Cooperatively observing Ghana decide

While many Americans experienced long lines when voting in our 2012 elections, by and large, they faced these inconveniences with patience and determination. Ghanaians displayed the same kind of determination, patience, and pride this past weekend when exercising their right to vote in their sixth presidential and parliamentary elections. Ghana’s commitment to democracy stands unrivaled on the African continent and is a lesson to all who take seriously our civic duties to vote, be it through volunteering as poll watchers, serving as election workers, or engaging in “Get Out the Vote” efforts.

Recognizing the strength of Ghana’s democratic traditions, as demonstrated in its five previous elections and two inter-party transitions of power, U.S. Embassy Ghana mapped out a strategy to observe Ghana’s first biometric election process while coordinating effectively with other observer missions. We created a Joint Command Center to tap information from our colleagues from Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and the European Union. We met “electronically” and in person in the embassy’s Information Resource Center to share reports from our respective observer teams who monitored polls in Ghana’s 10 regions. Ambassadors from various missions wandered in at various times to monitor the situation. The idea was to coordinate our efforts, compare what we learned with international observers, and minimize duplication of effort. The relationships we forged strengthened our analytical capability and engagement during the three-day election process and greatly expanded the reach of the individual observer teams.

Phones rang around the clock with team leaders advising our analysts: Did polling stations open on time? Were appropriate political party agents on the premises? Were responsible Electoral Commission leaders in charge? Did any technical difficulties disenfranchise citizens? Were potential incidents of unrest handled by law enforcement?

The open atmosphere created by the Center fostered new friendships and strengthened existing ties, which will surely lead to future collaboration with our Ghanaian hosts. All the missions which participated considered our initiative as a generous and creative one and believed that all had profited from this pooling of resources. When technical glitches arose with Ghana’s new biometric voter verification machines at several of the 26,002 sites, we were able to cross check what election observers reported against local media reports. As you might expect, when the machines went down, some voters’ tempers flared but rarely did Ghanaians lose sight of their objective to vote. Some had to return on Saturday to select their next leaders, but they did so with cool heads and hearts filled with national pride.

Ghana’s candidates for President and Parliament engaged in robust debate during several months of lively campaigning. The outcome of some races was close, but we see this year’s results as reaffirming the strength of democracy in Ghana. At the moment of writing, there is still a possibility that the opposition might choose to contest the results; all have urged them that if they go down that route, it should be done via the legal processes available. We congratulate each candidate for contesting with spirit and professionalism, and look forward to continuing to build even closer U.S.-Ghana ties as we work together with President-elect Mahama, his leadership team, newly-elected members of Parliament, and representatives of all political parties.

By Gene A. Cretz
US Ambassador to Ghana

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