Ghana’s 2012 Presidential Court Challenge: Panic and the Lessons Learned When Democracy Worked Too Well

Napoleon Bamfo


Ghana’s 2012 presidential elections ended with the incumbent, John Mahama, winning, and Nana Akufo-Addo, representing the main opposition party filing a motion at Ghana’s Supreme Court to challenge the result. The opposition was exercising the right of the constitution grants political candidates to file a petition in court to nullify elections if they suspected fraud. This electoral challenge was the first of its kind in Ghana involving presidential candidates, and the first the court televised live. Ghanaians followed the proceedings in their finite detail not only for the unfamiliar terms like ‘pink sheets’, ‘over-voting’, and ‘contempt of court’ that were thrown around, but also for dreading the violence they feared would emanate from the final verdict. People had an irrational fear their country might plunge into civil conflict as many African countries had experienced following elections. The court challenge the opposition instituted was a mixed blessing for Ghanaians, as it proved that a candidate and a party discontented with an election result willing to use the due process of law to seek redress could do so unhindered. On the other hand, the novelty of the court challenge and doubt about the ability of Ghana’s law enforcement establishment quelling a spontaneous upheaval from the losing party, if one occurred, put the nation on edge. To the relief of Ghanaians, however, the court decision came and went without a whimper, leaving in its trail many teachable lessons for the country. This paper analyzes the unique ways Ghanaians explored to mitigate the full effect of the anarchy they feared and hope other African countries learn some lessons from them.


Pink-sheets; Over-voting; Contempt of court; John Mahama; Akufo-Addo

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