On the day a preeminent Rwandan woman politician was sentenced to eight years of imprisonment in Kigali, Ghana was holding its first ever presidential public debate between contestants of the top job including the incumbent president.
The sitting president John Mahama representing the National Democratic Congress of Ghana participated in the televised event. The other three candidates are Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo of the main opposition New Patriotic Party, Michael Abu Sakara Forster of the Convention People’s Party and Hassan Ayariga of the People’s National Convention (PNC). The public debate for vice-presidential candidates is slated for November 6, 2012.
This was on Tuesday October 30, 2012. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, leader of
the unregistered Rwandan political party FDU-Inkingi was found guilty of “politically motivated” charges which were brought to court by the prosecutor apparently to stop the politician from challenging the Rwandan president Paul Kagame. Sorry Mr President, but that is how everyone reads the country political scene today, knowing that all candidates who announced their intention of competing for the top office are today languishing in jail.
It’s the same day of that sentencing in Rwanda that Ghana made again African history. We remember the country becoming the first sub-Saharan national entity to get independence in 1957, and also giving Africa its most deserving son in the person of former Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah and his ideal of Pan Africanism.
The new historical path Ghana is forging for Africa is the democratic tradition in a continent marred by unfortunately numerous cases of bad governance. We may say that there have been precedents of presidential televised debates in Africa, but with Ghana, this was a first when a sitting president accepted to be challenged in a publicly televised dialogue with his competitors for the presidential position.
Sierra Leone is also following in the footsteps of its Western African regional neighbour. On Monday November 5, 2012 at the Miatta Conference Center, Brookfield Freetown, “the governing All People’s Congress (APC) President Ernest Bai Koroma and his main contender in the November 17 poll, former junta leader, Brig (retired) Julius Maada Bio of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) will engage each other in a 90-minute debate that will be broadcast live in the Sierra Leonean media.”
In May 2012, Egypt held its ever first presidential televised debate which featured the two expected front-runners of the presidential vote – former Arab League head Amr Moussa and moderate Islamist Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh. But as we know the current Egyptian president is Mohammed Mursi, who according to BBC, “was propelled to power by the Muslim Brotherhood when their original candidate, business tycoon Khairat al-Shater, was disqualified from the presidential race. This won Mr Mursi titles like “The Accidental President” and “The Spare Wheel”.”
The Institute of Economic Affairs which organised this week presidential debate in Ghana explained that since they started in 2000 holding such platforms, inviting candidates to present to the public their policies in that particular setting, previous sitting presidents had declined to take part. So this was truly a laudable first for Ghana and Africa.
Had Victoire Ingabire been able to challenge publicly the Rwandan president Paul Kagame on a similar platform, Rwanda future would certainly have a far better look. The country’s political prospects appear today bleak with it having seen its sources of budget support cut by the majority of its major supporters. Could the Rwandan leaders learn from Ghana which is making history in the right direction for its people?