BY DOMINIC WIGHTMAN
To the annoyance of my minders, I stand amongst a crowd of passengers in the bus park next to Nkrumah Circle, in the smoke-filled heart of Ghana’s capital city, Accra. With vehicles buzzing overhead on a fly-over and stationary ones hooting horns in a jam on the road below, it is not easy to hear or be heard.
A huge man in a hand-dyed tunic and wearing worn-out flat sandals is singing loudly close by just to help matters. He has a beautiful, mellow voice which would be better heard in a cocktail bar downtown or entertaining miners during wash-off after a long day shovelling gravel in the tropical sun.
Despite the hullabaloo and my trigger-happy minders, I ask some of the waiting bus passengers how they intend to vote in the country’s 7th December General Elections to elect the country’s President and members of parliament.
I figure that not all these passengers are from Accra as they seek to journey out of town. I want to hear what the word is out in the provinces. So, I speak to a lady from Tarkwa in the West, a preacher from Tamale in the North and a fellow wearing not a lot who can’t quite work out where he’s from but insists that I buy peanuts off him and that all homosexuals should be jailed if not shot. You can just about figure out who’s winning when you press enough of the right buttons and meet the right collection of folk.
I know some cunning politicians send their emissaries out as taxi drivers to gauge the public mood before elections. Alas, my white face would not allow such a disguise and, in any case, driving on these roads I think best to leave to specialists, who require nerves of steel dodging stray dogs, kids and other random people. Especially at night when parts of town get so dark due to lack of electrification that you must watch out for deep pits in the road and badly-signed road works risking plunging into dark holes or, worse, open sewers that can still be found around the less salubrious parts of town.
Ghana is a smiley place. Head and shoulders above so many African countries in so many ways. Whoever wins these elections – it is likely to be either the incumbent President John Dramani Mahama or The New Patriotic Party’s Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo – has an open goal if they are prepared to work hard.
My money is on the latter even though he contested and lost in 2008 and 2012. There’s a feeling in the air that now’s a time for change and that certain problems need dealing with soon and fast.
The economy for one could do with a turbo charge, there needs to be some serious job creation, the illegal gold mining (particularly by the Chinese) has got out of hand to such a point they give nothing back to the Government in revenues and leave a mess (kids are dying falling into gravel pits irresponsible miners have left unfilled), corruption and the 419 community needs tackling, there are problems around Lake Volta with illegal logging and child slavery which need sorting out. Ghana faces many of the problems its neighbours face but, fortunately, security problems for now, under the watchful eye of the wise Security Minister, are minimal as compared to others’ struggles in West Africa with the likes of Boko Haram.
Whoever wins these elections, they will pass off peacefully underlying Ghana’s reputation as the beacon of stable governance in Africa. That is a great tribute to the Ghanaian people and their system, which they inherited from the British, which has seen them maintain stability since they became the first African country to gain independence, in 1957.
Unlike the recent US Elections, these elections have been fought in a far more gentlemanly manner and transparency has been key. At the 2nd edition of the Advancement Lecture Series held on the campus of the University of Cape Coast this week, the Executive Director of the Institute for Democratic Governance declared, somewhat truthfully, that, “If you see how transparent our election system is now…no country has the transparency we have in Ghana……..the more our system has become transparent the higher the mistrust”.
Certainly, this year there has been more media scrutiny and a lot of focus on outside observers. But all in all, there seems to be very little voter fraud going on (although there are some current rumours of votes being bought out in the villages by desperate ruling party officials). It is no surprise then that a 2016 Freedom House rating suggests that Ghana’s electoral system is freer and fairer than the US electoral system. That is quite something to boast about in this part of the world where free and fair elections are a distant aspiration for most citizens.
I eventually buy the peanuts and grab my minders to join me for a bottle of Star lager in a lounge bar called Firefly. One goes off with a fistful of cedis to get in the round as we plonk ourselves down on leather sofas to bathe in AC cool after the tropical heat of the street.
Finally, we can hear ourselves think.
Whoever wins on the 7th, these are exciting times for Ghana. There’s a new generation in town – widely travelled and not swayed by the whining Marxist, economic imperialist complaints of previous returners. Not brainwashed by the Orwellian double-speak of the Left. This new breed is hungry for work and success back at home in Ghana.
Ghana – with 20 million souls – is not a large country. It’s still wealthy in the resources it has been blessed with. Any leader prepared to stamp out corruption and give this new golden generation a lift will turn this place into a land of plenty.
If Africa is to prove it can compete, Ghana will be the ignition country and the rest will eventually follow. With technology so pervasive here, barriers have been smashed to smithereens and an advanced economy lies in waiting which could break all records of economic growth and usher in a golden era of progress.