Ghana is in many ways very blessed. We have a rich history, enviable culture, bountiful natural resources and very sophisticated human resources. It was not by accident that we became Sub-Saharan Africa’s first nation to achieve independence in 1957. And several decades later, after the continent is still reeling from many years of dictatorial regimes and misrule, Ghana is arguably the best functioning democracy on the continent.
Come Tuesday, December 28, 2008, that accolade as the beacon of democracy will be test again as Ghanaians go to the polls to elect a new president, after the first round deadlock on December 7. Democracy in Africa has been a dismal failure and the economic performances of African countries have similarly abysmal. The two twin failures are inextricably linked: Political failure always lead to economic chaos and economic chaos further creates political unrest, which gives us the cliché the vicious cycle of political bankruptcy and economic poverty.
When Ghana led the way in 1957 in achieving political freedom from Great Britain in 1957, there was tremendous optimism of a new African renaissance. Ghana’s success was replicated elsewhere on the continent when numerous other countries achieved political their political independence from their European conquerors and rulers. The symbolism and enthusiasm from these political milestones were so infectious that it imbued the black Diaspora in America and the Caribbean with pride and gave their civil rights struggles a huge boost.
Unfortunately, the euphoria and joy from Africa’s new bold march towards political freedom was short-lived. The superstar leaders like Nkrumah, Ofeboanye and Nyerere became dictators and declared themselves life presidents. The Americans and the Soviets, who meddled in African politics as their new proxy war, worsened this unstable political situation. Thus began the steep descent of Africa into political and economic shambles as civil wars proliferated; and hunger, starvation and diseases ravaged the continent. We still see remnants of that trend in places like Zimbabwe, the Congo and Sierra Leone today, as these countries are still mired in civil strive, utter chaos, and abject poverty.
The end of the cold war in the early 90’s gave Africa a new lease of life as the Superpowers interest on the receded and they ended their proxy war on the continent. The result was that coup d’etats ebbed, and rebel fighters no longer could receive ammunition from the west or east. And more importantly most countries on the continent became too broke and to tired to continue the cycle of coups, counter coups and civil wars.
Worn out by authoritarian rule and the economic and political toil that came with it, many African countries began a new march to democracy in the 90’s. Ghana held its presidential and parliamentary in 1992, Africa Jerry Rawlings overthrew the last elected regime in 1981. Many others like Nigeria followed suit. Today, most countries in Africa have democratically elected governments. But the way and manner in which elections are conducted in most of these countries leave much to be desired. Ballots boxes are stuffed and incumbent government often adopt any means necessary to win. We saw this in Kenya recently and the result triggered a brief civil war.