Ghana's new president: Africa's symbol of a working democracy
John Atta Mills took the oath of office Wednesday after a closely contested race.
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America's 2008 presidential election loomed large over Ghana's poll. Supporters of the two main parties talked of their dreams for an "Obama" – here meaning a first-round win – and analysts hoped that the loser would follow Sen. John McCain's example by conceding quickly and graciously. This Mr. Akufo-Addo did.Skip to next paragraph
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Emmanuel Gyimah-Boadi of the Ghana Centre for Democratic Development described the "mutual loathing and distrust" between the political rivals, yet it did not erupt into violence.
So why has Ghana succeeded where others so spectacularly fail?
Ghana's multiparty democracy is youthful but entrenched. Its unlikely progenitor was Jerry Rawlings, a serial coup organizer and military ruler. But in 1992 Mr. Rawlings reestablished multiparty democracy and there have been four elections since.
In 2000, Ghanaians voted for a change of government when Atta Mills, hand-picked by Rawlings, lost to John Kufuor, the outgoing president who handed over power Wednesday. That showed Ghanaians that their votes count and their politicians can be held accountable as Rawlings was, booted out for running a corrupt regime and a disastrous economy.
This time Mr. Kufuor's party was punished, say analysts, for failing to improve the lives of poor Ghanaians even as the economy grew at around 6 percent a year.
Also significant is Kufuor's willingness to abide by the law and leave office after two terms as demanded by the Constitution. Often in Africa, leaders are tempted to change the Constitution in order to stay in power.
Uganda's Yoweri Museveni, for example, changed the law rather than give up power as did Chad's Idriss Deby and Cameroon's Paul Biya. Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe shows no sign of giving up power after 28 years. Africa's longest-serving head of state is Omar Bongo of Gabon: 41 years in power, the country's only ruler since independence.
Unlike Kenya's electoral campaign, Ghana's politicians eschewed stoking ethnic divisions: they exist but remain in the background.
Ghanaians will tell visitors that they are proudly Ghanaian first; they are Ashanti, Fanti, Ga, or Ewé second. And they are aware that the continent was watching this election. "Here, we cannot be like in Kenya," said businessman John Ewusu, expressing a common sentiment during the elections.