Ghana is getting ready to inaugurate its new president and swear in members of parliament Saturday. The peaceful transfer of power is celebrated as a key win for one of Africa’s most stable democracies. But it was also a defeat for the country’s former ruling party, the National Democratic Congress, which has now embarked on some soul searching.
The 2016 elections in Ghana saw something new happen. The incumbent lost. John Mahama leaves office as a one-term president.
“I don’t think I was the only one who saw the writing on the wall,” said Jerry Rawlings, Ghana’s political godfather and former president. He is a member of the NDC but was notably absent from Mahama’s re-election campaign.
“Our general negativity, impunity, disrespect and corruption was taking us further and further downhill. We had lost so much goodwill…. If we all don’t do some careful introspection and openly show remorse for the betrayal of the people’s trust we might not recover in time for the next election,” Rawlings said.
The NDC came to power in 2009 with the election of President John Atta Mills. Three years later, Mills died in office and Mahama, his deputy, took over and then won the election later that year.
But President-elect Nana Akufo-Addo defeated Mahama at the polls in December by a margin of one million votes. The NDC also lost its majority in parliament.
Some have drawn parallels to the fall of the People's Democratic Party in Nigeria. The 2015 elections saw an opposition coalition push the PDP out at all levels of government, including the presidency. Mahama now joins his former Nigerian counterpart, Goodluck Jonathan, in the small club of single-term African presidents.
Some of the reasons behind their downfall were similar - economic hardship, lack of reliable electricity, corruption and rising unemployment.
In Ghana, political analyst Bossman Asare says poor performance by the government and overconfidence cost the NDC the election.
“Over the years, the democratic space has been expanding. Transparency has been increasing. Voters are increasingly becoming more sophisticated. So we’ve gotten to a point in our democracy just like many advanced societies like Britain, Germany, USA where incumbency is no longer significant,” he said.
Asare believes that internally, too, the NDC has made mistakes.
“The NDC for many years has been relying on the rural voters. When you look at Ghana, the voting dynamics within main Accra, the NPP will win but once the villages come, then you realize the NDC will be leading. So I think the NDC took that for granted that no, these are people who will always come home,” Asare said.
And that may be a lesson for the NPP and President-elect Akufo-Addo as they now take the reins of the country. Voters are expecting results.