Freedom in the World 2009


Ghana’s presidential and parliamentary elections in December 2008 were widely praised as a successful democratic transfer of power. The opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) candidate, John Atta Mills, narrowly defeated the candidate of the ruling National Patriotic Party (NPP), Nana Akufo-Addo, in a presidential runoff vote on December 28. Power similarly transferred hands in the parliament as the NDC secured 114 seats against the NPP’s 107.  There were problems with voter registration early on, and both parties reported minor instances of electoral fraud, although all were eventually dismissed by the Electoral Commission. Nevertheless, sporadic violence erupted between supporters of the two main parties and rival ethnic groups in the north throughout the year.

Ghana achieved independence from British rule in 1957. After the 1966 ouster of its charismatic independence leader, Kwame Nkrumah, the country was rocked for 15 years by a series of military coups. Successive military and civilian governments vied with one another in both incompetence and dishonesty.

In 1979, air force officer Jerry Rawlings led a coup against the ruling military junta, and although he returned power to a civilian government after a purge of corrupt senior army officers, he seized power again in December 1981. Rawlings’s new administration proved to be brutally repressive, banning political parties and quelling all dissent. In the face of a crumbling economy and political protests, he eventually agreed to legalize political parties and hold elections in the late 1980s. However, the elections were considered neither free nor fair, and Rawlings and his National Democratic Congress (NDC) party remained in power. The 1996 elections were generally respected at home and abroad, though Rawlings and the NDC again retained their positions.

In 2000, free and fair presidential and parliamentary polls led to a peaceful transfer of power from Rawlings (who was forced to step down due to term limits) and the NDC to opposition leader John Kufuor and his New Patriotic Party (NPP). Kufuor won soundly with 57 percent of the vote, while NDC candidate John Atta Mills captured 43 percent. Kufuor was reelected in 2004, defeating Atta Mills for a second time. The NDC alleged irregularities and called for a vote recount, but the Electoral Commission (EC) turned down the request. In that year’s legislative elections, the NPP won 128 seats, and the NDC took 94. Sporadic violence was reported, as were a few incidents of intimidation and other irregularities, but domestic and international observers judged the elections to be generally free and fair.

The NPP faced internal divisions as Kufuor neared the end of his second term, with some 20 candidates vying for the party’s presidential nomination by the end of 2007. Ultimately, Nana Akufo-Addo—most recently the foreign minister—was chosen over Kufuor’s preferred candidate, Alan Kyerematen. A new party, the Reformed Patriotic Democrats (RPD), broke away from the NPP in March 2008, claiming dissatisfaction with the ruling party’s performance, particularly with regard to the interests of young people. The majority of RPD supporters came from the Ashanti tribe, of which Kufuor and Kyerematen were members, while Akufo-Addo belonged to the Akyem tribe; the split increased tribal tensions. In April, Kyerematen himself resigned from the NPP, claiming that he and his supporters had been marginalized since Akufo-Addo’s selection and that the NPP had become intolerant of dissent. It was only after persistently promising to resolve these issues that the NPP was able to convince Kyerematen to rejoin.

Meanwhile, the NDC easily appointed John Atta Mills as its candidate for the third time. His choice of running mate, John Dramani Mahama, proved to be more divisive, as the wife of Jerry Rawlings stated publicly that neither she nor her husband would support Mahama. Although Rawlings still had considerable influence in the NDC, Atta Mills stuck with his selection.

The EC encountered a few problems during its election preparations. In February, it announced that it would not implement a 2007 law that permitted Ghanaians living overseas to vote, citing “capacity constraints.” The possibility of overseas voting had stirred controversy in the preceding months as the NDC argued that it would benefit the NPP. Separately, the NDC claimed in March that there had been irregularities in the voter registration process, particularly in a pro-NPP region. The EC launched an independent investigation that found discrepancies between the digital and hard copy versions of the voter registry. The investigation panel recommended that the EC strengthen its accounting and computer facilities and improve its relations with the political parties. When voter registration resumed in August, only minor instances of partisan violence were reported. Yet, by the end of the month, the EC admitted that there were ongoing registration problems and that it believed the registry to contain an excess of nearly one million names.

The National Enforcement Body of the Political Parties Code of Conduct reported a number of violations by both major parties in the run-up to the December elections. Instances of violence included a September campaign rally in the north at which six people were killed. The enforcement body also cited the parties for lack of cooperation with the police and the use of inflammatory language.

In the end, however, the elections were viewed as a success by both domestic and international observers. In the first round of the presidential election held on December 7, Akufo-Addo won 49 percent of the vote against Atta Mills’s 48 percent. As neither candidate received more than 50 percent, a runoff vote was held on December 28, when Atta Mills won with just 50.23 percent of the vote, marking the second ever peaceful transfer of power by democratic means in Ghana. Power similarly transferred hands in parliament as the NDC secured 114 seats against the NPP’s 107. Both parties reported minor instances of electoral fraud, but all were dismissed by the EC.

Intertribal clashes increased in the north during 2008. Rivalry between the Kusasi and Mamprusi tribes led to some 15 deaths and a curfew and weapons ban in the Bawku region for much of the year. In the northern Dagbon region, tension persisted between the Adani and Abudu tribes, both of which claimed to be the rightful heirs to the position of paramount chief in the region. Perceptions of allegiances between these ethnic groups and respective national political parties only served to aggravate the situation.

While Ghana has recently been working to move away from donor dependency, the country in September 2008 signed an agreement for a £250 million ($351 million) grant from Britain covering 2008–10. In addition, the government has privatized Ghana Telecom by selling a 70 percent stake to the British company Vodafone for $900 million. Revenue from oil fields recently discovered off the coast is expected to begin flowing during the incoming president’s term, increasing the determination of both parties to capture power in the 2008 elections.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Ghana is an electoral democracy. The December 2008 presidential and parliamentary elections were considered fair and competitive. The president and vice president are directly elected on the same ticket for up to two four-year terms.Members of the unicameral, 230-seat Parliament are also elected for four-year terms.

The political system is dominated by two rival parties, the NPP and the NDC, which won 114 and 107 seats respectively in the Parliament in the December 2008 legislative elections. A number of smaller parties hold the remaining seven seats.

The government of outgoing president John Kufuor made efforts to improve transparency and reduce corruption, including the 2008 establishment of a task force to fight corruption and smuggling in the cocoa industry, and an anticorruption unit in the attorney general’s office to study the findings of a parliamentary committee on public accounts.However, the opposition criticized the year’s moves as insufficient, and many of Kufuor’s past anticorruption measures have shown few results, despite his zero tolerance policy on corruption. In fact, prosecutions have often focused on former NDC officials, creating the appearance of politicization. Former minister of health,Richard Anane, who had been forced to resign in 2006 over corruption allegations, was reinstated by Kufuor in 2008 and given the new position of transportation minister when he was found not guilty after an appeal to the Supreme Court. Even so, Kufuor’s critics said this demonstrated a lack of commitment to his zero-tolerance policy on corruption. Ghana was ranked67 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index, the highest ranking it has received since 2002.

Freedom of expression is constitutionally guaranteed and generally respected. Numerous private radio stations operate, and many independent newspapers and magazines are published in Accra. However, Ghana has yet to pass legislation protecting freedom of information. The number of attacks on and acts of intimidation against journalists increased in 2008, as police arbitrarily detained and abused reporters throughout the year and a number of journalists reported being attacked or threatened in the months leading up to the election, particularly by NPP supporters. Both the NPP and the NDC were also accused of using inflammatory language and inciting violence in the final months of the campaign, though no significant violence resulted during the election itself. Internet access is unrestricted.

Religious freedom is generally respected. In March 2008, the Ministry of Education removed religious education from the state school curriculum, but a wave of protests from religious leaders eventually led the government to reverse its action. Separately, human rights advocates expressed concern about reports of exorcism-related physical abuse at Pentecostal camps.

Academic freedom is also guaranteed and respected. In 2005, the government removed all fees for access to primary and secondary education, but this did not extend to university tuition. School enrollment rose by more than 16 percent after the new policy was implemented, and it remained high in 2008.

The rights to peaceful assembly and association are constitutionally guaranteed, and permits are not required for meetings or demonstrations. However, in 2008 the local court in Tamale issued a restraining order against an opposition pressure group, the Committee for Joint Action, because the regional police did not have the resources to protect participants in its planned protest. Some 30,000 people nevertheless took to the streets, peacefully protesting the government’s inaction on fighting poverty. Separately, political parties were able to freely demonstrate and hold rallies during the electoral campaign, but a number of the events turned violent when supporters of rival parties clashed.

Under 2003 labor laws that conform to International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions, workers have the right to form or join trade unions. About 20 percent of the workforce is employed in the formal sector, but less than 9 percent is unionized.

Ghanaian courts have acted with increased autonomy under the 1992 constitution, but corruption remains a problem. Scarce resources compromise the judicial process, and poorly paid judges are tempted by bribes. Despite promises made by the new chief justice appointed in 2007, there were no noticeable improvements to the judicial infrastructure over the last year. However, in November 2008 she approved the establishment of a national Human Rights Court to hear cases from the Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice. Corruption cases against current and former NDC officials often produced results favorable to the NPP government, and an Accra Fast Track High Court, which typically heard these cases, was believed by many to be simply a “fast track to prison.” In 2008, high-profile NDC member Tsatsu Tsikata was tried in the court without the presence of his lawyers and with a judge thought to have a pro-NPP bias; he was found guilty of “causing financial loss to the state.” While the government has taken steps to improve prisons, conditions remain harsh and sometimes life threatening.

Communal and ethnic violence occasionally flares in Ghana. The north of the country is dominated by various tribal associations, many of which have ties to major political parties based in the south. Tribal tensions erupted into violence in 2008, and a curfew and weapons ban was imposed on the northern Bawku region. Tribal rivalry within the NPP did not lead to violence during the year, but it did contribute to the formation of a splinter party.

Ghanaians are generally free to travel throughout the country despite occasional police-imposed curfews or roadblocks erected by security forces or civilians seeking payments from motorists. Citizens from neighboring countries are free to travel to Ghana.

Despite their equal rights under the law, women suffer societal discrimination, especially in rural areas where opportunities for education and wage employment are limited. However, women’s enrollment in universities is increasing. Domestic violence against women is said to be common but often goes unreported. A domestic violence law, which allows prosecution for spousal rape, was passed in 2007, but due to the persistent stigma, it has not increased the number of women coming forward to report rate. Sexual violence against girls is a particular problem in the country’s otherwise thriving educational sector. The country serves as a source and transit point for human trafficking, including for child labor and sexual exploitation. Although the practice is illegal, only nine traffickers were apprehended during 2008 and none have been fully tried and sentenced. The government recently set up a Human Trafficking Board tasked with drafting a national plan of action to combat this problem.

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