Ghana Provides Model for Democracy in W. Africa

Sandwiched between tiny, troubled Togo and embattled Ivory Coast, Ghana is considered a model democracy — an oasis of peace and stability in turbulent West Africa. Ghana has had its share of problems since independence in 1957, but it has avoided the turmoil of its neighbors.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Sandwiched between tiny troubled Togo and embattled Ivory Coast, Ghana is considered something of a model democracy, an oasis of peace and stability in turbulent West Africa. The former Gold Coast was the first European colony in sub-Saharan African to become independent. That was in 1957. Ghana has had its share of problems, but it has avoided the turmoil of its neighbors. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.

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OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON reporting:

Dozens of people are in line waiting to cross into the Ghanaian border town of Aflao to escape the troubles in Togo. Togo's borders were closed for a week during last month's violence after the disputed presidential election but are now open. The scene is one of bedlam, women and children with their belongings bundled on their heads and in amongst them, 74-year-old Adu Sapinya(ph). She says she'll be safer in Ghana.

Ms. ADU SAPINYA (74 Years Old): I'm not happy in Togo. They are killing the persons, they are beating the boys and girls on the road. So I cannot be happy. I hear that Togo is free, I can come back. If it's not free, I will stay there in Ghana. That's where I'm going.

QUIST-ARCTON: Stability is something the authorities in Ghana's capital Accra are determined to maintain. Ghanaian President John Agyekum Kufour says his government is trying to champion conflict resolution in West Africa. He's just completed two successive mandates as the chairman of the regional community ECOWAS working to bring peace to unstable countries in the neighborhood.

President JOHN AJUKU KUFOUR (Ghana): Very wise adage: You see fire there, you have to rush buckets of water to put the fire out. Otherwise, might spread into your own house.

QUIST-ARCTON: In an interview at the presidential residence, Ghana's leader, who's begun his second and final four-year term allowed by the constitution, says his country was thriving.

Pres. KUFOUR: We are doing things right. We're governing by a constitution which is democratic. The rule of law is at work here. The economy is performing, so this is the place to come, Ghana.

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QUIST-ARCTON: The Atlantic Ocean breeze blows over across bustling Thraha(ph) food market here in the coastal capital. Market women are wooing customers with mountains of giant snails, shrimp, crab and tasty papusheta chilis(ph) and other fresh produce. Observers say Ghana's cocoa and gold-based economy is growing steadily.

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QUIST-ARCTON: But with a population of 20 million, Ghana has its problems, says Kenneth Quartay(ph), a farmer outside Accra. The average Guanaian lives on about a dollar a day, and half of the national budget still comes from foreign aid. The price of gas has doubled recently, and power cuts and water shortages are not unusual. Quartay worries that if these fundamental challenges are not addressed, Ghana risks going the way of some of its neighbors in West Africa.

Mr. KENNETH QUARTAY (Farmer): The fact of the matter is, our population is growing. Our people are getting poorer and poorer. If we don't take the necessary steps to get Ghana moving, eventually, I mean, yes, we could degenerate to the levels of civil war, but I'm not that pessimistic.

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QUIST-ARCTON: About an hour west of Accra, Renee Neblett looks on as a young Gha cultural group rehearses a song and the energetic balago(ph) dance. This African-American from Boston, Massachusetts, moved to Ghana 10 years ago and established the Kokrobitey Institute. It's an Atlantic Ocean-front setting that mixes educational exchanges and Ghanaian culture, and it's the quality of life in Ghana that Renee Neblett says she values most.

Ms. RENEE NEBLETT (Kokrobitey Institute): I'm happy to be here. I always jokingly say I could be in a subway right now, but I'm not, you know. What else to say? I don't know.

QUIST-ARCTON: President John Kufour says he's not naive, but he hopes Ghana can help lead the region out of a downward spiral.

Pres. KUFOUR: We are Third World. We do not pretend otherwise, but we're determined to get out of it and to join the middle income. Ghana has proven to be a pacesetter.

MONTAGNE: That report from Ghana was sent by NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton.

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MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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