A RUNDOWN booth in Accra, Ghana’s capital, houses the Kwame Nkrumah bookshop, where Cubist pictures of the country’s first president lean against a dusty window pane. A photograph of Nkrumah’s socialist and pan-African books stands on an otherwise empty shelf. The sad state of the bookshop, the only publisher and distributor of the former president’s books in Africa, underlines the irrelevance today of the ideological divisions of Ghana’s past.
In Ghana’s presidential and parliamentary elections, decided on December 7th, the arguments were not about ideas but about the results. The incumbent, John Mahama, won by a whisker, with 50.7% of the vote. His opponent, Nana Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party, claims that technical glitches which prolonged voting allowed the ruling National Democratic Congress to tamper with the votes. Mr Akufo-Addo says he will contest Mr Mahama’s victory in court. His party has urged its supporters to take to the streets. In the elections in 2008 he lost by less than one percentage point but accepted the result.
Mr Mahama’s victory was surprising. Neither candidate was expected to get more than 50% of the vote, the threshold for an outright win. But observers from the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States, the most influential regional club, said the result was fair.
Ghana’s economy is forecast to grow by just over 8% this year, and its democracy is widely praised. Mr Mahama was sworn in as president in July after the death of his predecessor, John Atta Mills, in an impressively smooth transition. If the current dispute can be settled in court and does not spill into the streets, the opposition’s challenge will pose little threat to the country’s democratic credentials. “Ghana must demonstrate its political maturity by going through the legal process,” says George Ayittey, an economist in Accra.
Assuming the result is upheld, Mr Mahama will now have to get on with governing. He has promised to fight corruption, tackle youth unemployment and use Ghana’s oil wealth to develop infrastructure and industry. One measure of Ghana’s success is that his opponent would have pledged just the same.