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Last Updated: Monday, 1 November, 2004, 16:27 GMT
Ghana election diary: Esoro Ho theory
The BBC's Kwaku Sakyi-Addo is keeping a diary as Ghana prepares for presidential polls on 7 December. Here he reflects on the importance of the ballot paper.

Kwaku Sakyi-Addo, BBC correspondent in Accra
Kwaku is on the campaign trail for the BBC

There has been bickering about lots of seemingly silly things in the US elections, such as room temperature and the height of lecterns during presidential debates.

But I wonder if it matters whether a candidate's picture and symbol are on top or at the bottom of the ballot paper. In Ghana it does.

In the 2000 elections, the key slogan of the now governing (then the main opposition) NPP of President John Kufuor was simply Asee ho which means the bottom in the Akan language.

That's where the party's symbol, the elephant, sat on the vertical ballot paper.

With seven candidates winking from the ballot paper, and assorted symbols - from the lumbering elephant, to a red cockerel and the brightest-coloured umbrella - all beckoning, the Kufuor campaign decided not to leave mass behaviour to chance.

Not in the face of 45% voter illiteracy.

It's like competitive product-positioning on a shop-shelf.

Tough near the top

Everywhere, the chant was Asee ho, accompanied by a thumbs-down sign.

Perhaps, it helped that Kufuor's campaign manager was Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey, who had run the largest advertising company in Ghana for more than a decade.

To counter the NPP campaign, the then ruling NDC ran on Esoro ho, which means the top in Akan.

Well, the trouble was that their candidate, John Atta Mills, who was then the vice-president, was number two in more ways than one.

He was also second from the top on the ballot paper.

The candidate at the very top was Dan Lartey, a septuagenarian maverick no-hoper.

Well, thanks to the NDC effort, Ol' Dan finished ahead of everyone's expectations, outperforming at least one well-educated, much younger and more articulate candidate whose symbol was somewhere on the ballot paper.

Indeed, in the opposition stronghold of northern Ghana where the illiteracy rate is highest, almost 45% of the ballots were spoilt, because thousands of NDC supporters thumb-printed for Lartey and then, after discovering the mistake, thumb-printed for Mills as well.


The advantage of not being sandwiched on the ballot paper is obvious.

John Atta Mills
Will Mr Mills be hit by the sandwich effect?
Indeed before the 2000 elections, the parties sent agents to spend the night outside the gates of the Electoral Commission.

Once the doors were open in the morning, the positions on the ballot paper were determined by the order in which the agents set foot on the grounds of the EC.

There were massive scrambles amid photo-finishes, leading to fist fights and a quandary for election officials.

Now, they simply ballot.

The balloting is a big event in its own right in the pre-election calendar since the last election.

Even then, some don't leave things to chance. There have been light-hearted suggestions that spiritually-minded officials from one party paid the juju man a visit to enlist the heft of ancestral politicians to ensure they got the top slot this year.

I can't name names, but let's just say the lot which allegedly went analysing cowries won't be chanting Esoro ho.

That privilege this year goes to the PNC's Edward Mahama.

Kufuor is second on the ballot; Mills is next, and then George Aggudey of the CPP is Asee ho.

In two previous attempts at the presidency, Mahama managed around 3% of the votes.

Now, with the advantage of catching the eyes of voters first, let's see if he gets a bounce.

If he does, we may have established The Esoro Ho Theory.

Ghana's grudge match
28 Sep 04 |  Africa
Taking the pulse of Ghana
18 Oct 04 |  Africa
Country profile: Ghana
17 Jul 04 |  Country profiles

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