Ghana, one of Africa’s first independent states, where colonial rule ended as early as in 1957, holds elections on 7 December 2008, electing a new president and parliament. Known as a beacon for democracy in Africa, Ghana is now on the brink of becoming an oil exporting country.
While there is ethnic tension between different regions in Ghana there seems to be little risk of a repeat of the post-election violence that ravaged Kenya earlier in 2008 or Nigeria at the end of November. Numerous election observers have swept into the capital Accra and have been deployed across the country. In local media there are daily calls for a peaceful election and the army is reported to be on alert to quell any violence
Ghana’s president John Kufuor is stepping down after the two terms in office permitted by the constitution. During Kufuor’s presidency Ghana’s economy has stabilized and there are hopes that new oil wells, due to start pumping in 2010, will further enhance the economy.
Since independence from Britain, first under the legendary pan-African independence symbol Kwame Nkrumah in 1957, Ghana, now with a population of 23 million, has been through periods of authoritarian rule, but democracy and multi-party rule was restored in 1992.
There are as many as seven presidential candidates from various parties, but the real contest is between the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) of John Kufuor and the National Democratic Congress (NDC). NDC is associated with Jerry Rawlings, the former flight lieutenant and coup leader who was Ghana’s president from the early 1980s and until the elections in 2000.
The two leading candidates for president are Nana Akufo-Addo, a 64-year-old lawyer representing the NPP and John Atta-Mills, a law professor from the NDC. A third possibility is Papa Kwesi Nduom, representing the Convention People’s Party (CPP). Both leading parties have had eight years in power since the restoration of democracy.
The election campaign has so far been almost free from violence, but is described as very competitive. Thanks to a free press and an independent judiciary there has been public vigilance of any attempts to provoke violence. According to many observers the political culture in Ghana is open, which has helped keep the campaign peaceful. Political rights, civil liberties and media freedom ranks high in Ghana, unlike many other African states.
Most pre-election incidents recorded have been in the less developed and generally pro-opposition northern part of Ghana. There have been arson attacks and some isolated killings in the north since the campaign began in mid-2008.
Jerry Rawlings, who was first a coup leader and then brought democracy back to Ghana, is still active on the political scene, but is barred from entering the election after serving two terms. His candidate is John Atta-Mills who is a presidential candidate for the third time.