IBIT Guest Columnist Roxanne L. Scott left a teaching gig in China to become an expat in Ghana, just in time to observe her first African presidential election. Here’s what she saw — and perhaps more importantly, what she didn’t see.
Five Things I Admired About Ghana’s Elections
by ROXANNE L. SCOTT
ACCRA, Ghana — No war. No coups. No vote rigging. A peaceful election with a highly engaged electorate.
Sadly, because of the portrayal of the continent, you may be surprised I’m referring to an African election. Ghana, to be exact.
Ghana had their presidential and parliamentary elections this past December, and I had the pleasure of covering them. Here are five things I took away from observing the political process in Ghana.
- Political Pride
Political flags wave in the air. Busloads of people head downtown to one of the many political rallies. Cars and the public transportation minivans I use to commute are proudly draped in the colors and flag of their party of choice. Yet voters are able to put their political differences aside to still communicate and cooperate with each other. It’s electrifying.
- It’s a Party, For Real
In the US, though we have a plethora of political parties, when it comes time to hearing the various voices on the political spectrum, we’re only left with two – Republicans and the Democrats. During Ghana’s presidential and vice presidential debates, all eight parties participated in the debates! This would probably make our heads explode in the States.
It is true that there are still two major parties in Ghana, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP), but hearing alternative voices can open up new ideas concerning society’s ills and political policy.
- High Voter Turnout
When discussing with my editor the benefits of Diasporans being allowed to vote, I made a comment, saying: Well, if you lived outside of Ghana for such a long period of time, would you bother voting? He laughed in my face and said the following words that I’ll never forget: “Ghanaians love to vote.”
He was right. The 2012 presidential elections had an 80 percent voter turnout.
Let me write that again — 80 percent voter turn out.
If we had these numbers in the US, we’d be dancing in the streets. But many would argue that the powers that be would never want us to have these numbers. When providing Election Day coverage and interviewing citizens, many engaged in communal voting, not only seeing it as their duty to vote, but seeing it as their duty to encourage others to vote. The political organization Ghana Decides led a successful campaign to encourage youth voting, much like Rock the Vote in the States.
- Women and Politics
There were three women running for Vice President in these elections. Coming from the States, this to me was amazing. Women still hold a pathetic number of seats in parliament in Ghana, and women run into obstacles to running for office, such as raising sufficient funds for a campaign. But seeing these three vice-presidential candidates were inspiring.
- Change Makers
Believe me, there are many problems concerning politics in Ghana. But there is also a hopeful generation that is willing to change that. Political organizations, NGO’s, citizen journalists and the like all recognize the problems and are making waves to solve these problems.
I’m in no means saying that Ghana is a perfect democracy. There isn’t a such thing. But I do think these points above are just many that we in the US can learn from Ghana’s political process.
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