Freedom in the World
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Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Ghana received an upward trend arrow due to the repeal of a criminal libel law and a general easing of pressure on the country's media.
The first year into the presidency of John Kufuor went relatively smoothly as the new leader sought to make good on campaign promises. Among his first measures was the repeal of Ghana's criminal libel law. Repression of the media that had occasionally occurred under former President Jerry Rawlings diminished in 2001. Kufuor has called for setting up the Commission on National Reconciliation to settle past political and human rights grievances. The government also said it would set up a commission to investigate clashes that occurred in the north in December 2001 between two ethnic groups. At least 50 people were killed and 150 others were injured in three days of unrest. Troops were deployed to the region.
Once a major slaving center and long known as the Gold Coast, the former British possession became black Africa's first colony to achieve independence. After the 1966 overthrow of its charismatic independence leader, Kwame Nkrumah, the country was wracked by a series of military coups for 15 years. Successive military and civilian governments vied with each other in both incompetence and mendacity.
In 1979, Flight Lieutenant Rawlings led a coup against the ruling military junta and, as promised, returned power to a civilian government after a purge of corrupt senior army officers. However, the new civilian administration did not live up to Rawlings's expectations, and he seized power again in December 1981 and set up the Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC). The radically socialist, populist, and brutally repressive PNDC junta banned political parties and free expression. Facing a crumbling economy, Rawlings, in the late 1980s, transformed Ghana into an early model for the structural adjustment programs urged by international lenders. A new constitution adopted in April 1992 legalized political parties, and Rawlings was declared president after elections that were deemed neither free nor fair.
The 2000 presidential and parliamentary elections were hailed in Africa and abroad as a successful test of Ghana's democracy. The election was the first time in Ghana's history that one democratically elected president was succeeded by another democratically elected leader. The military has pledged its loyalty to the Kufuor government, and officials have publicly warned against coups.
Ghana continued efforts to improve its respect for human rights, although problems with arbitrary arrest, abuse of detainees, and excessive force continued. There were also reports in 2001 of indiscriminate police raids on homes, which opposition politicians claimed were tantamount to political harassment. Violence flared briefly in May, when youths attacked police following a soccer stampede at a sports stadium in the capital, Accra, that claimed 130 lives. The stampede was sparked when police fired tear gas into an unruly crowd.
Ghana's economy has suffered in recent years as the result of a fall in the world prices of cocoa and gold, which are among the country's main foreign exchange earners. Kufuor in 2001 promised to create more than 70,000 jobs during the next four years through cassava starch production and the export of garments and textiles.
The December 1996 presidential and parliamentary elections under Ghana's 1992 constitution allowed Ghanaians their first opportunity since independence to choose their representatives in genuine elections. A broad civic education campaign and international assistance with registration and other electoral procedures preceded voting. However, the elections were also marked by the former ruling party's extensive use of state media and patronage to support incumbents. President Jerry Rawlings's five percent reelection victory, which extended his 16-year rule, was also assured by opposition disunity.
About 200 international observers monitored voting in the 2000 presidential and parliamentary elections and hailed the process as free and fair. The opposition, led by John Kufuor, of the National Patriotic Party (NPP), alleged intimidation and other irregularities as the second round of voting in the presidential polls began, but those claims dissipated as the polling proceeded and his looming victory became apparent. Kufuor won soundly with 57 percent of the vote in the second round of polling, compared with 43 percent for Vice President John Atta Mills. Kufuor had led the seven candidates in the first round of voting. The opposition also broke the stranglehold of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) on parliament, with the NPP winning 99 of the 200 seats available, compared with 92 for the NDC, which had previously held 133 seats. Smaller opposition parties and independents won the remainder of seats.
Ghanaian courts have acted with increased autonomy under the 1992 constitution, but are still occasionally subject to executive influence. Traditional courts often handle minor cases according to local customs that fail to meet constitutional standards. Scarce judicial resources compromise the judicial process, leading to long periods of pretrial detention under harsh conditions. Ghana's Prison's Service said in 2001 that conditions had deteriorated in the country's jails because of inadequate funding.
The right to peaceful assembly and association is constitutionally guaranteed, and permits are not required for meetings or demonstrations. Numerous nongovernmental organizations operate openly and freely. Freedom of expression is constitutionally guaranteed and generally respected. Fulfilling a campaign promise, the Kufuor government in 2001 repealed Ghana's criminal libel law and otherwise eased pressure on the press. A politically provocative television talk-show host who had been sidelined in 1998 by the Rawlings administration returned to the airwaves in 2001.
Religious freedom is respected, but there is occasional tension between Christians and Muslims and within the Muslim community itself. Communal violence occasionally flares in Ghana. Members of the Mamprusi and Kusasi ethnic groups clashed in northeastern Ghana in December 2001. More than 50 people were killed and 5,000 others were displaced.
Ghanaian women suffer societal discrimination that is particularly serious in rural areas, where opportunities for education and wage employment are limited, despite women's equal rights under the law. Women's enrollment in universities, however, is increasing. Domestic violence against women is said to be common, but often remains unreported. Legislation in 1998 doubled the prison sentence for rape. Efforts are under way to abolish the tro-kosi system of indefinite servitude to traditional priests in rural areas, and the practice of sending young girls to penal villages in the north after they are accused of practicing witchcraft.
Ghana has been coordinating with regional countries and the International Labor Organization to create a comprehensive plan to address the growing problem of child trafficking and child labor.
The government has not interfered with the right of workers to associate in labor unions, but civil servants may not join unions. The Industrial Relations Act demands arbitration before strikes are authorized. The Ghana Federation of Labor was inaugurated in 1998 and is intended to serve as an umbrella organization for several other labor unions. There were more than 20 industrial actions in 2001.