Category Archives: Ghana

Ghana – President Mahama accepts election defeat

On Friday 9 December, President John Mahama of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) called his rival, Nana Akufo Addo of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), to concede defeat in the presidential election. Mahama’s defeat was comprehensive: he recorded the lowest vote share of any sitting president since the return of multiparty politics in 1992 (44%), and in the legislative elections his political party was reduced to around 105 of the 275 seats on offer (some results TBC). His defeat also made history in another way: he is the only sitting president to have lost an election in Ghana. All previous transfers of power occurred in open-seat polls, in which the sitting president had stood down as a result of presidential term-limits, and the ruling party was hampered by having to run a new candidate.

Does this mean that President Mahama will go down as one of the country’s least successful presidents? Not necessarily. Despite the disappointing result, few commentators believe that the NDC ran a bad campaign. The party focussed on its strengths and spoke about issues that were of interest to voters. Moreover, the general attitude towards Mahama among ordinary Ghanaians appears to be that he did not have the tools that the country required, but was a relatively benign leader. This perception, of course, will now be reinforced by the fact that he was willing to concede defeat, and did so before the official results had been announced by the electoral commission.

This raises the question of why the opposition won the election so comprehensively. Two factors seem to explain this. First, a period of sustained economic difficulties has hurt living standards, and has resulted in high levels of youth unemployment. In turn, this has encouraged Ghanaians to look for economic change – something that is promised by the NPP. While some of the country’s economic difficulties reflect global trends beyond its control, such as the slump in oil prices, the government’s handling of the crisis has been widely criticised, undermining the NDC’s claim that it was the party best placed to ensure economic revival.

Second, a number of high profile corruption scandals involving figures around the president enabled the opposition to argue that Ghana’s economic woes can not be fully explained by external factors, and are instead rooted in the dysfunctionality of the ruling party itself. This narrative appears to have been effective, particularly among younger voters. A nationally representative survey conducted by the author in December 2015 found that while many do not blame the president for what has happened in the country, a majority of people did not trust Mahama (56%), and that even in the NDC’s heartlands 41% of people had no trust, or only a little trust, in the executive.

Taken together, these developments strongly favoured the NPP. However, they played out in different ways across the country. In the NPP’s heartlands, there was stronger support for Nana Akufo Addo – who in the past has suffered from a lower turnout in Ashanti areas than his NPP predecessor John Kufour, in part because although both leaders belong to the Akan group, Kufour is an Ashanti while Akufo Addo is an Akyem. By contrast, in the NDC’s core areas the NPP did not secure that many more votes, but did persuade traditional Mahama supporters to stay at home. The resulting decline in turnout – up to 18% in some areas – significantly undermined the ruling party’s prospects. In swing areas the picture was different again, with the NDC holding on to some legislative seats but losing the presidential vote in a number of constituencies in Cape Coast, and winning the presidential vote but losing seats in others.

All eyes will now turn to the President Elect, Nana Akufo Addo, a trained economist and lawyer. Known for his probity and for not suffering fools gladly, the new occupier of Flagstaff House will begin his term in office with two big things in his favour. First, he enjoys a strong mandate and a dominant majority in parliament. Second, economic growth is projected to pick up to around 5% this year, from 4% in 2015.

However, he also faces a number of significant challenges. Although a clear majority of Ghanaians voted for him, it is often said that Akufo Addo is not well liked by his fellow countrymen – a fact that some NPP supporters have cited as the reason for his electoral defeats in 2008 and 2012. His brusque manner and elitist tone have meant that at times the new president has struggled to connect to the electorate. In this regard, it does not help that many voters can still remember the charismatic leadership of ex-President J. J. Rawlings, nicknamed “Junior Jesus” due to his charismatic persona and ability to generate great fervour among his supporters.

Akufo Addo’s lack of a human touch come back to haunt him at the next election if he is unable to deliver on his campaign promises. The 2016 elections are an important reminder that Ghanaians are now willing to vote out leaders who do not meet their expectations, incumbents or otherwise. Given this, it is particularly significant that in his desperation to grasp what was probably his final opportunity to win the presidency, Akufo Addo significantly overpromised. In addition the standard pledges to provide jobs and kick-start economic growth, the NPP made a specific set of high profile commitments that it may come to regret. These include creating an annual $1 million development fund for every constituency, and building a factory in every district.

Given that the country has 275 constituencies, and 216 districts, this effectively commits the new government to between $350 and $500 million of expenditure before it has even begun. Many critics have claimed that there is no way that the ruling party will be able to fund these promises, and that even if it can it will struggle to build 216 factories in four years. If this is true, and a difficult global context stymies economic recovery more generally, then the new president will be forced to fall back on his personal authority and the strength of his arguments. Should this come to pass, it may not be long before we start to hear talk of an NDC resurgence.

Ghana – President Mahama courts controversy with latest cabinet reshuffle

President Mahama of Ghana announced a series of ministerial appointments over a period of weeks from late May into June. Most of the new nominations and reassignments focused on deputy ministers, although regional ministers were also affected as were a few key sector ministers, such as the Ministers of Health, Defence, and Lands and Natural Resources, among others.

Echoing the government’s own statements, supportive commentators affirm, “It is obvious these changes are meant to accelerate development and give the administration momentum,” adding that, “People must understand that President Mahama, as he himself puts it, ‘is the coach of the team’ and has the prerogative to determine which player comes in when and where.”

This positive assessment stands at odds with the more widespread criticism brought on by the President’s announcements. Observers question whether this latest reshuffle, the third of its kind this year, will ensure a more capable cabinet. As argued by the editor of the Informer newspaper, “Governance is not about experimenting where you try ministers to see where they can perform while others are already hard at work. […] When one is asked to head a particular ministry, it takes time to learn the rudiments of that place, but whenever the new ministers gain the experience to kick-start a project, then the President changes them again.”

Mahama’s decisions are also being challenged by supporters of his party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), who decry the alleged imbalance in the representation of different regions within Cabinet. NDC cadres have condemned protests held by party faithful in the Upper West and East regions. Dissatisfaction is also spreading in the Volta region, popularly referred to as the NDC’s “World Bank” due to its high levels of electoral support for the party. Criticism in the Volta has prompted speculation about the NDC’s prospects in the 2016 elections, which is expected to be a close contest between the NDC and Ghana’s main opposition party, the National Patriotic Party (NPP).

In a particularly unusual development, Mahama’s latest reshuffle has led to criticism from both the government and opposition side in Parliament. The controversy arose when two front benchers disagreed over who should stand in as Minister of Roads and Highways to answer questions on the floor of parliament. This episode prompted NPP legislators to decry the government’s confused “game of musical chairs.” The Minority leader followed with a statement criticizing the Executive’s failure to present a list of appointees to Parliament, arguing, “This House must critically look at bringing new appointees and reshuffled ministers to the appropriate committee of Parliament for questioning.” The Speaker of Parliament backed the statement of the Minority Leader, averring that all ministers, whether freshly appointed or re-assigned to a new post, should be referred to Parliament for endorsement.

This criticism of the Executive’s unilateral action and the calls for a more robust vetting process go against the grain in Ghana, where despite democratic advances in other areas, the Parliament remains relatively weak by regional standards. Ghana’s highly competitive two-party system has led to a pattern of entrenched partisan politics in the legislature with ruling party MPs generally opting to support the Executive rather than join in bi-partisan efforts to ensure more parliamentary independence.

It is unclear as yet what the result of this latest wave of criticism directed at the Mahama administration will be. Political tensions in Ghana are running high, notably due to fears over government spending and the rapid accumulation of debt. Frustration over the reshuffle is in part a reflection of these broader concerns. Still, this dissatisfaction may lead to some substantive change if Parliament continues to push, as suggested by the Speaker, to more fully assume its constitutional oversight powers.