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After death of Ghana's president, a calm transition

After the death of President John Evans Atta Mills, Ghana peacefully transferred power to its vice president – a reminder that not all political transitions in West Africa are violent.

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Ghana Vice President John Mahama (c.) sits on a chair after being sworn in as new President of Ghana in parliament after the passing of the late Ghana President John Atta Mills in Accra, Ghana, Tuesday, July 24.

Christian Thompson/AP

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Ghana’s vice president John Dramani Mahama was sworn in as president last night after the sudden death of former leader John Evans Atta Mills yesterday afternoon. 

Mr. Atta Mills's death came just months before Ghana's presidential and parliamentary elections, and it could set off a close contest between the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) and its main rival, the New Patriotic Party.

But in West Africa – a region where coup d'états have been a common method for transferring power – a tightly contested political race is considered a distinct advantage. 

“Most Ghanaians know that nothing will happen and the democratic process will continue to go on,” says Dr. Kwadwo Adjei Tutu of the Institute of Economic Affairs, a political think tank based in Accra. “But there could be a significant power play there" between those who supported Mills and those who supported the wife of NDC party founder and former President Jerry Rawlings, whose relationship had grown tense over the past
year.. "Mahama knows the political terrain and the scene. We will see how the power play goes on for him within his own party.”

Ghana, the first nation on the continent to gain independence from colonial rule in 1957, has long been regarded as an exemplar of democracy and good governance in a region with a political history marked by instability, coup d’états, civil conflict, and military rule. It has held four relatively peaceful democratic elections since its transition from military to civilian rule during the presidency of Mr. Rawlings, who seized power in a coup d’état in the early 1980s and later became a democratically elected president, holding office throughout the 1990s.

Mills was the country's fourth democratically elected president since the end of military rule.

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