Wednesday, January 23, 2013

True Democracy: Ghana’s Example

The stage was set. The world was expecting. And the rest of the continent was hoping, with baited breaths, that one of the few genuine emblems of true democracy would pass yet another test and bring the continent to sigh with relief.

Ghana was going to the polls.

It is depressing, truly, that the onset of elections anywhere on the continent always brings to the surface fears that perhaps a country in Africa going to the polls will descend into chaos immediately afterwards. Fears, admittedly, that are not unfounded. Elections, in true democracy or its guise, has been the undoing of many a nation state on the continent.

True democracy and its essence has not been fully assimilated by large portions of the continent. The will of people is hardly understood by the continent’s leaders, and the desire to hold on to power at all cost still manifests daily.

So when Ghana ceded to democracy in 1992, held subsequent elections that, at the beginning, were deemed relatively free and fair, and through years of practice was upheld as a beacon of democracy for the continent- one sitting government lost power and peacefully handed over to opposition; and then another, and another- the world gasped. Wasn’t this the exhibition of the kind of democracy that the people of the continent had been hankering after?

It was. And it amazed the world and gave hope to other African countries to follow suit.

But then we had Cote D’Ivoire, a country previously praised for its stability, descend into bloody chaos after a sitting president loses power and refuses to accept. The world sighed with resignation. A leopard cannot hide its spots, they whispered. The meaning of freedom doesn’t sit with these people. In the end, it took the French to force Gbagbo out. A humiliating end to an otherwise respected professor of History.

So one could see where there was a bit of an apprehension when Ghana, with its twenty years of acclaimed democracy, a country that had remarkably upheld the constitution when it bucked the trend of the stereotypical African country by within a couple of hours swearing in the vice president after the untimely death of its sitting president, went to the polls on the 7th of December 2012.

Wasn’t Ghana right on the doorstep of Cote D’Ivoire? And wasn’t Ghana, after all, an African country?

And the tensions were all the more heightened by the fact that the previous election four years earlier had been so close, and the margin of victory so marginal, that the outcome of the impending election was anybody’s guess. The opposition had as much chance of victory as the incumbent, and both were aware of the fact.

And so the rhetoric poured forth, politicians politicized, the media sensationalized, and the public scrutinized. The elections were held, the incumbent won, and like the previous election, the margin of victory was marginal.

The opposition cried foul and refused to accept the results, a handful of the supporters held mostly peaceful protests. What little skirmish there was, was quickly snuffed out by a single canister of tear gas.

Here, the international media sniffs blood. The BBC in particular.

The failure of the opposition to accept defeat is reported as though disputing election results in itself is a sign of impending trouble. They forget the American elections at the turn of the millennium, which took the intervention of their supreme court to resolve.

The world waits for the action of the opposition, and the reaction of the government. In the end, as the law provides, they decide to go court, which was the only action they were really ever likely to take.

Fortunately for us Ghanaians our leaders seem to see the bigger picture, they’re not so far gone yet to drag this beautiful and prosperous country to ruin. Fortunately for us, when our opposition finds fault in an election in which they’ve lost, they go to court, not to an arms dealer.

That is the mark of true democracy. And Ghanaians acknowledge and find pride in this.

And we thank God for it too.

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