Ghana’s electoral drama: the 2012 Election Petition

2013 Angela Slater 100x150By Angela Slater

Despite a tumultuous political history, including several military dictatorships, Ghana has reached a period of peace. Despite a fall from previous years, Ghana was ranked as the 58th most peaceful country in the world, ahead of the U.S at 99th and South Africa at 121.[1] Ghanaians are proud of the peace in their country, and most people seem committed to keeping it that way. One symbol of this commitment to peace is Ghana’s most recent constitution, enacted in 1992. Considering Ghana’s chequered political history, the current constitution is a symbol of endurance. Unlike Ghana’s other constitutions it has weathered the rise and fall of four democratically elected governments.[2] Like Canada, Ghana’s constitution entrenched a number of civil, political and human rights. These may be enforced by a special tribunal for human rights, the High Court, or the Supreme Court. Despite this similarity, many parts of the constitution are under litigated by Canadian standards. There are many reasons for this, but part of it has to do with the reluctance to accept judicial review as a legitimate interference in an already tense political process, as well as a widespread concern at confronting the government in an adversarial court battle.[3]

Given this backdrop, a case before the Supreme Court has caught the attention of the whole country. Ghana’s opposition has brought an action before the Supreme Court claiming widespread election malpractice and fraud. Election malpractice has always been a concern in Ghana. During the elections last year Ghana even had extra power shipped in from Nigeria to ensure that the lights stayed on during the electoral period. Unfortunately this wasn’t enough to prevent criticism of the elections. The 2012 Election Petition has now been before the court for over a month, and it is difficult to go anywhere without hearing a radio blaring something about the ‘pink sheets’. Pink sheets are missing!! Pink sheets have irregularities!! Pink sheets are unreadable!! The list goes on. Such a context is ripe for courtroom drama, and there has been plenty of that. Two people have even been thrown in jail for criminal contempt of court. One journalist was jailed for ten days after he called the Supreme Court Justices “hypocritical” in an editorial that appeared in a local newspaper.[4] More humorously recent testimony indicated that a polling officer wrote twenty seven zero instead of two hundred seventy on one of the pink sheets.[5] Throw in a romantic sub-plot and the election petition has all the makings of John Grisham style courtroom thriller.

But among all the drama, a very important legal and political question is at stake. Can Ghana handle the Supreme Court batting down election results and potentially deposing the current administration? Are Ghanaians able to accept the consequences of the judicial review entrenched in their constitution? This is the question that keeps Ghanaians up at night, and it is the reason you can’t go anywhere without hearing about those pink sheets. The concern is legitimate. One of those jailed for contempt of court was a member of the incumbent party who threatened violence if his party was deposed by the court decision. Although he later apologized, his threat plays on the fears of many Ghanaians who know all too well what it means to live under threat of war.

The trial is now coming to a close, and soon Ghana will have to live with the results of one of the biggest legal decisions this country has ever seen. In making its decision, the court has three options: to uphold the election results, call a new election, or award the election victory to the opposing party. A bad decision could spell trouble for the peace Ghana has worked so hard to enjoy. A good decision could be a landmark case that would change landscape for judicial review in Ghana. Despite the beating of war drums and the court room drama, I think that Ghana will weather the election petition. Faith in the court system is at the heart of a constitution which requires judicial review to answer controversial questions. As a Canadian I understand the type of faith required to trust the court to review contentious legislation and administrative actions. Although Ghana is a wildly different place, I think that Ghanaians ultimately have faith in their courts and the democracy they have worked so hard to build. I hope that their faith is justified when the court turns out their decision in the coming weeks.

[1] Institute for Economics and Peace, 2013 Global Peace Index Report (2013)

[2] Kofi Kumando & S.O. Gyandoh Jr., Sourcebook of the Constitutional Law of Ghana 2nd ed v.1 pt 1 (Accra: Black Mask Publishing, 2009) at vi.

[3] Peter Atudiwe Atupare, “Legitimacy, Judicial Review and Human Rights Enforcement in Ghana”, (2005-2007) 23 University of Ghana Law Journal 228.

[4]William Yaw Owusu & Nii Ogbamey Tetteh,  “2 Jailed for Contempt”, Daily Guide Ghana, (July 3 2013),

[5]  William Yaw Owusu & Nii Ogbamey Tetteh, “My Boys Did a Bad Job”, Daily Guide Ghana (July 9 2013)

Two Sides of the Coin: the Informal Economy behind Ghana’s Success

2013 Angela Slater 100x150

By Angela Slater

I have now spent long enough in Ghana to begin to piece together some of the cultural, legal and economic fabric that weaves Ghana together. Although Ghana was colonized by the Portugese, Dutch and later the British, Ghana was never a settler colony. Rather, this country was known as ‘the gold coast’ and over the years its vast mineral resources made its colonizers rich. Giant castles remain dotted along the coast line, places where slaves suffered and gold and ivory were traded out into the western world. Now these castles (and their dungeons), purported to be the oldest standing buildings in Africa, serve as tourist attractions and Ghana is known as a peaceful and stable democracy with modern institutions.

But this story of Ghana is incomplete. On the ground I find that there is another story to be told. Above all it is clear that there is a dichotomy in Ghana between its formal and informal institutions. This is most evident in Ghana’s economic structure. To say that the informal economy is important to Ghana would be an understatement. Some estimates peg the informal economy’s contribution to Ghana’s GDP as high as 80 percent. Even a casual observation of Ghana makes this estimate unsurprising. The evidence of the informal economy is everywhere, from the roadside hawkers offering to sell anything from water to thigh masters, to whimsically named sole proprietorships such as ‘Jesus is my Light Electric’ or ‘Blessings Plumbing ltd.’ Furthermore, it is clear that these workers make a difference. Ghana’s GDP has quadrupled over the past ten years.

Meat shop and bed frames

Meat shop and bed frames

Among those who make a living in the informal economy are domestic workers. My partner organization, Leadership and Advocacy for Women in Africa (Ghana) Alumnae Incorporated focuses on gathering information and advocating on behalf of this population. These are the legions of mostly women who make Ghana tick. From cooking, cleaning and sewing, to caring for elders and children these workers toil unseen in the homes of millions of Ghanaians. They work at various levels of informality. Some workers are considered almost as relatives or foster children while others may approach the status of an employee. Whatever their status, these workers do not benefit from the familiar looking Labour Act Ghana passed in 2003 or the Social Security regime passed in 1991. While both Acts should apply to domestic workers, customarily domestic workers workers do not benefit from these laws. Indeed, section 44 of the Labour act explicitly excludes domestic workers from the hours of work provisions. Domestic workers are therefore doubly disadvantaged. Even if they were able to access the benefit from formal labour provisions, they are excluded from important parts of the Act.

The plight of domestic workers demonstrates the problem at the heart of Ghana’s institutions. While the vibrant (and loud) road side stands, zooming tro-tros and conveniently placed water girls are fascinating aspects of travelling here, it cannot be forgotten that modern Ghana is quite literally built on the backs of these informal workers. Perhaps bearing the largest burden are the women working behind the scenes, toiling to ensure that Ghana keeps moving forward.

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