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April 15th, 2016

Handing over the presidency: Ghana

Ghana’s 2001 post-election transition from the government of Jerry Rawlings to that of John Kufuor was divisive and damaging to the country’s administration. A consensus emerged that legislation was needed to make the process smoother and less contentious in future. The political parties and policy units worked together to develop a new process and, ultimately, the 2012 Presidential (Transition) Act.

The initiative

The objective was to smooth the transition from one elected government to the next and to have a well-informed incoming administration at the next election, which was due to take place in December 2008.

In 2007, a Ghanaian public policy think-tank - the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), led by its executive director, Jean Mensa - led a series of discussions between the major political parties, which were aimed at developing legislation for the presidential transition process. This was part of the IEA's Ghana Political Parties Programme.

At the same time, a policy unit in President Kufuor's administration worked separately to improve the government's procedures for transferring power. “Although a tight timeline and political complications prevented both groups from achieving all of their goals, their work helped ease Ghana's political tensions and improved the quality of information exchanged between the outgoing and incoming governments.” [2]

In late 2007, the Central Governance Project (CGP) and political party leaders convened by the IEA prepared guidelines and templates for the handover. The group agreed on three major points:

  • Elections were to be held a month earlier than before, on 7 November 2008, a move that was designed to extend the length of the formal transition period to two months.
  • The chief justice of the Supreme Court should have responsibility for collecting handover notes and resolving any disagreements between the transition teams.
  • The new president had to fill all cabinet posts within 30 days of the election.

The IEA and the political parties asked Vincent Crabbe, a retired judge and election administrator, to help write the transition legislation. The IEA hosted two more workshops to review the draft, and the bill was finally introduced in Parliament (although after President Kufuor left office, which was much later than had been hoped).

The legislation was eventually passed into law as the Presidential (Transition) Act, 2012 (Act 845) in time for the 2012 elections and the subsequent handover of power. “President Mahama duly followed the provisions of the law and appointed a Transition Team after he was declared President-elect.” [3]

The challenge

In 2001, after the country's presidential election in December 2000, there were serious concerns about the transfer of power from the outgoing president, Jerry Rawlings, to the incoming president, John Kufuor of the New Patriotic Party (NPP). It was the first transfer of power via the ballot box in Ghana, and the new government struggled to overcome the lack of information exchanged between the outgoing and incoming governments.

The NPP government accused the outgoing Rawlings team of failing to providing enough information on ministry budgets, staffing, etc. A number of infrastructure projects were cancelled or delayed because of the lack of information, as well as of suspicions of corruption in their procurement. As a result, “the handover itself sowed discord [and] it took the new government months to set clear policy directions". [1]

This transition displayed the absence of procedures and the political and policy consequences of this failure. The challenge to the new government was to restructure and modernise Ghana's public administration so that the next post-election transition of power was more orderly and harmonious.

The public impact

After the 2009 elections, when the new government came into power, the transition was handled more efficiently, there was a much greater continuity of policy, and it was a significant step in the nation's democracy.

The participants in the transition cited a number of examples of continuity:

  • Ato Essuman, chief director of the Ministry of Education, cited a school meals programme as an example of a Kufuor programme being continued and expanded by incoming president, John Atta Mills.
  • Other officials referred to a national health insurance programme, which was embraced by the new administration.
  • Kwadwo Mpiani, Kufuor's chief of staff, cited the Bui Dam as an illustration of policy continuity.

Stakeholder engagement

The CGP team, the NPP (the political party in power), opposition parties, including the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the IEA were the main stakeholders, and were engaged with the process.

External stakeholders were also called in to advise and host research visits. For example, Canadian, American and British officials had - from 2001 to 2003, during the project's planning stage - met with Ghanaian team leaders and senior civil servants to discuss how executive offices managed transitions of power.

Political commitment

There was strong political commitment to reform the handover of the presidency and all the major political parties were in support. Asiedu Nketiah, the general secretary of the NDC, stated that Ghana's development agenda would be damaged by an abrupt transfer of power.

“‘It was because we didn't like what happened to us that influenced our commitment to reform,' said Nana Ato Dadzie, Rawlings's former chief of staff, who was involved in the talks. ‘Go around the country and take a census of uncompleted projects from independence time until now and look at the wasted money. You can only hurt the country by not continuing projects from the previous government.'" [4]

Since 2002, the IEA, had hosted the Ghana Political Parties Programme, which brought together leaders from the four political parties with seats in parliament (of which the NPP and NDC were by far the largest) to discuss challenges to the country's democracy, such as inflammatory campaign rhetoric and violence during elections. In May 2007, “the IEA began to facilitate discussions with party leaders about how to improve the transition process".

Public confidence

No information regarding public confidence in the handover legislation has been identified. However, in the 2004 elections, the NPP won with 52.45% of the votes, which shows the confidence of the electorate in the NPP government, which won a second term. [5]

Clarity of objectives

The objective of the legislation were well defined and clearly stated. It was to codify the process for a smooth and uncontentious transition from one government to the next, whenever power changed hands after a presidential election. The participants in the research, discussions and drafting of the legislation bore the goals in mind throughout.

Strength of evidence

The policy in Ghana was inspired by the success of similar policies in Canada, the UK and the US and others with successful histories of post-election transition. There were a number of meetings and visits to share their experiences and knowledge. Kwaku Appiah-Adu of the President’s Office, Frank Mpare, the cabinet secretary, and Joe Issachar, head of the civil service, led the meetings with their Canadian counterparts. Ghanaian officials offered their own lessons from the 2001 transition, and the group sought to develop policies tailored to Ghana’s needs. The IEA team leaders and civil servants were impressed by the degree of institutionalisation of the transition process in those North America and the UK and sought to replicate these features in Ghana.


There were highly skilled and experienced people involved in drafting and implementing the policy. The transition legislation, which led to the Presidential (Transition) Act, 2012 was drafted by Vincent Crabbe, a retired judge and elections administrator. Jean Mensa, the executive director of the IEA, was a lawyer by training and was instrumental in pushing for formal legislation to support transition.

Sam Somuah, who held a PhD in engineering, served as the project manager, before handing the day-to-day running of the project to Kwaku Appiah-Adu, the head of the Policy Coordination, Monitoring, and Evaluation Unit in President Kufuor's office. Somuah and then Appiah-Adu worked in conjunction with Mpare, the cabinet secretary, to manage the series of discussions leading to the drafting of the bill.


There was very good alignment between the stakeholders in making the change happen. The main political parties were in agreement about the need for improvements in the transition process, and they received sound advice and support from the CGP and the IEA.

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