Even in Ghana, after five peaceful, multicandidate elections in a row, suspicion of fraud still runs high, and there are widespread fears that the biometric voter ID won’t work.
Still, those like Odonkor who remember the bad times are especially apt to value what they have gained.
Shipped to school abroad, she returned in 1992 to a country holding its first democratic election. And now, ‘‘there is freedom of speech and freedom of the press, a huge difference from that time.’’
And Ghanaians make full use of that freedom to air a litany of complaints against their elected leaders.
Although Ghana registered the fastest economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa in 2011,spurred by new oil production and a construction boom, Ghanaians ask why they aren’t feeling richer. Kwesi Jonah, a research fellow with the Accra-based Institute for Democratic Governance, says Ghana’s democracy is a ‘‘democracy without jobs, democracy without good drinking water, democracy without roads, without a good supply of electricity.’’
‘‘Health insurance is not working,’’ said housekeeper Judith Ayirebi, 27. It’s supposed to be free, but hospitals demand payment, she said. ‘‘I will vote for NPP because they will bring secondary education and health insurance. That’s what’s important to me.’’
Four candidates are running, led by Mahama and Nana Akufo-Addo, who lost the presidency by less than 1 percent in 2008.
Both are scions of elite political families.
Akufo-Addo, a former foreign minister and attorney general, and championed human rights during the coup years. He grew up in England and at 68 still has a strong British accent.
Mahama, 54, was born in a village in the poor, arid north and is popular among the working poor. His father was a prosperous farm owner and government official. He grew up a socialist, and though his convictions were shaken by his experiences while at college in Moscow, he retains socialist leanings.
Nana Akufo-Addo says he'll make high school free and boost industry rather than keep the economy reliant on exporting raw materials. Mahama promises new colleges and better health care, and takes credit for the high growth rate.
But many accuse the ruling party of being corrupt and wonder why basic services aren’t reaching those who need them.
"We are not feeling the impact in our pockets,’’ said Dorcas Yeboah, 21, a psychology student. ‘‘In our discovery of oil, we were expecting a lot of money would be coming into our economy.’’
Geography plays a big role in the election. The north, Mahama’s home base, has seen little of the prosperity boosting Accra and the coastal south. In the north farming families go hungry when their corn stocks run out, hospitals lack doctors and many students still learn under trees.
But even Accra, population 2.3 million, suffers from frequent power cuts and water rationing. Roads are congested and slum dwellers treat the beach as a communal toilet.
Yet office blocks are rising, and showrooms offer luxury cars. Thai and sushi restaurants are cropping up among rows of shops made of brightly colored shipping containers. The rhythmic pounding of ‘‘hip-life,’’ Ghana’s brand of hip-hop, mixes with the hum of generators during blackouts.
‘‘The reason Ghanaians are so drawn to democracy,’’ analyst Jonah said, ‘‘is because they have seen that democracy in Western countries has brought a very high level of development, and they want to be like America, they want to be like Britain."
He said that if the rulers can deliver the services the people need, ‘‘Then people will say, ‘OK, democracy isn’t just every four years selecting people. Democracy also brings development.'''