John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Ghana Burnishes its Democratic Credentials

by John Campbell
July 26, 2012

Ghanaian President John Atta Mills attends a ceremony marking the first flow of oil from the Jubilee offshore oil field, at Takoradi, Ghana, December 15, 2010. (Reuters staff/Courtesy Reuters) Ghanaian President John Atta Mills attends a ceremony marking the first flow of oil from the Jubilee offshore oil field, at Takoradi, Ghana, December 15, 2010. (Reuters staff/Courtesy Reuters)

President of Ghana John Atta Mills died July 24. Though never officially confirmed, it was said that he suffered from throat cancer and he went to New York several times for medical treatment. The immediate cause of death at a military hospital was cardiac arrest. The chief justice immediately swore-in as president the former Vice president, John Dramani Mahama. He will serve until the regularly scheduled December presidential elections.

Tragic though the death of Atta Mills was, democracy and the rule of law in Ghana has worked. There has been no succession crisis, and the constitutional provisions have been scrupulously followed. The episode is a salutary reminder that democracy is alive and well in Africa, even if it is not as widespread as its friends would hope.

In a Journal of Democracy article that has just appeared, author Kennedy Ochieng’ Opalo posits four types of African political systems: ‘electoral democracies’ (of which there are 8), ‘emerging democracies’ (5), ‘ consolidating/consolidated autocracies’ (21) and ‘ambiguous’ (12.) His base year is 2010.

In the electoral democracies, he places Benin,  Botswana, Cape Verde, Ghana, Lesotho, Mali, Mauritius and South Africa. Mali, obviously, no longer fits. But the rest do. It is striking that all of them are small in population, with the exception of South Africa (about 50 million) and Ghana (with 25 million.) Of Africa’s largest countries by population, he rates Nigeria as ‘ambiguous’, Ethiopia and Congo as ‘consolidating/consolidated autocracies.’

There is always room to quibble about in what category a country should be placed it. But such typologies are helpful for thinking about governance.

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  • Posted by Zainab

    The smooth succession in Ghana, in the wake of the late President Attah Mills’ passing, devoid of overt tension and crisis shows that Ghana is on a steady path towards democratic consolidation. The fact that the upon Mill’s death, state institutions automatically kicked into operation and the constitutional stipulations and the rule of law were followed to the letter indicate that:

    1. The elites and power brokers have faith in the democratic and political system and the corresponding institutions to cater to their diverse interests;

    2. It is such faith in state institutions (constitution and rule of law) by elites, power brokers and the various interests in a country that actually breathe life in such institutions, giving them power, credibility, making them functional and acceptable to all.

    3. With such faith in institutions and their effective operation, then various groups and interests would subordinate their ethnic, religious and primordial loyalties for larger national loyalties, the collective good of all.

    It is the existence of all these in Ghana which ensured that the sudden death of Attah Mills did not plunge the country into a succession or constitutional crisis.

    Now compare and contrast with Ghana’s “giant of Africa” neighbour, Nigeria, and its a whole different ball game.

    We all remember the near chaos in Nigeria during the late President ‘Yar’adua’s illness and after he passed away in 2009-2010: the uncertainty, the tension, the rumours of an impending military coup…it was far from savoury. The different groups and interests in Nigeria are at best, quite ambivalent towards state institutions and at worst, have little faith in these institutions and their ability to protect the collective interest.

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