As part of its work on promoting the civic engagement and political participation of youth in democratic processes across Africa, UNESCO’s Sector for Social and Human Sciences supported a landmark event in Ghana aimed at peaceful 2012 presidential elections, to be held on 7 December 2012.
On Tuesday, 27 November, presidential candidates - representing seven political parties along with one independent candidate - signed the Kumasi Declaration, committing them to “peaceful” and “violence-free” elections, in the upcoming presidential polls, slated for 7 December 2012.
This singular event is bound to have profound implications for Ghana’s democracy and, in particular, the 2012 elections, the sixth such poll, since the country became a multiparty democracy in 1992. While the stakes remain very high and the competition equally intense, the commitment of political leaders to peaceful and violence-free elections illustrates that none is determined to “win at all cost.” This could in the near future also become a best practice worth emulating in other African countries, where elections still remain very divisive events on the political agenda.
The candidates who participated in this High Level event include current President and flag-bearer of the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC), John Dramani Mahama, and his main challenger and leader of the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP), Nana Dankwa Akufo-Addo. The auspicious occasion took place in the Great Hall at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi, in the presence of His Majesty Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, also known as Asantehene; the Most Rev. Professor Emmanuel Asante, Chairman of the National Peace Council; Professor John S. Nabila, President of the National House of Chiefs; and Ghana’s two former presidents, His Excellency Jerry John Rawlings and His Excellency John Agyekum Kufuor.
In the words of former President Kufuor, throughout his four decade-long career in Ghanaian politics, he had “never witnessed an event of this nature,” thus underscoring the historical significance of this important milestone in Ghana’s democratic journey.
The High Level Meeting with the 2012 Presidential Candidates under the theme, Promoting Peaceful Elections and Justice: Taking a Stand against Electoral Violence, Impunity and Injustice, was jointly convened by the Manhyia Palace, home of the Asantehene, and the National Peace Council, and facilitated by the Institute for Democratic Governance (IDEG). It was supported both financially and technically by, among others, UNESCO. The high point of the occasion was the signing of the Kumasi Declaration by each of the presidential candidates, who personally committed themselves to ensuring that the 7 December elections would be peaceful and violence free. The signing ceremony was administered by the Chief Justice, Her Ladyship Georgina Theodora Wood, and witnessed by the Asantehene, the Chairman of the National Peace Council, and the President of the National House of Chiefs.
UNESCO’s support for the Kumasi meeting fits well within the context of the Organization’s Strategy on African Youth. The venue of the event itself, namely a university campus, which is home to many young people who will be participating in the 7 December elections, underlines the importance of political leaders giving assurances of peace to this critical demographic group. And this was not lost on the Vice-Chancellor of KNUST, Professor William Otoo Ellis, who in his welcome remarks highlighted the crucial role of young Ghanaians in the upcoming elections, and hence the need for politicians to lead by example.
In essence, although the occasion itself was designed to give political leaders an opportunity to address a far wider audience than youth (the event was televised live and carried live on radio stations across the country), it is clear that the major beneficiaries were Ghanaian youth, many of whom constitute that vulnerable segment of society that could be easily manipulated by politicians to engage in electoral violence, as has been the case in other parts of Africa in recent times.
The public commitment to “peaceful” and “violence-free” elections by Ghana’s presidential candidates, through the signing of the Kumasi Declaration, is a further demonstration of the country’s leadership in the area of democratic consolidation, one that is sure to reverberate in other parts of the continent.
In a region where multiparty elections are increasingly becoming the rule rather than the exception, the challenge remains how to prevent the process from being marred by violence before, during and after the polls. That Ghana’s political leaders have taken this bold step to affirm their commitment to a peaceful poll, not only serves to deter overzealous supporters who may want to engage in violence, but has further enhanced the country’s democratic maturation, and this is likely to become a best practice in Africa. To be sure, the African Charter on Democracy Elections and Governance, already signed by Ghana, is clearly underpinned by principles of “peaceful co-existence” and “non-violence” on the part of political actors.
Evidence, however, suggests that significant challenges to the attainment of these principles remain, especially where elections are concerned. The Kumasi Declaration may therefore very well emerge in the coming years as a blueprint that other countries in Africa could emulate in their quest to consolidate nascent democracies.
Finally, the event illustrated the convening power of culture and traditional authority in national development. The fact that the Asantehene was co-convener of such a high profile event - that brought together the country’s entire traditional leadership, namely the National House of Chiefs (and religious leaders), along with the leadership of almost all democratic institutions of the state, including the Chief Justice and the security forces - demonstrates yet again how traditional authority can indeed contribute constructively to the democratic development of a modern state. This too, could prove to be a best practice from which other African countries could learn in the future.
In closing, the significance and impact of the Kumasi Declaration goes far beyond Ghana and demonstrates in practical terms how UNESCO’s contribution to the global peace agenda can yield significant results beyond a single intervention at the national level. Indeed, it should be noted that in the course of the current biennium (2012-13), UNESCO has provided (and will continue to do so in 2013) similar support to civil society organizations in Africa, working to promote peaceful and constructive participation in electoral politics and democratic governance - especially of youth. Through these individual programme interventions, most of which have significant regional implications, UNESCO is gradually delivering on its mandate in Africa, as eloquently captured in the preamble to the Organization’s constitution: “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.”
Abdul Rahman Lamin
UNESCO Office in Accra