The sudden death of Ghana’s president this past week cast a shadow of grief, agony, and most of all, uncertainty, over the country. But there was no sign of violence, revenge, or opportunistic political maneuvering in the wake of this tragedy. In fact, the air of mourning had the opposite effect of uniting the country for the time being – less than five months before the elections. Many articles extolled Ghana’s smooth transition of power with the previous vice president now taking the helm during an emergency parliamentary session with full opposition party participation.
This peaceful leadership succession after the sudden demise of a President is nothing new – just in the last year or so, similar unfortunate scenarios played out in Malawi, Nigeria, and two years ago – in Poland where not only the President, but many of the top military generals and parliamentary members were killed in a tragic plane crash. But the broader peaceful transfer of power, usually from one party to another, (not just succession of a leader) is probably the most revealing of all the metrics that measure a country’s underlying institutional strength.
Unlike some other African countries, Ghana passed the “George Washington” test over a decade ago, and a couple of times since then, when President Rawlings willingly stepped-down following two terms. The subsequent transfer of power from one party to another occurred without bloodshed – unlike recent Ivorian, Kenyan, Nigerian, Senegalese, Guinean, Togolese elections or quasi-elections marked by violence, ethnic clashes etc. So while installing an acting president after the sudden demise of a leader may not be the most difficult thing to accomplish, the long-term institutionalized transfer of power is a truly daunting.
Unfortunately, the kinds of leadership transition shenanigans you see akin to the Game of Thrones still plague some unstable countries. I’m just glad that Ghana is not one of them.