On December 7, the Ghanaian people will cast their ballots. 15.8 million people are eligible to vote in a country where the population have passed 27 million people. The election comes at the same time that Denmark, through DANIDA, stops providing traditional development assistance to Ghana. The reason for this step is that Ghana has become too prosperous to be regarded as a recipient country. Instead, Denmark will begin to view Ghana more as a future trading partner. If Denmark has opted for this view, then other countries are likely also beginning to review Ghana as a more active trading partner than a passive aid recipient country. This election might provide an indication what sort of country Ghana is and what Ghana has to offer.
To return to the election. Although Ghanaians have the opportunity to vote for seven candidates on the ballot, the choice is really between just two parties. The first one is the current ruling party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), founded by J.J. Rawlings back in 1992, when Ghana returned to democracy after more than a decade as a dictatorship, ruled by J.J. Rawlings. The NDC is also a sister party to the Danish Social Democrats and the British Labour Party. Since 2012, the leader of the Party has been John Mahama, who is also the current president running for his second term.
The second party is the current opposition party, the New Patriotic Party (NPP), led by Nana Akufo-Addo, whose father, Edward Akufo-Addo, was a founding member of Ghana’s independence movement. The NPP held office from 2000 – 2008 under the leadership of John Kufuor. During the Kufuor administration, Akufo-Addo served as Attorney General and as Minister of Foreign Affairs. He has run for president twice. First in 2008 and then again in 2012, and lost both elections. Now an ageing Akufo-Addo is trying for the third and last time to become president. If he loses this election, then there are no more attempts. In 2016, he became 72 years old, so he loses this election, he would be an old man, who has lost three consecutive presidential elections, and he will step down.
The Coup D’etat on February 24, 1966
Before moving to present day, I would like to go back to 1966, when Ghana experienced its first coup d’etat. The country’s first president and main ideologue behind pan-Africanism, Kwame Nkrumah, was coup d’etat, while he was on a state visit to Vietnam. This coup left a wound that is still in the healing process. NPP’s political ideology was formulated by the politicians J.B. Danquah and K.A. Busia. Danquah and Nkrumah started as political allies but ended up as mortal enemies, and Nkrumah threw Danquah in prison during Nkrumah’s one-party regime, and in 1965, Danquah died in Nsawam Prison. Danquah was a more elitist politician who expressed himself in longer sentences, used big words, and his main audience was the educated urban class. On the other hand, Nkrumah spoke in a vivid and simple language, everyone understood. For instance, when Ghana (then the Gold Coast) should vote for Self-Government, Danquah’s motto was “Self-Government in the Shortest Possible Time”. Nkrumah’s motto was “Self-Government Now” or “S-G Now” for short. Nkrumah was better to capture the hope of the people, so he won the heart and minds of Ghanaians.
When Danquah and Nkrumah parted due to increased political disagreement, Danquah created a new party named the National Liberation Movement (NLM). The NLM was seen as in opposition to other ethnic groups, where the NLM was accused of only fighting for the interests of the Akan people rather than the interests of all Ghanaians, and there are rumours that Danquah and Busia were each on the CIA payroll and that the CIA played a key role in the coup d’etat in 1966, which paved the way for Busia who ruled Ghana during the Second Republic. However, there is a huge debate about what role the CIA actually played concerning the coup d’etat. Busia was also responsible for the mass deportation of illegal immigrants, noticeable Nigerians, when he held power.
Today, segments of the Ghanaian society still consider Busia and Danquah as not just politically opponents to Nkrumah, but as traitors. Relatives to the families deported by Busia also will rather died then vote for today’s NPP.
NLM vs NPP
Today’s NPP is trying to get rid of the negative historical associations to the NLM. One strategic method in doing so can be seen by analysing the abbreviation NPP. Historically, the abbreviation NPP stood for the Northern People’s Party, and as the name suggests, it was a party representing the people living in the Northern part of Ghana. Before Ghana’s independence in 1957, people in the North were nervous about the dominance of the Akan and their empire, also known as the Ashanti kingdom. Before the colonial era, the Ashanti Kingdom dominated most of what became Ghana. Furthermore, the ethnic groups in the North lived in one of the least developed regions of Ghana. As a result thereof, the fear was that when Ghana became independent, that the administration in the South would enrich themselves at the expense of the already impoverished North. When the election came in 1956, the vast majority of the people living in the Northern parts of Ghana massively voted for Nkrumah.
Today, the NPP and the party NLM share overlaps, consequently, they also share some of the same challenges. Both parties find their main source of supporters among the Akan people. The NPP has their stronghold in the Ashanti Region with its headquarters in Kumasi, the former capital of the Ashanti Kingdom. By calling themselves the NPP, they try to appeal to non-Akan people, especially in the Northern part of the country. It is also a necessity if the NPP wants to win elections.
The leadership of the NPP also tends to speak to the more educated urban class that reside mostly in the South.
Parts of the population, particularly among the non-Akan ethnic groups, consider NPP as a continuation of the NLM, why the NPP shares responsibility for the coup d’etat against Nkrumah, because of Danquah and Busia’s alleged CIA connection. However, this becomes less and less of an issue for the party, as a new generation of Ghanaians are emerging who looks for the results each party provides, and they are not marked by the past as the older generations. It shall also be noted, that even the NLM and the NPP share overlaps, they also differ. They are two distinct parties and it is important also to recognise that the NPP is not a continuation of the NLM. The NLM was created in a different era with its own historical context.
As mentioned earlier, Akufo-Addo has run twice for president and lost both times. It is precisely his determination or stubbornness that generates discord within the party. After a tough election in 2012, Akufo-Addo refused to recognise the result of the election. Akufo-Addo and his allies took the case to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court went through the evidence presented for months, and the nine Supreme Court judges decided to uphold the election result. While the case was pending, members of the NPP began to look for a new chairman and presidential candidate for the party. The name most people keep mentioning as the likely successor to Akufo-Addo is Alan John Kyerematen. He is a former employee of the United Nations and worked under the Kufuor administration as Minister of Trade, Industry and Private Sector Development. His experience within the finance and economic sector could appeal to voters as Ghanaians face rising inflation and high unemployment rate. Especially young people feel that it is becoming increasingly difficult to enter the labour market. Akufo-Addo’s strenuous attempts to become president has created a deep rift in his own party. The last four years, the disagreement has become more vocal, and there is a raising nervousness that the division is so deep that the party could break in half. It makes it harder to attract new voters when your party is in turmoil.
To return to the NDC, then they have taken over Nkrumah’s voters and this party has been considerably better in appealing to people across ethnic divides, much more than the NPP. NDC is particularly strong in the rural areas and in Volta Region located in the eastern part of Ghana bordering Togo. It also helps Mahama that he comes from the North, since Northerners have felt ignored by the political elite in the South for a long time.
NDC and the Numerous Scandals
But the NDC led by Mahama is historically weak. Mahama was elected on promises to create jobs, reduce inflation and poverty, fighting corruption, and to put an end to what is popularly known as dumsor.
Dumsor is a word given to describe the country’s continuing energy crisis. Dummeans off, and sor means on. So it means off-on. The name refers to the light often goes off and on repeatedly. During my stays in Ghana from 2011 to 2016, I experienced how the energy crisis worsened. On my recent visit, my neighbourhood in the capital of Accra, we were on the so-called 24/12 model. 24 hours without light and then 12 hours with light, and repeat.
In 2013, the Volta River Authority calculated that when the country’s largest harbour in Tema was without power for 24 hours, the state lost more than $100,000. Now the energy crisis has lasted since 2010, and it intensified in 2012. According to the Ghanaian government, the annual cost of the energy crises can be up to GHc 1 billion. Dumsor impacts all Ghanaians. Never before have so many Ghanaians been dependable on electricity to power their tablets, computers, the internet, mobile phones, to connect to mobile payment services, TV, air conditions, refrigerators and freezers. And never before have so many Ghanaians access to electricity. Today, approximately 85-90% of all Ghanaians have access to electricity. Dumsor also means that companies must invest in generators, where they either have to fire people or let the prices of their products increase to cover the additional costs. The country’s hospitals are also suffering from the energy crisis. The cost of operations are on the rise, equipment is damaged by the many outages, and it is harder to store medicine and food for the patients. In 2015, people went to the streets in the capital Accra to demonstrate against the government’s inaction in solving dumsor. This year, Mahama was dubbed Mr Dumsor to mock his inability to fulfil his campaign promises.
The Explosion and the Scapegoating
Every summer, Accra gets flooded when the rainy season sets in. Each year, it costs lives when people are taking by the water bodies. The water is also a deadly mean to spread cholera, which as costs numerous lives. On June 8, 2015, a massive flood hit Accra centre around Nkrumah Circle. Oil floated on the surface of the water so when a spark ignited the oil, the oil lead the flames to a nearby gas station that exploded. At least 200 people died in the blast. Ghana was in shock, and Mahama asked all Ghanaians to commemorate the dead through a three-day national mourning. The government promised to fix this recurrent problem with the annual flood so a similar accident would not happen again. The solution was to blame it on the poorest of the poor, the people living in the slums near the river Odaw, that runs through Accra. They were evicted in the middle of the night and their shelters bulldozed. In 2016, the flood happened again, and Ghanaians shared plenty of pictures of the flooded areas around Nkrumah Circle where the explosion had taken place the year before.
The corruption scandals keep coming. In 2013, the Ghana’s Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA) had spent about GHc15 million on guinea fowls, but there were not many guinea fowls to be found. SADA also spent about GHc 32 million to plant five million trees, but only 700,000 trees could be accounted for. Ghana’s Youth
Employment and Entrepreneurial Agency (GYEEDA) had also committed massive corruption. Minimum $100 million had disappeared.
In 2015, parts of the Ghanaian judiciary were proven corrupt. The local journalist Anas had on hidden camera documented that several judges overtly accepted bribes.
And the list continues.
In order to solve the energy crisis, the government bought generators through the AMERI Group located in Dubai. The normal price of the acquired generators is $220 million. The Ghanaian government paid $510 million. Or more than twice the amount of the standard price on the world market.
Then the bus scandal where Mahama had posted pictures of all Ghana’s elected presidents on local buses. This created the illusion that Mahama was a continuation of Nkrumah’s anti-colonialist project. This stunt cost the Ghanaian taxpayers GHc 3.6 million or more than GHc 30,000 per bus.
The corruption also prevents the government from paying the public employees on time, so strikes are common. When the doctors went on strike for 17 days because they had not been paid for months in 2015, estimated 500 people died since they did not get the help they needed.
The more colourful scandal occurred during the World Cup in 2014, where the government had to fly the football players’ salaries to Brazil in cash, otherwise the team refused to play. And the list of bad things could continue, so I will.
The Woyome scandal, where a businessman with ties to NDC possible owns the Ghanaian state GHc 51 million.
Or the HOPE City project from 2013. This project should create 200,000 jobs. However, nothing has happened since. The CEO of RLG, Roland Agambire, the driving force behind the HOPE City project, has been caught in, you guessed it, corruption scandals linked to the NDC.
Mahama on Thin Ice
In May 2016, Mahama made matters worse. When interviewed by journalist Peter Okwoche on the BBC, the journalist asked Mahama directly whether he had ever taken a bribe. Instead of Mahama answering “no” right away, Mahama then asked the journalist, if the journalist meant if he as a human being, as president, or as a person had accepted bribery. Mahama went on replying that all people have experienced to find oneself in a situation where you had to give or receive a bribe. When the reporter asked the same question again, Mahama then responded, “No, I have not been taken a bribe” while laughing. The lack of a clear answer got the attention in Ghana. And in September, a paper broke the news, that Mahama had personally accepted a Ford from a Burkinabe company back in 2012. Meaning, Mahama lied on live TV. He had in fact accepted a bribe at least once.
Oil Should Make Ghana Rich But Turned It Into a Beggar
According to the Ghanaian affiliation to Transparency International, the majority of Ghanaians believe that corruption has increased since the era of Kufuor. In 2015, the independent think tank Afrobarometer published their report saying after a decade of declining inequality in Ghana that inequality was once again on the rise. Not much, but some. This rise only happened during the leadership of Mahama. This hits Mahama extra hard. The hope from Ghanaians was that after Ghana gained access to its oil wealth in 2010 that all would be well. But the energy crisis worsened, inflation increased, fuel prices went up and there has not been a focus in converting money from oil into an industrialisation to address the unemployment rate especially among the youth. Instead, Mahama had to beg for a loan from the International Monetary Fund to be able to pay the country’s mounting debt.
Despite the countless corruption scandals, Ghana remains one of the least corrupt countries in Africa. Based on figures from Transparency International, Ghana is less corrupt than countries such as Italy, Serbia, and South Africa. The infant mortality rate continues to drop. When Ebola spread to several West African countries, Ghana went completely free. The reason being, that Ghana has a much better and more developed health care system than most African countries. More and more children are attending school. The media and journalists enjoy a large degree of freedom of speech. And the infrastructure sees one of its greatest expansions and upgrades in the history of Ghana. Even inequality is on the rise, it is still among the lowest in Africa. Politically, Ghana has experienced power transferred from one party to another. Every single transition since the dawn of the Fourth Republic has happened smoothly and peacefully. Of course, Ghana has proven again and again to be a nation of peace. When the political parties disagree, they take the disagreement to court, and the decision of the court is accepted. There are good reasons that Ghana no longer shall be seeing as a traditional aid recipient country. The major challenges Ghana faces, only one country can solve these challenges and that is Ghana.
NPP and NDC Are Not That Different
Both Mahama and Akufo-Addo each has their back against the wall, so they will attack each other and mud-slinging will occur. It will not be pretty. The two parties already accuse each other of corruption, lies, and that the other candidate promises the people more than they can keep. The NDC is questioning the NPP’s one district – one factory promise. The NPP is questioning Mahama’s commitment to develop Ghana, where the NPP calls the current NDC administration for the most corrupt party in the history of Ghana. The NPP also questions the voter registration, where they accuse the NDC of planning massive election fraud due to an alleged faulty voter registration system, and that the Mahama-administration is trying to bribe NPP members to make Akufo-Addo appear as an anti-Northerner and as an ethnic partisan politician. Which is bad vis-a-vis the historical luggage of the NLM.
From a development perspective, it is worrisome that clientelism still plays a major role. Politicians use money from the state coffers and from other sources to pay chiefs and high ranked personnel in order to buy votes. When the election is over, there won’t be money left for health care, the school system, and necessary investments. It is also worrisome that this practice is done with impunity. That is objectively bad.
Despite the two parties different backgrounds, they are alike. The former Ghanaian Ambassador Kabral Blay-Amihere describes the political system in Ghana as soccer. Both the NDC and the NPP play a 4-4-2 formation. Politicians may call themselves socialists, liberals, nkrumanists or something else, but the reality is that they are fundamentally alike. As a result, the election is less about the political manifests, but what party appears most credible in pursuing the same policies. Who can best combat corruption. Who is best in creating jobs. And who can solve dumsor. The jokers are the smaller parties. Especially the Progressive People’s Party (PPP) led by the wealthy businessman Paa Kwesi Nduom. He will likely end up playing a crucial role. Nduom’s party received the third largest amount of votes in the 2012 election. This corresponds to just 0.59 percent of the total votes. However, this party has transformed into a protest party, and if they play their cards right, they will get more votes this time around. The previous presidential elections were very close so even a small change in voting habits can affect who ends in the Flagstaff House, the residence of the Ghanaian president. Meaning, if just a minor group of people decide to opt for the PPP rather than the two major parties, it can change the outcome of the election completely.
In 2012, Mahama won the election with just 50.7 percent of the votes. To be elected president you need 50 percent +1 vote. If none of the candidates succeeds in getting the required amount of votes, then the two candidates who received the most votes will continue to the second round. This happened in the year 2000 and 2008.
What is interesting is whether the NPP manages to appeal to a wider audience despite their internal differences. At the 2012 election, the party only won two out of Ghana’s ten regions. This year, the party has been inspired by Obama, and their slogans are “Change” and “Yes We Can”, where they are trying to reach younger voters through social media such as Facebook and Twitter. If it is enough, the outcome of the election will show.