By Lee Mwiti – African Review
Ghanaians generally strut around the continent with an aristocratic air that is both a curiosity and admirable. Their country’s natural wealth, beauty and storied history no doubt contribute to this, so much so that the British considered it arguably the crown jewel of its African empire.
Indeed there is much to admire about Ghana: it is seemingly free of ethnic and religious tensions, despite having over 50 ethnic groups and a quasi Muslim-Christian divide, while the enamoured Brits bequeathed it much, including a strong educational system that provided fertile ground for its political intelligentsia to thrive, giving rise to the likes of Dr Joseph Danquah.
One needn’t go far to find a modern day microcosm for all that is Ghanaian: the debonair and polished former UN boss Kofi Annan fits the bill almost perfectly.
The strength of its democracy is much-talked about, with peaceful transitions now the norm, following years of brutal military regimes.
Some 4,200 kilometres to its south-east lies Kenya, another jewel of the Queen’s former realm and itself a regional heavyweight. The East African country has recently in the news over its much-watched General Election, the first since a bungled poll in 2007 saw the mask of stability it had proudly donned for years slip off.
Kenya is a much more self-made country, but both countries have a lot in common, even if they both generally go about their businesses pretending to be blissfully unaware of each other.
From highly-skilled labour forces to strong economies and near similar systems of government and common law, the two could well have been next-door neighbours.
They even share a tendency for rampant corruption and creaking or non-existent utilities.
But their recent relationship has been more of a silently competitive one, even though in recent years Ghana has been ahead, in part due to a rebased economy that catapulted it into the ranks of middle income countries, sparking a rush by both investors and tourists.
Kenya’s economy has in the meantime been gasping for air following the fallout from the 2007 poll, even as Ghana put out its first commercial oil shipment.
Indeed, Accra has also been giving Kenya a run for its money in technological innovations, an area Nairobi increasingly considers its birthright.
But the focal point of the friendly “race” remains their embracing of democratic ideals.
Kenyans are still smarting over the fact that Barack Obama, the son of a Kenyan father, decided to visit Ghana in 2009– his only visit to sub-Saharan Africa to date.
Ghana’s mature institutions were a reference point for others everywhere, Obama proclaimed in a thumping speech to parliament, further turning Kenya green with envy.
But last week, Kenya finally got to land a counter punch, as Ghana unwittingly made a rod for its own back.
The East African country’s Supreme Court handed down a decisive election judgement, three weeks after the March 9 declaration of a presidential winner was petitioned by a challenger.
Until then, the president-elect could not be sworn in.
The halo around Ghana, meanwhile, has slipped. President John Mahama’s December election was also challenged by the runners-up, but four months down the line, its highest court is nowhere near resolving it, while it also declined to have the proceedings televised live, as in Kenya, leaving many Ghanaians peeved.
The slow pace of the case has left the country divided, as the incumbent consolidates power. Still, few, apart from opposition supporters, think Mahama’s win will be overturned.
The Ghanaians blame the constitution, arguing it was cobbled together in a hurry in 1992, while Kenya had the luxury of being more measured when it drafted its own.
In the meantime, plucky Kenya looks to have gotten a new lease of life– it has even found oil–though no-one is under any illusions given that the two top-most leaders of the incoming government are indicted at The Hague and the campaigns split the country down the middle.
But for now, Kenyans are rather enjoying holding the bragging rights over Ghanaians, until perhaps the Accra court throws a spanner in the works.