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Opinions of Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Columnist: Ata, Kofi

Dr Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, what happened?

By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK

Days before the December 7, 2012 General Elections (Presidential and Parliamentary), Ghana’s Electoral Commission, its Commissioners and senior staff assured and reassured Ghanaians and the world that everything was ready and they were fully and more than prepared to organise a free, fair and transparent elections. On the contrary and as we all know, it was the tolerance, patience, tenacity and the determination of Ghanaian voters to exercised their constitutional and civic rights that prevented one of, if not the most monumental electoral catastrophes in the country on a grand scale. It is the near disaster that almost engulfed voting on the one day General Elections that became two days, which is the subject of the third of my post elections articles.

It important to remind readers what was reported in the Ghanaian media regarding the readiness of the Electoral Commission prior to December 7 and I have selected just a few.

“The Electoral Commission (EC) says it is ready to conduct the Special Voting scheduled for tomorrow December 4”. Mrs Sylvia Annor, Principal Public Relations Officer of the EC said in Accra that the EC was well grounded and on top of the task ahead as far as the special exercise was concerned (see GNA and Ghanaweb December 3). The EC Member responsible for Brong Ahafo, Mr Ebenezer Aggrey-Fynn also said “the EC had established firm principles and clear procedures in its activities and built the operational capacity of its officers to be able to deal with the challenges that might come up”, (see “EC Apologizes to the Media”, Ghanaweb December 5). “Ghanaians urged to play their expected part to make polls credible”. Mrs Cynthia Frempong, Deputy Director of the Electoral Commission (EC) in the Ashanti Region urged Ghanaians to play their expected part well to make the December 7 polls clean, fair and credible, (see GNA and Ghanaweb December 7).

Then finally came, “All set for Friday's Poll - winner to be known in 48 hours”. The Chairman of the Electoral Commission, Dr Kwadwo Afari-Gyan has said the Commission will declare the results of Friday’s election within 72 hours after the close of poll. Speaking at a news conference in Accra to highlight the preparedness of the EC for Friday’s polls, he announced that all materials needed for the elections were already on the field, “so we are ready to conduct the elections”. “From the exercise we did on Tuesday on the early voting, we can say we have robust machines for the job”. The EC chairman said very huge numbers of voters were processed for voting with the verification machines during the Early Voting, “so in our largest polling stations which has 1,100, even there people can be processed for voting”, (see GNA and Ghanaweb Dec 6).

From the above and the reality on voting day December 7, 2012, the EC was either in denial, out of touch, woefully underestimated the magnitude of the task ahead, over confident, complacent or plainly arrogant. I just cannot put my hand on the trigger to point out which of these best describes the way the Electoral Commission managed voting on December 7. According to media reports, there were about 26,000 polling stations throughout Ghana and at least, 18% (4,680) of them experienced Biometric Voter Verification Machines failure (non-functioning and breakdowns). Some polling stations did not receive electoral materials or arrived late and at others, electoral staff and officials were unavailable.

Throughout the day, the Electoral Commission was found wanting and instead of leading from the front, there was total loss of direction. To put it candidly, there was lack of leadership by the Commission on what to do. What was unfortunate and perhaps even dangerous was that, hours to the close of voting at 5.00pm and with hundreds of voters still in queues across the length and breadth of the country who were getting agitated for fear of being unable to vote before polls closed and become disenfranchised, the Commission kept silent on what to do.

By the excellent work of Joy News live telecast of the elections on voting day, I had the privilege of watching the actions live on my laptop on the evening of December 7 and throughout December 8. To my surprise, shock and annoyance, Dr Kwadwo Afari-Gyan appeared to have abdicated his responsibilities as Electoral Commissioner or delegated it to the Head of the AU and ECOWAS Observer Mission, the Ex-President of Nigerian Olusegun Obasanjo, who announced to the media that due to the numerous challenges and difficulties experienced across the country, voting has been extended to the next day and therefore, all registered voters who could not vote on December 7 could return the next day to vote. Where was Afari-Gyan, the Electoral Commissioner and the Returning Officer for the Presidential Election?

The Electoral Commission issued a statement to that effect through the media thereafter. In my personal view, Obasanjo went too far with that announcement but I do not blame him. There was a vacuum that he sought to fill and perhaps helped to calm down tempers and to break the ensuing silence created by the EC with the ongoing confusion. One female electoral official of the EC was interviewed by Joy reporter on the challenges her polling station was experiencing. Her response was that, she had called for assistance and direction from the Headquarters but all the senior officers were at a meeting and therefore there was nothing she could do, except ask the voters to exercise patience in the queue in the hot sun. The Electoral Commission could have been re-designated “the Electoral Confusion”.

I stay awake on the nights of the US and UK general elections until I know the results. Last week, Ghana became my third election watch night so I kept awake on Friday and Saturday nights watching the live coverage on my laptop. I was again very disappointed to hear from Obasanjo that, the reason why the Verification Machines either broke down or were not working was that, the batteries had to be replaced after every five hours maximum. If the batteries were replaced after they had completely run out of power, then the verification machines would not work, so for efficient and continuous functioning of the machines the batteries had to be replaced before they run out. He added that the electoral officials were unaware of this and that was what caused the breakdown of the machines. I could not believe what I heard from Obasanjo. Why the EC failed to pass on this simple information to all electoral staff across polling stations is anyone’s guess.

So when Kwadwo Afri-Gyan assured Ghanaians and the world that his EC was ready by declaring on Thursday December 6, 2012 that “all set for Friday's poll”, what exactly was in his mind? Was he deluded, deceived or lied to by his subordinates? For example, when there were confusion and disagreements amongst party agents over where the ballot boxes were to be kept overnight on Friday, one had expected that the EC would have issued directives to assist their men and women in the field who had become pawns in the hands of, especially NDC and NPP agents. But lo and behold, no such leadership was shown by the Afari-Gyan led EC and the poor officials were left at the mercy of exuberant but opposing party agents.

As voting returned to some form of normality on Saturday, probably because those electoral officials who were unaware of the need to replace verification machine batteries at least every five hours had been instructed to do so and therefore I assumed that Afari-Gyan and his Commissioners would take their rightful leadership role in the management and organisation on the second day of voting, I was wrong. For example, when NPP members and supporters besieged a private property in Accra on suspicion of alleged rigging by an Israeli IT company, again the EC was declared missing in action. Sadly, it was the same Obasanjo who came to the rescue of the EC to diffuse the tension. Obasanjo had by now become the unofficial spokesperson of Ghana’s Electoral Commission, though the EC issued an official statement to deny any connection with the organisation regarding the collation of electoral results.

With all the above confusion, disorganisation, challenges and failures, can Ghana’s general elections held on December 7 and 8, 2012 be referred to as free, fair and transparent, even without the controversy surrounding the declaration of the results of the presidential election?. The voting was free because no one was forced into voting and Ghana has no compulsory voting legislation. All voters willingly exercised their franchise and were not forced to vote for a particular party or candidate. Though voting was secret, the process was fairly transparent by being in public view. The question of fairness is still pending because of the allegation of fraud by the NPP, so the jury is still out.

My personal assessment is that these challenges and difficulties were more of human errors than just equipment failures and malfunctioning. Above all, they were also due to lack of strategic planning and the absence of leadership by Afari-Gyan, his Commissioners and senior staff. It is true that Ghana is the first on the continent to use Biometric Verification but the EC could have done better. EC let Ghana down on a day that the world was watching and if this is Africa’s shining example of democracy, a beacon of free, fair and transparent elections, then Ghana and Africa have a long way to Ghana. At best it was amateurish and at worst, mediocre.

Dr Kwadwo Afari-Gyan recently called a press conference to respond to the issues around the creation of the forty-five constituencies and asked, “wherever you go, one hears Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, what have I done? Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, the above is your answer.

Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK