A new president

10 01 2009

The new president

On Wednesday professor John Evans Atta-Mills was sworn in as the third president of the fourth republic of Ghana following Dr John Kufuor and Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings. As well as being the third John he’s also the second democratic change of both president and party since democracy was restored in 1992. I’m not sure how I should respond to this fact, a peaceful transition of power is assumed at home but in Africa it has sadly become something to notice and celebrate. I can’t help feeling that I’m being patronising when I congratulate Ghanaians on conducting a peaceful election – I’ve never congratulated a Frenchman or an American for not having a coup or rigged elections, why should it be different simply because a country is in Africa? Mind you the Ghanaians managed to have as close an election as the US election in 2000 and resolved the differences with fewer lawsuits and less acrimony than Bush and Gore managed (and to my knowledge no-one has tried to sell the equivalent of a senate seat here yet).

I watched some of the ceremony on TV in my hotel room; there wasn’t much alternative as all the TV channels were showing it. It started with the new parliament selecting their speakers – most notably the first female speaker sworn in by the first female chief justice. And the Ghanaian parliamentarians managed to convey their national sense of fun in the ceremony, with decent jokes (I laughed) and witty banter, without impairing the gravity of the occasion. I can’t imagine choosing to watch the state opening of Westminster parliament. The presidential ceremony was conducted outside in Independence Square, with foreign and local dignitaries sweltering in their finery under a tropical sun. That some of the older, more rotund VIPs survived is mildly surprising. The TV coverage descended into hours of “I’m not sure which head of state is greeting the former president right now” and “We’re going out live around the world” to shots of crowds milling around aimlessly. My family and friends in Britain apparently could have enjoyed the same aimlessness by watching the BEN channel on Sky I was repeatedly informed.

After lunch and after the ceremony I wandered down towards independence square where the festivities had taken place. It’s a slightly odd walk, starting down “Oxford Street”, full of white people, expensive shops and tourist tat, then into a much poorer area where Kim (a new VSO vol) and I were the only white faces amidst the chaos of the celebrations. Bus loads of cheering, whistling and generally jubilant NDC supporters decked in red, black green and white clogged the road. Street performers, their bodies painted in the colours of both main parties, created “living statue” tableaux representing unity and a chap waving a flag of the defeated NPP was treated with respect and was part of the celebration. After a fiercely fought campaign and a nail biting finish it really did feel like a celebration of national unity. I’m proud to be associated with Ghana and a little humbled by the level of political involvement here compared to Britain.

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2 responses

20 01 2009
DrNick

Tim,
Did you see this story on the BBC?
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/7839359.stm

21 01 2009
Tim Little

I hadn’t seen it on the BBC but it’s in the news here and being hotly debated.

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