Ghana: West African Nation Continues to Set Good Example for Continent
By George Okore
ACCRA---Tuesday’s death of Ghanaian President John Atta Mills at the age of 68 has again shifted the attention to a country that has been hailed as symbol of democracy and peaceful transition unlike many Africa countries.
Ghana is among Africa’s success stories, with is peaceful and democratic election and, robust economy. It has a vibrant civil society and a free press. Its military is professional, and its troops have played a much-appreciated role in peacekeeping operations throughout the continent and around the world.
President Atta Mills was approaching the end of his first term in office, having been elected in 2008. There had been widespread speculation about his deteriorating health for some time, and was in United States for medical treatment in April.
Vice President John Dramani Mahama has assumed the presidency until the next elections, scheduled for December. The death is surely likely to have implications for Ghana’s forthcoming election, with analysts saying the death comes at a delicate time, four months out from a critical election in which he had intended to seek a second term. Ghana has made steady political progress since multiparty democracy was installed in 1992, having experienced two peaceful transfers of power. But the 2012 elections are expected to pose a strong test of its democratic credentials.
The two leading parties remain evenly matched, as they were in 2008, but the stakes are much higher this time round. The winning party knows it will get to enjoy the best years of Ghana’s oil wealth. Given the importance of the patronage system in Ghanaian politics, an oil-backed revenue stream will offer the next incumbent unprecedented opportunities to break apart the two-party system and secure a decisive advantage for his party.
According to Richard Downing - a fellow and deputy director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C, the high-stakes nature of this year’s contest has already led to heightened tensions, with acrimonious debate, mud-slinging, and allegations of corruption an early feature of the campaigning.
The country’s constitution says Dramani will serve out the rest of his predecessor’s term. His first task will be to win a tough election battle. Whoever takes office in 2013 will face the challenge of meeting the heightened expectations of Ghanaian citizens for material improvements to their daily lives.
“Despite phenomenal growth in 2011, observers point to the risk of rapid inflation and the challenge of creating jobs for the country’s burgeoning youth population. Sound economic management will be required to ensure that Ghana’s oil wealth is harnessed in a transparent, accountable way that delivers sustainable, broad-based growth”, says Downing”
This will not be an easy task, if the track record of other resource-rich African nations is anything to go by. Corruption is another big challenge. Ghana’s institutions are fairly robust, but are being eroded by the influence of oil money and the growing threat of international drug trafficking through West Africa. Ghana has enjoyed excellent relations with international community, which has boosted the country’s political and economic growth.
President Atta Mills was a law professor turned politician who enjoyed a long career in public life. He first gained prominence in 1996, becoming vice president during the second term of Jerry Rawlings, a former coup leader who steered Ghana to multiparty democracy. He launched his own bid for the presidency after Rawlings stepped down in 2000.
He was beaten twice before leading National Democratic Congress (NDC) to victory in 2008 in the closest vote in Ghana’s history. Atta Mills gained a razor-thin majority of just 40,000 votes in a run-off against Nana Akufo-Addo of New Patriotic Party (NPP). Since taking office, he had gained plaudits for personal integrity and babysitting the country’s transition into a middle-income economy.