by Jocelyn Edwards
It’s just before noon in Accra, Ghana, and people are starting to filter into restaurants and cafes for lunch. But in After-1, a tiny pub in the neighbourhood of Labone, it’s not music that is playing in the background as patrons settle down to sip their drinks. Instead, as in many public places in the nation, it’s the proceedings of a battle in the supreme court over the results of the country’s recent election that blasts from a huge black speaker in the corner of the room.
The petition to the supreme court, which challenges the outcome of the country’s December presidential election, was mounted by the country’s main opposition party, the New Patriotic Party. After a close race, the opposition’s flag-bearer Nana Akufo-Addo lost the contest to incumbent John Dramani Mahama by a slim margin of 47.7% to 50.7%.
The election was deemed free and fair by international election observers, including a delegation from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). But the opposition claims there were irregularities in voting procedures and has taken the issue to Ghana’s supreme court.
Broadcast live on local TV and radio stations, the proceedings of the petition have transfixed the country since their start in mid-April. In the nation’s offices, restaurants and even pubs like After-1, it’s often possible to see small knots of people crowded around loud speakers or television sets.
Indeed, public interest in the court battle has been so high that one civil society organization even called for an end to the live broadcast claiming that the country was losing productivity because of it. The Protect My Vote Forum asserted that the Ghanian economy was losing a substantial number of working hours as a result of workers watching the live feed from court during office hours.
But besides providing conversational fodder for the nation’s cafes and water coolers, the election petition in Ghana has also proved a remarkable exercise in democracy in a part of the world not known for its peaceful election processes. In 2011, neighbouring Ivory Coast erupted into civil war after a disputed election. Following the early-December poll in Ghana, some worried that violence could also take place here.
But instead of taking his supporters to the streets to protest, Akufo-Addo chose to take his complaint to the supreme court. It’s a development that has re-confirmed Ghana- a country which has had five peaceful transfers of power since 1981- as a beacon of democracy and stability in West Africa. As one Washington-based US State department official told the Ghana News Agency, “it shows that the institutions are working in Ghana and people have confidence in those institutions.”
Ghanians themselves are proud, and relieved, that their country has once again proven an exception in an often politically fractious neighbourhood.
“I’m really glad they (the opposition) decided to go to court. At a certain point we were all scared,” says Abdul-Razak, who explains that immediately following the election he was afraid that protests would over take the streets of his city.
The 29-year-old, who is serving with Ghana’s National Service, says that Ghanians don’t want their country to go the way of other, sometimes chaotic, African states. “We have achieved so much that we don’t want our democracy to go back to the (early) crawling stages.”
The country has often played host to refugees fleeing conflicts in neighbouring countries, and 39-year-old carpenter Richard Kwame Agbordre says that his people have have learned from other nations’ mistakes. “We have had a lot of experience from the nearby countries,” he says. “In Cote D’Ivoire and Kenya, these things (fighting) has happened, but we have learned from them.”
“We have had some casualties in past, but now we are more experienced (at democracy). Everybody is maturing,” Agbordre says.
Even those dissatisfied with the outcome of the vote are pleased that the opposition has chosen a democratic route to air its grievances.
Charles Ibaah, a taxi driver, listens to the proceedings from court everyday on the radio in his car. Though Ibaah believes that mistakes were made in the conduct of the vote, he says he is happy that the dispute hasn’t resulted in violence. “I like that we don’t fight. We go to court . . . . to pursue justice.”
“In Ghana, we talk, not fight,” says Ibaah, summing up the attitude of many in the nation.