National Democratic Congress party supporters celebrate the victory of their candidate, John Dramani Mahama, on a street in Accra on Sunday. Picture: REUTERS
National Democratic Congress party supporters celebrate the victory of their candidate, John Dramani Mahama, on a street in Accra on Sunday. Picture: REUTERS

THE Ghanaian presidential election has underlined a number of positive trends, not only in Ghana but in Africa as a whole. As the Wall Street Journal points out, Ghana is demonstrating a new style of politics more reminiscent of a classic democracy.

Yet the improvement goes further than a new focus on the issues and a move away from the affinity politics of the African "Big Man" style. It includes more focus on peaceful transition, more accurate polling and more of the trappings of real democratic contests, such as live candidate debates and tangible election promises.

The incumbent of six months, John Dramani Mahama, only just retained his absolute majority. But in doing so he had to fend off two-time presidential candidate Nana Akufo-Addo. The Ghanaian economy has undergone an economic revolution under Mr Mahama’s predecessor, John Atta Mills, who died in June. Exports doubled in the past four years and economic growth was the second-fastest in the world.

Yet Mr Akufo-Addo’s proposals were enticing enough to create an active debate about what the government can actually afford.

This has been the fifth successive peaceful election in Ghana and follows a cliffhanger in 2008. Mr Akufo-Addo lost by a tiny margin then too, to Mr Mills, and the country was pushed to the brink of chaos. Consequently, new technology was introduced and a new campaign was launched to underpin the allure of a fair contest. The campaign slogan, "Ghana in peace, not in pieces", stands in stark contrast to neighbours Mali and Guinea-Bissau, which both had coups this year.

Ghana’s election reflects new pressures on Africa’s political elite, which has often relied on ethno-linguistic cleavages to hold on to power. These still explain some of the voting patterns in Ghana, but the Wall Street Journal quotes Ben Ephson, a leading independent pollster in Ghana, as saying a new generation of swing voters is emerging. About a third of the electorate can now be categorised as such "swing voters", who are helping to create a new political dynamic. This group, Mr Ephson says, has grown from about 20% of the population just eight years ago.

In some ways, Ghana is a special case. None of its 70 ethno-linguistic groups is large enough to dominate without forming alliances. In addition, elections in some African countries have resulted in social unrest. Yet it is obvious that Africa’s youthful population has a different vision of politics from its forebears.