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Ghana: Waiting for a President

Categories: Sub-Saharan Africa, Ghana, Breaking News, Citizen Media, Elections, Technology

The last two years have been tough ones for elections in sub-Saharan Africa. Presidential and parliamentary elections in Kenya late last year [1] were badly flawed, and led to political violence which claimed up to a thousand lives. Elections in Zimbabwe in March 2008 [2] indicated a possible transfer of power from Robert Mugabe to Morgan Tsvangarai, but a violent crackdown on his party caused Tsvangarai to pull out of the second round of polling. While Nigeria's election in April 2007 was generally peaceful, it was widely viewed as flawed by international monitors.

Photo by Ghanaelections2008 [3]

With this as a backdrop, the Presidential election in Ghana is seen by some as a test for democracy on the continent. Military coup leader Jerry Rawlings was democratically elected twice, and surprised critics by stepping down – as he was constitutionally mandated to – in 2000. John Kufuor of the opposition NPP was elected, and served two terms. The first round of Presidential elections took place on December 7 2008, and ended with NPP candidate Nana Akufo-Addo leading NDC's John Atta-Mills by a small margin.

The runoff election took place yesterday, December 28, and early results suggest that NDC is likely to return to power after an eight year absence [4]. The vote has been extremely close, though some reports suggest that turnout was not as strong as in the first round of voting.

As Elia Varela Serra reported earlier this month [5], Twitter has become the tool of choice for breaking news around the election. Ghanaelections [6], a Twitter feed maintained by the African Elections Project [7], has been streaming news and provisional results throughout. A recent Twitter update noted [8]:

EC to declare results of the Presidential Run-off on on Tuesday December 30 at 12:00 GMT

And a few hours ago [9]:

Provisional Results from 226 out of 230 constituencies: NPP-4,365,158 (49.48%) NDC-4,456,538 (50.52%)

Other Ghanaians are also using Twitter to report on the mechanics of voting and on the reactions of partisans to the results.

Edlynne [10], visiting Ghana from Toronto, reported [11] on December 26:

Saw police intervene in rally of opposing party supporters in Dwtn Accra 2day. Riot shields & guns. Hope election will be peaceful in Ghana

AfricaTalks [12] is monitoring the media coverage, noting that local radio and television is dominated by analysis of the events. He reports [13]:

big celebration around the NDC head office off Ring Road central in Accra. For an old clip see http://tinyurl.com/a46yrg [14]

It's clear that the runoff election has not proceeded as smoothly as the parliamentary election. CODEO, the non-partisan Coalition of Domestic Election Observers, reports [15] 34 cases of missing election materials and 24 cases of disorder, intimidation or violence at poling places. Despite these troubling reports, an official statement from CODEO [16] confirms the validity of the electoral process:

As with the presidential and general elections of December 7, CODEO observers reported many lapses in the voting process in the presidential runoff election of December 28, including setting up and opening of polling stations, voting and vote counting. However, the problems reported by CODEO observers do not fundamentally undermine the integrity of the overall process.

CODEO is asking the Electoral Commission of Ghana to allow voting to continue in the Tain district of the Brong-Ahafo region. Voting did not take place at some polling stations, and the political situation in the region has been very tense, with the local Electoral Commission office set on fire [17] a few weeks ago. Given the close results, votes from this district could determine the outcome of the election. Kwabena Akuamoah-Boateng [18] wryly notes [19] on Twitter:

has the brong-ahafo retained the title ‘chameleon of ghana politics'?

With the election still undecided, and current victory margins within a percentage point, the situation between political party representatives at the Electoral Commission is understandably tense. But very few Ghanaians are panicking on Twitter feeds or the message boards on sites like GhanaWeb [20]. Quite the contrary, as expressed by Kwabena's enthusiastic update [21] as the counting was underway in several polling stations:

went around some polling stations in sunyani. we're on course. Ghana has already won!

KwameOh [22], watching from London, is an exception with his sceptical update [23] about the first results:

something smells at EC, figures from god knows where arriving at EC, do not let your mandate be stolen…We call on the International community, to help us at this time, if not there will be bloodshed in Accra tonight we beg

Most observers are far less worried and more philosophical. Ghanaian blogger Nubian Cheetah [24], in Accra for the holidays, writes [25]:

The populas have spoken in Ghana. They want change!

mawulitse [26] agrees [27]:

change is good, and change will come to Ghana

also noting [28]:

Accra is calm but anxious

AndKofucious [29] simply can't wait for the final results [30] tomorrow:

The 30th??!! come on this is not good! I am not pro-NDC but if they are leading as of now, let them win so they can setup their cabinet

As the results are announced and the implications of the election become more clear, it's likely that we'll see detailed analysis in Ghanaian blogs. Writing before the runoff, Mighty African offered a provocative set of ten questions for Ghanaian voters [31] to consider, the first one of which was:

Don’t you think we need to change ourselves for us to move forward or change, etc?

He also offered ten questions each for the NPP [32] and the NDC [33].

Omanba, writing on the GhanaThink message boards [34], offers a breakdown of Ghanaian voters, including categories of supporters like “the swaying swaggermaniacs” and “the deaf, blind and dumb votes”. One can only hope for such colorful analysis of the cabinet picks of an incoming administration.

Any analysis of the 2008 Ghanaian elections will need to look closely at the role of technology in both campaigning and monitoring the vote. Katrin Verclas, twittering at mobileactive [35], reminds us that the election monitors have been using a sophisticated SMS-based system [36]:

Codeo Ghana also conducted a parallel vote tabulation using SMS for data delivery to ensure that results compiled by the EC are reliable.

Using a rigorous statistical sampling method, the observers have confirmed the closeness of the run-off election and are helping assure domestic and international audiences that the second round has been a valid vote.

Oluniyi David Ajao, a Nigerian blogger living and working in Ghana, reported [37] another novel use of mobile phones in the election:

When I saw a call on my cellular phone from a number +233 10 0000, my heart missed a bit. And why not? This was a very strange phone number that I know does not exist but I still answered the phone, albeit cautiously. Lo and behold, it was the voice of the ruling NPP's Presidential candidate Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, speaking in Twi and essentially asking me to vote for him. The message lasted exactly 45 seconds.

I could tell that it was a recorded message. This must be one of the last minute campaign strategies by the New Patriotic Party, to sway the floating voters. I can see that we are indeed moving forward with technology in Ghana.

Akufo-Addo wasted his call, as David reminds us, since as a Nigerian, he can't vote.