By Eddie Ameh
WASHINGTON – I missed the opportunity to cover this month’s inauguration in Ghana because I arrived in the United States the very day Ghana’s new President John Mahama was being sworn in. It would have been my first inauguration.
Indeed, Mahama was sworn in and the event was over by the time I stepped out of the plane. Ghana is ahead of D.C. by five hours. I arrived here at 10:45 a.m., and it was 1:35 p.m. in Accra, the capital. By that time Mahama had left Independence Square, the venue for Ghana’s event.
I missed the opportunity in 2009 because I was in Kumasi, Ghana’s second city, gathering reactions from residents on then President John Mills’ inauguration.
I was, however, lucky to cover President Barack Obama’s second inauguration.
I have watched and followed inaugurations in Ghana since 1992 when the country returned to constitutional rule. I have followed U.S. inaugurations during same periods, too. There are quite a few differences. More than 1.2 million people gathered on the Mall and along Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and the White House in 2009 to watch history unfold as the first black president of U.S. was sworn in. Even though that number dropped for his second swearing in, the crowd this week was significant enough.
By law, elections are held in the U.S on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, and the president is sworn in Jan. 20. This was pushed from March after the 20th Amendment to the Constitution. This is unlike Ghana, where the constitution mandates that the election take place Dec. 7 and the president be sworn in Jan. 7.
In the United States, the inauguration is a big deal. Even though the U.S. Constitution does not bar presidents from being sworn in on a Sunday, six presidents before Obama deferred their public swearing-in ceremonies to Monday when Jan. 20 fell on a Sunday, and Obama was not going to change that. So the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, the committee appointed by the U.S. Congress to plan the ceremony, decided to hold the public ceremony on Monday. Obama had the private swearing-in at the White House on Sunday. The joint congressional committee begins planning before the election, so the president usually has little to do with planning the ceremony, even though he could.
There is also the Presidential Inaugural Committee, which is private, and raises money to pay for its events. It is responsible for organizing the inaugural parade – along with a military committee – presidential balls and other celebrations. The joint congressional committee sponsors only the public swearing in, while the PIC organizes the other events. Four years ago, Obama attended 10 balls, but this year he attended only two.
In Ghana inaugurations have been held Jan. 7 since 1992, regardless of which day of the week it falls. It has never been rescheduled for any reasons. The committee that arranges the inauguration is usually set up by the president after winning the elections. There are no official balls.
One thing is common, though; people troop in their numbers whether to the Capitol or Independence Square.
One other common thing is the use of the Bible at inaugurations. In Ghana, the president and his vice president have the opportunity to use the Bible or the Koran to be sworn in. The only person in the history of the 1992 constitution to have used a Koran was the late former Vice President Alhaji Aliu Mahama in 2001 and 2005. U.S presidents are noted for using historical Bibles for their swearing-in ceremonies. In 2009, Obama used the Bible that Abraham Lincoln used. This year, he used both the Lincoln Bible and Martin Luther King Jr.’s family Bible at the public ceremony. The King family Bible is the one that King used for his first sermon at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where he was pastor in 1950. The president in Ghana holds the Bible or the Koran himself and is sworn in, but the U.S president places his hand on the Bible held by his wife.
In Ghana after the president is sworn in, he sits on the big beautifully designed chair made specifically for the occasion. His vice president also sits on one also designed for that purpose. The only time the president and his vice president get to sit on these chairs aside inauguration days are when he goes to Parliament to give his state of the nation address.
He is also given a sword specially designed as a sign of power. It is called the sword of office. He holds and shows it to the whole world. It also has some traditional meanings, as most traditional rulers have these swords as a sign of power and authority. The day is officially over for the president of Ghana after he displays the sword of office and gives his speech.
But in the U.S, the day has just begun, as the president is expected to review the parade held in his honor and attend the balls organized for him. Perhaps that is the reason why heads of states from other countries are not invited but their diplomats. The U.S president is a busy person on inauguration day.