Ghanaian Elections

 In Ghana

Last weekend I went on a trip to Kumasi with my host dad to be introduced to several of his childhood friends. On the way, we stopped at a political rally for parliamentary nominations. The entire Muslim dominated community of Aboabo seemed to gather at the small NDC (National Democratic Congress) headquarters, where incumbent Honorable Alhaji Mohammed Mubarak Muntaka was to be nominated for another term in office…

Every car around the block was decked out with the same campaign poster for their incumbent parliamentary candidate.

After decorating our car accordingly with Honorable Muntaka's face, we proceeded to pack 8 NDC members into our 5 seater car, and left for the town center with the intent of dropping off the parliament nomination papers. Due to the sheer amount of people, there was a traffic jam, and it ended up taking us hours to get there and back.

Despite the burning heat of the Ghanaian sun, the traffic jam was remotely enjoyable. This is because everyone – shop owners, schoolkids,  and policemen alike, were all standing outside of their buildings to wave, hoot, holler, drum, and dance as we drove by.

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There was even a miniature parade at one point – including drummers, musicians, and men doing backflips for no apparent reason.

Eventually we arrive at our destination: a massive city square. It was chaotic – with dozens of drums being pounded, a crowd energetically dancing in the stifling hundred degree weather, nosy merchants pestering me to buy corn, begging children with eyes glued on my (empty) pockets, and reckless motorcycles constantly rushing through the rally at high speeds without warning. I had to always be on the lookout.

At one point, someone held up a poster for an opposition member to the incumbent. Madness ensued. The entire crowd began pushing and screaming; on the  building where the musicians were playing, two people were pushed to the point that they were dangling from the third floor balcony.

After an indeterminate amount of time, we began our journey back to the NDC headquarters. People on the street were excited to see us once again; I felt like a king as I waved them on and  fist pumped for 'my candidate', despite the fact that I I didn't even know who he is/what he stands for.

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In case you couldn't tell from the photos, Ghanaians really 'get into' their elections. In America, electability is based on cyber campaigns, debates, platforms, but most importantly, money. In Ghana it seems to be more the common voter getting involved for the cantidate of their community – wearing t-shirts advertising the candidate, spreading flyers around town, and doing all that is possible to 'drum up support' (pun intended).

One interesting tidbit to me is that even though Ghanaians are very involved in politics – they have a lot of fun supporting their party, and tend to be 'die hard' fans of candidates- they still constantly complain about how corrupt Ghana's government is and how little ever changes in the system. But it's only natural this will happen – people vote for the same political party and incumbent year after year.

It's almost reminiscent of the United States in that most people approve of the job their congressman is doing, but strongly disapprove of Congress.

Another interesting fact about Ghana's political party system is that people tend to vote along party lines based on the political party of the candidate and their location. For instance, the Volta and Western regions will always vote NDC, while the Asante regions will always vote NPP. While America has stronghold states for both Democrats and Republicans, in Ghana over half of the 10 regions will always vote a certain way. There's little or no point for the opposing candidate to even campaign in these locations.

Another issue is corruption. A Ghanaian friend of mine knows someone who voted over 15 times for the 2008 election, simply by bribing officials. This is the easiest way to have your way in many third world countries. For instance, if you are fined 125 cedis for doing something illegal, why pay in full when you can simply bribe the official with 50 or 75 cedis and be let off the hook?

Ghanaian political parties aalso llow donors to state 'what they want the party to do should they win', so it essentially becomes a bribe in itself. The following source says that after one voter made a small donation to a political party, a party official personally approached him and asked what he'd 'like in return'. When he responded, "Nothing," the officer was shocked and asked 'Why would you even bother donating?' (Source)

Anyways, that's Ghana for you. In my opinion, both Ghana and the United States could learn from each other. The United States could take lessons on how to make politics more accessible, leading the average citizen to become more involved in the future of their nation- while Ghana could improve on issues such as corruption. Neither country is perfect, but both are making efforts to improve.

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A final note – this was just a rally for nominating the incumbent candidate to office. I can only imagine what it'll be like in 2012;  it's a shame I won't be able to witness the actual election.

Edit – 12/06/11:
Looking back, I might have been a little harsh on Ghana. The fact remains that- while they have their difficulties- they are one of the only African democracies that consistently have violence-free elections, and are setting an example for others to follow. I believe they are on the right path, but true change needs to take place in many of their policies for further improvements.

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