Ghana’s John Dramani Mahama was sworn in as president on Monday at a ceremony attended by thousands in the capital but boycotted by the opposition, which has challenged the election results.
Mahama, who initially became head of state following the death of his predecessor John Atta Mills in July, pledged to build on the west African nation’s economic success in a speech after taking the oath.
The 54-year-old writer and Afrobeat music fan from Ghana’s north, who recently published a well-received memoir, pledged to improve the country’s infrastructure.
“We as a country have inherited a powerful legacy, and we are beneficiaries of a mighty history,” Mahama, dressed in a flowing white robe, told a crowd that included African heads of state, foreign dignitaries and average Ghanaians.
He added that “nevertheless, there’s still a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done…. Bridges, schools and hospitals must be built…. We must continue to invest in our agricultural sector and grow our economy.”
Observer groups hailed the December 7 polls as another successful election in a country viewed as a stable democracy in turbulent West Africa.
The party of main opposition candidate Nana Akufo-Addo has however alleged the vote was stolen and challenged the results in court.
Official results showed Mahama with 50.7 percent of the vote to Akufo-Addo’s 47.7 percent.
The stakes were especially high for the country of some 24 million people, with the newly elected president in charge of a growing stream of oil revenue.
West Africa’s second-largest economy and a longtime producer of gold and cocoa, Ghana started pumping oil in 2010 and now produces 105,000 barrels per day.
With oil flowing and Ghana’s economy growing at a rate of 14.3 percent in 2011, how Mahama invests the country’s boom money will be closely watched.
While it is considered a lower middle-income country by the World Bank, Ghana continues to struggle with infrastructure development.
Rural areas are plagued with potholed roads and most people rely on fresh water sold in sachets.
Though high-rise malls and apartments are being constructed across the capital Accra, Isaac Owusu-Mensah, a lecturer at the University of Ghana, said Mahama will be judged on how much he improves lives for Ghanaians in the far-flung reaches of the country.
“The primary issue that will guide everybody in the run-up to the next four years is how the economy is being managed,” Owusu-Mensah said. “If they don’t utilise (the oil revenue) quite well, there’s going to be a big problem.”
Besides managing the increasing revenue, Mahama must also be mindful of the court challenge to his election. Akufo-Addo, who lost to Mills by less than one percentage point in 2008, has yet to concede defeat.
He has filed a case with the Supreme Court alleging an array of voting improprieties and asking he be declared the winner. Hearings are expected to be held soon.
The opposition NPP boycotted the swearing-in, and some members of the party called on former president John Kufuor, a member of the party, to stay away from the ceremony.
A small crowd of opposition supporters were reported to have gone to his home early Monday in a bid to block him from attending.
Kufuor, widely respected for having stepped down after his two terms of office despite his party narrowly losing 2008 elections, defied such calls and attended the ceremony.
NPP spokesman Nana Akomea said after the inauguration that the party would push on with its court challenge.
“We are happy that the ceremony and the event came off peacefully,” he said.
“If the Supreme Court rules the results are not valid, whatever has happened today will have to be invalidated as well. In the absence of the Supreme Court ruling, what took place today was normal.”
Black Star Square, the venue for the inauguration, is richly symbolic as it commemorates Ghana’s status as the first sub-Saharan African nation to gain independence from colonial rule, in 1957.
South African President Jacob Zuma, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf were all at the ceremony. Some 12 African heads of state in all were said to be in attendance.
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