Thursday, January 08, 2009

Ghana's elections: Is 'largely' free and fair good enough?

Pretty much stopped blogging but resurrecting this as a way to 'think aloud' about something I've been struggling with.

Ghana Elections: Where do we set the bar for 'free and fair'? Should that be something we decide upon internally, or is that set externally in the context of a broader continental picture? Is that constant across time, or have we shifted our definition based on the scale of irregularities in Kenya and Zimbabwe over the last year? Does this depend at all on how close the race is?

So we've voted. It went to two rounds, plus an additional day of voting in one constituency. There was quite a bit of tension, and some fears of unrest, but it's all over now. Akufo-Addo has conceded defeat and congratulated Atta-Mills, Atta-Mills has been sworn in, and around the world we are being heralded as an example of how democracy can work in Africa. Congratulations are rolling in - once again Ghana stands out as an example of peace and the rule of law in Africa.

Of all the media I have seen and heard though; both African and broader international, there has been little mention of any irregularities. This bothers me because it is not as if there were none. There were many reported cases of irregularities, with the most striking of them being violence against polling agents, and an inability of agents to observe elections of some polling stations. Each of the major parties in Ghana have a regional stronghold, and both the NDC and NPP have reported violence against their agents in the opposing party's stronghold. Do these not interfere with a 'free and fair' election? In the Volta region for instance, NPP polling agents were prevented from observing elections at many of the polling stations. The abuse of one of the polling agents (incidentally one of fewer than 5 trained psychiatrists in Ghana, and head of the department of psychiatry at the University of Ghana) was quite vicious, and has been documented, but largely ignored in the classification of the elections as free and fair. The electoral commission claimed that there was no evidence to support a further investigation of allegations of irregularities, but I would have thought that in this instance, the bloody pictures and statement from Elizabeth Ohene would have been enough to investigate.

The lack of acknowledgment leads to the an inclination to agree with what Nana Akufo-Addo said in his concession speech:

“By stating that there is criminal conduct in some constituencies of the Volta Region and yet announcing the results, the Electoral Commission has given the unfortunate impression that it does not matter how votes are being obtained[,] as long as they are duly recorded”

This strongly worded statement points to an undoing of a lot of what we have worked towards as a country, and casts a lot of doubt on the credibility of the electoral commission.

'Free and fair' aside, was the election a reflection of the will of the Ghanaian people? It could be argued that since there were only a few isolated incidents, the election was still largely free and fair. In an election where the victor's margin was ~40,000 votes, representing less than 1% of valid votes cast though, this is still material to the outcome of the election. If NPP agents were prevented from observing elections at the majority of polling stations in even two constituencies - say the Ho Central and Ho West constituencies for instance, that would represent >70,000 votes cast. This in itself is larger than the margin by which the NDC defeated the NPP. The NPP has indeed reported that their polling agents were prevented form observing the elections at several Volta Region polling stations. Herein lies my struggle.

The NPP withdrew all court cases and conceded defeat - a move that likely saved Ghana a lot of trouble. With the declaration of results barely 4 days before the constitutionally mandated inauguration, a lengthy legal process could have left us in a constitutional crisis, with the current president's term having expired, and no new president to inaugurate. Worse than this, tensions were quite high in the week before the final voting in Tain. Any legal wranglings which were not perceived to be above-board could have escalated these tensions and led to an outbreak of violence.

As it is, Ghana is peaceful, and both Africa and the rest of world have something to latch on to as an example of the progress of democracy in Africa, and a glimmer of hope that other countries can also 'succeed'. Do we do ourselves a disservice by overlooking these irregularities in the interest of an outward image, and what this means for people other than us as Ghanaians? Or if it is more for the fear of violence, should the will of the Ghanaian people be subordinated to the fear of a potential outbreak of violence?

Is this something we overlook at this point because we had only had one peaceful handover, and perhaps it is only after we have had two and are a more 'mature' democracy that we will have the confidence to tackle some of these tricky issues? Regardless of the number of transitions, will our democracy ever be 'mature' if we pussyfoot over issues such as these irregularities, which while isolated in the grand scheme of things, could have a material impact on the final result?

If the NPP and Akufo-Addo had persisted with their challenge and violence had broken out in Ghana, they would forever have been labeled as the unpatriotic party which put personal interests over the interests of the country at large. In my opinion though, the Ghanaian people are still done a disservice as long as political parties accept results when there is some doubt as to whether they are a reflection of what actually happened.

I focus on irregularities against the NPP because these are the ones for which I have seen evidence. Obviously, irregularities on both sides should be investigated.

I would love to hear thoughts on whether other people think this matters at all, and if it does, how we can move to a place where we are confident enough in the political process, our legal institutions and the stability of our democracy that we do not accept 'largely' free and fair, but insist that as an *absolute*, Ghanaian people are assured that the outcome of the election is a result of our collective will as a people.

These solutions are not things I have thought about at length, but a few things at the top of my mind:
- Firstly a constitutional change to allow for more time between the elections and the inauguration. Even a month would allow for some challenge to the results, and legal proceedings to take place
- Over time, a review of the legal system and the independence of the judiciary. This is obviously a large undertaking, but at some point, we need to have a system that all parties agree with, and would respect the decision of. The NPP's complaint had been lodged with the fast track court. Leading NDC functionaries have challenged the constitutionality of the Fast Track court in the past, and I can imagine that even if the NPP had not withdrawn, it is quite likely that the NDC would have challenged the legal process
- An overhaul of the voters register. This one is long overdue. It is an open joke that even if you collect and count all the farm animals in some constituencies in addition to the people, you still will not get to the number of people on the voters register, and subsequently the number of votes cast. In an environment where elections are so closely contested between two parties, the accuracy of the voters register in one or two constituencies can make all the difference to the outcome of the elections.

Postscript: International praise of Ghana's elections

Christian Science Monitor: Ghana's new president: Africa's symbol of a working democracy

Washington Post: Ghana's Example- How one African nation has made democracy work

Financial Times: Ghana-ing votes

Nigerian Tribune: How Ghana emerged hero

All Africa: Ghana: A Sign of True Democracy

Daily Nation (Kenya): It’s a triumph for Africa

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Disbelief and despondency as I follow the elections in Kenya

The wait is over in Kenya (for now), and Kibaki has been declared winner . From reports of election rigging which included the falsifying of results, it appears that democracy has been set back again in Africa. I am not angry, but just quietly sad. Sad that in a year that so many Kenyans displayed their faith in the electoral system by turning out to vote, people now have to ask what the point was. Sad that once again, incumbency has been abused. Sad that the ability of power to corrupy has robbed ordinary Kenyans of their right to decide who governs the country.

I've been following the coverage from Ory and M. As Ory talks about the tears she is fighting as she blogs the results, and M about his own tears. I remember the tears I cried in 2000. Very different tears though.

I cried in 2000 as election results were announced in Ghana, and we transitioned for the first time from one democratically elected government to another. I cried because after the Stolen Verdict of 1992, and the obviously fraudulent elections of 1996, Ghanaians had been able to exercise their right to vote, and know that the elections reflected our choice. I cried tears of joy at what I thought was a step forward for democracy in Africa in general, and since then I've smiled at the thought that we can learn from our mistakes, and slowly take steps towards a mature democracy in which people can be confident that their vote 'is their power.' I was drawn to tears again and again when I saw the joy of Ghanaians on the streets, when I saw the renewed sense of hope that people had. Never in my life had I seen such spontaneous euphoria. For many it was because their candidate had won, but for a lot of others, it was also because we had come of age as a democracy, and there was joy in knowing that if this winner did not live up to his promises and perform creditably, their candidate would have a chance again in 2004.

Today I'm stunned as I follow what is happening in Kenya, and robbed of the confidence I had that if nothing else, Ghana's elections in 2008 will be free and fair.

Ory and M give a god snapshot of what has been happening
- Results being falsified by electoral officials before they are announced
- An electoral officer who will have no part in the fraud blowing the whistle, and confirming the widespread rigging
- Kibaki being sworn in at a location with no media coverage minutes after the results are announced
- The AG and Chief Justice attending the swearing-in
- A media blackout in Kenya after rumours that a state of emergency would be declared.
- A rush for food, as no-one knows what is happening because of the media blackout, or what other services will be cut off next.
- Raila Odinga and some of his party members have been arrested

In 2007. It looks like whoever is *in* power decides who will be in power next. If s/he concedes, then we have a chance at the person who was voted for by the general populace. If not, whoever his/her choice is wins. How long before more African countries have judiciaries that are independent of the executive? How long before the Chief Justice can nullify the results and refuse to participate in the swearing in because he believes the results were rigged? Apparently independence till 2007 has not been long enough.

As I follow the elections in Kenya, a lot of the trepidation has to do with the thought of elections in Ghana in December 2008. While I am under no illusions that my preferred candidate will have an easy victory ( or indeed win at all), I've at least been confident that the voice of the people would prevail. With a virtual

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Does the Global Fund *really* save 3000 lives a day?

The LA Times has a long piece on the Global Fund, which looks at a lot of the complexities of providing solutions to global health problems. In particular, the article highlights a lot of the unintended consequences of the Global Fund’s focus on specific health issues, and questions the overall success claims of the fund. I came across the piece via an article on Valleywag of all places, which takes the article’s findings a step further by labelling the Gates’ work “Failanthropy.” I think Valleywag is a bit harsh in its analysis, but the Times article definitely had me thinking about some of the issues beneath the surface which are often not talked about when the director of the Global Fund says “Global Fund programmes are saving 3000 lives a day”

The main issues the Times brings up?
• The Fund’s focus on specific diseases is causing an internal ‘brain-drain’ in
country health systems as underpaid health professionals are drawn from basic
healthcare to jobs working on these better-funded diseases.
• There isn’t enough of a focus on support systems, so some of the very
expensive interventions are ineffective. A micro case if you want of ‘for want of
a nail the kingdom was lost’
As well as a slightly more serious allegation:
• Health workers are instructed not to discuss health conditions that the funded
vaccination programs cannot prevent, often the more serious concerns that the
patients have
– something which seems to go against all common sense in basic healthcare.

The LA Times piece comes across as a pretty scathing expose, a revelation of elements of paternalism in the Gates’ approach to global health care, and an indictment once again of Western interventions in developing world issues which fail to look at the bigger picture, and to work with other stakeholders in addressing the complete problem.

A little more digging however revealed a few things that the Times article neglected to mention. For instance, that health officials in Zambia have praised the Global Fund initiative for being largely country-driven. Also praise for the fact that Global Fund representatives are willing to listen to suggestions and adjust policies to be more relevant to the ways in which countries have chosen to address health issues ( sector-wide approaches versus a vertical focus on specific diseases.) There is also no mention of the fact that the Fund has admitted that countries have not always been clear on how funds can be channelled, and they are working to improve this, as well as looking at interventions in agriculture and nutrition, and give 1% of funds to support health systems more broadly (info from two Lancet pieces on the Global Fund).

In balance though, a lot more thinking needs to be done about the overall place of the Global Fund and other international health interventions, and how effective they are overall. One of the Lancet articles talks about the Zambian government’s frustration with the many different organizations they have to deal with. “7 months on the Global Fund, 8 months on the Clinton Foundation and 3 months on MAP.” Perhaps more time co-ordinating these different efforts than actually attacking the problem.

One thing which struck me about the article was the statement of Tadataka Yamada, president of the Gates Foundation’s global health program "We're a catalyzer. What we can't do is fill the gaps in government budgets…It's not sustainable.” True enough. Even more striking to me – his statement that Africans need to do more themselves to improve public health, and that they should spend less on weapons and more on doctors before they demand increased assistance. Sure, the likes of Dr. Yamada have no obligation to African countries and African health systems, and I’ve been a pretty vocal critic of some government spending choices, such as this one in Ghana. That being said, if the foundation has taken upon itself to intervene, I expect slightly more nuanced statements from Yamada. Sure, the governments could probably spend more on the health sector. But wouldn’t one of the results be accelerating the development of health systems in other parts of the world? It would take much more than the 15% of GDP that Yamada proposes African countries spend on health care (only 13 countries in the world spend as much as 10%) to come close to comparable conditions for health professionals in developing countries. Perhaps a little work on looking at how the poaching can be discouraged, or how developing and developed governments could cone up with mutually beneficial solutions could help. Just a thought…

As someone firmly in the camp of ‘the only way things will change is if we change them ourselves’ this was mostly a reminder to keep focusing on being impactful in developing the capacity of Africans to solve some of these problems ourselves. Also a reminder of how important leadership initiatives are. Maybe a few entrepreneurial health ministers in these countries could be more successful at coming up with solutions which take the whole picture into consideration. After all, they know the systems best, and they have to deal with the broader consequences of some of these spot interventions.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Breaking News: The race heats up as CPP selects Nduom

It's official. The CPP has announced that Dr. Paa Kwesi Nduom, former minister for Private Sector Development has won the race for the party's presidential candidate. Nduom is a lifelong CPP member, but as part of President Kuffours open government policy, was a minister for a long time.
The 2008 elections will almost certainly go into a 2nd round, because while the CPP certainly doesn't have the support base to win, Nduom is sure to cause an upset. His candidacy puts the CPP in a position of immense strength, as they (and their supporters) will be the Kingmakers when it comes down to it.

6 days until the NPP congress, and it promises to be even more hotly contested than the CPP race.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Ghana's "Iron Lady"passes away is reporting the death of Hawa Yakubu, a well-known politician and leading member of the New Patriotic Party. Hawa is said to have died in London this morning, after a short illness.
The news of Hawa's death has shocked me immensely, and judging from initial reactions online, many other Ghanaians. In a quote on the website for The Hawa Foundation, there is a quote from Hawa which reads:

"Amongst all the things that history will say about me I hope it will not fail to record that she appealed to the best hopes of people and not their worst fears, their confidence and not their doubts, her wish is that people tread the path of life with liberty lamp lightening their path and stretching and arm of opportunity and help."

Hawa will definitely be remembered as one who championed the cause of Ghanaians. She was a firm believer in the ability of politics to effect widespread change, and lived her life on this belief. She was persecuted endlessly for her political beliefs - she lived through assassination attempts, and had her house burned down in the run-up to the 2000 elections.

Ms. Yakubu was also known for her championing of women's rights, and her staunch support of female politicians, to the extent of being accused by members of her own party of supporting opposition candidates because they were women.

Known as the "Iron Lady" of Ghanaian politics, she was the 2nd Vice Chairman of the ruling NPP when she died, and when people spoke of Ghana's first female president, the name that was most often on peoples lips. She declared her intention to run in 2005, although she has been fairly silent since then.

I'm still in shock, Ghanaians of all political persuasions have lost a woman who dedicated her life to effecting change for all, and a role model in the area of grassroots activism.

Damirifa Due, Hawa Yakubu.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Produce your boyfriend - or else...

The title reminds me of the punchline to a bad joke, but unfortunately this is not a joke.
I was listening to a Ghanaian radio programme [as an aside.. more and more of my posts seem to include things I hear on this infamous radio programme], and there was commentary on the police commitment to clamp down on crime. Specifically there was a focus on prostitution, and the arrest and prosecution of prostitutes.

I heard a statement which almost had me checking if it was indeed the year 2006 ( and not perhaps 1906). I would have not have believed that a public official could have uttered such statements if I had not heard him myself. According to the Greater Accra regional police chief, women going to bars and hotels etc. by themselves at night may be asked to produce their husbands or boyfriends who they are there with, to prove that they are not prostitutes soliciting customers. ( as these alleged prostitutes would then face arrest). In Ghana??? A country with 'freedom and justice' as its motto, and a place where citizens supposedly have freedom of movement?? This is obviously not something that is being enforced, but I find the fact that the police chief in the capital city could say this scary, and scarier still the fact that he considers it perfectly legitimate to target any woman by herself at a bar or restaurant by herself as a prostitute.

The presenter went on to ask him whether there might not perhaps be single women who could be out for a drink with friends, or even by themselves, an innocent enough situation. His response?? "the timing is very important...if you are a decent woman, you should be able to go there early and move out. If you stay there till 1am, you know it is dangerous" At 1am?? Without a man to show I cannot be out by myself in Accra?

I comment less frequently than I used to on issues related to women's rights, and certainly never have on this blog. It is not to say that I don't have opinions, but I find that too often statements are taken out of context and taken as representative of all the other actions or positions a person takes. It is also possibly as Sefi Atta might say for fear of being labelled a feminist. This time though, I had to say something. What is it about our society that is so skewed towards certain 'traditional' roles for women, and the quick labelling of women as 'good' or 'bad' based on a set of criteria in which they have no say. It comes out in this issue, but also goes back to the now oft-heard argument over how much a woman might be to blame for a situation in which she is raped. And whether perhaps what she was wearing had anything to do with it, or where she was at the time. I'm all for people taking responsibility for their actions,but really should a man's lack of self control be overlooked at the expense of a woman's ability to dress as she pleases?

Then there's the issue of the Ghanaian domestic violence bill, which has been welcomed by both men and women all over the country. Oh - apart from the clause about marital rape that is. For most men ( and some women) there should be no mention of rape in a marriage. When a woman agrees to marry a man, she gives up her right to say no to him.

How can people be so gifted in so many different areas, make extraordinary strides in science, politics, business, sports - be capable of sophisticated analysis on a range of issues, and yet still be stuck in the stone ages on certain issues?

When will a single woman be able to hold her place in society, without needing a man as some sort of validation?

Black Stars - shining on and off the field

My post yesterday about the euphoria over the Black Stars' victory, and the unifying effects of football reminded me of something else I've been meaning to post about.My post yesterday about the euphoria over the Black Stars' victory, and the unifying effects of football reminded me of something else I've been meaning to post about, The 'I am a Black Star Campaign', an initiative of the NeoAfrica Foundation. The campaign website has an explanation of their project:
Every Ghanaian must strive to be a "Black Star," an individual who embodies excellence, integrity and sacrifice beyond personal gain, for the greater good of our country and our continent.

The premise is that the Black Stars' commitment to excellence has earned them a place in the World Cup, and has the whole country rallied around them. What excited me about the project is not just the commitment to excellence, but the aim of recognizing people who are living that excellence. I was talking to a Zimbabwean friend of mine a couple of years ago ( how time flies!), and we had a long conversation about role models, and which people were celebrated as we grew up. He spoke of Strive Masiyiwa of Econet Wireless, and although we went off on a tangent, there were several other people he mentioned as well. What struck me though was the fact that growing up in Zimbabwe Masiyiwa's example was one that a lot of people wanted to emulate. He spoke of how he and a lot of his friends wanted to replicate Masiyiwa's phenomenal success in business. I thought of Ghana, and who we saw as examples of success when we were growing up. Sure there was Sam Jonah of Ashanti Goldfields fame, and a few others, but to a large extent the only people who are widely know to young people and celebrated as successes are people with political power.

I've thought about this a lot, and the lack of visible role models for young people. Although I miss every moment I'm away from Ghana and I'm always looking for opportunities to go back, or to work on projects that impact communities at home, I don't for a minute regret having left to go to school. My horizons have been expanded beyond anything that was possible at home. By that, I mean not only the opportunities I have access to, but more importantly what I perceive as 'possible.' There are people at home who I like to call 'professional pessimists' . Quick to deflate people's dreams, doubting that anything other than what they have already seen can be successful. Now on the other hand, I firmly believe that if you can dream it, you can do it. This attitude relates to entrepreneurial culture ( which I will be disciplined enough to leave at that, since that is an entire post on its own), but fundamentally to all aspects of everyday life.

It is partly a culture, but also the ability to see people who have excelled in their fields and conceive of what has not been done before as possible. The really cool part about the 'I am a Black Star' project is that it doesn't celebrate people in business, or politics or other select fields, but celebrates people setting examples in their everyday lives.
The teacher extending education to the most remote villages; the ethical public official upholding integrity in our government; the business owner committed to giving back to his community; these are all Black Stars! Our nationwide campaign will feature inspirational profiles of such exemplary individuals and beseech all Ghanaians to discover and exercise their own power to make a difference in their communities.
This is a great start at developing a culture of role models, and hopefully one of people who have enjoyed more success mentoring others. One feature of the campaign is wrist bands which remind people of their commitment to live out the example of the Black Stars in their everyday lives.

certainly commendable, let's see how it plays out

Sunday, June 18, 2006

How brightly can a *black* star really shine?

Evidently with blinding intensity, when the stars in question are those on the Ghanaian national team. I am still on an undescribable high after the game yesterday. Simply ecstatic after such a masterful display of football :-) I'll let up with the superlatives now, and admittedly there were several chances the team missed, but it was an excellent game, whichever way you look at it.

There was a lot of disappointment after the game on Monday, and I for one was heartbroken. It was an excellent game, but an inability to finish our attack and convert the many chances to goals left us with a 2-0 loss against the Italians. Hence the euphoria in the wake of yesterday's game, and against the Czechs nonetheless. The last *obstacle* is now the U.S. I can't wait till Thursday, and I hope that is a victory, if for nothing at all, to show that we are a country (and continent) to be taken seriously.

I'm always in awe of the phenomenal unifying power of football, and i was reminded of that again yesterday. There's unification on a large scale, such as the stories we hear from the Ivory Coast. The players are acutely aware of these responsibilities, clear from Didier Drogba's statement on behalf of his teammamtes to the country "Ivorians, we ask for your forgiveness...let us come together and put this war behind us."
Yesterday though, I was reminded of how football pulls people together even on an everyday basis. I was in my element after our first goal came so early, and evidently so were a lot of other people. My phone was struggling under the burden of calls, vociemail and text messages from all over the world. My friends who were Zimbabwean, Nigerian, Zambian, Mexican, Ghanaian, American, from St. Thomas - everyone was keenly following the game, and living each tense moment with the Ghanaian fans. In the words of one of my friends "Congrats, every African is happy."
These were sentiments I shared as I watched the other African teams play - praying that Angola could sustain the draw against Mexico or take the lead, wondering if there was any hope for Ivory Coast after they were down 2-0 to Argentina, hoping Togo could sustain their 1-0 lead over South Korea...

Times like these take me back to thoughts of how much of a force Africa could be if this support extended beyond football. We've been disappointed by all the African teams at some stage - none of us won our opening games. That doesn't deter us as fans thoguh, we continue to offer our support, and hope that perhaps the next game will be better, hope that perhaps if Ivory Coast loses, Togo might still have a chnace, or that if Angola is out, Ghana might win and still leave us with an African team in the running. Is it easier because there is so little to lose? Or perhaps because there is little effort expended on our part?

I am still chilled when I recall comments I heard on a Ghanaian radio station about refugees from Darfur in Ghana.. Callers to the programme were largely of the opinion that they should be sent back where they came from, and that they were not welcome in Ghana. I know it is a lot more complex of a situtation than simply having a governemnt take in people from anywhere who seek refuge, but there was complete disregard for their plight, not even a wish to help balanced by a regret that the country only has limited resources.

There was also the day I was listening to the same program, this time with Nigerian friends of mine, as callers discussed a shooting incident that had taken place at a Ghanaian university, ostensibly involving Nigerian students. I could only hang my head in shame at the preposterous generalizations the callers were making - branding all Nigerians as criminals. There was a call for the wholesale expulsion of Nigerian students from our schools, and comments on how they were introducing unheard of criminal elements into our society. Arguably, many parts of Nigeria are more accustomed to violent crime than parts of Ghana, but is that to say that none of the crime in Ghana is attributable to Ghanaians? Or that none of the commendable things in our society are attributable to foreigners?

as we watch the games and revel in the successes of the African teams, I hope we can build a culture that is supportive both in good times and in bad..