*Disclaimer: This post is based purely on my observations and conversations. I have been very interested in attempting to understand the political climate here and would like to convey my discoveries to you guys as best as I can.
Just like in the United States, 2012 is election year with the Presidential Election taking place tomorrow, the 7th of December. Unlike the United States, Ghana is not a two party system, there are multiple parties resulting in 8 candidates vying for the presidency. Although there are 8 candidates, one only ever hears about two of them: the current president, John Mahama from the NDC and Nana Akufo-Addo from the NPP. Although Ghana possess many parties, the NDC & NPP are the leading parties and just like in the United States, pre-election this year, they are running so close in the polls that the outcome is unclear. The parallel to the US election stops there although I believe that the current president, John Mahama has tried to draw a parallel between Obama’s re-election and hopefully, his own.
There are many differences between the United States election and the Ghanaian election. Ghana is what they label as a “maturing democracy” having televised presidential debates for the first time this election. A another huge difference I have observed is that between parties there is no major moral differences or distinct types of thinking behind certain parties as there is between the Democrats and Republicans in the United States. Whereas in the United States, one can easily define Democrats as liberals and Republicans as conservatives, here in Ghana the political parties are elusive to be pinned down by beliefs. In Ghana, one does not vote based on who their beliefs line up with but rather on who they believe will actually do what they said they would. Each party blames the other of corruption and one has to vote for who they believe will better the country.
The main opposition party, the New Patriotic Party (NPP)’s candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo promises “Free SHS*” (*Senior High School a.k.a. High School as it’s called in the States). Yes, currently in Ghana people pay out of their own pocket for their children’s high school education which is hard a hard pill to swallow coming from the US which provides us with a stellar, free education from Kindergarten through 12th grade. Being here really shows me how blessed I am to be an American, I digress. At first hearing that one candidate promises free education, thoughts of how could anyone oppose that crossed my mind but then after considering it and conversing with people, I have heard there are many unanswered questions such as would he actually do it, Where would the funding for this come from, more taxes, Would it work, etc. As I earlier stated, one votes on who they actually believe will be true to their word and will better the lives of Ghanaians but there is much skepticism on every side that government is just corrupt in its entirety.
Other random tidbits that I have picked up about the political environment here are: Here in Kumasi, the Ashanti home land, is a NPP stronghold while Accra is primarily NDC. Also, I have heard that Nana Akufo-Addo, the flagbearer of the NPP, dislikes Muslims and gives off an air of disconnect due to his wealthy upbringing, including being shunted off to the UK for boarding school. (Hey, maybe there are more parallels to the US election afterall!)
In this race although there are two leading parties, I have felt like it is a three party race. The party which has taken up a large amount of advertising is the campaign for a peaceful election. West Africa is a region mired in political violence and Ghana is one of the few democracies left standing. Ghana gained its independence in 1957 from its colonial power, England, making it the first country in Sub-Saharan Africa to gain independence. Ghana’s independence was followed by a series of governments created by coups. The current democracy has been running strong since 1992. Thus, there is a strong push for peace. People here want to keep their peace so much and there is so much publicity toward that affect that I would be shocked if anything happened. But then again, “it only takes a spark to get a fire going” and in a part of the world where electorial violence is so common, the concern is a very real tangible thing. In preparation for the elections tomorrow, ECOWAS was called in to help monitor the elections and schools closed for today & tomorrow with the warning to stay inside if possible. Even today, on the news there were rumors of premade ballots filled out for a candidate being found when a car crashed which makes the concern seem more understandable.