Ghana's Election Signifies Progress for Africa

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Ghana's Election Signifies Progress for Africa

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Sir Winston Churchill once famously said, "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those others that have been tried."

Christians know that the only perfect government will be the coming Kingdom of God. In the well-known passage from Isaiah 9:6-7 Isaiah 9:6-7 [6] For to us a child is born, to us a son is given: and the government shall be on his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. [7] Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, on the throne of David, and on his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from now on even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.
American King James Version×
, we read: "For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this."

Jesus Christ preached the gospel (good news) of this coming Kingdom (Mark 1:14 Mark 1:14Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God,
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). But there's still some time between now and Christ's return. Until then, man has to contend with various forms of government, all of which are lacking in some respects.

Nowhere is this failure of government more obvious than on the African continent. Africa is the one continent that has not moved forward in the last four decades. Its peoples are worse off today than they were under the colonial governments that ruled them before independence in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Ghana's story

Ghana was the first colony in black Africa to be given independence, on March 6, 1957. It was the most progressive, the best educated and the most prosperous British colony on the continent. In the years before independence, it had a functioning parliament, the rule of law, a free press, freedom of expression, freedom of religion and free enterprise. These freedoms were a heritage of the British, who had learned that such freedoms are necessary for successful economic development and prosperity.

The British brought considerable development to their colonies. Many of them have gone backwards since independence. Many have learned the hard way that prosperity does not come through government decree. Rather, it comes through basic freedoms—including free enterprise, which enables people to work hard and prosper. People must know that they can keep what they earn, without fear of the government taking it all away from them.

In Ghana, these freedoms did not last long. Within a short time, Ghana was a dictatorship, and the state controlled all the major means of production. The result? Little production and a deteriorating standard of living for its people.

By 1966, things were so bad that there was a military coup. Decades of political instability were to follow as Ghana alternated between civilian government and military rule. Different constitutions were tried in between the military periods but nothing seemed to work.

One problem is the reluctance of African leaders to hand over power. A major reason for this is corruption. When you've had your hands on the public purse, there's a natural fear of handing over power, as exposure and punishment may follow. At the very least, it means that you no longer have the benefit of all that money coming your way.

By 1992, Ghanaians were exhausted and ready to adopt their new constitution, the Fourth Republic, an attempt at a democratic system similar to that of the United States. There is a general election every four years when a president is chosen and representatives are sent to parliament. The president is limited to two terms in office.

The first president under the new constitution was Jerry Rawlings, a man who had led a military junta before his election. At the time he handed over the reins of power in 2000, President Rawlings had been in office almost 20 years. His successor, John Kufour, sought reelection on Dec. 7, 2004. He won over his opponent, John Atta Mills, who had the backing of former President Rawlings.

Although I saw a couple of armored cars driving around the streets, and though there were reports of one or two election-related deaths in distant places, the election seemed to go as smoothly as it does in Western countries. An American friend who was with me walked over to a polling booth and asked some questions, which led to both of us receiving an explanation of the electoral process. There seemed no way that the election could be rigged. Ghana's election was truly commendable.

There seems every reason to expect that the next election, in December 2008, will proceed just as smoothly. At that election, President Kufour will not be able to stand for reelection. In many countries, constitutional restrictions like term limits are often waived by parliaments coerced into helping corrupt leaders stay in office, but Ghanaians want their constitution to work and seem determined to ensure it does.

The reason is that democracy has paid off for the country.

In the decades of dictatorship, the economy collapsed. Since the return to democracy, the economy has experienced considerable growth every year. Ghana's experience over the last two decades is best summed up in Thomas Jefferson's words: "That government is best which governs least." President Kufour inherited an improving economy from his predecessor, who embraced reforms suggested by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

In contrast, the 19th century British historian, Lord Acton, wrote, "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Sadly, too many African countries still live under such a system of absolute rule. Indeed, Ghana is a rare gem in West Africa these days. Many other countries in the region have experienced civil wars, coups and other upheavals during the same years that Ghana has experienced its growth.

Comparison with Iraq and Ukraine

If democracy can work in Ghana, why not elsewhere?

The Ukrainian election in November resulted in chaos and almost split the country in two. The pro-Russian candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, was the declared winner but massive demonstrations by supporters of the pro-Western candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, who claimed the election was rigged, resulted in another election being held Dec. 26. The victory this time went to Mr. Yushchenko. The stakes were high in the Ukrainian election where the major issue was the future course of the country—whether to remain closely tied to Russia or join the European Union. EU membership would ensure democracy and increase living standards for the people. Russia's leader, Vladimir Putin, is accused of interference in Ukraine. In his own country, he has taken increasingly dictatorial powers that have threatened the country's fledgling democratic system.

We don't know for sure who was behind the poisoning of Mr. Yushchenko, but his subsequent facial disfigurement is a constant reminder that many do not want Ukraine to change course in a Westerly direction.

The confusion in Ukraine is nothing, however, compared to the situation in Iraq. Elections there are scheduled for the end of January. As the election date looms, violence is likely to worsen. Iraq has traditionally been dominated by Sunni Muslims, but the majority of the people are Shia, as they are in neighboring Iran. Iraq's former leader, Saddam Hussein, received his support from within the Sunni minority. His Baathist coconspirators stand to lose a great deal in the coming election, although the Sunnis as a whole are able to have a part in the new government, if they choose to do so.

Democratic traditions

History is the key here to understanding why some countries have a better track record when it comes to democracy.

Ghana was a British colony before independence. Along with all the other British colonies, except British Somaliland (small and short-lived as a colony) and Hong Kong (leased from China), it had a functioning parliament in what was then called the Gold Coast. Freedom of the press, free speech, freedom of religion and free enterprise were all practiced during the colonial period.

Because of this history, Ghanaians have always aspired to have a democratic system. Whenever the country has deviated from democracy, the mass of the people have campaigned to see it restored.

In his book Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power, historian Niall Ferguson writes: "When the British governed a country—even when they only influenced its government by flexing their military and financial muscles—there were certain distinctive features of their own society that they tended to disseminate. A list of the more important of these [would include] representative assemblies (parliaments), the idea of liberty, the Common Law, Protestantism (freedom of religion)" (page xxv).

"The British Empire acted as an agency for imposing free markets, the rule of law, investor protection and relatively incorrupt government on roughly a quarter of the world" (page xxiii). (To understand more about Britain's historical role, request our free booklet, The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy.)

The United States built on these democratic traditions when America broke away from England. At the end of World War II, the United States and Britain imposed the same democratic traditions on the nations they had fought, the Axis powers of Europe and Japan. The nations of Western Europe soon formed the European Union, which requires all its members to have a democratic system of government. The EU's success has led to its incredible growth. Ukraine and others are anxious to join the EU's current 25 members.

But this is not the case in the Middle East. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair talk of the need for democracy in the Middle East to end the political stalemate and violence of the last six decades. But where do you start? Iraq seems as good a place as any. After World War I when the country was first formed out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, the British were given a mandate over Iraq by the League of Nations. They introduced a system of government similar to the British model. But it did not last and British domination was resisted by the Iraqis just as American control is now.

Whether Washington's dream of an Iraqi democracy will ever be realized remains to be seen. But at least Washington can be thankful that one more country, Ghana, has embraced democracy and seems set on a stable and increasingly prosperous course.

Excited at the election, many Ghanaians expressed their appreciation for "peace," something we don't think about at election time in the United States or the United Kingdom. Perhaps this level of appreciation is one reason that voter turnout was over 80 percent, far higher than the United Kingdom and far, far higher than the United States.

Four years ago, the BBC World Service commentator covering the election remarked that he had reported on elections in the United Kingdom, United States and Ghana. Out of the three electorates, he felt Ghanaians were the best informed on world affairs by far.

Ghanaians are still thankful for the peace and prosperity that freedom usually brings. It's not just the political system that they are thankful for—they also appreciate the free speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion and freedom to work and prosper that accompany the democratic system.

This does not mean that Ghana has solved all its problems or ever will do so, just as no other democracy has. That won't happen until Jesus Christ rules this earth. But meanwhile Ghanaians are happier with what they have now than they have been at any time since independence almost 50 years ago. Other countries would do well to take note of Ghana's example. WNP