Ghana re-established its reputation as one of Africa’s cleanest democracies on Friday when authorities proclaimed opposition leader Nana Akufo-Addo, 72, a British-educated lawyer and veteran statesman, as the next president.
The victory by Mr Akufo-Addo’s centre New Patriotic party, after eight years of rule by the left-leaning National Democratic Congress, triggered wild celebrations across much of the country. It follows the surprise electoral defeat last week of Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh, who had spent 23 years in office after seizing power in a coup.
The two results help cement west Africa’s improving record for smooth democratic transitions after recent transfers of power in Nigeria, Cape Verde and Benin. However, there were signs on Friday night that Mr Jammeh was seeking to backtrack on his concession.
If you are an incumbent in Africa, beware
“If you are an incumbent in Africa, beware,” said Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai, governor of Nigeria’s Kaduna state, and one of dozens of senior African figures who were in Ghana to monitor the elections. He praised a peaceful process, one rigorously monitored by civil society and improved by technology, as setting “the gold standard for elections in Africa”.
The victory ended concerns that John Mahama, the incumbent, would try to cling to office in a repeat of the disputed 2012 election. Such was the surge of support for Mr Akufo-Addo, who ended up with nearly 54 per cent of the vote, that some commentators predicted violence if any attempt were made to rig the poll.
After nearly 48 hours in which the governing party had maintained the fiction that it could win, Mr Mahama called his opponent to concede. “We are the party of law and order,” he said, urging supporters to accept defeat calmly.
In a low-key victory speech, Mr Akufo-Addo said: “There’s never been a more humbling moment in my life and I thank you, the good people of Ghana … I make a solemn plege not to let you down.”
This is about the most professionally run electoral process that I have seen in Africa in the last 20 years
Mr Akufo-Addo has promised to stifle corruption, get the economy going through tax cuts and business incentives and launch an industrial policy to turn Ghana into a regional processing and light-manufacturing centre. He will appoint a public prosecutor to look into corruption but has hinted he will not go after senior figures in the previous administration, in the interests of a smooth transition.
His government will benefit initially from oil revenue that will come on stream in earnest next year, but the president-elect says he wants to wean Ghana off commodities, including cocoa and gold, by emulating the diversification strategy of neighbouring Ivory Coast.
Johnnie Carson, former US assistant secretary of state for Africa, said: “This is about the most professionally run electoral process that I have seen in Africa in the last 20 years.”
Election turnout was around 70 per cent.
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