The Ascent of Democracy in Ghana

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SEATTLE — Nestled inconspicuously in the subregion of West Africa lies the nation of Ghana. Although it may not stick out on a map, the country of 28 million people has garnered significant attention in recent decades for its remarkable, albeit methodical, transformation. Once known officially as the Gold Coast because of its natural resource deposits, the nation has seemingly discovered something far more valuable than its mineral namesake: stable democracy. In doing so, democracy in Ghana has helped stabilize its institutions and develop its economy, providing improved prospects for its people and something of a blueprint for its neighbors.

To some, Ghana serves as the archetypal sub-Saharan nation. It has endured a sordid colonial past, a protracted battle for independence and the endemic challenges of a nation too long deprived of functioning institutions. About two decades ago, however, Ghana began to change. By focusing on installing the precepts of democracy in Ghana and taking a holistic approach to economic development, it has slowly and quietly become one of the continent’s greatest success stories.

Dating back to 1992, Ghana has experienced free and fair multi-party elections for president and its national legislature. When, in 2012, the results of a close presidential race were challenged, the Supreme Court upheld the results, an event Freedom House heralded as “underscor[ing]the consolidation of democracy and respect for rule of law”. In perhaps the greatest stress test of nascent democracies, presidential incumbent John Mahama lost his reelection bid in 2016 and the ruling party ceded power, marking the third transition of power without major incident.

Many consider the recognition and protection of political rights and civil liberties equally as important as elections. Ghana has ensured the freedoms of expression, movement and association, has an independent judiciary and affords women all the legal protections men have. Although political corruption persists and there are barriers to business ownership and property rights, Freedom House considers its institutions to be robust enough to identify democracy in Ghana as strong.

On the economic front, Ghana has also made substantial progress. To overcome its economic anemia, the country has benefited from organizations like the World Bank, which has provided a much-needed influx of capital assistance. Of the 43 initiatives sponsored by the World Bank as of 2017, three in particular stand out, revealing the nation’s emphasis on diversified development by prioritizing healthcare, human capital accumulation and fiscal policy.

The Maternal and Child Health and Nutrition Project attempts to improve the utilization of community-based health and nutrition services for women and young children. So far, the program has already increased the number of births with a health professional present, and has continued to work to provide children with malaria nets and important nutrients. With the Secondary Education Improvement Project, Ghana’s Ministry of Education is increasing access to schools for girls in rural communities. And through the Economic Management Strengthening Project, the Finance Ministry seeks to institutionalize a functional, transparent process for public investment that can help allay concerns over public debt and inflation.

These development efforts have yielded quantifiable dividends. The poverty headcount, measured by the percentage of citizens making less than $1.90 per day, has been slashed from 47 percent in 1991 to 24.2 percent in 2012, according to World Bank statistics. This means that millions of Ghanaians have wrestled free from abject poverty’s stifling grip. More too can achieve their aspirations as Ghana continues to develop and other nations and NGOs continue to assist.

Ghana’s economic and democratic adolescence has not been without growing pains. Its record of achievement should not be overlooked, however. Once a stranger to democracy, Ghana now glistens with the institutions that make it the envy of its African neighbors. Once exploited, the Gold Coast is now emulated as the gold standard of African democracy.

– Brendan Wade

Photo: Flickr

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About Author

Brendan Wade

Brendan writes for The Borgen Project from Phoenix, AZ. His academic interests include economics and political science. Brendan hopes to study law.

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