Change in Ghana

Published : Jan 20, 2001 00:00 IST

For Ghanaians, the election of John Kufuor as the new President marks a positive change they have brought about peacefully in a country racked by violence and instability.

THE recent political transition in Ghana has been historic. The victory of John Agyekum Kufuor of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) in the presidential poll, bringing to an end the 18-year-old dominance of Ghana's political landscape by Jerry John Rawlings, first as a military leader and later as one who successfully civilianised his regime, marks for the first time in the history of Ghana a peaceful and orderly transfer of power from a democratically elected President to a newly elected leader belonging to the Opposition.

Earlier transitions beginning with the toppling of Kwame Nkrumah in a military coup on February 24, 1966, were either from a military regime to a civilian government only to be toppled in another military coup, or palace coups within the military establi shment, or the re-election of a political leader and his party heading an incumbent civilian government (see box). The transition in December 2000 was the first time when power was transferred through a (literally) transparent ballot box.

The December elections were the third such exercise since the country returned to full civilian rule, with the adoption of a new Constitution in 1992 and the coming into being of what is referred to as the Fourth Republic. At stake was the office of the President, and the 200 seats in Parliament, though elections were held for 199 seats. Polling in one constituency was countermanded following the death of a candidate.

The voting took place on December 7. Under the electoral system in Ghana, voting for a new President and a new Parliament, whose four-year terms are coterminous, takes place simultaneously. The winning candidate for a seat in Parliament is required to ob tain a simple majority of valid votes cast in the particular constituency. However, since for the election of the President the whole country is considered one constituency, the winning candidate has to obtain more than half of the valid votes cast natio nally. If none of the candidates for President obtains this required 'fifty per cent plus one' of the valid votes, there will be a run-off between the two leading contenders to decide the winner.

As for the mechanics of voting, the presidential ballot paper was common to all the 200 constituencies while another constituency-specific ballot paper listed the aspirants for Parliament. The use of a box transparent on all sides in which the marked bal lots were placed gave a new dimension to the concept of transparency in the conduct of poll. While the winner of a parliamentary seat was known immediately after the counting of votes in a specific constituency was completed and certified, the outcome of the presidential poll remained unclear until the presidential ballot papers from all the constituencies were counted.

In the event, of the 199 parliamentary seats for which polling was held, the NPP won 99, closely followed by the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) with 92. Three of the other five parties in the fray, the United Ghana Movement, the National Refor m Party and the Great Consolidated People's Party, drew a blank; the People's National Convention (PNC) and the Convention People's Party (CPP) won three and one seat respectively. Four constituencies returned independent candidates.

However, none of the seven candidates in the presidential poll obtained the required 'fifty per cent plus one' of the valid vote, necessitating a run-off between the two leading candidates, Kufuor and John Evans Atta Mills of the NDC, on December 28. Kuf uor won the run-off, obtaining 3,631,263 votes (56.90 per cent) as against 2,750,124 (43.10 per cent) obtained by Atta Mills. Kufuor also obtained a clear majority in six of the 10 Regions (Ashanti, Brong-Ahafo, Central, Eastern, Greater Accra and Wester n), apart from making huge gains in Northern Region where he obtained 48.90 per cent of the vote, and narrowly lost to his rival who secured 51.10 per cent of the vote. This was in sharp contrast to the poor performance of the NPP in the first round in t his region three weeks earlier when its share of the presidential vote was just about half of this, with Kufor winning only in one of the 23 constituencies in the region, and only three NPP candidates being returned to Parliament. This, despite a lower n ational turnout in the second round.

President Jerry John Rawlings was not a candidate in these elections. Having served two terms as President, he could not, under the Constitution, seek a third term. Nevertheless, Rawlings having dominated Ghana's politics as no other previous leader, bar ring Kwame Nkrumah, the elections have to be seen as a sort of a referendum on the Rawlings era.

To the extent that his political protege, and the party he created and nurtured and led, did not win the elections, the verdict went against Rawlings. But then, to paraphrase the well-known saying, nothing has become Rawlings as much as the way of his go ing. Indeed, one gets the impression that after 20 years at the helm he was really tired, and had also perhaps realised that there was little that he could do, that it was time he went. However, a question mark remains about Rawlings' future, for though for long he has ceased to be the slim young man with hot eyes driven by rage and energy, he remains fit and energetic at 53 and can hardly be expected to ride away into the sunset.

One imponderable about the future is whether the new government will institute some kind of inquiries into the events in the first 10 years of the military regime under Rawlings, in particular the summary executions and the killing of three judges and ot her atrocities before it transformed itself into a constitutionally elected civilian government, and its small and large scandals. Ghanaians, like any other people, cherish very long memories. One has only to read the rich literature produced by Ghanaian s themselves on these issues.

Despite all the campaign rhetoric of bringing about 'a change with a difference', there is little that the new President can do by way of departing from the path that Rawlings has charted for the country. This is particularly so with regard to the manage ment of the economy, and the 'path of development' that countries like Ghana, still characterised by a single-crop economy and as a supplier of raw materials, have chosen or have been forced to follow. There is also the burden of history, of having (lite rally) harboured the West African slave trade which ravaged its own hinterland while enriching the new world.

OVER four decades after independence, Ghana's economy continues to be dominated by cocoa, timber and gold. Since these are also its principal exports, the economy is especially sensitive to fluctuations in their international prices, without, however, ha ving any control over them. When Nkrumah was overthrown, one cedi, the basic unit of the national currency, fetched one dollar and 20 cents. The decline in the value of the cedi since then has been such that at the beginning of 2000, one dollar fetched a bout 3,500 cedis; by the end of the year, when this correspondent was in Ghana, one dollar fetched about 7,000 cedis.

The first generation of post-colonial leaders, such as Nkrumah and his contemporaries, whatever their flaws, recognised these historical and structural constraints and took some steps to chart out alternative paths of development. They failed, as much be cause beyond a point they could not make harsh choices as because of their inherent flaws and the limits to the alternative paths they sought to chart. To mix metaphors, they missed the train between the rhetoric of controlling the commanding heights of the economy, the preferred objective of the promotion of a mixed economy, and the actual pursuit of laissez faire policies. Ghana's case is no exception; the story, with small variations, can be told of many other countries.

The situation was not helped by corruption which found the ground particularly fertile. Even the most distinguished leaders of the liberation movements were not above its lure. Although Jerry Rawlings promised revolutionary changes and for a while even a ppeared to defy all established precedents and take many unorthodox initiatives, less than two years into power the Provisional National Defence Council regime began "with the support of the international donor community... implementing its Economic Reco very Programme and its accompanying structural adjustment programmes" (Ghana - Vision 2020, National Development Planning Commission). Indeed, the two-volume document acknowledges that these 'necessarily short-term policies' were not designed to ensure l ong-term prosperity, though the supposedly more comprehensive 'Vision' is still anchored in the same perspective. Perhaps the most telling comment on such programmes of 'economic reforms' is the sub-heading of a recent survey of Ghana's economy in The Fi nancial Times (November 29, 2000): "Despite nearly two decades of reform, Ghana's economy remains vulnerable to external factors."

All this, however, is in the future. For the present, the people of Ghana are 'jubilating' (a rather endearing Ghanaian usage), aglow over the 'positive change' they have brought about peacefully in a region racked by violence and instability.

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