bradbrownweb.gifThose who watch the 24-hour news channels have seen just one image of Africa governance recently – Madagascar.

The TV is full of images of people in the street and one political leader using the crowds to force the resignation of an elected president. Yet virtually no coverage has been given to the election of a new president in Ghana who defeated the party that held power for eight years.

Professor John Atta Mills, a former vice president, led his party to victory after he was defeated twice.  I met President Mills when he was vice president. His involvement in the marine project with which I was working impressed me.

The first round of voting required a runoff, and the second was extremely close.  Due to logistical problems, one small district did not vote until four days after the other districts had held their votes.

The cynics who did not believe this could happen peacefully and without a close, rigged election were proven wrong.  The Carter Center – founded by former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, to advance human rights – called the election “creditable and peaceful,” something they could not have said for the United States in 2000.

I recently returned from Senegal after spending time there during the run-up to that country’s election. On March 23, Senegal set an example for democracies in its local election, which chose 20,000 people to serve in rural, municipal and regional posts.

The election attracted higher-than-usual participation. On the evening of the polls, the ministry of interior estimated half of the country’s registered voters, or about 2.5 million people, cast ballots.  (Senegal presidential turnouts have been much higher than this, while Miami-Dade County local election turnouts are often considerably lower).

The president of Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade, at 83 made a whirlwind tour just before the election to rally his party’s forces, seeking to hold onto the majority.

Naysayers predicted violence, and expressed fear that the outcome was pre-ordained.  The entry of Karim Wade, President Wade’s son, into politics was seen by some as setting up a fait accompli for succession.

The economic conditions make it a difficult time for incumbents everywhere, and in Senegal, increases in the price of rice, the country’s staple, hit especially hard.

These are conditions in which democracy often fails.  But Senegal, which has never had a coup, carried off this hard-fought election smoothly and peacefully.

The party of the president lost badly throughout the country, including in the capital, Dakar. Few victories were left to the ruling party as it licks its wounds. 

Karim Wade, the president’s son, lost his race.  While the ruling party lost, democracy won and emerged strong and vibrant as an example to others.  President Wade stands tall.

For years before he was elected president, Wade struggled outside the halls of power, contesting and losing elections (observers question the validity of some of those elections).

He has proven himself just as strong a guardian of democracy as he was before he was elected.

Brad Brown is the first vice president of the Miami-Dade NAACP. He is also a contractor with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where he works on African coastal and marine projects.