By Emma Emeozor
Ghana has done it again! On January 7, 2017, political power transited peacefully from the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) to the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP), to the admiration of the international community.
It is the third consecutive time there would be peaceful handover of power from one party to the other, after a presidential election in the country. In 2000, after former strongman, President Jerry Rawlings, completed his two terms in office on the platform of the NDC and stepped down, in the election that followed, John Agyekum Kufuor, the opposition candidate of the NPP, defeated Prof. John Evans Atta Mills, who was nominated by the NDC to succeed Rawlings. Mills was vice president to Rawlings from 1997 to 2000. But Rawlings handed power over to Kufuor without any political bickering. In 2004, Mills again lost to Kufuor. After his first term of four years, Kufuor was re-elected for another four-year term. Ghana’s Constitution allows only two terms for the president.
In the 2008 presidential election, Nana Akufo-Addo was NPP’s presidential candidate but lost to Mills. In the first round, he won more votes (4,159,439, representing 49.13 per cent of the votes cast) than Mills, “but not enough for the 50 per cent needed for an outright victory. However, in the run-off, Mills polled 4,521,032 votes, representing 50.23 per cent, to emerge the eventual winner. Akufo-Addo and his ruling party did not raise dust, rather, he conceded defeat and outgoing President Kufuor handed power to Mills, highlighting the beauty of democracy. Mills was in power from 2009 to 2012. He died in office and was succeeded by John Mahama, who was his Vice President. Mills was the first Ghanaian President to die in office.
Following his sudden death, there were fears that political crisis would rock the country, especially as there were speculations about the cause of the president’s death. Mahama was even alleged in some quarters as having a hand in the death of his boss, an allegation he vehemently denied. All over the country, there were posters asking, “Who killed Atta Mills?” Even then, Mahama was sworn in as president without any rumpus, to complete Mills’ second term. This peaceful succession was a plus for Ghana and, indeed, Africa.
The 2012 presidential election was rather challenging, as it was dogged by controversy. The thinking then, among some observers, was that Ghana would be enmeshed in chaos and would not be able sustain the peace and stability it has witnessed since it returned to multi-party democracy in 1992. Interestingly, the two presidential candidates in the contest were Mahama and Akufo-Addo. But, again, the controversy was resolved “by the Supreme Court in a narrow 5/4 decision in favour of Mahama.” The opposition did not mobilise its supporters to stage violent protests aimed at impeding the process of swearing in Mahama. Rather, it accepted the court verdict and the country rolled on peacefully.
In the last presidential election, political analysts were divided on the outcome of the exercise. There were speculations that sharp disagreement would trail the result, especially as both candidates were already claiming victory ahead of the official announcement by the electoral officer. And when the electoral officer named the winner, the parties bowed to the rule of law and the tenets of democratic contest, which states that in every political contest, there must be a winner and a loser. The loser this time was President Mahama, “who recorded one of the lowest vote shares ever secured by a Ghanaian ruling party since the reintroduction of multi-party politics,” said reports. However, what is of note here is the fact that he was quick to accept defeat without hesitation or any prodding by foreign bodies. He did not raise questions over the process of the collation of votes, even though, earlier, there were reports of rigging in some districts.
In recent times, the other African country that has emulated Ghana is Nigeria, where, in 2015, for the first time in its political history, the incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan, conceded defeat and congratulated his rival, Muhammadu Buhari, even before the final result was officially announced.
The political maturity demonstrated by Ghana and Nigeria received global applause because they succeeded in setting a template hitherto thought to be impossible in Africa. Ghana was the first country to gain independence in 1957. From 1960, the wind of independence started sweeping across the continent. Interestingly, African freedom fighters were eminently qualified to lay a solid democratic foundation that could have saved the continent from being a laughing stock in the comity of nations, but they failed.
Shortly after many of the countries gained independence, the continent was ravaged by military coups and counter-coups. The military hierarchy rubbished all known principles of democracy. In countries where the civilian leadership remained in power, autocracy and kleptocracy became the order, and brute force was used to silence any dissent. The era of Omar Bongo of Gabon, Felix Houphouet Boigny of Cote d’Ivoire, Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo and Lansana Conte of Guinea readily come to mind. Instead of emancipating the people, they imprisoned and impoverished them through anti-democratic rule.
This set of leaders monopolised power through frequent alteration of the constitutions of their respective countries. Many of them remained in power until their death, and their children took over and continued their dynasties.
It seems absurd that, in the 21st century, African countries (excerpt Ghana and Nigeria) have not embraced the wind of change blowing from Accra and Abuja. More disturbing is the fact that the younger generation of leaders across the continent continue to promote the anti-democratic tactics of their predecessors.
In Togo, Faure Gnassingbe succeeded his father and has remained the country’s leader since 2005. When the head of the Togolese Army, Zakary Nandja, declared Faure President, it received wide condemnation from the opposition and other prominent citizens of the country, including the former president of the Commission of the African Union, Alpha Oumar Konaré.
In 2015, Faure contested in an election that was considered a sham and he secured a third term with 59 per cent of votes. The main opposition candidate Jean-Pierre Fabre, who won 39 per cent, called the results a “crime against national sovereignty.” Faure was 39 years old when he succeeded his father. He is now 50 and there are no clear signs that he is willing to conduct fair and free elections.
In the troubled Democratic Republic of Congo, President Joseph Kabila succeeded his father, Laurent-Désiré Kabila, in January 2001, following his assassination. He took the throne at the age of 29. He is now 45 years old. He has held tightly to power all this while. He was supposed to quit this year but refused to conduct election to elect his successor even in the face of bloody clashes following massive protests by the opposition and civil rights groups. He has picked 2018 to hold elections. It cannot be predicted now if the country will ever experience peaceful transition of power.
In Uganda, 74-year-old Yoweri Museveni came to power in 1986 after the rebellion that toppled Idi Amin and Milton Obote. He has continued to manipulate the electoral system ever since, refusing to conduct free and fair polls. Now, reports say he is grooming his first child, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, 42, to succeed him. He recently promoted him to the rank of Major General in the army.
In Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe, 92, has been in office since 1987 when the country gained independence. There are no signs that he would quit soon. As it is, he is already a president for life and may die in office. And in Angola, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, 74, came to power in 1979 following the death of the country’s first President, Agostinho Neto. He runs the country like a private estate. Nigeria’s neighbour, Cameroon, has remained in the hands of Paul Biya, 83, since 1982. He continues to manipulate the constitution to remain in power. Cameroon’s constitution has ambiguous articles that make succession difficult.
The African Union and other sub-regional bodies such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Southern African Development Community (SADC) often claim that the continent is democratising. However, the fact remains that this is only in theory. African leaders preach democracy but practice autocracy. Even countries that have been applauded for conducting democratic elections are seen to be practicing pseudo-democracy.
Ghana has thrown a challenge to other countries of the continent. The African Union Commission should throw its weight behind civil rights groups and all other organisations working to promote democratic values. The commission should work to ensure that African leaders emulate Ghana and give the people the inalienable right to elect their leaders. It should launch enlightenment campaigns across the continent to educate both leaders and the led on the importance of entrenching in their constitutions defined and easy-to-implement succession clauses.
One of the objectives of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance is to “promote the holding of regular free and fair elections to institutionalise legitimate authority of representative government as well as democratic change of government.”
In the Preamble of the Charter, it says that member states are “concerned about unconstitutional changes of governments that are one of the essential causes of insecurity, instability and violent conflict in Africa.” It went on to say members states are “determined to promote and strengthen good governance through the institutionalisation of transparency, accountability and participatory democracy.” Now is the time for the African Union to act.