The other side of Africa

The Independent

Copyright The Independent
Tuesday, 6 January 2009
There is no news out of Ghana, at least no news of the usual sort we have come to expect from modern day Africa. They have just had a general election there and the ruling party lost, so its leader has stepped down to make way for the opposition. No violence in the streets. No mass stuffing of ballot boxes. No mediation by the United Nations. No bogus power-sharing deals which will subsequently be slyly abrogated by some gerontocratic madman. Nothing like we have seen in Kenya, Nigeria, Zimbabwe or several of the other powerhouses of the African continent.
The truth is that there are increasing numbers of countries like Ghana which do not fit our easy African stereotypes. It has a strong unicameral Parliament. It has vibrant and autonomous newspapers and radio which place it in the top quartile of world indices on press freedom. It has a resolute and respected electoral commission, which recently investigated claims of vote-rigging and intimidation from both main parties and ruled them to be insubstantial – and persuaded the nation to abide by the outcome of the poll, even though there was barely 40,000 votes out of 9 million between the presidential candidates.
Contrary to rumour, democracy is flourishing in much of Africa. Many factors combine in this. Economic growth has been strong across much of the continent. A new entrepreneurship and a stronger middle class is emerging. A rich variety of pressure groups and community organisations are learning how to hold their governments to account.
Ghana is proof of how things can change. After a long series of coups, it has now seen a president step down from office, as the constitution demands, not once, but twice. The country is still poor; almost 90 per cent of its people rely on smallholder agriculture and the economy still relies significantly on aid. But most Ghanaians have access to education, its entrepreneurs have significant freedom and levels of political and financial corruption are comparatively low.
Out of all that, democracy is taking deeper root. The country which was the first in colonial Africa to gain its independence is now showing the way forward in other ways too.
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