The march of democracy in Africa is something that’s going to be very difficult to reverse,’ said President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana in an interview to Al Jazeera in 2017. With recently concluded presidential and parliamentary elections in December 2020, this West African country reposed its faith in democracy yet again. The elections were relatively peaceful, with some violence leading to five unfortunate deaths.
The fate of democracy in Ghana is of interest to us in India, with friendship between our nations going back to pre-Independence days. Jawaharlal Nehru and Kwame Nkrumah enjoyed a warm friendship. India hosted President Nkrumah in 1961. This was followed by fairly regular visits at that level from Ghana to India, including for the India-Africa Forum Summit and the founding conference of the International Solar Alliance in the recent past. The return visits have been less frequent. The first-ever visit by our president to Ghana came only in June 2016 with Pranab Mukherjee, while Prime Minister Narasimha Rao’s visit to Ghana in November 1995 is the only other high-level visit to Ghana. Ministerial visits have, however, kept the relations growing.
India to Ghana
India’s footprint is visible in many aspects of Ghanaian life. Air Commodore Jaswant Singh laid the foundation of the country’s air force as Ghana’s first Chief of Air Staff from May 1959 to August 1960. Since then thousands of Ghanaians have come to India for education and capacity building. An ICT Centre for Excellence, with a supercomputer, set up by India, supplemented by NIIT, help disseminate ICT (Information Communication Technology) skills to Ghanaians, while several projects, especially in the infrastructure sector, have been developed through Lines of Credit extended by India. Perhaps the most outstanding of these is the Flagstaff House (presidential complex) in the heart of Accra. Bank of Baroda, Tata, Ashok Leyland, Mahindra & Mahindra, Escorts, Larson & Toubro, Shapoorji Pallonji, Bharti Airtel and Tech Mahindra are some of the leading Indian companies in Ghana. India pharmaceuticals are well established, through imports and local manufacturing.
Indians came to Ghana before Independence mainly through British companies but are well established in trading and manufacturing. Mohinani Group of Ghana is perhaps the most recognised, while a branch of Delhi Public School International was set up over a decade ago in 2010. There is more than one Hindu temple. I sang bhajans with Ghanaian Hindus and performed a yagna under the supervision of Swami Ghanananda, a Ghanaian convert to Hinduism, at the Hindu monastery in Accra and celebrated Janamashtami at the Hare Krishna Temple where Ghanaian devotees and their families followed a Vedic lifestyle.
Elections in Ghana
In a tight race between two leading candidates in the December 2020 elections, incumbent President Nana Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) won his second term with over 51 per cent votes. John Mahama of National Democratic Congress (NDC), who received 47 per cent votes, said he would contest the result. The NPP lost its majority in parliament, with both parties winning the same number of seats resulting in a hung parliament, leaving a single independent candidate as kingmaker. This will pose hard challenges to navigate.
The 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana limits the tenure of a president to two 4-year terms. Elections are held on 7 December and the incoming president is sworn-in on 7 January. Ghana has a two-round system for electing the president, with a mandatory second round between two leading candidates in case no candidate receives over 50 per cent votes. Members of parliament are elected, as in India, in a first-past-the-post voting system. Since 1992, Ghana has seen eight elections and three peaceful transfers of power from one political party to another.
On 30 December 2020, the NDC led by its flag-bearer John Mahama, filed a petition before the Supreme Court of Ghana challenging the election result declared by the Election Commission. Mahama indicated that the NDC will continue nationwide protests as a legal way of drumming home the need for “right things to be done”.
Nana Akufo-Addo has now been sworn in for a second term after a tense parliament meet.
This is not the first election dispute in Ghana since the arrival of democracy. In 2008, the incumbent President at the time, John Kufuor, was ineligible to contest, having already served his two terms. The NPP candidate (current President Akufo-Addo) won the first ballot but failed to cross the 50 per cent threshold needed to win the elections, thus triggering a run-off. Second-round voting could not be held in one constituency, Tain, due to delay in delivery of election material. The results were announced two days later with the opposition taking a narrow lead. Voting in Tain was set for 2 January 2009.
The reversal in fortunes and the delay, combined with the election result coming down to the final constituency, created tension across the country. On 1 January, the capital city of Accra was filled with rumours of a possible takeover by Kufuor. By lunch, speculation was rife that the army would come out of the barracks. This was a frightening proposition for a country where democracy still seemed fragile, having seen political instability with multiple military coups for two and a half decades. I was then India’s High Commissioner to Ghana. Due to pervasive fear in the city, I permitted the staff to leave office by noon and stayed in office with my personal secretary and chauffeur. That evening, we drove home fearfully through what seemed like a ghost city.
The following morning of 2 January, in a bit of an anti-climax, President Kufuor called on Ghanaians to respect the authority of the Election Commission and urged peace and calm for the remainder of the election. His statement was a clear signal to his party that defeat would be accepted and they should not engage in violence. On 3 January, the final result of the presidential election was announced at a press conference by the EC. The ruling party’s candidate, who led in the first round, was defeated in the run-off by the NDC candidate John Atta Mills with a margin of less than one per cent. Power was transferred peacefully from the ruling party to the victorious opposition. To date, it is the closest election in Ghanaian history.
Why Ghana matters
Ghana is a land of friendly and peaceful people. It has never been embroiled in a civil war, even though there have been small conflicts. It was ranked 43 in the 2020 Global Peace Index (India was ranked 139). Large migrant populations from other conflict-afflicted countries in West Africa are a reminder to Ghanaians of the devastation caused by such violence.
Ghana was the first colonised country in sub-Saharan Africa to gain independence. In recent years, it figures amongst the top in Africa in most development and social indices. Ghana’s first President, Kwame Nkrumah, was a founder member of the Non-Aligned Movement and also the first African Head of State to promote Pan-Africanism. The seventh UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, a Ghanaian diplomat, received the Nobel Peace Prize along with the UN in 2001. Kufuor received the 2011 World Food Prize with President Lula da Silva of Brazil.
India and Ghana enjoy friendly ties, sharing the same colonial experience under the British and similar views in their fight for independence. There is enormous goodwill for India in Ghana. India is among the top five trading partners of Ghana and the largest destination for its exports, with bilateral trade close to $2.4 billion in 2020. India is the second-largest investor in Ghana, in terms of the number of projects and value of investment.
Ghana is rich in gold, bauxite, diamonds, oil and gas. It produces the world’s finest cocoa. Ghana Teak has been a recognised brand of timber in India. This peaceful, middle-income country is considered a gateway to West Africa. Some entrepreneurs of India have used Ghana as a springboard for operations in West Africa. It would indeed be unwise to judge all countries in Africa in the mould of the few conflict-ridden areas in the news.
Ruchi Ghanashyam is a retired IFS officer and was India’s High Commissioner to Ghana. Views are personal.
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