Ghana’s President Passes Away, But Democracy Remains Stable
August 7, 2012
By: Franz Essig | Printer Friendly
On July 24, Ghanaian President John Atta Mills passed away at a hospital in Accra. The 68 year-old president was five months away from completing his first term in office and had already won his party’s nomination to run for reelection. Mills is seen by many as leading Ghana during a time in which its democratic culture began to take form.
Ghana’s Daily Guide reported that Mills had been complaining about severe pains the previous evening. Several days after Mills’ death, his family announced that he was struggling with throat cancer and had returned from treatment in the United States eight days prior to his passing. Mills’ health had been a concern since his campaign in 2008, when opponents used it to weaken the image of the president. However, there was little concrete information concerning his disease available to the public prior to his death, as Mills’ National Democratic Congress (NDC) party insisted that the President was in full health.
John Atta Mills was born in western Ghana in 1944. He received education in the west, receiving degrees from London’s School of Economics and Political Science and University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, and was a Fulbright scholar at Stanford University. Mills wrote as an academic on tax policy for a number of years before becoming the Active Commissioner of Ghana’s Internal Revenue Service. He then became the running-mate of eventual Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings and served as Vice President from 1992 until 2000. Nicknamed “the Prof,” Mills was a calm and measured contrast to his fiery running-mate. He unsuccessfully ran for president in the 2000 and 2004 elections against John Agyekum Kufuor of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) before winning the election in 2008.
While in office, Mills led Ghana during a period when it gained recognition for the success of its democracy. Ghana was the site for US President Barack Obama’s speech on Africa’s regional democracy and remains the only sub-Saharan country Obama has visited while in office, in part as recognition for its great democratic progress. Rod Alence, a Ghana expert at University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, praised Mills, saying that his legacy was in “the consolidation of democracy in Ghana” and called him “a calming and stabilizing influence.” Mills’ Ghana saw rapid growth of up to 14 percent in 2011, resulting from the discovery of oil in 2010. However, a nine percent increase in inflation, recent corruption allegations against the NDC, and suggestions that oil revenues have not substantively decreased unemployment had led to dissatisfaction with the Mills’ party leading up to the election, which will take place in December.
BBC’s International Development Correspondent Mark Doyle wrote that “in a less democratic era – in the 1980s or 1990s – the death of Ghanaian leader would have caused fear and foreboding” but that the so-far peaceful transition is “a measure of how the democratic process has become ‘normal’ in Ghana.” John Campbell of the Council on Foreign Relations agreed with this assessment, writing that “democracy and the rule of law in Ghana has worked.” He added that the peaceful transfer of power could be seen as “a salutary reminder that democracy is alive and well in Africa, even if it is not as widespread as its friends would hope.” Africa Risk Consulting’s Ghana Analyst, Azim Datardina, noted that “political disruption will likely be internal and will focus on who is the NDC’s presidential nominee [in the upcoming elections].”
In another testament to the strength of Ghanaian democracy under Mills, a recent study in the Journal of Democracy by Kennedy Ochieng’ Opalo sought to classify the democratic credentials of Sub-Saharan African countries and found Ghana to be one of seven countries in the most accountable “electoral democracy” category. Opalo went on to write that Ghana is “the model case of democratization,” in large part because the president does not have enormous power to influence the outcomes of parliamentary elections. Opalo contrasted Ghana’s thriving competitive democracy with that of Cameroon, where Cameroonian President Paul Biya has successfully entrenched his power for 30 years through extensive gerrymandering of electoral districts to ensure that those loyal to him retain an overwhelming majority in parliament.
The country’s attention now shifts to Vice President John Dramani Mahama, who was sworn-in immediately after the news of Mills’ death was known. Many expect that Mahama will run in the coming election, although he will be challenged by Nana Konadu Rawlings, the wife of former popular president Jerry Rawlings. Nana Akufo-Addo of the NPP will run again after losing the 2008 election by only 41,000 votes, or less than a percentage point.
New York Times – John Atta Mills, President of Ghana, Dies at 68
BBC – Ghana’s Transition Sets Democratic Example
Council on Foreign Relations (Blog) – Ghana Burnishes Its Democratic Credentials
Journal of Democracy – African Elections: Two Divergent Trends