Ghana remains the beacon of hope for democracy in Africa. President John Mahama made a gracious speech conceding to long-time rival Nana Akufo-Addo and pledging a peaceful and stable transition December 10, continuing a 25-year democratic tradition.
The campaign was hard-fought, sometimes bitter, and close. This was Akufo-Addo’s third run for the presidency and a rematch of the hotly-contested race of 2012. Tensions were high for nearly three days as procedural snafus in some areas and a close vote delayed the official announcement of the results of the December 7 balloting. However, both men’s principled expressions of commitment to democracy fortified Ghanaians’ confidence in continuing on the path leading to stability and economic opportunity.
“We believe that only one person can emerge as the winner. And while it is true that only one person can be elected President, in reality, and certainly in a democracy such as ours, every election is an opportunity for the people of this nation to express their will, to have their say in who will lead them in the shaping of Ghana’s future, said Mahama in his concession speech. “In this way, each victory belongs to the people. And the true winner is always Ghana.”
For his part Afuko-Addo admitted to being humbled by being entrusted with the formidable challenges he faces in shoring up people’s trust that the government is truly working for them and delivering on his promises to improve conditions in Ghana, free of corruption and with competence.
“I make this solemn pledge to you tonight: I will not let you down. I will do all in my power to live up to your hopes and expectations,” Akufo-Addo said to supporters in front of his home as he claimed victory.
Quoted in an interview with Al Jazeera, Akufo-Addo explained, “The expectations they have of me, that I’m gonna bring them a new government, a new style; a government of honesty, a government that is concerned about the welfare of our people – that basic commitment is the one I am determined to fulfill.”
This election marks the third occasion that political power has changed hands between the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriot Party (NPP) since military rule came to an end in 1992. Exports of cocoa, timber, gold and diamonds – and in recent years, oil – have provided revenue to create the conditions to allow democracy to take root. And yet, heading into the elections this year there was a palpable sense of skepticism and discontent. The Ibrahim Index, a widely respected indicator of the state of governance in Africa, rated Ghana 7th on the overall performance in governance but the 8th most deteriorated over the past decade. Another organization that surveys attitudes of African citizens, the Afrobarometer, recently showed extremely high levels of distrust in elected officials and little confidence the government can deliver on basics such as honest policing and the delivery of electricity.
Both men praised labor unions, clergy and civil society groups, along with their supporters for helping to make the campaign a truly inclusive dialogue about alternative policies for the country. Mahama urged his supports to not let the defeat in this election defeat their faith in democracy.
“To all of the people who cheered us on, who gathered at rallies to show their support, and who queued in long lines to vote for me, I know that this is not the outcome that we wanted and hoped for, but I say to you that this day should not mark the defeat of your role in this nation’s political process,” he said.
Ghanaians, like people throughout Africa, want to share in the blessings and embrace the responsibilities of living in democracy. Even as they become disenchanted with their government and frustrated by economic conditions, citizens throughout the continent would rather maintain democracy. Often the greatest threats to democracy are leaders who are all too ready to shelve constitutions and the rule of law in the name of short-term stability. For 25 years Ghana has benefited from leaders enlightened enough to adhere to democracy with all its flaws and accept the will of voters. Thanks to Mahama and Akufo-Addo, democracy’s constant process of improvement will continue in Ghana and inspire proponents of democracy throughout African to keep the faith.