A different African Election

Directed and Produced by Jarreth and Kevin Merz, An African Election trails the events leading up to the Ghanaian Presidential Election of 2008. John Atta Mills and Nana Akufa-Addo represent the leftist National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the conservative New Patriotic Party (NPP), both men are the top contenders in the race leaving in their trail a number of cameo candidates whose following only matters when the elections land in an inconclusive knot.

The documentary, which opened the list of films screening at iREP 2012, profiles the two leading contestants and all the tactics applied in ensuring the 50% plus one vote necessary to claim victory at the polls. The title of the documentary hardly needs explaining. Elections in many African countries are plagued by rigging and outright ballot box theft. The Ghanaians however were aiming for an exemplary election that would change the face of what is perceived to be ‘an African election.’

Like some other documentaries screening at the festival, Merz as well employs no voice-over but incorporates short typed messages and commentary from journalists, activists and artists in the documentary’s unfolding. A brief history of Ghana pre- and post- independence also give a defining background to the documentary, a point echoed by one of the commentators that governance in Ghana is built largely on the country’s history. 

As the Ghanaians prepare for the polls, the sense of anger was high plus a general outcry for change, making the election of John Kuffour’s replacement a heated assignment. The Electoral Chair Kwadwo Afari-Gyan is the documentary’s unlikely hero. Former President Jerry Rawlings could have stolen the show, but Afari-Gyan’s role in stemming the erupting political tension saves the day after a gruelling first round of elections that lands in a run-off. When some strange numbers appear after the run-off, it is the electoral chair, who again resolves the impasse.

An interesting angle to the documentary is the focus on two friends, Kwabena Agyepong and Rojo Mettle. Both support different parties and when the numbers appear to have been tampered with, the vociferous Rojo loudly proclaims that, “Kwabena Agyepong walks into the room and funny things start happening.” In the ensuing altercations protesting the obvious rigging, someone pointedly states that “This is not Nigeria‼!”

Indeed it isn’t and as the Ghanaians finally chose a new president in January of 2008, they had set an example of what influence the voter holds in protecting his vote. To borrow the words of Jerry Rawlings on Atta Mills’ campaign trail, “Protect your ballot boxes the way you would protect and defend your mother!” If there is no other lesson to be learnt from An African Election, this surely is one. 


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