A Young, Fragile Democracy


Around 1:30pm Ghana local time, the Supreme Court dismissed the petition challenging the validity of last December’s elections.  Thus, the country should just get back to what it was doing before the controversy surrounding the election arose.

Though I did not follow the daily court proceedings very closely, I learned several things about my host country’s view toward democracy.  First, “free speech” is limited in Ghana.  On a couple of occasions members of the opposition party (NPP) and the part in power (NDC) both made statements that the Supreme Court ruled as inflammatory and held these people in contempt of court.  For instance, earlier this month, an NPP party member  popularly known as Sir John suggested that the Supreme Court justices were not objective and corrupt.  He was fined for contempt of court and threatened with jail time.

Second, in the run up to today’s decision, there has been stern warnings toward the media to avoid using inflammatory language that could be used to incite riots or violence.   I can understand the desire to stem any violence but I also think these type of warnings indicate that the State does not fully trust it’s people.

Lastly, the “quiet period” leading up this decision suggests that Ghana’s democracy is still fragile.  Many businesses decided to close for fear of violence on the streets.  The Daily Graphic reported that commuting times that normally required an hour to travel only took 10 minutes this morning.  Furthermore, 32,000 security officers were deployed across the country to maintain order after the verdict was announced.

Economic activity involving market traders, foreign investors, and the local businesses all witnessed drops of at least 30 percent.  “There’s no money in the system,” was a common refrain by taxi drivers when the commented on the state of the economy.  They were referring to the reluctance by foreigner investors from committing funds to the country until the Supreme Court made their decision.

Everyone was worried the decision could cause an interruption in political stability — some even suggested civil war — if Ghanaians did not act responsibly.    Many leading religious, political, and corporate leaders all urged Ghanaians to accept the court’s decision.

Ghana’s democracy is relatively young.  I hope this verdict becomes part of the fabric of Ghana’s history.  I hope Ghana’s people can learn to have more confidence in the integrity of its political system.

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