Let the Giving Season Begin

The Ghanaian elections fall in the same year as the US Presidential Elections. And, that always serves to highlight the interesting differences between one of the richest countries and one that’s only recently received membership into the ranks of lower-middle income countries.

While the arguably more advanced democracy has a number of checks and balances in place to avoid corruption during campaign season; Ghana’s parties have almost free reign to spend and manipulate the voting population during this time. In both countries, it’s a time to highlight the issues… and it’s also a circus.

And, this year, the American and Ghanaian elections will occur almost back to back in November. Although elections in Ghana have taken place on 7 December in the past, official paperwork to move it to the first Monday in November is on the table and likely to pass into law. Why? Because any runoff elections or discrepancies over the vote just don’t allow enough time for the old government to hand over the reins to the new government (even if they’re one and the same).

You may be wondering why Mondays. Why not Saturday or Sunday when more people have the time to stand in long queues to determine the future of the country? Between weddings, funerals, and all the shopping that occurs over the weekend, an election could destroy the informal and support markets – a knock that just isn’t affordable. Established business has to take the loss because even as a lower-middle income country, informal business still holds the country’s economy together. (And that’s not something the United States worries about most of the time. Incidentally, their elections are held on Tuesdays.)

Whatever day of the week it is, with a month less on the campaign calendar, we can absolutely expect the Giving Season to speed up accordingly. Giving Season? Oh yes, in Ghana huge amounts of money is spent highlighting problems or sticking temporary plasters over wounds (rather than stitching them up).

This campaign’s Giving Season began in December with the official end of Dumsor. You may just be right if you believe the return of power was pushed back to this time so it wouldn’t be too far from the minds of those responsible for returning power to the incumbent President John Mahama.

However, the end of Dumsor is simply not enough to win an election. Outside of the major cities, you’re still likely to find signs reading “No Lights, No Vote” (or something to that effect). It’s how the public conveys they’re ready to open the Giving Season, and demonstrate which gifts they want most this year. It’s unique to Ghana, and it’s a little sad. Why aren’t these issues at the forefront all day, every day?

Why are we worrying about the effect of Yemeni,  ex-Guantanamo Bay detainees on the social safety (which is a big nail in Mahama’s political coffin according to many analysts) when Ghana ranks second in the list of African countries for open defection (some 5 million Ghanaians don’t have access to adequate toilet facilities). The lack of attention given to issues affecting the development and stability of millions of Ghanaians just don’t cut it, the same way that President Mahama’s recitals of Bible passages simply don’t fill the public with a sense of duty to the Yemenis.

Interestingly, representatives from the Catholic Church denounce the president’s use of the Bible (as he’s used it in this instance). Still, the Catholic Bishops of West Africa have chosen Ghana as the host for their Second Plenary Assembly. And, to welcome this announcement, President Mahama issued a statement which includes his intention to use this forum as a platform for marketing his country.

The one thing we can hope is that such blunders be blessings for the poor in Ghana over the next few months. After all, the incumbent is going to have to give away many gifts to sweep these political faux pas under the rug before November. And now that there’s a month less to campaign, let the Giving Season begin.

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