In Africa, Ghana’s impressive democratic credentials make for a consolidated democracy. In most conceivable ways, the country continues to distinguish itself as a beacon of hope for democracy on an African continent notorious for poor democratic governance.
In 2016, national elections in many African states produced mixed results.
Two examples will suffice to put this point in perspective.
First, in Uganda, we are told that the playing field was not level, as Yuweri Museveni flagrantly personalized the electoral process in his bid to secure his thirty-year rule in the country’s February 2016 elections.
Second, in The Gambia, barely a week after conceding defeat and promising to hand over power to a newly elected government, Yahya Jammeh, the country’s ruler for twenty-two years, backtracked on his concession, and annulled the December 2016 polls. It took the intervention of the international community to oust Jammeh from office.
To be sure, Ghana is not the only country in Africa making considerable progress in democratic consolidation.
In Cape Verde, the opposition, Movement for Democracy (MpD), won landslide victory in the parliamentary election that was held in March, after almost fifteen years in the minority.
However, Ghana’s story is somewhat different from the foregoing narratives in important respects.
On December 7, 2016, Ghana held its seventh successive elections, following the country’s transition to democratic governace in 1992. The ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) lost the polls and graciously conceded defeat to the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP), and the winner has since assumed office following a colorful inaugural ceremony. This power alternation is the third in the country’s current democratic dispensation.
But beyond elections, Ghana has made other concrete and qualitative progress towards democratic consolidation for which I will like to highlight.
In his discussion of when a polity can be said to be democratic, the political sociologist Seymour Lipset posited that the system must provide for a legal framework that outlines procedures for periodically changing the government through the ballot.
More so, to cultivate a democratic political culture, there is a general consensus that a sense of interpersonal trust is required of all political actors in the country – the kind of trust in which the governing party is prepared to relinquish political power to the opposition when defeated in elections and not to fear political persecution.
Thus, as far as the foregoing theoretical positions hold, it is an undeniable fact then that Ghana will pass for a progressive democratic state. However, in what sense can the country be said to have consolidated its democracy, really?
In making a case for a consolidated democracy in Ghana, I take a narrow approach and restricts myself to the country’s electoral politics.
By the logic of the Two-Turnover Test (TTT) for democratic consolidation, a country must successfully alternate political power twice, among competing political parties to qualify for a consolidated democracy.
Indeed, Ghana passed this minimalist TTT in its 2000 and 2008 general elections. In the 2000 polls, the governing (NDC) lost and peacefully handed over power to the opposition (NPP). Similarly, when the NPP lost the 2008 national elections, the party peacefully surrendered power to the NDC, the then opposition party.
However, a more substantive case can be made for Ghana’s consolidated democracy. In their classic 1996 article titled “Toward Consolidated Democracies”, Juan Linz, and Alfred Stepan argued that a consolidated democracy is one in which a complex system of institutions, rules, and patterned incentives and disincentives have become the sole means of government.
Three particular standards are to be met, in this regard: (1) a behavioral disposition of groups to continually remain part of the country and not attempt to secede; (2) an attitudinal posture in which even when discontented with government’s performance, no other means except democratic and institutionalized procedures are sought to effect changes; and (3) a constitutional paradigm in which the national laws and court systems are regarded as the only avenues for settling disputes between political and civil disputants.
On all three counts, Ghana has demonstrated through its 2016 elections that democracy has been consolidated.
First, behaviourally, no identifiable group in the country has ever attempted to secede from the country since the inception of its current republic. Frankly, like many of its African counterparts, Ghana is ethnically and religiously polarized, and this find considerable expression in the country’s national politics. Whereas the governing NPP has its traditional support base among the Akan people who constitute the biggest ethnic bloc in the country, the opposition NDC has its support base largely spread out among the rest of the ethnic groups in the country. Similarly, whereas the NPP has often been tagged a predominantly Christian political party, the NDC has largely commanded wide support among adherents of the Islamic religion. However, despite these ethnic and religious fragmentation, no claims of secession have ever been a point of national discourse, throughout the period of the current democratic experiment.
Secondly, although the ousted NDC government has been widely touted for institutionalizing corruption, no group of persons in the country ever attempted extra-legal means of overthrowing the government. It is worth emphasizing that Ghanaians patiently waited until the electoral process came full circle in December 7, 2016 before showing the incumbent government the exit through the power of the thumb. In fact, the nationwide jubilation that greeted the Electoral Commission’s announcement of the opposition NPP as winners, and the sheer number of parliamentary seats that the governing NDC lost are indicative of the level of the peoples’ repudiation of the ousted government.
Thirdly, it has now been ingrained in the Ghanaian civic culture that the settlement of disputes between political and civil contenders would be mediated by the courts. One need not look far for evidence of this. The numerous electoral disputes and court settlements that occasioned the just ended polls prove this point. An instance of this was the famous Abu Ramadan versus the Electoral Commission case about the validity of the use of National Health Insurance Cards (NHIC) as proof for voter registration. The Supreme Court, in its judgement, ordered the Electoral Commission to expunge the names of all those who used the NHIC and allow them to re-register with the proper identification.
To conclude therefore, I am of the considered view that Ghana continues to lead the way in Africa as a country committed to the ideals of democracy. After seven successful elections, three peaceful turnovers, and the cultivation of a regime of constitutionalism, the nation deserves the appropriate title of a consolidated democracy.