Africa hails Ghana election as democratic success

Ghana’s largely peaceful and credible presidential election was a rare example of a functioning democracy in Africa and should be a model for the continent, African leaders, voters and diplomats said on Sunday.

Much attention in Africa and elsewhere was focused on the Ghanaian vote after a year of political crises, many of them violent, tarnished Africa’s democratic credentials.

Opposition candidate John Atta Mills was declared the winner on Saturday after the closely fought election in the gold and cocoa exporter was settled by a run-off.

”John Atta Mills’ victory and the conduct of the people of Ghana provides a rare example of democracy at work in Africa,” Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga said in a statement.

While some violence was reported, international observers say the vote was mostly peaceful, in contrast with many other African countries, where democracy was battered in 2008.

More than 1 000 people were killed in post-election violence in Kenya last year and in Zimbabwe, Zanu-PF leader Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai have been deadlocked for months over a power-sharing agreement after disputed elections.

”Ghanaians can and should take pride in this democratic achievement. With their continuing show of commitment to the democratic process, Ghana and its leaders are setting an admirable example,” United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement.

Mauritania’s first freely elected leader was overthrown in a military coup in August and army officers in Guinea took power after the death of President Lansana Conte in December.

South Africa, is likely to go to the polls in March in what analysts expect will be its most tense vote since the end of apartheid in 1994, after a power struggle split the African National Congress last year.

”[The Ghanaian election] bears testimony to the respect for democracy and good governance in Africa,” South African President Kgalema Motlanthe said. ”The people of Ghana … have through the ballot paper showed their appreciation for democracy,” he said in a statement.

Ghana’s neighbour and fellow cocoa producer Côte d’Ivoire again postponed presidential elections last year and analysts say they are unlikely to be held before the end of 2009 due to delays in disarmament and voter registration.

”In this country, elections are always held in chaos, and it’s the strongest who wins,” said taxi driver Alpha Kante in Abidjan. ”If Ghanaians have voted for a new president without making a fuss, it’s good, and we must try to do the same.”

Nigeria, whose presidential election result was upheld last month after a legal challenge from defeated candidates, said the Ghanaian experience should be replicated in nearby countries.

”I hope and pray that the spirit with which the election has been fought and won will be nurtured and promoted not only in Ghana, but also in West Africa,” said Musiliu Obanikoro, Nigeria’s High Commissioner to Ghana.

Britain’s Baroness Valerie Amos, who led an election monotoring group from the Commonwealth, which includes several African states, said the electoral process was generally credible, while ordinary Ghanaians also hailed the vote.

”The election shows that Ghana is a shining example of democracy on a continent that is struggling to get recognition,” said Richard Nunoo, a mechanic in the capital Accra. – Reuters

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