Ghana is widely regarded as a signal success story in the African “wave” of democratizations of the 1990s. Moreover, since its return to constitutional rule in 1992, Ghana’s transition to democracy appears to be steadily consolidating as the country re- establishes a long-standing two-party tradition and maintains high levels of political competition and contestation within a stable and relatively free political environment.
This paper considers the role of domestic and international factors respectively in shaping the direction and pace of Ghana’s transitions. There are two distinct phases to that transition. In the first phase, dated from 1988–1992, while there was significant pressure from below (from pro-democracy forces operating within Ghana), political change was primarily directed from the top down. Liberalisation then represented a controlled, pragmatic response to an area of key vulnerability by an otherwise remarkably successful regime. Jerry John Rawlings, Ghana’s president and the head of the ruling Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC), was no believer in multi-party democracy and did not move willingly or happily towards democracy. Moreover, it was not agitation by domestic political activists that ultimately persuaded him to do so; rather, I will argue, it was consistent pressure from the international financial institutions (IFIs) and associated donors, allied with the relatively strong political position of his own regime, that motivated Rawlings to allow liberalization of the political regime and a return to constitutionalism.