Eric Kwame charts Ghana’s fascinating political history from independence to fully fledged multi-party democracy.
Ghana became independent on 6th March 1957, ending British rule that can be traced back to 6th March 1844 when a number of chiefs along its coast signed the ‘ Bond of 1844’, submitting to British protection from the more powerful kingdoms in the hinterland.
From then on, the British extended their area of influence and control through treaties and military conquests. Ashanti and the Northern Territories were among the major additions. By the 1950s, when independence was approaching, the colonial authorities also held ‘ British Togoland’, their end of the divided German protectorate to the east of the Gold Coast as Ghana was then called. In a plebiscite, the people of British Togoland chose to join them after independence, rounding off the geographical shape of what is now Ghana.
After decades of experimentation, several military governments and some turmoil that have however fallen short of civil war – unlike many of its neighbours – Ghana now has a fully functioning democracy, based on a constitution that was approved by its citizens in a referendum in 1992.
The constitution guarantees citizens’ rights, ownership of property, media freedom and the right to legal recourse for all citizens and corporate entities. After 20 years in operation, a wide-ranging review is under way. A commission was set up to collate citizens’ views and compile these views into a number of recommendations which government has responded to. It is expected that voters will have the chance to decide on the amendments of some entrenched clauses in the constitution. Currently, Ghana is governed by an elected President. The President is elected on a first-past-the-post basis, with a run-off if none of the candidates obtains more than 50% of valid votes cast.
The President is allowed to appoint as many Ministers as he sees fit to pursue his agenda, as long as he can get the approval of parliament, first at committee level and then by plenary. However, only 19 can sit in cabinet.
Ghana’s parliament is unicameral and has 275 seats. It is led by a speaker, who is elected by members either from its ranks or outside it. The house rules demand that members either sit with government or the opposition. Members are generally loyal to the strong party whips and issues which do not get broad cross-party approval can often divide the house sharply along party lines. Currently, the National Democratic Congress, which also controls the Presidency, holds 148 of the seats in parliament with the largest opposition party, the New Patriotic Party, in control of 122. The People’s National Convention holds one seat and three members of parliament won on independent tickets.
It should be noted that some independent members belong to parties but decided to go independent on failing to secure the party’s nomination. Once elected, such ‘ independent’ members generally sit with their parties of origin.
The two main political parties in the country – the NDC and NPP – are of nearly equal strength; hence election outcomes are always close. The NDC is the youngest of the political traditions in the country, drawing its origins from the military government led by Jerry John Rawlings between December 1981 and January 1993 when the country returned to constitutional rule.
The NDC professes a social democratic agenda and is largely drawn from left-wing intellectuals from the post- independence era, many of whom were loyal to the person and ideals of the first President, Kwame Nkrumah, who is generally acknowledged to be the country’s greatest leader. The Convention People’s Party, from which the first President came, has now lost much of its following, with the NDC being the greatest beneficiary.