A strong and stable democracy
In many ways, Ghana’s political scene is one of its most recognisable defining features. Descriptions of the country, including this report, often stress the fact that Ghana, in contrast to many of its neighbours, has had two decades of stable democracy, with free and open elections, comparatively low levels of corruption and a lack of broader social instability.
This, combined with rapid economic growth, has helped bolster investment, as have strong relations with the likes of the UK, the US, the EU and, increasingly, emerging powers such as China, India and South Africa. In fact, the country often punches above its weight in the diplomatic arena.
This is not to say that Ghana has been immune from political turbulence and coups in the past, but it has made significant progress in recent decades towards ensuring a sustainable foundation for democratic growth.
This has been made all the more evident following the death of President John Atta-Mills from cancer in July 2012, with a peaceful and smooth transition of power to the vice-president, John Dramani Mahama. While the passing of Atta-Mills added a new dimension to the parliamentary and presidential elections in December 2012, the broader business of state has been left largely untouched.
Democratic Role Model
Ghana is rated as “free” by NGO Freedom House (of the categories not free, partly free and free), as is its press. The country is widely perceived as stable; for example, the World Economic Forum’s 2011-12 “Global Competitiveness Report” ranked “Coups and instability” last of 15 problematic factors for doing business in the country.
Policy instability” was ranked 11th out of the15. While corruption is an issue, the country is a strong performer in regional terms. The 2011 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Ghana as the 69th-least-corrupt country in the world (out of 182), and second-least-corrupt in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), after Cape Verde.
These factors mark Ghana out as a major regional political success story. “Ghana is a flag-bearer for Democracy in Africa. There have been five free and fair elections in the past 20 years and two peaceful transfers of power, which is enough in itself to attract substantial investor interest,” said Alasdair Hamilton, the head of UKTI Ghana. Indeed, many international companies have been looking at Ghana as a regional centre for their activities in West Africa, despite its not being the largest economy or oil producer in the region, due in large part to its stability. “Ghana needs to keep that headline,” said Hamilton.
The reasons commonly cited for Ghana’s status as a regional haven of stability and democracy include the fact that the country won its independence peacefully, as well as its diverse ethnic make-up; no ethnic group is sufficiently strong to threaten to monopolise power, and it is felt this obliges governments to reach out to all groups.
The country also has a strong sense of national identity that supersedes other affiliations such as ethnicity and tribe, more so than in many other African countries, which some attribute to factors such as an educational system in which people from different backgrounds tend to mix.
While religious sentiment is strong, tensions between various religious groups (just under 70% of the population is Christian, divided between Pentecostals, Protestants Catholics and other dominations, while around 16% is Muslim and around 9% follow traditional religions) are low.
Civil society is also well developed, putting pressure on government and allowing for peaceful outlets for frustrations and dissent. “Ghana has a very strong civil society base,” Kwakye told OBG.