Illustrating and shaping public political memories through cartoons: the 2013 presidential election petition in Ghana.

Author:Fiankor, David Kobla
Position:Case study


Ghana after undergoing many years of military rule fully embraced constitutional rule in 1992. Since then, Ghana has grown leaps and bounds in the realms of democracy and has become a beckon of hope for the rest of Africa. However, the election of December 2012 and the sixth since the Fourth Republic in Ghana was the most bitterly contested.

President John Dramani Mahama of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) was declared winner of the December 2012 polls by the Chairman of the Electoral Commission. This was challenged by the New Patriotic Party (NPP), the largest opposition party in the country. What started as a mere protest by the New Patriotic Party casting doubt on the credibility of the 2012 elections gradually turned out to be one of the greatest challenges of the democratic life in Ghana (Daily Graphic, Tuesday, July 30, 2013; p.10). On December 28, 2012, the NPP filed a petition at the Supreme Court challenging the results of the 2012 presidential election alleging that the December 7 & 8, 2012 election was fraught with malpractices of over-voting, non-signing of pink sheets by some presiding officers or their assistants, voting without biometric verification and duplicated serial number of pink sheets (Bokpe, 2013). This challenge to the declaration of the presidential elections held meant that the Supreme Court was the final arbiter under the 1992 Constitution of Ghana.

A nine-member panel set up by her ladyship, the Chief Justice Georgina Wood, and presided over by Mr. Justice William Atuguba was to determine whether or not there were statutory violations, omissions, irregularities and malpractices in the conduct of the elections held on December 7 and 8, 2012. The panel was also to ascertain whether or not the omissions, irregularities and malpractices (if any) affected the outcome of the results of the elections (Baneseh M. K., 2013). This presidential petition was unprecedented because for the first time in the history of this country, a sitting president's legacy was challenged through the constitutional system. The Supreme Court's August 29, 2013 verdict ended an eight-month saga that captivated the country. During the eight months' duration of the court hearing, the audience heard legal jargons, saw courtroom wrangling, listened to fierce legal arguments and occasional humour.

The presidential election petition went down in the history of Ghana as the most discussed court case on radio, television, in the newspapers, by word of mouth and social medial. One other mode of communication used in presenting the proceedings and outcomes of this unprecedented presidential petition was the use of political cartoons in the newspapers in Ghana.

Cartoons have been defined as simplified drawings, representational or symbolic, which make satirical witty or humorous points (Alimi & Shopeju, 1999). Political Cartoons otherwise known as editorial cartoons are single panels of graphics that are satire of political events. Apart from serving as a corrective measure, they also serve as historical documents and are a 'snapshot' of the political climate of a given period (Akinloye, 2010).

Political cartoons serve as important adjunct to editorials, providing summary of a certain situation or event. As a visual image, cartoons can instantly make a point that would be difficult to articulate in written text and often leave a lasting impression on the reader (Wigston, 2002).

Cartoons, according to Sani, I et al. (2012), constitute one of the most strategic and vital medium of using language to disseminate information and reorient the public on current issues reflecting social and political realities of a particular society at a particular time. To them given the use of linguistic and nonlinguistic devices, political cartoon genre provides a medium for communicating messages through which social and political agenda are set.

Cartoons also serve as one of the creative strategies available to media for performing critical functions of provision of news, personality projection information, education, exposure of scandals, consensus building, agenda-setting, entertainment and the chronicling of events among others (Olatunji, 2012). In his study of political cartoons, Walker (2003) also observed that cartoons deserve to be studied and when this is done a conclusion emerges that political cartoons are another means whereby powerful interests reinforce their views on society.

The purpose of this paper is to illustrate the role played by political cartoons in representing the proceedings and final verdict via the mass media. It also aims to identify and explain the meaning and importance of images or visual illustrations to depict issues and events as well as representations of major political figures in political cartoons and how effective these cartoons represented deliberations during the eight months petition hearing as represented in the Daily Graphic newspaper. This study, like that of Alimi & Shopeju (1999), is limited to the themes of the presidential petition in 2013 after the 2012 Presidential and Parliamentary elections in Ghana.

In order to analyze the selected cartoons there is need to ask the following questions. Did the political cartoons of Daavi in the Daily Graphic reflect the true deliberation during the presidential petition? What prominent media frames did the cartoonist use to portray the political petition? What characters and symbols were used to depict the presidential petition? What nonvisual cues or words were used in the cartoons?


The case study method was adopted for the study since it emphasizes detailed contextual analysis of a limited number of events or conditions and their relationships. The Daily Graphic, one of the Ghana state owned newspaper was purposively selected because it is perceived to be the most credible newspaper in Ghana (Amankwah, 2012). The paper is published daily and widely circulated across the whole country. This study like others before it (Sani et al, 2012; Amankwah, et al. 2012) used content analysis to sort the contents of the cartoons in the newspaper to depict the proceedings of the presidential petition in Ghana.

The sample comprises 17 out of 25 cartoons extracted from the Daily Graphic covering the year 2013, the presidential petition year. The researchers with the support of the staff of the Ho Polytechnic Library systematically went through the Daily Graphic covering the period January to December, 2013. Only cartoons produced by Daavi were considered because they were regular and consistent in the paper throughout the trial period. Most of the political cartoons used for this study are of the single panel form since this was the one used in the Daily Graphic. The analysis was chronological and visual elements of the work was studied and analyzed to establish the findings of the study

Theoretical Background

From the theoretical perspective, the media in general and newspapers' cartoons in particular perform diverse roles. Political cartoon consists of more than words. It is a complex system of symbols, pictures, and words put together in a way that newspaper readership that understand the intended message of the cartoonist, will better understand the issue that the cartoonist addresses (Wigston, 2002).

Engaging with cartoons effectively is a matter of looking at pictures, reading the words, understanding pictorial representations and keeping with current events (Bush, 2012). The problem of analyzing political cartoons is the lack of definite supportive theories. However, for this paper, the researchers adopted the framing theory of the media to examine how political cartoons were used for framing the unprecedented 2013 political petition in Ghana. Political cartoons are chosen based on two main reasons advanced by Hoffman and Horward (2007). First, cartoons provide a format within political communication in which complex messages can be expressed through a single image. Secondly a political cartoon as a format simplifies the complex political situation and therefore helps people to understand current events.

Iyengar (1997) suggests that the media can influence the importance people attach to issues or events through the subtle means of "framing." According to Entnam (1993): To frame is to select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communication context, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation and/or treatment recommendation for the item described (p. 52). As Iyengar (1991) notes: "Framing is the subtle selection of certain aspects of an issue by the media to make them more important and thus to emphasize a particular cause of some phenomena" (p. 11). The framing and presentation of events and news in the mass media can thus systematically...

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