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A Tale of Two Africas

Within hours of the president of Guinea's death on December 22, the country was taken over by a military junta (AP) and the constitution was abandoned. Ghana held the second round of its presidential polls one week later. Analysts celebrated the lack of electoral violence and the peaceful post-election transition. "Africa needed a decent election in one of its leading countries-and a loser who would concede defeat," noted the Economist following the voting in Ghana, where the opposition candidate was elected by a razor-thin margin. Is Ghana a hopeful example of a trend toward good governance in Africa, or is the continent more accurately represented by the political turmoil in Guinea?

While the trajectory of democratization and state stability in Africa are controversial, experts agree that other African states are surely watching events in Ghana and Guinea closely. There is historical evidence that political events in small countries on the continent ultimately influence larger political trends. As such, the nature of each country's political evolution bears examination. At independence, Ghana and Guinea were quite similar. The small, resource-rich countries "virtually started on the same path," writes journalist Kofi Akosah-Sarpong in But "while Ghana is progressively learning from its years of misgovernment, Guinea appears held back," he argues. Ghana emerged from military rule into multiparty democracy. Meanwhile, Guinea's natural resources enriched its leaders, not the population. However, both countries rank near the bottom of the UN's Human Development Index; Ghana stands at 142, and Guinea is 167 of 179 countries included.

A recent large oil discovery in Ghana has the potential to consolidate the country's governance gains and improve the well-being of its population, but it could also breed corruption (Oxfam). "Geology is not destiny...

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