Ghana — Dangerously Polarized

By Prof. George Ayittey

The situation in Ghana is infuriating. In Africa, we take one step forward and then three steps back. Same problems, same rituals and the repetition of the same foolish mistakes in one country after another. We touted Kenya as a “bastion of stability” in the East African region; then after the Dec 2007 elections, “Poof!” it imploded – over 1,200 dead and more than 500,000 rendered homeless. We show-cased Ivory Coast as an “economic miracle.” Then came elections in November 2010 and “Kaboom!!” The country was plunged into civil war with both Alassane Ouattara and Laurent Gbagbo claiming the presidency. Same thing happened after Congo DR’s elections in xxx 2011 elections with both Joseph Kabila and Etienne Tshisekedi claiming they won. We praised Mali as a model of good governance; then in March of this year, “Boom!”– a military coup. We have been crowing about Ghana as a beacon of democracy that can teach Africa a thing or two about peaceful transfer of power – see this link:. Then uproar over last week’s elections with at least 10 dead. Now, Ghana’s democratic credentials are in danger of being shredded. So tell me this: What at all can governments and leaders do right in Africa?


  • Practice democracy? Only 14 of the 54 African countries are democratic.
  • Develop their economies? Fewer than 10 are economic success stories.
  • Feed their people? We rely on foreign aid to feed ourselves, importing food worth $25 billion a year. We used to export food in the 1950s.
  • Provide clean water, sanitation, health care and reliable supply of electricity to their people without constant black-outs? Only 30 percent of Nigerians have access to reliable supply of electricity. It is an oil-producing country but can’t supply refined petroleum products for its people; it imports them.
  • Provide railway transportation? Our railway system has collapsed and we are asking the Chinese to fix it.
  • Provide basic security for the people? Rather, the security forces brutalize and turn their guns on the people.
  • Resolve conflicts? We are always appealing to the United Nations or the international community.


There are just three things most of leaders know how to do very well: Loot the treasury, perpetuate themselves in office and squash all dissent or opposition. The late Col Muammar Khaddafi amassed a family fortune exceeding $60 billion; Hosni Mubarak, $42 billion; Ben Ali of Tunisia, $13 billion; Mobutu Sese Seko, $10 billion; Ibrahim Babangida, $9 billion; Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, $7 billion; Sani Abacha, $5 billion, etc. etc. Eduardo dos Santos of Angola, Theodore Obiang of Equatorial Guinea, Paul Biya of Cameroon and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe have each been in power for more than 30 years. As for Yahya Jammeh of Gambia, he says he will rule for one billion years. In Ethiopia, any journalist who criticized the late Meles Zenawi was branded a “terrorist” and tossed into jail. There are no private journalists left in Eritrea; they have all fled brutal repression. Each year, Mo Ibrahim awards a $5 million prize to any African leader who steps down from power after his term expires or loses an election. This year – and for the third time since the inception of the prize – he could not find an eligible recipient. The leadership in much of Africa is a disgrace – a far cry from the traditional leadership Africa has known for centuries under our chiefs and kings.

I am not a card-carrying member of any political party – either in Ghana or the US – and I care less who is the winner of the December elections. I am not interested in the presidency of any African country. If we are doing something, we must do it well; it is a duty we owe to the country, our children and future generations. Our primary concern should be the integrity of the electoral process, rule of law and Ghana’s reputation as a beacon of democracy. That is what all Ghanaians must defend and protect.

Holding elections should not be that complicated. There are 5 stages of the electoral process:

  1. Registering and compiling a list of eligible voters (voter’s registry), identifying polling stations and setting a date for elections.
  2. Transporting ballots, ballot boxes and other materials to the polling stations and allowing people to vote freely without any hindrance or intimidation.
  3. Counting the votes in a transparent manner with representatives of all political parties present. There is a “collation sheet” at each polling station which they must sign to verify that the counting was accurate.
  4. Resolving any discrepancies in the numbers and any other disputes to the satisfaction of all parties.
  5. Announcing the results.

Problems can occur at each of these stages:

  1. Ineligible voters may be registered – for example, minors or citizens of neighboring countries; some eligible voters – say supporters of a particular party – purged from the voter rolls. Or the register may be inflated with fictitious or ghost names.
  2. On election day, ballot materials may not arrive on time; ballot boxes may arrive already stuffed; voters may be prevented from casting their ballots through intimidation, beatings by hired thugs; indelible ink can easily be washed off, allowing some people to vote multiple times, though this is not possible with the current biometric system but the machines can break down, etc.
  3. In vote counting, the media and election observers – both foreign and domestic – may be debarred from polling stations to witness the actual voting. Not all ballots may be properly marked and must be rejected. There may be a sudden black-out, forcing votes to be counted in the dark or by candles, flashlight and lanterns. A fake tally sheet may be substituted for the real one and polling agents may be bribed to sign off on it. Polling agents of some parties may not even be there.
  4. Resolving inconsistencies, discrepancies and disputes. This stage may be skipped altogether. The Electoral Commissioner may act arbitrarily, refuse to engage or consult with reps of the political parties, and rush to announce the results. Or he may engage them but intimidate, bludgeon or railroad them into accepting his final results.
  5. The last stage is announcing the results. Obviously, the final results must be certified by all parties BEFORE they are announced. This is to ensure that all issues – inconsistencies, discrepancies, etc. – have been resolved to the satisfaction of all parties before the results are announced. What if voting in some polling station is not complete or votes are still being counted, or some ballot boxes are missing?

Certainly, there were problems during Ghana’s elections: Allegations that the voters’ register had been padded with over 5 million ghost names; ballot papers did not arrive on time, forcing the extension of voting to the next day, instances of voter intimidation, etc. The following incidents were reported on Twitter: #ghanaelections:

  • Ayigya EC polling officer arrested for not stamping over 200 ballots cast!
  • Snatching of here and there… Manhyia, Kentinkrono, Ablekuma,
  • Chaos at Ablekuma North constituency. Voting has been halted.
  • Voting in Mbrom polling centre to be deferred
  • The DCE of Walewale has reportedly been arrested for allegedly snatching a ballot box but was later released.
  • Unconfirmed report says there are still no materials at the Dome Kwabenya constituency
  • The citizens of Nkwanta South in the Volta Region say they are not voting for lack of dev. in the area.
  • Reports that an NDC supporter has just been beaten to death in the Ashanti region?
  • A tear gas shot at the Ablekuma North Constituency to deter people from creating confusion
  • Just heard of a guy who got lynched while running with a ballot box at Ayeduase, Kumasi.
  • Verification machine not recognizing the thumb of Dr Wireko Brobbey

Considering the fact that there were over 26,000 polling stations, these incidents were minor. The Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO), for example, reported incidents of intimidation and harassment at only 13 polling stations – less than 0.01 percent.. Media access was also generally free. Here are the views of Rebecca, a first time voter on video

Stages 1, 2, and 3 appeared to have gone smoothly, earning the Electoral Commissioner, Dr. Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, high praise from all quarters – from ECOWAS, AU, both foreign and domestic observers. However, it appears stages 4 and 5 were seriously compromised. I warned about this, referencing Josef Stalin, who once quipped: “It is not those who vote that count (matter) but rather those who count the votes.” Voting can occur smoothly – free and fair without intimidation or violence, as was observed on Dec 7 and 8. But that is not the full story. Counting of the votes and tabulation of the results can be falsified or doctored. But such errors can be easily detected and rectified.

The Constitution provides a mechanism for remedial action. Chapter 7, Section 49 states:

(1) At any public election or referendum, voting shall be by secret ballot.

(2) Immediately after the close of the poll, the presiding officer shall, in the presence of such of the candidates or their representatives and their polling agents as are present, proceed to count, at that polling station, the ballot papers of that station and record the votes cast in favor of each candidate or question.

((3) The presiding officer, the candidates or their representatives and, in the case of a referendum, the parties contesting or their agents and the polling agents if any, shall then sign a declaration stating:

(a) the polling station; and

(b) the number of votes cast in favor of each candidate or question: and the presiding officer shall, there and then, announce the result of the voting at the polling station before communicating them to the returning officer.

Now, if there is a dispute over the results all that needs to be done is to cross-check EC’s numbers with those on the “collation sheets” signed by the representatives of the political parties at each polling station and then correct any discrepancies between them. That was all that needed to be done. But was this done? If not then do it. That is what transparency is all about. If a dispute still remains, the Constitution provides a mechanism for resolving it. Chapter 8, Section 64 states clearly that:

(1) The validity of the election of the President may be challenged only by a citizen of Ghana who may present a petition for the purpose to the Supreme Court within twenty-one days after the declaration of the result of the election in respect of which the petition is presented.

(2) A declaration by the Supreme Court that the election of the President is not valid shall be without prejudice to anything done by the President before the declaration.

(3) The Rules of Court Committee shall, by constitutional instrument, make rules of court for the practice and procedure for petitions to the Supreme Court challenging the election of a President.

Now, if Nana Akuffo-Addo or any other Ghanaian believes the election was “stolen,” he or she has the right to petition the Supreme Court within 21 days after the declaration of the results and let the Court rule on it. This is known as following procedures and obeying the Constitution – or, in short, enforcing the rule of law. The streets or the airwaves are not the place to resolve constitutional issues. The president of Ghana is required to uphold and defend the Constitution. If any citizen of Ghana seeks to challenge the validity of December’s election by petitioning the Supreme Court, the president of Ghana is required to support that person because the Constitution guarantees that person the right to do so. Even in our supposedly “backward and primitive” traditional system, a goat with a grievance is given a full public hearing.

This is not an issue to be cast in “NDC versus NPP” terms and polarize the country. Only 50.7 percent voted for the president, John Mahama, meaning nearly half did not vote for him and not all of them are NPP supporters. If any of those who did not vote for him has a grievance, he has a guaranteed Constitutional right to petition the Supreme Court. Why even argue over this?

Even more important, once the issue is brought before the Supreme Court, it should be allowed to deliberate on it and reach a decision without any intimidation or political interference. Nana Akuffo-Addo, the main opposition leader, will present his petition to the Supreme Court on Friday, Dec 14. Until the Supreme Court makes a final decision, all other things relating to the elections, transition inauguration activities, etc. must be placed on hold — no celebrations or street demonstrations to protest results.  Any such activity before the Court rules must be deemed to be in contempt of the Supreme Court. Democratic maturity mandates following the Constitution and allowing the Supreme Court to make its determination.

These issues, it must be emphasized, are not without precedence and not unique to Ghana or Africa alone. Even in the US November elections, there were allegations of vote fraud and  vote suppression And Mitt Romney, like all losing candidates who find some excuse to blame for their losses, blamed his loss on Obama buying votes by giving “gifts” to certain block of constituencies. One may also recall the dispute over the election results in Florida in the Bush versus Gore 2000 elections that made famous the term “hanging chads,” The US Supreme Court eventually settled that dispute.

We may choose to resolve our electoral disputes as laid down in the Constitution or in the streets with cutlasses and bazookas. The choice is ours to make but we should remember this: The destruction of an African country always always begins with a dispute over the electoral process and transfer of power: Algeria (1991), Burundi (1993), Nigeria (1993), Rwanda (1994), Zaire (1996) and more recent examples include Kenya (2007), Zimbabwe (2008), Ivory Coast (2011), Libya (2011), among others.

So let us continue to repeat the same stupid mistakes again and again.

Source: A New Nigeria

 The author is a native of Ghana. He is the president of Free Africa Foundation in Washington, DC and author of Defeating Dictators, Palgrave/MacMillan, 2011.

Posted by on Jan 15 2013. Filed under Features. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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