Peaceful Transition

Ghana began the year by joining an elite few African countries where the opposition has come to power after an open election. The election of John Agyekum Kufuor as president ended some two decades of domination by Jerry Rawlings, the former flight lieutenant who became leader after a 1981 coup. Kufuor soundly beat Rawlings’s handpicked successor, John Atta Mills, in a runoff election by a handsome margin of 57 percent to 43 percent. Kufuor, himself defeated in the 1996 presidential election, also saw members of his party fare well in polls for legislature.

From the Ghanaian capital, Paa Kwesi Plange and Raymond Archer reported in the independent weekly Ghanaian Chronicle of Accra (Jan. 8) that Kufuor at his inauguration “pledged to cut down the size of government expenditure to release more money for national development. The call also went out to Ghanaians abroad and those presently in exile to return home with their skills and resources.”

An editorial in the same paper opined, “By changing a government through the ballot box, we have sent a message to our sister African countries that we have come of age in our quest for nationhood. We now have some very vital experiences we can teach others who are intent to establish the same culture.”

Comment in the region generally reflected such pride in a peaceful transition. In Uganda, for example, the government-owned New Vision of Kampala (Jan. 9) said: “The charismatic Rawl ings has been in power for virtually two decades, and many observers doubted that he would bow out gracefully. He has kept his word and proved them wrong....[This] shows that Africa is steadily settling into a pattern of free and fair elections that are accepted by all sides. While there is chaos in countries like Sierra Leone and Congo, others including Uganda are steadily progressing toward long-term political stability.”

Meanwhile, in Kenya, the independent Daily Nation of Nairobi (Jan. 9) noted that many Kenyans hope similar events will take place there in 2003. “Above all, there is the great lesson that there is life after presidential transitions, even transitions from long-entrenched ruling parties (and rulers) to opposition parties,” it said. “This might sound like a simplism, but it is a lesson that can take years (and has done in many parts of Africa) to inculcate among both rulers and large segments of the ruled.”

According to veteran African commentator Cameron Duodu, writing for the London-based Gemini News Service (Jan. 5), “The rejoicing in Ghana was not so much in celebration of Kufuor’s win as for Rawlings’s departure. After 20 years, the country had simply tired of the man and was telling him so in no uncertain terms.” But the Ghana-born Duodu added: “Kufuor and his team will learn soon enough that it is easier to get the electorate to throw out an incompetent government than to fulfill its expectations. What most Ghanaians now want is economic and social change.”