Surrounded by democratic pretenders on a volatile continent, Ghana is emerging as a beacon of democratic hope for Africa. Despite the threat of a violent clash over results that were almost too close to call, a new leader, John Atta Mills, has successfully taken the reins in an orderly, fair runoff election that would be the envy of many Western nations. The outcome is a rare example of an African nation handing power over to a legitimately elected leader twice; it could stand as an example for other African nations, including nearby Cameroon, where voters are apathetic over President Paul Biya having been in power since 1982.
Atta Mills, a lawyer, is head of the National Democratic Congress Party, and received 50.23 per cent of the ballots cast. The leader of the outgoing New Patriotic Party, Nana Akufo-Addo, by comparison secured 49.77 per cent in Ghana’s closest vote in history. Akufo-Addo had initially threatened to reject the results, but halted his court challenges after Ghana’s outgoing president, John Kufuor, appealed to the parties to embrace the outcome. (There have also been reports of former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan working behind the scenes.)
Raphael Njoku, an associate professor at the University of Louisville, Ky., who specializes in African politics, credits the “high economic cost” civil unrest would have on Ghana—which recently discovered it has oil—as one reason for Ghana to proceed democratically. He also believes Ghana’s growing international profile was a major factor for wanting to avoid the same bloodshed that erupted in 2007 after a similarly close election in Kenya. “The Western world has come to regard Ghana as one of the most stable partners in the West African region,” he says. “It is my bet that the ruling elite do not want to squander this image of Ghana in the eyes of the Western world.”