Freedom in the World
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Ghana received an upward trend arrow due to efforts to improve the rule of law, including concluding hearings of the National Reconciliation Commission, and to improve freedom of the press.
Ghanaians were preparing for a likely close race for the presidency in December 2004 between President John Kufuor and former vice president John Atta Mills. The country's National Reconciliation Commission, which held hearings on human rights abuses committed at various times since independence, concluded its hearings during the year.
Once a major slaving center and long known as the Gold Coast, Ghana, a former British possession, became black Africa's first colony to achieve independence in 1957. 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 deception.
In 1979, Flight Lieutenant Jerry 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 neither free nor fair. Rawlings's victory in the 1996 presidential poll, which was generally regarded as free and fair, was assured by the then-ruling party's extensive use of state media and patronage, as well as by opposition disunity.
In the December 2000 presidential elections, the opposition, led by Kufuor of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), alleged intimidation and other irregularities as the second round of voting began. However, those claims dissipated as the polling proceeded and Kufuor's looming victory became apparent. He won soundly with 57 percent of the vote in the second round of polling, compared with 43 percent for Atta Mills, who was vice president under Rawlings. The elections were hailed as having been conducted both freely and fairly.
During concurrent legislative elections, the opposition also broke the stranglehold of Rawlings's National Democratic Congress (NDC) on parliament. The NPP captured 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 the seats. The NPP won a majority in parliament in 2003 through by-elections, finishing with 103 seats.
The presidential election in December 2004 is likely to be a close race between Mills and Kufuor, but Kufuor has four years of solid economic achievement behind him. World prices have been good for cocoa and gold, two of Ghana's main exports, and the country's growth rate has exceeded 5 percent. The reputation of the Kufuor government for good governance has won aid from Western donors. Ghana qualified in June for debt relief under the World Bank's Highly Indebted Poor Countries initiative, which will slash the $6 billion external debt in half over 20 years and reduce debt service payments each year.
Citizens of Ghana can change their government democratically. The December 1996 presidential and parliamentary elections conducted under the 1992 constitution allowed Ghanaians their first opportunity since independence to choose their representatives in genuine elections. The 2000 presidential and parliamentary polls were hailed in Africa and abroad as a successful test of Ghana's democracy. The presidential poll marked the first time in Ghana's history that one democratically elected president was succeeded by another.
A coalition of 25 civil society groups, the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers, plans to deploy nearly 5,000 monitors across the country for the December 2004 presidential and parliamentary elections. In March, the Electoral Commission (EC) began a two-week voter listing exercise in 21,000 registration centers to prepare a new voter's register and supply all voters with a photo identity card for the polls. The government shelved a bid to fast-track a bill seeking to allow all Ghanaians abroad to register for the elections. Political opposition members protested the fast-track effort, saying Ghana lacked the infrastructure and resources to transparently register all Ghanaians abroad ahead of the December election. The EC accredits political parties and requires that they show evidence of a "national character," such as official representation in all 10 of the country's regions.
The government of President John Kufuor has made efforts to improve transparency and reduce corruption. Ghana was ranked 64 out of 146 countries surveyed in the 2004 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedom of expression is constitutionally guaranteed and generally respected. Numerous private radio stations operate, and several independent newspapers and magazines are published in Accra. State media sometimes criticizes government policies, but avoids direct criticism of the president. Fulfilling a campaign promise, the Kufuor government repealed Ghana's criminal libel law and otherwise eased pressure on the press in 2001. The president appointed a new chairman of the National Communications Authority in 2003, which is responsible for granting media licenses. Previously, the chairman was also the minister of communications, which raised questions of conflict of interest. Internet access is unrestricted.
Religious freedom is respected, and the government has increased its prosecution of perpetrators of religious violence.
Academic freedom is guaranteed and respected. A ban on campus demonstrations has not been enforced or challenged.
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. Kufuor signed into law new labor legislation in 2003 that conformed with International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions. Under the new laws, every worker has the right to form or join a trade union. A National Labor Commission, which is comprised of government, employer, and organized labor representatives, was created to help resolve labor disputes, first through mediation, and then through arbitration.
Ghanaian courts have acted with increased autonomy under the 1992 constitution, but are still occasionally subject to corruption. The government has made efforts to reduce corruption in the justice system. 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 National Reconciliation Commission finished hearing testimony from more than 2,000 people in 2004. The reconciliation panel is based on South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and its hearings covered Ghana's history since independence, although much of the focus was on the early years of rule under Rawlings in the 1980s. The proceedings were seen as a test of the flexibility of the country's democracy and how well Ghana could look into its past, acknowledge its failings, and continue to move democratically into the future. Former president Jerry Rawlings testified before the commission live on national television. It was significant for Ghana and Africa that a former head of state was publicly questioned about his human rights record. Rawlings was asked about the 1982 murders of three high court judges and a retired army major; although he was not asked if he had ordered their killings, he was questioned about various videotapes that might shed light on the circumstances of the killings.
Communal and ethnic violence occasionally flares in Ghana. In August, the government lifted a state of emergency and evening curfew in the Dagbon region of northern Ghana, more than two years after the Dagbon king was beheaded and his palace razed during clashes between rival clans. The Andani and the Abudu have been vying for the chieftaincy for more than half a century.
Ghana has been coordinating with regional countries and the ILO to create a comprehensive plan to address the growing problem of child trafficking and child labor.
Despite women's equal rights under the law, Ghanaian women suffer societal discrimination that is particularly serious in rural areas, where opportunities for education and wage employment are limited. 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, and efforts were underway in 2004 to further extend sentences for sexual violence. Efforts were also being made 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 as prisoners in the North after they are accused of practicing witchcraft. Female genital mutilation was made illegal in Ghana in 1994, and those who perform the operation face a prison sentence of at least three years.