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Lessons Cameroon Can Learn From Ghana 

By Ernest Sumelong — Ghana has just voted another President, in the person of John Mahama. This is the fourth President of Ghana since 1981 when Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings took over power, first as a military ruler and later as an elected President. He had, in the history of Ghana, the longest reign (20 years; 1981-2001).

Within the same period, of 30 years, Cameroon has had just one president. From the time of its independence till date, Ghana has had 13 presidents starting from Nkwane Nkrumah to newly elected John Dramani Mahama; some serving as military leaders. More recently, however, the presidents have been duly elected from the time of Rawlings.

Within the same period, Cameroon has had just two presidents; El Hadj Ahmadou Ahidjo and Paul Biya. However, our focus is on successive Ghanaian elections that have helped to make it a more stable country, attracted international attention and boosted the country’s economy whose growth rate is pegged at over 6 percent.

Besides being one of the few established democracies in the region, Ghana also has the fastest-growing economy. By and large, Ghanaian elections have been said to be free, fair and transparent, and have produced leaders who have, over the years, transformed the country, which, like Cameroon, had suffered backwardness and economic stagnation.

Two factors have greatly contributed to the country’s highly acclaimed elections; the credibility and impartiality of the Electoral Commission of Ghana and the commitment of the Ghanaian people to exercise their right to choose their leaders. The effect of this has been seen in the outcome of their elections, which though cannot be said to be perfect, is presently considered the model for Africa.

During Ghana’s recent Presidential election, voters were reported to have “lined up as early as 2 a.m. on Friday to select their next president and parliament in a ballot that is expected to mark the sixth transparent election in this West African nation, known as a beacon of democracy in a tumultuous region”.

The report acknowledges that, “Ghana, with a population of 25 million, was once a troubled nation that suffered five coups and decades of stagnation, before turning a corner in the 1990s. It is now a pacesetter for the continent’s efforts to become democratic.” People did not only turn up early to vote, the turnout at the polls was high. According to reports, some precincts were serving lines that were 1,000-people deep.

Many polls opened late because material had not arrived from the electoral commission, but voters waited patiently to cast their ballots. The Chairman of the Electoral Commission of Ghana stated that turnout was about 80. This contrasts sharply with the situation in Cameroon, where voter apathy and lackluster politics have made turnout in polling stations so low.

In Ghana, allegations of fraud, votes-buying, rigging and other vices characteristic of elections in Cameroon are minimal if not absent. This culture, which has been nurtured and jealously preserved, has lent credibility to the electoral process in Ghana and legitimacy of the president.

Even though Ghana, with a population that is bigger than ours (following our 2005 census results), has just 23 political parties compared to Cameroon’s close to 300 parties, only two  contenders were seeking the people’s votes, at the end. Having two well known contenders to choose a president from, things were easier for Ghanaians as they could figure out who would make a better leader.

It was either John Dramani Mahama or Nana Akufo-Addo. During the 2011 presidential election in Cameroon, Cameroonians had a difficult choice; re-electing a long serving president or voting a confused and divided opposition. Besides, there were 23 presidential candidates, many of who the electorates were unfamiliar with and who hadn’t any clear cut vision for the country.

The Electoral Commission of Ghana is the official body in Ghana responsible for all public elections. Made up of seven members, its independence is guaranteed by the 1992 Ghana constitution. The current commission was established by the Electoral Commission Act (Act 451) of 1993. Meanwhile, the independence of Elections Cameroon and the composition of its members is still a subject of controversy.

If elections are important determinant factors for the growth and development of every nation, then it goes without saying that elections in Cameroon have inadvertently contributed to the country’s economic and political stagnation. Cameroon can learn a lot from Ghana if it hopes to progress.

First published in The Post print edition no 01398

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