My non-Ghanaian friends have repeatedly asked with keenness the implications of the recent elections in Ghana. I have sometimes not had the luxury of time to adequately capture the significance in terms of the actual underpinnings of the build up to the elections, the posture of the two main political parties- National Democratic Congress (NDC), hitherto in government and the New Patriotic Party, (NPP), now entrusted with the reins of government. Again, I have intentionally not given much credence to what I feel has been the growing curiosity in recent elections in Africa, albeit proportionally. However, having read some of the ineptly written accounts on the Ghana elections, some of which the Ghanaian citizenry resorted to social media to seek the necessary accurate coverage- those that reflect contemporary Ghanaian actualities; I have felt the necessary urge to write. My inherent predisposition in writing this piece is two-fold, to give my interested friends a fairer idea of how things panned out thereby confronting the accounts of many negative ad peddlers. The second is borne out of Chimamanda Adichie’s danger of a single story. That default rendition of the usual cacophony and almost anarchic certainty that for sometime has been the toast of certain sections in the international media regarding African elections.
I have operationalized this piece into six abridged sections that endeavor to give an even-steven purview of Ghana’s recent elections. Thus, I tackle the preliminary build-up to the polls, the NDC versus NPP as the two main contending forces, Ghana’s electoral commission, the issue of class and ethnicity in Ghana, the state of the economy, as well as echoes from past polls vis-a-vis the notion of unfinished business of first term governments and what I call the elephant bait; in conclusion, I reflect on Ghana as being set apart in the region, West Africa.
The Build Up
The NPP had been in opposition until the recent ended election which brought them back into the bunkers of the Flagstaff House, Ghana’s seat of government in the capital, Accra. Their leader, Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo-Addo had fended off stiff opposition in the party’s three presidential primary elections. Going into the just ended elections which he won rather convincingly was his third as flagbearer for his party, although certainly would have been his last had the converse transpired. However, it is a significant development that led to the very existence of the NPP being called into question that I seek to factor in here. The NPP suffered huge internal wrangling that led to two key members of the party’s national leadership being suspended, precisely the then National Chairman, Paul Afoko and the General Secretary Kwabena Agyepong- their status has since been discussed extensively in Ghana’s body politic with appearances in court to back.
The subsequent death of the Upper East regional chairman of the NPP, Adams Mahama further rocked the leadership fulcrum of the NPP. A death that evokes sentiments of Thomas Hobbes Leviathan in which the life of man was poor, nasty brutish and short- his death has left many questions than answers so far. For a considerable length of time, naysayers and often negative ad peddlers in the Ghanaian media questioned the readiness of the party going into a major election. For folks on the other divide, the NDC including many political pundits, they had almost effectively written off their main rivals, NPP. The assessment and projection was that a leader that cannot call his own house to order was summarily unfit to be the flagbearer of his party save becoming the leader of what would be the 5th presidency of Ghana’s 4th Republic.
Meanwhile, the NDC had internal problems of their own- only a microcosm of their internal aches was reflected outside. From the appointment and subsequent opposition of Prosper Bani, Chief of Staff for the John Dramani Mahama led administration prior to Julius Debrah’s ascendancy of same to the selection of Kwasi Amissah Arthur as the running mate, there were rifts within, close party functionaries opine. Essentially, sections of the NDC party apparatus- the ‘old guards’ kicked against the idea of John Mahama picking his close friend for the high office of Chief of Staff. On the contrary the ‘old guards’ assumed the subsequent demise of the late President John Evans Atta Mills had circumstantially catapulted John Mahama to the highest office in the land, as such he has not earned the audacity to steer his own ship as captain in chief.
Eventually Prosper Bani became the chief of staff and for sometime it appeared as John Mahama was ready to call his own shots, after all he contested and won the protracted disputed election whose eventual declaration was corroborated by the Supreme Court with his name and face on the ballot. Former President John Mahama won the 2012 elections by 325, 863 more votes than Nana Akuffo-Addo. That is how close the elections were, no wonder it was contested intensely in the Supreme Court- an act that further tested the depth of Ghana’s democracy.
For the NDC, inner-party circle members also sensed factions in the party from a supposed fall out of the then president, Atta Mills and the founder of the party, former president Jerry John Rawlings. However, with the party in power it was not outrightly evident perhaps ‘old guards’ and well wishers reasoned that it was unwise to wash their party’s dirty linings under the spectre of the public eye. But the harm had already been done, people who understood the party knew the party was aching deeply going into the 7th December, 2017 elections. Thus comparatively to the Democratic Party of the U. S, all seemed well with incumbency advantage, until they lost. Bottom-line, the NDC had deep seated problems with rift divides likewise the NPP, one was more evident, the other not so much.
The NDC Versus NPP
The NDC is an offshoot of the erstwhile Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC) famed during Ghana’s military era. Thus, it metamorphosed into the former on the principles of integrity, probity and accountability with a left leaning social democratic ideology in terms of the political scale. Former President Jerry John Rawlings is the permanent chairman in terms of the party hierarchy for life and wields enormous influence although there has been extensive debates as to the capacity of his influence lately.
The NPP on the other hand is an offshoot of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) which subsequently transmogrified into the Northern Peoples’ Party, United Party, Progress Party, Popular Front Party and the All Popular Front Party in the early days of Ghana’s formation. The UGCC is renowned for its role in the quest for Ghana’s independence. Equally noteworthy is the fact that Ghana’s new president, Nana Akuffo-Addo is related to 3 of the members of the so-called ‘Big Six’ (figures central in Ghana’s independence quest).
On the political scale they tow the center right leaning liberal conservative ideology. Suffice to say the question of ideology in Ghana’s body politic is one for debate, chiefly because it is the NPP that has birthed quite a significant number of pro-poor policies ranging from Ghana’s anaemic health insurance to its diarrheic school feeding program to the noteworthy youth employment platform. To this effect I have always maintained, the ideological landscape has not been operationalized enough as yet, there is neither left nor right, as a post-colonial country all the citizenry want is to move forward in a sustainable direction, National Progress! It has since been my inherent predisposition citing the pragmatic approach widely articulated by Den Xiaoping at the 1961 Guangzhou conference, “I don’t care if it’s a white cat or a black cat. It’s a good cat so long as it catches mice”.
I cannot emphasize enough that post-colonial Ghana’s productive life is of topmost significance irrespective of a political party’s ideology. It is for this reason that I have always vouched for the complete implementation of a bi-partisan national development agenda contrary to the politicking that is often portrayed by both main political parties. However, it is noteworthy to also state my belief that in order to be a successful social democrat, one ought to have been a successful liberal market advocate. This is far from the argument that with capitalism human values are subordinate to profit.
Ghana’s Electoral Commission (EC)
Since Ghana’s return to multi-party democracy in 1992 in addition to the recently held election, the Electoral commission has presided over all 7 elections with widely guarded, criticized and debated competency. The apprehension leading to the recent December polls was nothing new as portrayed in certain quarters of the media landscape- that it was a sure indication for a chaotic election is only an extension of singers who hum doom personified hymnals.
Indeed to a relative extent it was disturbing especially with accusations of name tampering, the registration of ineligible voters amidst other voting register brouhahas. But these are to be expected, in every active democracy these things can be the embers that aid in festering anarchy, that notwithstanding I opined on other platforms that Ghana’s meant progress especially taking into cognizance the Supreme Court’s declaration of necessary processes that ought to be put in place before last December’s election. Of intrinsic value is what I have come to cherish so much from major stakeholders of electioneering in the Ghanaian political parlance, ‘Elections are won at the polling stations’!
The heated discussions and scrutiny in terms of the electoral commission is all part of the democratic process and was to ensure that everybody’s concern was taken into account, thus, what everyone wanted in the end was a national voting register reflective of a people’s will, eligible voters duly registered- this will inextricably culminate in poling station wins. A low ebb was however, when the competency of the current commissioner Charlotte Osei was questioned on a more patriarchal lense, a posture I fervently believe smacks of blatant disregard for feminine competence. I have not used gender parity because I believe her place was earned and women deserve all the chances they can acquire as far as their talents permit them. Per my observation the underlying issue was that, for the 2012 disputed election that ended up in court amidst evidence of irregularities, NPP’s worry was the supposedly main beneficiaries of these irregularities, the NDC had appointed a person who could further their cause, hence their uneasiness.
I have always maintained that Ghana’s electoral commission is the best in the region by miles, when other countries in the region face electoral problems, they look to us, they call Ghana! I have also said I look forward to Charlotte Osei receiving a significant accolade for her conduct in the face of incessant adversity, part of the glory Ghana is basking in now is down to her leadership. From vitriolic spews after spews, both from functionaries within the recent past government and the current government, she stood her ground and steered the nation’s elections in what is the most transparent election the republic has ever known.
Did all the activisms and the eagle-eyed scrutiny birth a problem free voting register? No! Was the activism and scrutiny needed and warranted at all? Emphatically, yes! ‘Democracy is not a spectator sport’, to borrow from a more popular phrase in vogue, ‘the most important office is that of the citizen’, hence the more active the citizenry of a nation in the process of governance, the better, give me passive citizens and I will show you a republic that is teetering towards authoritarianism. Will the next general elections be fraught with problems? Yes! This is to be expected especially with surge in technological demands but the problem lies in where the same situations keep cropping up. My stance has been, this same Charlotte Osei who declared NPP triumphant will one day declare another party as winners- double-standard allegations will ensue thereof. It is just politics, the losing party is never satisfied with the electoral commission’s posture. Now is a good juncture for me to segue to another metric that defined the recent elections, ethnic inclinations.
The issue of class and ethnicity
Ethnicity plays a significant role in elections in many parts of the world, Ghana is no exception. For instance in Ghana, the NDC enjoys a far extensive support from the three northern regions and a deafening support from the Volta region. The NPP on the other hand enjoys resounding support from the Asante region and the eastern region mainly due to its origins. I have always maintained the NPP tradition of the Danquah-Busia tradition is far superior with Dombo reservedly added as a matter of convenience- albeit this is more reflective of a progressive agenda. This in and of itself is not intrinsically bad but the problem lies in when a minority party is always allowed to play a second fiddle. Is campaigning on ethnic lines bad? Yes and No! Yes because it is only natural that your particular ethnic group, more often than not your party’s stronghold will vouch for you because you are one of their own. To this end I find no problem whatsoever in soliciting for votes based on the fact that you belong to a particular ethnic group. It becomes a No for me only when you articulate the ethnic appeal on the basis of superiority of ones ethnic group against another.
That is where ethnocentrism comes into play. Rather than appealing to the best impulses of ones ethnic orientation, the negative is somewhat projected and made to appear a particular party’s election is based on inciting tribalism or ethnocentrism. The post-colonial mapping architecture is such that almost all African countries have diverse ethnic groups within their borders. Ghana is not immune to this, for instance the three northern regions of Ghana have more languages than the nearly rest of the country combined. Also, it is more likely that a Dagomba man in the northern part of Ghana will secure a particular job than a southerner with sometimes same or better qualifications in the northern part- the converse is true for the southern part. I have no problem with this but for those who argue that ethnocentrism is not ostentatiously evident in Ghana are modern day hypocrites.
You don’t need a research beyond reasonable doubt to accentuate whether ethnicity is real or not. “You just have to open your minds and ears and eyes and hearts”- inferred from Barack Obama’s 50th anniversary Selma Speech on his stance on race relations in America. You know for a fact those lovebirds are not going to marry because the dude is from the Volta region and the lady is an Asante, that the marriage was headed for a fall even before the nuptial vows because the lady is from the northern part and the dude is a southerner. This is however is not as endemic as I have seen certain writers operationalize, but the fact of the matter is tribalism exists, and it is always within our remit to name it, own it, confront it and change it for the better. It begins as Michael Jackson posits with “the man in the mirror”. And just as marriages and job opportunities fail due to the destructive claws of tribalism, I have seen beautiful, blossoming inter-tribal marriages and prosperous dudes in other tribal regions other than their own too. It is to this end that I assume something beautiful occurred prior to the recent elections in Ghana and that pertains to the state of the economy.
In terms of the class debate, there is a growing middle class in Ghana that gravitates more towards the NPP than the NDC. However, adding to ethnicity, a significant occurrence was added to the Ghanaian political arena as the Vice president, then NPP running mate, Mahamadu Bawumia who hails from the northern part held a public seminar that sought to appraise the state of Ghana’s economy with arguable surgical precision. Subsequently people critiqued him based on the content of his character and expertise more, rather than the usual allusion to the playing of the ethnic card (this is what I assume is beautiful).
This is significant because, it absolves the country of its ethnic trivialities and situates election campaigners closer to issue based campaigns- my preferred option. Going forward, the NPP could further cement its position as an all inclusive party when the president and the NPP compellingly give the nod to the Mahamadu Bawumia to lead after Nana Addo’s leadership. It is even the more remarkable and may etch Nana Addo’s place as one of the finest statesman Africa has ever seen if it is after his one term (this does not deduct anything from his current shine). Albeit, there is an NPP stalwart in Alan Kyeremanteng, the Minister of Trade and Industry designate who has been the closest contender to Nana Addo. He is the more significant also as he belongs to the Asante tribe, the unrivalled backers of the NPP in terms of votes in elections. The nitty-gritty of this argument will be the main thesis of another paper.
The state of the economy
Ghana has accrued significant debts irrespective of its oil wealth, for instance the economy grew at 3 percent irrespective of the country’s oil wealth- the slowest in nearly two decades. Public debt now stands at almost 70 percent of Ghana’s gross domestic product with the recent former finance minister Seth Tekper acknowledging that Ghana will miss its budget deficit for 2016. This he ascribed to poor oil output and the high cost of running presidential elections. The shortfall would slither towards 7 percent of GDP rather than the earmarked 5.3 percent. In 2015 pursuant to recurring deficits as high as 10 percent of Ghana’s GDP per the Financial Times, Ghana sought an IMF bailout of over $900 million under the NDC’s watch. Another major blow came in terms of the agricultural sector, whilst next door neighbors, Cote d’ivoire raked in between $11bn- $12bn from an assortment of crops, cotton, coffee, cocoa and palm oil inclusive, Ghana managed only about $2bn from cocoa, its leading agricultural export.
Going into the recent elections too, the NDC was also bedeviled with worsening corruption that for sometime became virtually synonymous to their brand. Among the leading corruption scandals they wrestled are ‘GYEEDA’, ‘SADA’, ‘SUBAH’, Bus branding- (led to the resignation of then transport minster, Dzifa Attivor) and the infamous Woyome scandal that has and continues to be the party’s Achilles heel.
Coupled with these was the incessant power cuts (dumsor)- this problem however is not peculiar to only the NDC, it is also by no extension a justification for why they managed it badly, it is also not a three-year long problem as I have seen in certain election write-ups. On the issue of electricity infrastructure, Heide-Ottosen of Mo Ibrahim Foundation puts out that 40 percent of African citizens live in a country which has seen a deterioration in electricity infrastructure. With a deterioration rating of -24.7, Ghana was 5th after South Africa, Sierra Leone, Libya and Botswana. Added to the high increase in unemployment the elections never looked an easy pass for the NDC irrespective of the touted infrastructure developments the party appears to have chalked. The deficit in the infrastructure argument is that every government builds infrastructure, the NDC once opined! Of course just like echoes from the past it came back to hunt them.
It has been a trend in Ghanaian politics for incumbent governments to slacken the delivery of public goods during election years, the rationale has always been to appeal to the better impulses of the citizenry and regain their mandate again. Rather worryingly it is also assumed that Ghanaian electorates are forgetful of hardships preceding election years, hence their propensity to always eat the bait and maintain the incumbent government and grit their teeth subsequently. This time however, it did not materialize. Custom has also had it since the return of Ghana to multiparty democracy in 1992 that incumbent governments always serve their two term limits fully and so going into the elections it was only natural that the NDC were confident of victory; for them they had started many projects- unfinished business! Thus they needed a new 4-year mandate to execute them holistically.
John Dramani Mahama in his maiden contest in 2012 also appealed more to the youth owing to his age and his acclaimed predisposition that he was for the progress of the youth. To this end NDC party functionaries often touted his main opponent, Nana Akuffo-Addo as old and supposedly unhealthy. However, this antediluvian tactics failed as the NPP opined that the country needed an old hands with experience. The age debate in many an African election is not new, for instance I am of the ever highest pedigree of conviction that should the age for the contest of presidential elections in Africa be pegged at a far advanced number, the propensity to be susceptible to corruption will be far diminished. Essentially, such figures would have been fully established and attained worthwhile feats in their career lives. It just wont be natural for them to plunder the public purse in comparison with young blood with families whose future needs to be secured. It must however be emphasized that this notion in and of itself is not entirely a panacea to the corruption that has bedridden Africa for a long while now.
The elephant bait
With incumbency advantage, the supposed youthful appeal of John Dramani Mahama and a large coffers for campaigns leading to the elections the umbrella (emblem of the NDC with a bird at the top) seem to be baiting the elephant (emblem of the NPP) for a big fall (one that will end Nana Addo’s presidential ambition for good) especially with huge cracks in NPP’s leadership. With certain quarters going on to the extent of writing the NPP off as not being ready to capture the annals of power from the NDC, the umbrella was set to shade the country for another 4 years, Wrong! The seeming leaks at the top hierarchy of the NPP’s leadership did not transcend into the grassroots. Its time in opposition had helped in the consolidation of a strong district and constituency level base, it was able to withstand and absorb the national leadership shockwaves. As John Dramani Mahama was able to thread on the coolness of the youth and win their adulation and votes in his first contest, he failed this time around. Just as there is incumbency advantage, there is also incumbency anathema. For the NDC it manifested itself in appointee arrogance, the loss of floating voters, neglect of grassroots, corruption perception amidst other irreconcilable gaffes. The umbrella baited the elephant and failed!
A nation set apart
Pursuant to the tension leading to the final declaration by the electoral commissioner, former, then President John Dramani Mahama, said, “we will make Ghana proud no matter the outcome’. Indeed, they have and by conceding defeat even before the final declaration by the EC, it has endeared him to many the world over and has further shine a perpetual light of hope and an aura of hard earned pride for Ghanaians no matter where they find themselves. If anybody doubted the onward surge of Ghana’s democracy, 7th December was a testament to the country’s unyielding faith, tenacity and perseverance in entrenching its democracy. Amidst all the challenges that bedeviled it going into the elections with many polls predicting possible chaos around the world, some of which I had to confront for their blatant disregard in using one yardstick to measure the African continent in terms of elections.
The election was peaceful and good, international observers present attested to this, but we always hope for better and to this end a significant body that has been left financially incapacitated the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) should spring into full force. The success of the next four year elections begins with their active education of the citizenry, many problems encountered in the recent ended elections could have been averted had they played their role effectively- their work begins now! On 7th January 2017, Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo-Addo was sworn in as the 5th president of Ghana’s 4th Republic. The transition was peaceful and resplendent in its showcase of the Ghanaian culture, (I loved the Kente). To infer from Ronald Reagan’s description of America being a shinning city on a hill, Ghana is a distant beacon in the West of Africa whose star continues to illuminate brighter with hope, triumph and the yearning towards perfection in a common destiny. To the rest of Africa, Ghana should be your standard! This is however not to assert that democracy has ensconced perpetually in Ghana, to vouch for that is to erroneously and blatantly cede the requisite consistent work that needs to be done everyday to the forces of cynicism, and poisonous nihilism.