with this kind vacuous Victorian dignity. Actually, the campaign pits the loser of the last election against the inheritor of the presidency through the death of then-president Atta Mills earlier this year. The Mills administration seemed poised to set some kind for looting the government treasury, so the president’s death provided a timely excuse for the ruling party. Mills’s successor, the urbane and intelligent John Mahama, should prove more difficult to defeat from the opposition NPP party whose stronghold is in the traditional Ashanti cocoa-growing region around the inland Kumasi empire.
The first round of election is likely only to be prelude: the winner needs a 50 percent majority and given the number of minor candidates, a majority isn’t likely either for Mahama or his desultory NPP opponent. In the run-off, Ghana’s patient public, which has perhaps the greatest commitment to representative democracy of any African country, will get a closer look at the actual policy and programatic differences between the two political factions that have run Ghana since the exit of Jerry Rawlings from electoral politics a dozen years ago. Until the death of Mills, Rawlings and his salubrious wife seemed likely to undermine Mills’s candidacy. Death denied Rawlings and company this chance, and Mahama, of whom I am fond, has managed to free himself of the spectral Rawlings presence.
Whomever wins the election — Mahama or Nana Akufo-Addo — faces a challenging task to improve the economic nd social performance of one of Africa’s development stars. Despite having been granted middle-income status by the World Bank during the Mills presidency, and despite being serenaded by the Obama administration for its peaceful, law-abiding citizenry, Ghana is a chronic under-achiever and the government’s miserable public finances and economic-growth strategies underscore the deep malaise that engulfs Ghana’s governing elites.
This month’s elections show no signs of Ghana moving past its penchant celebrating symbolism while ignoring substance. In the end, elections, no matter how well rendered, are about something. In Ghana, the means of electoral politics trumps the ends. That must change for Ghana, one of the world’s truly great nations, to realize its vast, and yet vastly disregarded, potential.