A Tale of Two Elections: Ghana and the United States

Note: This post was originally written for a Ghanaian audience and published on StarrFM online.

As an American voter living in Ghana, I get to observe two fierce political battles unfolding at the same time. I have been following the drama of the American election since the primaries kicked off last summer, but am just now getting familiar with the candidates and issues here in Ghana. My observations are limited by the short time I’ve been here, but I can’t help but compare the Ghanaian election with the presidential race happening in my home country.

Both contests center on two main political parties. The Republicans and Democrats are the United States’ NPP and NDC: two factions fiercely fighting for majority control and promising positive change for the country. The NPP aligns more closely with the conservative Republican party, while the NDC and the Democrats share similar, more liberal policy views.

That being said, Ghanaian parties seem less aggressively ideological than their American counterparts. Also, in the United States, social values are increasingly progressive, but many still support conservative economic policy; it’s not uncommon to hear people declare “I’m socially liberal, but economically conservative!” In Ghana, the trend seems to be the opposite. Both the NDC and NPP support and enact policies that would be considered liberal in the States, yet Ghanaian society as a whole is deeply conservative. This surprised me.

The narratives surrounding the presidential candidates are different, too. In one country, an incumbent challenges a familiar political face. In another, a billionaire takes on a career politician who could potentially be the country’s first female president. Interestingly, in both elections there is a relatively popular outsider with no chance of winning: the PPP’s Paa Kwesi Nduom, and democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, who made a surprisingly strong run for the Democratic nomination.

Every Ghanaian I have spoken to predicts a close race this year, and mentions the high personal stakes for the candidates: if NDC incumbent John Dramani Mahama loses, he will be the first president of the fourth republic not to win a second term. For the NPP’s Nana Akuffo-Addo, it would be his third loss in a row.  

Nana Akufo Addo, the NPP's opposition candidate.

Nana Akufo Addo, the NPP's opposition candidate.

John Mahama, the incumbent and NDC candidate.

John Mahama, the incumbent and NDC candidate.

In the States, the drama takes a different form. What was supposed to be a standard race between familiar political names (Jeb Bush, brother of former president George W. Bush, was an early favorite to challenge Clinton) has been injected with populism, xenophobia, and tabloid-level theatrics.

The central issues influencing the elections differ too. Ghanaians seek a candidate who will remedy the “Dumsor” power crisis, among other serious issues, and hope for a peaceful election process. For American voters, the battle is over immigration policy, economic plans and deep-set social values.

For Ghana, this election another step toward strengthening a new democracy, and an opportunity to exercise the already strong political engagement in this country. For the United State it is an unprecedented political battle that will likely go down in history for its drama and polarization. In both countries, however, the issues are pressing and the stakes are high.

As I watch both of these election seasons unfold and escalate, I can only hope that after the theatrics of campaigning settle, some of the many political promises are kept. Both of our countries are excellent examples of peaceful democracy, but both suffer from real problems that the government needs to address. I’m counting on the process, and trusting that the best candidates to tackle these issues will be chosen for the challenge. I certainly hope they are, for both Ghana and the United States of America.