Ghana’s Lesson to Africa – Akin Rotimi

Change has come to Ghana. Following after President Muhammadu Buhari, his fellow septuagenarian Nigerian counterpart, President Akufo-Addo has come to office on the back of campaign messaging centred on change. Judging by the electoral outcome, the NPP’s slogan of “Arise for Change” and “Ghana must work again” resonated more with the majority of the Ghanaian electorate than the NDC’s “Forward ever, backwards never” mantra. The days to come will tell how the decision of the people would impact on their lives and livelihoods, as the new president contends with the burden of delivering on, what some critics consider to be, utopian campaign promises.

Nonetheless, the people of Ghana should be very proud. Ghana has once again conducted herself as a resilient democracy. Since the return of the country to multi-party democracy in 1992, Ghana has successfully conducted seven elections, and peaceful transitions, including three alternations of power between the two leading political parties. According to President Akufo-Addo, “for the third time, we have had a peaceful transfer of power from a governing party to an opposition one. We have done it without any fuss and it is now part of what we do as a people”. From the peaceful conduct of the December 7, 2016 general election; to the prompt concession of former President Mahama; to the seamless transition programme; through to the orderly inauguration of the new president on January 7, 2017; the black star has once again shone as the lodestar of African liberation.

At Independence in 1957, Ghana’s founding father Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah asserted that “the independence of Ghana would be meaningless unless it was tied to the total liberation of Africa”. The foremost Pan-Africanist went on to lead Ghana in playing a central role in the decolonisation process and liberation struggles across Africa. Africa has long moved on from the decolonisation era, but this generation of Ghanaians have carried on this enviable bequest – this time becoming a leading light in addressing Africa’s challenge of peaceful democratic transitions, by demonstrating this is possible, over and over again. Today, the country has earned its pride of place in the global world order, and is celebrated as one of the models in the Global South, for economic stability, democratisation, and peaceful transitions.

The West African country keeps strengthening her institutions and enacting enabling legislations that would ensure this legacy of peaceful transitions endure. Only last year, the Ghanaian Parliament passed the 2016 Presidential Transition Bill – an amendment of the Presidential (Transition) Act 2012, which prescribes modalities for the peaceful transition of power between outgoing and incoming administrations. The law made provisions for defined activities, clarity of roles, structured timelines, as well as accountability mechanisms, for moderating the conduct of all the individuals and institutions involved in presidential transitions. Considering the huge toll that post-election violence has had on African countries, this is a big deal. The rest of Africa has a lot to learn from Ghana that is in this age leading the way for a new kind of liberation, as she did in previous epochs.

It can be argued that the Ghanaian experience is a reflection of the country’s political and governance structures being steeped in very strong intellectual foundations that have positively influenced the conduct of her political elite. That is not to say Ghana’s politicians don’t play dirty leading up to elections, but invariably, they have learnt when to put politics aside and protect their democracy. While intellectuals in many African countries have ceded the political arena to unscrupulous characters, preferring to see politics as a dirty game to be avoided by decent people, Ghana has a long tradition of her intellectuals being active participants in the political process, with most of her past leaders being percipient men, with very strong academic credentials.

Nkrumah, the Prime Minister and later President in Ghana’s First Republic, studied at Lincoln University, USA, obtaining BA (Arts) and BA (Theology in 1942), graduating at the top of his class. He also received a Master of Science degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Edward Akuffo-Addo, the Ghana’s Second Republic president was educated at St. Peter’s College, Oxford University, where he studied Mathematics, Politics, Economics and Philosophy. Professor K.A. Busia, the Prime Minister in that Second Republic earned a first degree in Medieval Studies and History from the University of London. From Oxford University, he obtained another BA (Hons.) in Politics, Philosophy and Economics, MA (Oxon) and DPhil in Social Anthropology.

These founding fathers of Ghana established the two historical ideological streams and tendencies that still define the politics of Ghana today, namely the Nkrumahist and Danquah-Dombo-Busia political traditions. The present day political elites of the NDC and the NPP trace their lineages to these two lasting political traditions, which provide an avenue for successive generations of leaders to emerge from the crucibles of robust mentoring with deep convictions and requisite intellectual capacities, as against the scourge of accidental, ill-prepared leadership that has afflicted some other countries. The primacy of intellect in the politics of Ghana is undeniable, and it is instructive of how the quality of individuals that dominate political spaces can shape political and governance outcomes in their countries.

As President Akufo-Addo comes to power on his third attempt, this is the burden on his broad shoulders. The expectations his fellow citizens, and indeed the entire world, have of him is that he brings to bear in his leadership of Ghana, the grace, brilliance, creativity, and resourcefulness that his predecessors before him have demonstrated – as a man of ideas. After all, he is a biological son of the late former president Edward Akufo-Addo, and one of the Danquah-Dombo-Busia tradition’s leading lights. He was the lead opposition figure for more than a decade that kept the tradition alive in Ghana, and is widely known as an avid advocate of the rule of law, liberal democracy, and individual freedom. He is credited for unifying and mobilising likeminded ideologues and the grassroots to provide vibrant and formidable opposition, and eventually win election.

This is why it is most disheartening that President Akufo-Addo started his tenure on such a listless note – reading out a plagiarised speech that lifted parts of the inauguration speeches of former presidents of the United States of America, President Bill Clinton and President George Bush II, without attribution. The scandal unfortunately took the shine off an otherwise brilliant speech that honoured Ghana’s glorious past and kindled hopes for a brighter future. The Presidency has apologised and the world should move on. Like most African countries, Ghana has a young and restless population who look up to their new president to perform, and in the words of J.B. Danquah that he fittingly quoted in his speech, they expect him to lead a government that is “dedicated in order specifically to enrich life, property and liberty of each and every citizen”. “Mighty” Nigeria and the rest of Africa celebrate Ghanaians and wish them well.

Akin Rotimi writes from Abuja, Nigeria