SOME 12 million Ghanaians will go to polling stations today. They carry a heavy responsibility. Ghana was the first sub-Saharan colonial country to achieve independence in 1957 and the rest of colonial Africa looked to it to prove that Africa was capable of governing itself; under Kwame Nkruma and others it did not immediately live up to that responsibility but since 1991 it has been a free and stable democracy. So today the voters, the candidates and the parties have the task of confirming that achievement; if they do so they will give encouragement to many who are losing hope that African democracy is not a chimera.
John Kufuour is standing down after two successful terms as president. Although seven candidates are offering themselves as his successor the winner is likely to be the representative of one of the two leading parties, the governing New Patriotic Party and the opposition National Democratic Congress. There is relatively little to choose between these parties since both support the free market economy that has served Ghana well for the past two decades; growth is currently at about six per cent per annum. One new factor in Ghana's future is the prospect of offshore oil indicated by preliminary drilling.
For today's voting thousands of observers will be posted at some 22'000 polling stations to ensure a free and fair election. With the examples of rigged elections in Nigeria, Kenya and Zimbabwe in the past year or so, it is to be hoped that Ghana will show how it should be done.