THROUGH CANADIAN EYES
For The Daily Statesman December 13 2016
As a Canadian arriving not just in Ghana, but on the African continent, for the first time, my head was filled with my own excitement for the experience to come. This was shrouded slightly, however, by the doubts of friends and family back home. Some wondered why I would go to Africa in the first place. Some questioned the level of safety in the country, especially during a highly anticipated event such as the 2016 Ghana presidential elections.
Bad news travels fast, and in Canada we seem to receive more upsetting news about Africa than good. Countries often get lumped together in the collective idea foreigners have of Africa, as though it is one country itself. If something negative happens in Egypt, some people may get the idea that all of Africa is dangerous. It is largely a stigma. After doing some research on Ghana before I left Canada, I was confident in informing my concerned loved ones that it is considered one of the most peaceful countries in Africa. It has a lower crime index rating and a higher safety index rating than my neighbouring country, the United States of America.
I arrived in Accra, Ghana, four days before the 2016 presidential elections. During that time, there was a lot of talk surrounding tensions between supporters of opposing parties, the possible violence that could result from this, and concern for the safety of the general public.
Some of the other volunteers I am living with were uncertain about what would result from the day of the elections and how safe the streets would be. We drove past several demonstrations of jubilant people showing support for their party of choice—all of it included music, dancing, singing and cheering. The demonstrations showed positive encouragement for either NPP or NDC, without putting down the opposition or showing negative retaliation. It appeared to be a big street party rather than anything controversial or dangerous.
Some people I spoke to said that they would not leave their house on election day, and suggested that myself and my fellow volunteers do the same. Some said not to worry. Most told us to be very careful. Others said that if there were to be any violent demonstrations, it would be on the day they counted the votes and announced the new candidate elect.
Even after a few days in Ghana, my impression with the friendly Ghanian people left me feeling safe and without any sense of danger.
On December 7th, 2016, election day, I had a friend walk me to one of the polling stations in Nungua. Some people milled around, awaiting the 5 pm closing time to hear the results of this constituency. People arrived and left within twenty or thirty minutes. I spoke with a lady named Cheri, who is 18 and voting for the first time. She had been at there all day, selling food at a stall across from the polling station.
“Nothing happened here, no fights, no violence.”
Another man, a retired major from the Ghana Airforce, had this to say regarding talks of expected violence on election day:
“It has been so all along. It’s like two goats fighting. You know they raise their heads up to see if they are going to clash seriously, but you see that they lower their heads quietly. A lot of talk all over the place, but in actual fact, in actual physical facts, it’s minute. Politics– they talk, they argue. They want to convince each other. And they want to create the impression that the opponent is not good. In actual fact, those who are doing it, they are only using their mouth to fight. Because most of them are from the same area, the same house, the same family members. They will go and argue, but they won’t fight. It has been so all along, not only today but for a long time. Everything has been peaceful in the past, even where the other party realized it had been cheated.”
This retired military personnel shared some of his experiences in places with unrest, such as Liberia, Rwanda, the Congo, and said the peace experienced in Ghana is incomparable to dangers he experienced there. He attributes some of this peace to intertribal marriages, which creates a more national community.
“People will talk, people will argue,” he says about his fellow Ghanaians. “But they will not fight. Sometimes they even go and sit at beer baths and drink together and argue. That’s all.”
My experience of election day in Ghana was incredibly tame. It did not live up to the hype that was so prevalent in many conversations. The hype didn’t kick in until two days later, when Nana Akufo-Addo was announced as the new president elect.
That evening, my friends and I drove to Osu. The streets throbbed with celebrations of Ghanians cheering for their new president. The entire city seemed to have morphed into a giant dance party. As we walked through the streets of Osu, we couldn’t help but smile and dance to the music that played everywhere. It was infectious.
“Aren’t you scared?” One young man asked me, laughing.
I shrugged. “Of what?”
The 2016 Ghana elections had all the drama and rumours of violence that any presidential election has, but no follow through. Like the retired major said, it proved to be all talk. Ghana, true to their history, pulled through with peace, maturity, and lots of dancing.
On December 9, 2016, the new president elect, NPP candidate Nana Akufo-Addo, delivered a speech regarding his victory.
“A few minutes ago, at 7:51pm precisely, the President of the Republic and the NDC presidential candidate, H.E. John Dramani Mahama, called me on the phone to congratulate me on my victory in the presidential election of 7th December 2016. He wished me the best of luck and God’s blessings, and assured me of his full cooperation in organizing the transition from his administration to mine.”
This illustrates perfectly, I believe, the collective character of Ghana; peace and probity.