An African Election: a look at Ghana’s 2008 presidential election

 Producers hope to inspire U.S. Blacks to get out to vote 



By Charles Hallman

Staff Writer


Both political parties are doing almost anything to win this national election. Not the upcoming U.S. presidential election but An African Election, a film by Jarreth Mertz that shows a behind-the-scenes look at the days leading up to the 2008 presidential elections in Ghana.

The documentary premiered October 1 on PBS World (which is not available locally) and will be shown on all public television stations nationwide on Wednesday, October 3 (check local listings), but viewers can see the documentary online for up to two weeks after it premiers at

Scene from An African Election.
Photo by Jarreth Mertz

Mertz’s film shows the people of Ghana wrestling with who to choose as their next president. He expertly captured both candidates and their speeches around the country, while their campaign operatives feverishly worked in their attempts to convince the voters that their party has all the answers.

We also see and hear from regular citizens who complained that political nepotism was alive and well in Ghana, and openly questioned if the 2008 election would change it.

“The film reveals that the process of democracy in other countries is no less tumultuous than that of the United States,” and viewers will see “the complex, political machinery” of the African country as Mertz “builds suspense by taking the viewer down the back roads of the nation,” says a Black Public Media press release.

Leslie Fields-Cruz is operations vice president and director of programming for the National Black Programming Consortium.
Photo by Jarreth Merz

Black Public Media is part of the National Black Programming Consortium (NBPC). NBPC Operations Vice President and Director of Programming Leslie Fields-Cruz told the MSR that showing the film a month before the U.S. presidential election was an ideal time, especially for its African American audience.

“As I saw and watched this film a year ago,” she recalls, “I saw such interesting similarities to the issues around participation in democracy and how it relates here in the United States, particularly within the African American community for our election season.” Fields-Cruz adds that she hopes Blacks will be inspired after seeing An African Election “and turn out and vote” in November.

“When you watch this film, you are going to see throngs of people waiting in line just to put in their vote. Some people have been there since four o’clock in the morning. It is reminiscent of 1994 in South Africa, when people turned out for the election that ultimately elected Nelson Mandela,” she continues.

“You have this going in a young democracy as compared to the United States,” notes Fields-Cruz. “Yet the fervor and the excitement, and the willingness to participate are so apparent all through the entire film. So when it came to the point where they had to have a runoff, the crowds of people are incensed on both sides of the fence.

“Obviously we don’t want that to happen here in the United States, but we do want people to be inspired to go and turn out and vote, and to understand how important it is for them to have a say in how this country is run, and who’s running it.

“We made it an election special because it was coming outside of our normal series timeframe,” says Fields-Cruz of NBPC-produced AfroPoP, the only program on U.S. public television that features independent documentaries and short films on people of African descent. AfroPoP, which is produced by Black Public Media and co-presented by American Public Television (APT), is in hiatus until next spring. An African Election fits the overall mission of NPBC, which was founded in 1979, says Fields-Cruz.

Scene from An African Election
Photo by Jarreth Mertz

“We’re a small, tightly run organization” of six people, including herself, she proudly notes. “We have been funders of independent documentaries about the Black experience all these years, and we distribute it directly to public television.

“The push is to try to make sure that [their programs] get on as many public television stations as possible,” she points out. “Our role in the public television eco-sphere is to make sure that there’s content that is representative of our community and reach our community and educate people who aren’t in our community about all of our experiences, which is very vast, wide and broad. There are a zillion stories out there to be told.”

Because not everyone gets the PBS World channel, Black Public Media invites viewers to visit to see the film, listen to podcasts, read blogs and participate in on line discussions.

“We really see this as an opportunity for our community to be engaged in issues around voter suppression [and] voter turnout. We really [are] trying to use it as a step-off point for us to engage in our own conversation [about the U.S. election next month] and how we participate.”


For more information, go to, the NBPC official website.

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to