Blog December 19, 2016
Ghana: Soundtrack For An Election
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It feels safe to say that if you speak the word “election” to anybody living through the turbulence of 2016, no matter their beliefs, they’ll have something to talk about. Here in the U.S., we’re all exhausted by what felt like an endless, brutal election season with much condemnation and not enough listening, with much misinformation and willful ignorance and not enough truth-telling. But, while the U.S. (and honestly, much of the world) is in a state of uncertainty about what the coming years hold, wheels are turning in other societies too. Today we’ll take a break from American politics and have a look at another recent presidential election--this one in Ghana. What happened, what does it mean for Ghana and, because this is Afropop Worldwide, what is the soundtrack to this political moment? In the U.S., music hardly plays a central role in our politicking. Often candidates will co-opt pre-existing songs that are hoped to uplift and promote their platform, and very occasionally an artist will write a song in support of a candidate (like’s “Yes We Can” for Obama’s 2008 campaign). But in Ghana, political parties often have theme songs, and some of the country’s big stars promote their candidate of choice with songs that become rallying cries and pop hits at the same time. We’ll hear some of those sounds later on--but first, what’s the story? To provide some context, the past 60 years--since Kwame Nkrumah ushered in Ghana’s independence--have been a bumpy political ride. A very simplified version: A military coup that overthrew Nkrumah was followed by a series of tenuous governments, both civilian and military, that led up to a long suspension of the constitution and political parties under the controversial Jerry John Rawlings, who held power for upwards of 20 years. Nonetheless, Ghana is currently considered one of the more stable democracies on the continent. It has been praised for 24 years of peaceful transfers of executive power since the return of a multiparty democracy in 1992. There have been seven elections since 1992, and the 2016 election saw the third transfer of power from the dominant party to an opposition party (as is the case in the U.S., in fact). So what went down in the election on Dec. 7? In short, Nana Akufo-Addo of the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) defeated incumbent President John Dramani Mahama of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) in a roughly 54-44 percent outcome. This is actually the second time these two have faced off for the executive office--Mahama defeated Akufo-Addo in the 2008 race. Now, Akufo-Addo has returned the favor and Mahama conceded defeat on Dec. 9 after a two-day wait for the final results. If you’ve been following this election season in West Africa, you will know that this stands in contrast to the situation in Gambia, where incumbent President Yahya Jammeh conceded defeat to his opponent after a 22-year rule, but a few days later canceled that concession, refusing to leave office. Maybe you’re waiting for “but here’s the bad news,” because the past few months of elections have often carried bad news, but Ghana's was relatively smooth. Other than the expected friction that political competition stirs up, things went on without widespread turmoil (although there are recent reports of related violence in the days since the election). That said, controversy arose because Ghana’s Electoral Commission disqualified 13 of the candidates from smaller political parties. These disqualifications were accused of being politically motivated, something the commission denies, citing instead improper filing procedures. One of these candidates was Nana Agyeman-Rawlings, the first female presidential candidate in Ghana and wife of Jerry John Rawlings, dubbed by some "Ghana’s Hillary Clinton." Her disqualification and two others were later reversed after uproar and lawsuits. This election comes in the midst of a sharp economic decline, for which Mahama and his party are charged with responsibility. His supporters point to improvements in infrastructure and commitment to democracy under his administration but are countered with allegations of corruption and mismanagement of national money. President-elect Akufo-Addo, son of a former Ghanaian president, was foreign minister and attorney general for the nation and is a respected lawyer and human rights advocate. He is bringing to the table his own professed dedication to democracy (he was central to the return of the multiparty system in ’92) and promises to end corruption in the government, bolster the economy, and make education free. His detractors charge him with arrogance and ethnocentrism in favor of his fellow Akans, vowing to never cede control of the NPP to a non-Akan (in Ghana, political divisions tend to be along ethnic lines: the Ashanti region goes for the NPP, the Volta region for the NDC). His party has also been accused of corruption. Of course, after Dec. 9, many were devastated and many were thrilled. Accra and Kumasi went wild when the news was announced--supporters of Akufo-Addo took the streets in celebration, crowding in front of his house as he assured them that he will bring change. Mahama congratulated his opponent on his victory and called for his own supporters to stay calm and keep the peace. Maybe this is more than you want to know about Ghana’s contemporary politics, or maybe it barely scratches the surface for you, but here comes the fun part. These have been a whole bunch of words about this election – now what did it sound like? Here’s a song from one of Ghana’s huge stars, the dancehall artist Shatta Wale, about John Mahama. Mahama’s NDC party adopted this 2016 hit “Mahama Paper” as a campaign song. Here’s a video of Mahama, who, by the way, is a professed Afrobeat-lover and big fan of Fela Kuti, dancing to “Mahama Paper” at a rally: Now, Shatta Wale’s music has also been co-opted by Akufo-Addo’s party – his 2016 hit “Kakai” was heard at NPP rallies leading up to the election. Shatta Wale is an interesting figure in Ghanaian political music. Although he’s quite pleased by the love from both sides, the singer refused to endorse either candidate, not wanting to cause division among his fan base. In fact, he went as far as writing a song advocating for peace and unity during this election season: “Nana vs Mahama.” Here’s a fun video of some guys (Yewo Krom Dancers) dancing that message of peace: Now there’s no uncertainty about the purpose of this tune: “Onaapo,” the NDC’s official campaign song in support of John Mahama. In the song and the video, the singers praise Mahama and run through his infrastructural achievements: roads, hospitals and markets. Here’s the same song, sung by Dee Aja in the jama style. Jama (or gyama) basically is an uplifting, high-energy music made with drums, vocals and whistles and is often played to hype people up at gatherings: political rallies and celebrations, sports events and the like. On the flip side, here’s the NPP’s campaign song, “Nana Akufo-Addo” by Kwabena Kwabena and Daddy Lumba, a famous gospel singer. This is actually Daddy Lumba’s third attempt to sing Akufo-Addo into office. In Akufo-Addo’s first presidential campaign in 2008, Lumba came out with “Nana Winner.” In 2012, four years after his candidate’s loss to John Atta Mills, Daddy Lumba brought out a fresher version of this same tune for the campaign. Before we wrap up, here’s two more songs in support of the winning party: “Vote for Nana Akufo-Addo” by gospel singer Ampong: And “NPP Campaign Song” by Lucky Mensah: You know, even though there’s no way for everyone to be happy with the outcome of the election, at least everybody’s got some great music to carry them through. My personal favorite? Shatta Wale’s non-partisan song for peace.