Democracy can thrive in Africa

Jarreth Merz: Filming democracy in Ghana
Jarreth Merz: Filming democracy in Ghana

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Jarreth Merz: Filming democracy in Ghana 08:21

Story highlights

  • As a boy, Jarreth Merz witnessed violent coup in Ghana
  • His family left for Europe, but he returned in 2008 to film Ghana's election
  • After close vote and a runoff, a winner was declared and power transferred
  • Merz: Election helped show that democracy is viable in Africa
In 1979, Jarreth Merz, then a young boy in Ghana, saw the dramatic results of a military coup. Watching on an old black and white television set, he and a group of his friends witnessed one of the nation's generals being blindfolded and shot to death by a firing squad. Shortly afterward, his family fled the instability of Ghana and returned to his native Switzerland.
But Africa stayed with Merz, who told his story at the TED Global conference in Edinburgh, UK, in July. He grew up to become an actor and found that he was increasingly being cast as a violent African or a terrorist. "How many terrorists could I possibly play before turning into one myself?"
"I had become ashamed of the other, the African in me."
After 28 years, Merz returned to Ghana to film the nation's 2008 presidential election and, as it turned out, to learn more about himself. "I realized that, when I'd left the country, free and fair elections in a democratic environment were a dream. And now that I'd returned, that dream had become reality, though a fragile reality."
Merz: 'An African Election'
Merz: 'An African Election'

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    Merz: 'An African Election'

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Merz: 'An African Election' 03:09
In the first round of voting in Ghana, no candidate attained the 50% of the vote needed to gain the presidency, and an inconclusive runoff was held. People began questioning whether the elections were being manipulated. Merz said there was gunfire and he saw discouraging signs of a possible breakdown in civil order. "And my heart sank, because I thought, here we are again. Here is another proof that the African is not capable of governing himself. And not only that, I am documenting it -- documenting my own cultural shortcomings."
But rather than erupt in violence, the crowd started chanting "We want peace," and eventually, after new voting, a winner was certified and power was transferred peacefully, Merz said. "Ghana taught me to look at people differently and to look at myself differently. And yes, we Africans can."
In his film, "An African Election," Merz told CNN in an interview, "The political system, the democratic system, is tested to the utmost."
The lesson: "You don't have to rebel. You have the freedom to choose, and with that choice comes a responsibility."