An African Election

An African Election

A scene from AN AFRICAN ELECTION, a film by Jarreth Merz. Picture courtesy Urban Republic. All rights reserved.

An African Election

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An African Election (2011)

Opened: 11/11/2011 Limited

Music Hall 311/11/2011 - 11/17/20117 days
Quad Cinema/NYC12/02/2011 - 12/08/20117 days

Trailer: Click for trailer

Genre: Political Documentary (English, Twi and other local languages w/English subtitles)

Rated: Unrated


The 2008 presidential elections in Ghana, West Africa, serve as a backdrop for this feature documentary that looks behind-the-scenes at the complex, political machinery of a third world democracy struggling to legitimize itself to its first world contemporaries. At stake in this race are the fates of two political parties that will do almost anything to win. Director Jarreth Merz follows the key players for almost three months to provide an unprecedented insider's view of the political, economic and social forces at work in Ghana. He builds suspense by taking the viewer down the back roads of the nation to capture each unexpected twist and turn in a contest that is always exciting and never predictable. Throughout the film, Merz depicts the pride and humanity of the larger-than-life politicians, party operatives and citizens who battle for the soul of their country.

Director's Statement

An African Election started as my journey back to the Africa of my childhood. In 2008, 28 years had passed since I had last set foot in Ghana -- a country on the West Coast of the African continent. I had spent seven years of my boyhood, moving between two cities: Accra, the country's modern, coastal capital, and Kumasi, the capital of the ancient Ashanti kingdom.

With my fortieth birthday quickly approaching, my history had suddenly become im - portant to me. The landscapes of childhood leave indelible marks on us all and I wanted to go back to the place where my emotional memory began. So I made my way to Africa to look for the traces of my childhood that would enable me to find out more about who I was by discovering who I had been.

I chose the year 2008 for my return, as the result of an inner calling. The fact that my trip occurred at the same time that presidential elections were being held in Ghana and that the United States was about to vote its first Black president into power, was coincidental. Yet, these elections, in both the U.S. and in the relatively, small country Ghana, would become a reflection to a man bracing for his forties. They would open my eyes to the reality of modern day politics in a fast-paced and globalized world; a world in which people were living between high-tech and the middle ages; a world in which money ruled and where hunger and fear still threatened to undermine cultural values and the integrity of man.

Still, Ghana seemed different. Despite poverty and hardship, the country had held on to the cultural and spiritual inheritance that had made Ghanaians a proud people. Did I have a cultural and spiritual identity? That was what I was here to find out.

-- Jarreth Merz

About the Film

In 2008, while the world turned its gaze to the first presidential race in the United States in which a black man was running for president, the African nation of Ghana was also making history.

Ghana was the first Sub-Saharan country to gain its independence, in 1957. Since then, it has served as political barometer for stability in Africa, particularly in the conflict-ridden West. After only one previous peaceful transfer of power, the country again goes to the polls to elect a new leader -- while the world waits to see if Western-style democracy can be maintained.

Swiss born filmmaker, Jarreth Merz, travels to the capitol city of Accra during the months preceding the election to take the temperature of the country and witness the campaign. After a 28-year absence Merz, who grew-up in Ghana, is eager to see how this once hopeful, third world country has progressed and where they are heading.

Although eight political parties and independents have entered the presidential race, the contest is primarily between two parties. The main contenders are Nana Akufo-Addo representing the NPP (New Patriotic Party) and Prof. John Atta Mills from the NDC (National Democratic Congress).

The stakes are high for both parties. While the NPP hopes to retain its power and continue the economic growth it began, the NDC desperately needs to win. A loss could permanently wipe them off the political landscape. Plus, each party wishes to control the future of large oilfields discovered off the Ghanaian coast that promise great wealth for the country -- and for those in power.

Merz meets and travels with the still popular, former President and founder of the NDC, Jerry John Rawlings, as he campaigns for Prof. Atta Mills. A military pilot and revolutionary, Rawlings won the first democratic presidential elections of Ghana's Fourth Republic in 1992. After Rawlings was termed-out in 2000, his party lost to John Kufuor of the NPP.

During his two-terms, President Kufuor, led the country into a modern business era with development and investment in industry, banking and real estate. There was considerable economic growth during his presidency and the western world, once again, viewed Ghana a stable, African partner.

As Kufuor's term ends, the contest to see if Ghanaians will keep the NPP or kick them out is heating up. Merz and his two camera teams join the candidates during their political campaigning throughout the country. They travel from bustling urban cities to remote rural villages to find out what the people hope to gain from the election. Juxtaposing candid interviews with commentary from journalists and behind-the-scenes footage of party leaders, Merz provides an in-depth view of the forces at work politically, econo mically and socially. The filmmakers capture the suspense that builds along the road to victory, as each side encounters unforeseen twists and turns that make for a race that is always exciting and an outcome that is never predictable.

Key Figures

Jerry John Rawlings

Jerry John Rawlings is a former military commander who ruled Ghana for almost 19 years. In 1981 he led a military coup and installed himself as head of the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC), which ran a government of participatory democracy. In the early 1990s pressure from groups both inside and outside Ghana forced the PNDC to adopt constitutional rule. Rawlings retired from the Armed Forces and set up the National Democratic Congress (NDC). As the NDC candidate, he won two consecutive elections, and served as the first President of the Fourth Republic from 1992-2000. After two terms in office, Rawlings was barred by the constitution from standing in another election. The NDC lost the two subsequent elections to the main opposition party, the New Patriotic Party (NPP). President Rawlings was the joint recipient of the 1993 World Hunger Award.

John Kufuor

John Kofi Agyekum Kufuor served as the second President of the Fourth Republic of Ghana (2001--2009) and Chairperson of the African Union (2007--2008). The victory of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), with Kufuor as their candidate, at the end of Jerry Rawlings' second term marked the first peaceful democratic transition of power in Ghana since the country's independence in 1957. As a liberal-democrat, President Kufuor promoted the Five Priority Areas Progamme, a socio-economic vision that pursued: good governance, agricultural modernization, private sector participation, enhanced social services and infrastructural development. During his term, Ghana obtained a $500 million grant from the U.S. Millennium Challenge Account for economic development.

Nana Akufo-Addo

Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo is a Ghanaian politician, lawyer and diplomat. He was one of the founding members of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) in 1992. During President John Kufuor's two terms in office, Akufo-Addo served as Attorney General and Minister of Justice (2000-2003) and Minister for Foreign Affairs (2003-2007). In 2007, Akufo-Addo was elected to represent the NPP as their 2008 presidential candidate.

Prof. John Atta Mills

John Evans Atta Mills is the current President of Ghana. President Atta Mills earned a Ph.D. in Law from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London -- writing his final thesis on taxation and economic development. He spent almost 25 years teaching at various universities. Then in 1997, he became Vice President under President Jerry Rawlings. He campaigned unsuccessfully in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections as the candidate of the National Democratic Congress (NDC). In 2008, he defeated the ruling party (NPP) candidate Nana Akufo-Addo.