26 July 2012

Ghana: Atta Mills' Death a Test for Democracy?

Photo: Paulo Filgueiras/UN
President John Dramani Mahama, pictured when he was Vice President.


Ghana is seen as a strong democratic nation, but the sudden death of president John Atta Mills has raised questions in some quarters on how Ghana's democracy would move on given that It is the first time a Ghanaian president died in office.

Besides, Atta Mills had just been nominated by the National Democratic Congress to stand for a second term in December, so could this cause a political confusion to test the country's democratic institutions?

His successor, President John Dramani Mahama, will now serve as president until the election, but it is not yet clear whether he will run under the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) party. His party has not yet announced who will run in his place in December's election though some are speculating that Mahama could be chosen.

Sources said his nomination had illustrated a split within the ruling party with Nana Konadu Agyemang-Rawlings, the wife of former ruler Jerry Rawlings, who leads a faction critical of Atta Mills' management.

The political dynamics, especially regarding succession in Africa, is usually influenced by the relationship between the president and the vice president. Take the case of Nigeria, where, as a result of contentious agitations, the government of Goodluck Jonathan, though an off-shoot of the Yarádua administration, was expected to bring new life to governance (fresh air), in addition to the arguments over his constitutional eligibility to contest the election after Yar"adua's death, hence the furore that ensued the succession process. Luckily, the relationship between Yarádua and Jonathan was largely cordial but a different style of governance was expected, then followed agitations and counter-agitations, leading to constitutional questions. In Ghana, it may be assumed that following the peace that reigned between Atta Mills and the new president, in the absence of similar agitations over eligibility or control of state resources, one would expect continued peace and stability.

However, the Rawlings factor should not be forgotten, as, his wife, Nana Konadu Agyemang-Rawlings, herself a member of the same party, is very critical of the Atta Mills administration. This implies that former president Jerry Rawlings may likely want to rekindle his influence to pull his political clout over the current development, resulting in dissent.

Indications are however that fears of political instability may not be anything to worry about, since the opposition has praised the swift transition to Mr Mahama, saying it showed Ghana was a mature democracy. The opposition New Patriotic Party (NNP) presidential candidate Nana Akufo-Addo has even reportedly suspended campaigning out of respect for Mr Atta Mills. NPP chairman, Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey, also praised the smooth transfer of power that happened within hours of the president's death.

"Ghana actually has handled itself very well. We have never been through this before. Yet the transition that we saw in parliament has been very well handled, very smooth. We are showing a maturity that must encourage all Ghanaians", he said.

Furthermore, the new president has pledged to uphold stability in the country. Taking the oath at an emergency parliamentary session on Tuesday, Mr Mahama said he would govern for all Ghanaians.

"I wish Ghanaians to be assured that all is well. We are going to maintain the peace, unity and stability that Ghana is noted for", he assured. Given these assurances, will Ghana live up to its reputation as a strong democratic model to underscore the nation's stability in a continent where the deaths of leaders have sparked coups or serious constitutional crisis?

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