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Ghana re-elects president, but political vulnerable

By BRIAN E. MUHAMMAD -CONTRIBUTING WRITER- | Last updated: Dec 26, 2012 - 10:41:14 AM

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Ghana President John Dramani Mahama, center, waves to supporters during a rally celebrating his victory, in Accra, Ghana, Dec. 10. Photo: AP/Wide World photos
(FinalCall.com) - Ghana received kudos from world leaders and Africa watchers for another free, fair and open election. But the leading opposition candidate has contested the results charging voter fraud, jeopardizing Ghana’s reputation as a model democracy in a troubled and tumultuous region. 

Recently West Africa suffered coup d’états in Mali and Guinea-Bissau; continuous fratricide in Nigeria; and an external intrusion by France in Côte d’Ivoire politics that ousted President Laurent Gbagbo in 2011. 

Ghana’s incumbent president John Dramani Mahama and the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) party narrowly won a Dec. 7 election by 50.7 percent of the popular vote. 

But at stake with the 2012 elections, besides a sound political reputation, is who will control the fruits of Ghana as an up-and-coming economic powerhouse—the largest second to Nigeria in its region and Africa’s fastest growing market in 2011, according to the International Monetary Fund. To developing nations a good political image is also currency for attracting investment.

“There is a lot of work to do in the next four years to consolidate Ghana’s transition into a middle-income country, and that’s where I will focus,” President Mahama said in a Business Day Live piece. 

Experts say a serious and lengthy scuffle over electoral integrity may push investment seekers another way and hinder the president’s desire to move Ghana into a middle income nationhood and improve the quality of life for 24 million Ghanaians in the areas of health, education and infrastructure development.

However for Ghana to grow toward such prosperity, re-evaluation of established relationships with global capitalists doing business in Ghana must also take place. Vowing to “abide by all international agreements” with investors, President Mahama disclosed that his administration is pressing for higher royalty and income tax percentages from firms mining and trading in natural resources such as gold and oil.

Since the discovery of oil off the shores of Ghana, the economic bar of the country was raised. There were high expectations for wealth generated from oil reserves in Ghana’s Jubilee field operated by the British-based Tullow Oil. However Tullow’s contract allowed it to avoid income tax payments until it had recovered the operating costs of bringing the field to production. Similar arrangements exist with other companies and foreign entities. 

The effort of President Mahama and the NDC to restructure contracts is reminiscent of Ghana’s first president and independence leader Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s vision of breaking Africa’s dependency on the Western world. How the multinational corporations will respond only time will tell.

Addressing the nation during his victory speech, the 55-year-old Mahama said the journey since independence, March 6, 1957 hasn’t always been smooth, but “we have created our success by ensuring that we keep walking, and moving forward, step after step believing in the promise (of) this country’s future.”

Most analysts agree Ghana has matured since post-independence years characterized by dissension and turmoil. Starting with the orchestrated overthrow of Dr. Nkrumah in 1966 by the United States CIA and ambitious local operatives; Ghana suffered coups in 1972, 1979 and 1981 respectively before opening the door to democratic elections by 1992.

With 14.2 million registered voters, according to numbers provided by Ghana’s Electoral Commission, the 2012 contest is the sixth democratic presidential and parliamentary election which international observers have endorsed as credible, but not perfect. 

“There were hiccups, but not such that would grossly undermine the result of the election,” remarked former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who headed the observer delegation from the regional bloc ECOWAS—the Economic Community of West African States.

Because of technical malfunctions in some areas of the country, voting was extended an extra day and accusations of fraud against the incumbent party came from opposition parties, with the loudest outcry from New Patriotic Party presidential candidate Nana Akufo-Addo. A Dec. 9 press statement issued by the NPP rejected official results that affirmed President Mahama as the winner.

“We have serious reservations about the validity of what the Chairman of the Electoral Commission has done in declaring results that, by the evidence, do not reflect the mandate of the required majority of the Ghanaian electorate,” the statement read in part.

As preliminary results poured in, another NPP statement lodged a scathing objection alleging serious wrongdoing and corruption on the part of the ruling NDC. The NPP claimed to have “credible evidence, which undermines the integrity” of the electoral process and official outcome. The memo went so far as to blatantly charge the NDC and President Mahama with “systematic rigging” the elections. 

Veteran Ghanaian broadcaster and now National NPP Chairman Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey called for an audit of verification machines and a recount of presidential ballots by the Electoral Commission in light of the accusations. The Commission refused the request, saying the process was sufficiently transparent and manipulation-free.

Former President Jerry John Rawlings, who is credited with transitioning Ghana from military rule to civilian governance, urged “respect for the atmosphere of peace” and handling electoral grievances via appropriate channels.

Losing by a small margin is a repeat of history for Mr. Akufu-Addo, 68, a former foreign minister and son of a past head of state. In 2008 he lost by only 40,000 votes to the late President John Atta-Mills in a runoff described as contentious and belligerent. Back then however, Mr. Akufu-Addo conceded defeat. President Atta-Mills, while preparing to run for a second term, unexpectedly died from health complications in July 2012 propelling vice-president John Mahama to the presidency and now election.

Notwithstanding the rough and tumble nature of Ghana politics, observers expect the former British colony once known as the Gold Coast will settle its electoral disagreement in court, not in the streets. 

Thus far, the NPP has announced plans to take the matter to Ghana’s Supreme Court.

According to media reports, the political climate since the election remains highly charged and has deteriorated with some party-related violence. In Accra Joy-FM radio reported Dec. 11 that a man wearing a National Democratic Congress t-Shirt was stabbed at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle by persons said to be “irate” NPP supporters. The “Circle” is a main transportation hub in Accra, Ghana’s capital, and has been the scene of massive demonstrations against the election results.

Events took a turn for the worse when the police raided an office in Accra where NPP party workers were recounting voting slips. Mr. Obetsebi-Lamptey said over one dozen men armed with M-16s and AK-47s raided the office, and confiscated laptops and documents, according to Huffington Post.

“They brushed aside the security people who were assembled there, charged in on our workers, forced everybody who was there to lie flat on the floor face down, put their mobile phones away from them. And then they started to ransack the offices,” he said.

Huffington Post reported police spokesman Arthur Cephas said the police were acting on a tip that guns were being stashed in the office, but denied removing anything. “We needed to take action … It turned out there weren’t any arms,” Mr. Cephis said.

Although the tone in the country is hostile with claims and counter claims, President Mahama spoke conciliatory words, appealing for unity with his political rivals to build a viable future for Ghana.

“I would like to say to them; though we have stood as opponents on what appeared to be different sides of a divide, at the end of the day we were all standing on the side of our beloved motherland, Ghana, so I welcome you to join me now as partners in the project of nation-building,” said President Mahama.

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