HRAFF Film Review – An African Election

By Maya Chanthaphavong

An African Election is a tense and insightful documentary that investigates the democratic processes surrounding the Ghanaian presidential elections of 2008, and captures how political tensions can affect the conscience of a country.

Beginning 28 days before the election, the documentary provides a fascinating glimpse of the two main candidates, the magnetic John Ata Mills of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the equally charismatic Nana Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), as they attempted to win the hearts and minds of Ghana’s voters.

The 2008 presidential election was the fifth to take place in Ghana since multi-party democracy was re-introduced in 1992 by Jerry John Rawlings – who is another main character in the documentary. Rawlings is tellingly still occasionally referred to as “Mr President” by advisors and observers, and as the film unfolds, it becomes increasingly clear that his influence on Ghanaian politics runs deep.

Jarreth and Kevin Merz, the documentary’s co-directors, were given unprecedented access to both presidential candidates, as well as the ability to film within the “Strong Room”, wherein the tallies from the various Ghanaian regions were sanctioned, and where party representatives kept a careful watch over proceedings.

The documentary … clearly demonstrates how attached the Ghanaian people are, not only to the concept of democracy, but to its non-violent and inclusive implementation.

The democratic voting process itself was closely monitored by the President of the Electoral Commission, Mr Afri-Gyan, who bore the responsibility of ensuring a free and fair election. As rumours of vote rigging and violence circulated, marring the presidential race, Mr Afri-Gyan, in the interests of ensuring a democratic election, declared a regional election tally, the votes from which would decide the presidency.

Both the NPP and the NDC are vocal about the importance of democratic elections in Ghana, as well as seeking to distance themselves from countries such as Zimbabwe. The Merz brothers show the average Ghanaian as deeply involved in the politics of their country, wishing to ensure that it can be a good example for the rest of Africa in successfully implementing democracy without resorting to violence.

Unfortunately, such wishes for non-violence were not entirely fulfilled – tensions did in fact boil over due to the lack of communication from the authorities as to a clear presidential winner. Nevertheless, this was an isolated incident, and did not escalate – much to the relief of the State.

The documentary benefits greatly from Jarreth Merz’s close relationships with those involved in the election, and clearly demonstrates how attached the Ghanaian people are, not only to the concept of democracy, but to its non-violent and inclusive implementation.

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