Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Perspectives on Ghana and Gambia 2016 elections

Today, December 7, 2016, about 15.7 million Ghanaians are filing out to vote a new president and 275 members of parliament. Ghana, since the coming into force of her 1992 Constitution, has established herself as a bastion of democracy in Africa. The Electoral Commission of Ghana under the leadership of Dr.  Kwadwo Afari-Gyang was able to conduct successive peaceful and credible elections that have become reference points in the continent and the world at large. Unlike in Nigeria where chairman and members of the Independent National Electoral Commission holds office for a maximum of two terms of five years each, chairman of Ghana electoral commission has the same terms and conditions of service as a Justice of the Court of Appeal while the two Deputy Chairmen of the Commission have the same terms and conditions of service as are applicable to a Justice of the High Court according to Article 44 (2) and (3) of 1992 Constitution of Ghana. This security of tenure helps to strengthen the independence of the Ghana Electoral Commission

I was privileged to observe the Ghanaian presidential run-off election in December 2008. Since then, I have been fascinated by the country’s electoral process. Unlike Nigeria’s 13 member electoral management body, Ghana’s electoral commission consists of seven members. A  Chairman, two Deputy Chairmen and four other members. It should interest you to note that at present five out of the seven members are women. In fact, the chairman, Mrs. Charlotte Osei who was appointed in June 2015 is the first female head of the electoral commission of Ghana. One of the two deputy chairmen is a woman. Her name is Ms. Georgina Opoku Amankwah.  Out of the four other commissioners, three of them are women. They are: Mrs. Pauline Adobea Dadzawa, Mrs. Rebecca Kabukie Adjalo, and Hajia Sa-Adatu Maida. That is a good example of women empowerment.

There are other things that set Ghana apart. Aside being a multiparty democracy, it also have provision for independent candidacy as well as special voting or early voting for those who will be on election day duty such as election officials, journalists, accredited observers, security agencies and the like. All of them have had the opportunity of casting their ballot last Thursday, December 1. Voting age in Ghana is 18 same with Nigeria. However, 21 years is the minimum age to contest election as candidate. I recall that Youth Initiative for Advocacy Growth and Advancement is currently at the forefront of mobilising support under its #NotTooYoungToRun campaign to get Nigeria to lower age at which a citizen can stand for election. Ghana has already shown the way to go!

Another demonstration of inclusive and transparent electoral process in Ghana is that party agents and the electoral commission are allowed to put their seal on the transparent ballot box and record the serial numbers both before the commencement of the polls and after counting of ballot. Record cards are provided for party agents to document all the details of the elections in their booths including tracking of the number of voters in their polling stations. Party agents are also given complaint forms to document any irregularities observed in their polling booths.

Ghana returned to multi-party democracy in 1992 under Jerry John Rawlings. The 1992 constitution brought into force the 4th Republic. Today’s general election is the seventh general elections having previously held elections in 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012. The ruling party has won four of the last elections while the main opposition has won the other two. Interestingly and on a lighter note, all past and present president of Ghana since 1992 had been John. From 1992 to 2000 it was Jerry John Rawlings of the National Democratic Congress. From 2000 to 2008, it was John Agyekum Kufuor of New Patriotic Party. From 2008 to 2012, it was John Evans Atta Mills of National Democratic Congress. From 2012 to 2016, it was John Dramani Mahama. Who shall it be from 2016 to 2020? The answer is with Ghanaian electorate. It is worth noting that power has been oscillating between two parties NDC and NPP from 1992 to date. Though there are seven presidential candidates in today’s election, pundits have predicted that it is a two horse race between the incumbent Mahama of NDC  and old warhorse, Nana Akufo Addo of NPP who is contesting for the third time since 2008.

So much for political lessons from Ghana. It was a pleasant surprise last Friday when news broke that H.E. Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh lost his bid for fifth term as president to his main challenger, Adama Barrow. The megalomaniac Jammeh had governed Gambia autocratically since he took over power in a coup as a 29 year old Lieutenant in the Gambian Army in 1994.  The flamboyant outgoing president who had boasted that he would rule Gambia for a billion years, Insha Allah lost the election by about 50,000 votes. Mr. Barrow won 263,515 votes (45.5%) in Thursday's election, while President Jammeh took 212,099 (36.7%). A third party candidate, Mama Kandeh, won 102,969 (17.8%) according to Alieu Momarr Njai, the electoral commission chairman. Incidentally, the three presidential candidates were all born in 1965.

Barrow’s electoral feat did not come on a platter. It was made possible by a coalition of seven other political parties who backed him for the election. Without that, Jammeh would have had his way. Ahead of the election, Jammeh had bared his fangs. He locked up scores of political activists who protested against his government in April 2016. He barred European Union and ECOWAS observer missions from being accredited to observe the polls and ordered the internet and international telephone services shut on the day of election. He also clamped down on journalists. On November 8, officials from Gambia’s National Intelligence Agency arrested the director-general of Gambia’s state television and radio, Momodou Sabally, along with his colleague Bakary Fatty. NIA officers also apprehended Alhagie Manka, an independent photojournalist, on November 10. Sabally was allegedly picked up because the station broadcast video footage of an opposition candidate’s nomination at the time when the station was scheduled to cover an agricultural initiative led by the first lady, Zineb Jammeh.

Gambia has a unique way of voting for their president - instead of ballot papers, voters use marbles. In the 2012 election there were only two invalid votes when people placed their marbles on the top of the voting drums. The electoral loss of Jammeh is a moral lesson for all other sit-tight African leaders who wanted to die in power. It is clear that power belong to the people, they only hold it in trust for them. Gambians learnt the right lessons from Senegal, Niger, and Nigeria where opposition political parties teamed up to wrestle power from incumbents. It would be recalled that coalitions of political parties assisted Macky Sall to defeat Abdoulaye Wade in Senegal’s 2012 presidential election.

It is heartwarming that despite his well-known eccentricities and idiosyncrasies, Jammeh did not take a cue from his counterparts in DR Congo and Gabon and postpone the elections neither did he influence the outcome of the election to favour him. Rather he allowed the election to hold and abided by the result of the polls. He even called Adama Barrow to formally concede defeat. That is the hallmark of a statesman. Now that he has lost his bid to hang on to power, he would now have time to attend to his herbal medicine practice through which he had previously claimed to have found cure for AIDS and infertility.

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