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Nana Rawlings is first woman to run for president in West African country, as election gets under way

The wife of Ghana’s former leader, Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings, will stand for the presidency herself today in an election that has seen her dubbed the African Hillary Clinton.

Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings, 67, whose husband was a poster boy for populist African leaders, is the first woman ever to run for Ghana’s top office.

Like Ms Clinton, Mrs Agyeman-Rawlings is a passionate advocate of women’s rights - and has also had to contend with the fact that her charismatic, good-looking spouse has many female admirers.

Today, though, it will be the former First Lady herself who takes centre stage, as Ghana’s 15 million registered voters go to the polls. She is one of six challengers to President John Mahama, who is seeking a second term in office amid rising discontent with the performance of the economy.

Mineral-rich Ghana has been one of west Africa most prosperous democracies in the last two decades, and was accorded Middle Income status by the World Bank in 2011. But it needed an IMF bail-out last year as global commodity prices tanked, and many Ghanians say they feel as poor as ever.

Mrs Agyeman-Rawlings, who has met the Clintons with her partner, is campaigning on a ticket of equal opportunities and “bold actions to put Ghana right again.”

Like Ms Clinton, she also has her husband gunning for her too: when ministers in Mr Mahama’s National Democratic Congress party went on a spending spree, he branded them "babies with sharp teeth."

Widely viewed as one of the founding fathers of modern Ghana, Mr Rawlings was the son of a secret affair between a Scots-born chemist, James Ramsay John, and local woman, Madam Victoria Atbotui.

Famous for his air force fatigues and aviator glasses, he first seized power in a counter-coup against the military junta in 1979. He then broke with the mould of military strongmen by organising democratic elections, only to retake power from the civilian government in 1981, after which he ruled until 2001, spending the latter decade as an elected civilian leader.

Despite the executions of fellow military men during periods of post-coup "house cleansing", he remains popular in Ghana, where he created a humble, man-of-the people image. He also remains influential figure on the world stage, counting both the Queen and Bill Clinton among his admirers - as well as many of Ghana’s womenfolk.

As Mrs Agyeman-Rawlings admitted in a radio interview: “To sit here and pretend that my husband doesn’t look at any women - I think that it will be such a folly. He’s human.”

Despite her husband’s backing, Mrs Agyeman-Rawlings remains an outsider in the field. The main contender is Nana Akufo-Addo, 72, of the opposition New Patriotic Party, who lost narrowly to Mr Mahama in 2012.

In an election of firsts, Ivor Kobina Greenstreet, running for the Convention People’s Party, is the first person with a physical disability to run for president in Ghana.

Who will lead Ghana?
There are seven candidates battling for the top job and if the smaller parties perform well and deny either men a majority, a presidential run-off will be held later in December.

Mahama, 58, is running for a second term, with Akufo-Addo, 72, making his third - and likely last - bid for the highest office.

Leaving nothing to chance on the last day of campaigning Monday, Mahama held three rallies in the major swing regions of Brong-Ahafo, Ashanti and Greater Accra.

His final rally was full of supporters wearing white - a sign of victory - banging cowbells, dancing and posing for selfies.

"We’re celebrating already," said Alhaji Guntula, a 45-year-old businessman with his face painted white told AFP. "He’s winning hands down."

Mahama has announced several infrastructure projects during the campaign.

In contrast, Akufo-Addo has hammered on Ghana’s poor economic growth, the slowest rate in two decades at 3.3 percent in 2016 according to the International Monetary Fund, and has outlined detailed plans to get the economy back on track.

He has lambasted Mahama’s ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) government over a series of corruption scandals in which scores of judges have been implicated. Critics say he squandered the country’s commodity wealth and turned a blind eye to graft within his inner circle.

The leader of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) has also alleged that the ruling party is fomenting violence, a claim Mahama denies.

But tension is rising ahead of the high stakes election.

Ghana police said a NPP supporter was beaten to death, with six others left in critical condition in clashes between supporters of the two main parties after a rally in the north on Monday.

Elections in Ghana are famously close fought, with Mahama narrowly winning in 2012 with 50.7 percent.

But polls in Africa this year have been a mixed bag of surprising triumphs and sobering failures for democracy.

In Gambia, a dictator of 22 years conceded defeat, while in oil-rich Gabon the Bongo family continued its 50-year reign after a disputed election. But Ghana is still seen as an example of peace and stability in West Africa.

Pollsters are divided in a country whose democratic credentials have come under scrutiny after criticism of its electoral commission following the 2012 elections.

Akufo-Addo, who said previously that he would accept the results even if he loses, added recently: "Those are hurdles we have to jump once we get there".

To date, Ghanaian elections have run parallel to America’s elections in that whenever the Democrats win in the US, so too does Ghana’s NDC, and whenever the Republicans win in the US, so does Ghana’s NPP.


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