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f_0017767_15218 - Whats So Special About Ghana? Donald...

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Fall 2009 The Ambassadors REVIEW 31 What’s So Special About Ghana? Donald Teitelbaum United States Ambassador to Ghana resident Obama’s July visit focused global attention on Ghana. His speech to the Ghanaian Parliament, however, was clearly a message to the African continent as a whole. He declared that “…this moment is just as promising for Ghana—and for Africa—as the moment when my father came of age and new nations were being born. This is a new moment of promise. Only this time, we have learned that it will not be giants like Nkrumah and Kenyatta who will determine Africa’s future. Instead, it will be you—the men and women in Ghana’s Parliament, and the people you represent. Above all, it will be the young people—brimming with talent and energy and hope—who can claim the future that so many in my father’s generation never found.” Explaining why Ghana was a particularly relevant place to discuss Africa’s future, President Obama stated, “Here in Ghana, you show us a face of Africa that is too often overlooked by a world that sees only tragedy or the need for charity. The people of Ghana have worked hard to put democracy on a firmer footing, with peaceful transfers of power even in the wake of closely contested elections. And with improved governance and an emerging civil society, Ghana’s economy has shown impressive rates of growth.” More pointedly, President Obama recognized that “time and again, Ghanaians have chosen Constitutional rule over autocracy, and shown a democratic spirit that allows the energy of your people to break through.” I will go even further, however, and assert that, despite challenges that remain, Ghana has the best developed democracy on the continent. How Ghana reached this happy situation would demand more space than I have, although I would like to raise four factors that might provide some lessons for the continent as a whole. Three of these factors are positive: a political system that minimizes the divisive effects of ethnic or regional politics, strong political leadership, and Ghana’s small but professional military. The fourth factor is potentially negative: a political system that centralizes the power to appoint key municipal, district, and regional officials in the presidency, raising the stakes for each election. The Strongest Democracy on the Continent? I believe that Ghana has the most developed democracy on the African continent. Of course, increasing numbers of other African countries have free and fair democratic elections. What sets Ghana apart is not the existence of free and fair elections, but peaceful interparty transitions . Ghana is a multiparty democracy (eight parties contested the 2008 presidential election) that is currently dominated by two parties, the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC). Between them, these two parties received about 93 percent of the presidential votes in the first round of the 2000 election and over 97 percent of the presidential votes in 2004 and 2008. Both the NPP and NDC
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f_0017767_15218 - Whats So Special About Ghana? Donald...

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