The Ambassadors REVIEW
What’s So Special About Ghana?
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
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
. 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