Ghana is a country where, on the surface and in comparison to some of its West African neighbours, democracy appears to be thriving. However the country faces significant challenges in ensuring a healthy democratic future, particularly when it comes to citizen participation. While Ghana scores highly on the basic measures of democracy and has been successful in holding five rounds of free and fair elections (including a smooth transition from one ruling party to another) the fact that much of the political power in the country resides with a small political elite contributes heavily towards a lack of involvement from significant parts of the population in the decision making processes that affect them.

Winner Takes All Approach

Ghana is a multi‐party democracy but in reality the competition for overall power is between the two main parties, the National Patriotic Party (NPP) and National Democratic Congress (NDC). What has developed between the two parties is a winner‐takes‐all approach to the struggle for power and an increased risk of politically motivated outbreaks of conflict. Adding to the competitive atmosphere, the concentration of powers in the presidency and the executive branch dwarf those of all other branches of the government making gaining the top post all the more powerful.

Political Actors Willing To Stir Supporters into Violence

Over the 60 years since independence, Ghanaians have witnessed violence resulting from a mix of ethnic, religious and political tensions and the manipulation of inter‐communal divisions by politicians for political gain. Politicians use elections as a time to manipulate ongoing or latent conflicts to galvanize support. Some parties and candidates will always act on such opportunities to seek political advantage in their favor and by whatever means available.

Youth and Governance

More than half of Ghana’s population is under 30 years old. One of the significant issues faced by Ghana now and in the future will be the ability of the economy to absorb this labour force. Neither of the two leading parties has been able to adequately address the challenge of rising youth unemployment, and, despite initiatives like the National Youth Employment Programme, the issue poses a significant threat to the future of Ghana.

Increasing youth understanding of the benefits of democratic processes and their participation in governance systems that affect them is a step towards opening up positive opportunities for their future.

A Country Divided

The continuing high poverty and low education rates in northern Ghana have their roots deep in the country’s history. Despite a narrowing in the gaps between north and south in measures of health and education, the gap in per capita income between the two halves of the country has increased4. The range of inter‐tribal conflicts and clashes among traditional leaderships make it difficult to unify northern political leaders for a common goal, thus limiting development. These issues, and more, are highlighted in the current Government’s plans to aid the development of the north in form of the Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA) initiative.

Lack of Women’s Participation

Traditional attitudes concerning the limited and often secondary role of women in Ghana cut across areas from access to education and employment to inequality under the law. Women are vastly under‐represented at all levels of government. Barriers to women’s participation in politics include cultural attitudes and traditions, illiteracy and poverty. Without representation in local and national decision‐making, Ghana loses the unique viewpoint and understanding of problems that limit women’s families and communities and hence, the development of the nation.