from Africa in Transition

Ghana Burnishes its Democratic Credentials

July 26, 2012

Blog Post

President of Ghana John Atta Mills died July 24. Though never officially confirmed, it was said that he suffered from throat cancer and he went to New York several times for medical treatment. The immediate cause of death at a military hospital was cardiac arrest. The chief justice immediately swore-in as president the former Vice president, John Dramani Mahama. He will serve until the regularly scheduled December presidential elections.

Tragic though the death of Atta Mills was, democracy and the rule of law in Ghana has worked. There has been no succession crisis, and the constitutional provisions have been scrupulously followed. The episode is a salutary reminder that democracy is alive and well in Africa, even if it is not as widespread as its friends would hope.

In a Journal of Democracy article that has just appeared, author Kennedy Ochieng’ Opalo posits four types of African political systems: ‘electoral democracies’ (of which there are 8), ’emerging democracies’ (5), ‘ consolidating/consolidated autocracies’ (21) and ‘ambiguous’ (12.) His base year is 2010.

In the electoral democracies, he places Benin,  Botswana, Cape Verde, Ghana, Lesotho, Mali, Mauritius and South Africa. Mali, obviously, no longer fits. But the rest do. It is striking that all of them are small in population, with the exception of South Africa (about 50 million) and Ghana (with 25 million.) Of Africa’s largest countries by population, he rates Nigeria as ‘ambiguous’, Ethiopia and Congo as ‘consolidating/consolidated autocracies.’

There is always room to quibble about in what category a country should be placed it. But such typologies are helpful for thinking about governance.