Election Time in Africa: All eyes on Ghana

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Stability in the Black Star State

African nations do not always have the luxury of being free from the violence or havoc that destabilizes elections. Take Mali for example: just days before the election earlier this year, there were two coup d’états in the southern and northern parts of the country by two different factions. In April, a military junta in Guinea-Bissau erupted, leading to the disposal of elections front-runner Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Jr. months later. [1] 

Political critics deem Ghana as an exceptional African state. The establishment of the constitution in the fourth republic nearly 19 years ago fostered political stability; and the transition of Jerry John Rawlings from a military figure into a civilian president marked a seminal moment in the country’s governance. [2]. Ghana has managed to execute relatively peaceful democratic transitions since. In fact, one of the biggest tests of the country’s democratic fabric was the recent passing of President John Atta Mills in office five months ago. Despite the few rumblings here and there over succession, Ghana’s political machine honored the rule of law and vice president John Mahama assumed office as head of state.

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Two Main Contenders 

Among the eight candidates, opinion polls are indicating a tight race between President John Dramani Mahama of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and Nana Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), which could be a repeat of the 2008 elections where Mills narrowly defeated Akufo-Addo by less than 1% of the vote. [3]

Throughout this campaign season, the NDC and NPP rivalry has intensified as both parties continuously fight off criticism from each other. The NDC has been accused of not maximizing the economic potential of the new oil and gas production due to endemic corruption in public service. Secondly, lack of funds for spare parts, backlog of debt and broad mismanagement at Tema Oil Refinery has contributed immensely to power shortages in the country. Thirdly, there have been accusations that contracts between the Ghana National Gas Company (GNGC) and Chinese companies like Huawei have secured tax exemptions in return for political contributions,[4] as well as rumors of sketchy contract deals and overpricing by Sinopec.[5]

These criticisms by the NPP did not go unanswered as the NDC responded in kind.[6] NDC has accused the NPP of being compradors for Monsanto, the United States agricultural company, by making it mandatory for local farmers to use the genetically modified seed varieties.[7] Secondly, Nana Akufo-Addo’s social housing hostel initiative for vulnerable youth workers has been ridiculed as an unsustainable solution to the housing crisis. In addition, the NPP has been labeled as the disconnected party – unable to relate to the urban and rural poor.

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Rawlings Family Political Influence in Question

When Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings, wife of former two-term president and NDC founder Jerry John Rawlings, lost the bid to represent the party in this year’s election, it highlighted interesting changes in the ruling party and Ghana’s overall political landscape. This was the first time in history that a member of the ruling party ran against a sitting president, which pointed toward unresolved conflict between Nana Konadu and then-president John Atta Mills (Mills has since passed). The overwhelming defeat of Nana Konadu in a 97 to 3 delegate vote[8] proved the Rawlings legacy was not enough to elicit votes, and indicated that the Rawlings do not own the NDC despite having founded it. After conceding defeat, Nana Konadu’s team launched accusations from cash for votes to coercion as reasons for how Mills won by a landslide.[9] 

Nana Konadu officially broke away from the NDC to form the National Democratic Party (NDP), but ultimately fell short in gaining a presidential nomination after the Electoral Commission disqualified the former first lady on technical grounds.[10] Even if Nana Konadu had run she would not have garnered enough votes to win or lure enough rank and file members over to her camp. All of this leaves the Rawlings on the sidelines in this election, placing their political clout in question.     

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The Issues

After December 7th, the party that emerges victorious must contend with the central issues plaguing Ghana today:

  • Unemployment Rate: Unemployment is particularly high among the youth, which makes up approximately 39% of the country’s population.[11] The debate over the possibility and feasibility of free Senior High School (SHS) education has also been at the top of list for both President Mahama and challenger Akufo-Addo.
  • Universal Healthcare: The vision of quality and affordable healthcare through the National Healthcare Insurance Scheme (NHIS) has come under much scrutiny and is currently dream deferred. Despite the majority of funding that stems from a 2.5% VAT, most Ghanaians cannot afford the premiums, making the system unsustainable.[12]
  • Housing Shortage: There still remains the question of tackling the housing crisis. With the rapid growth of the working age population in the next decade, it is estimated that Ghana will need 2 million housing units by 2020.[13] In 2009, the government of Ghana and South Korean company STX Korea agreed to a joint venture to build 200,000 houses over a decade for $10 billion. The joint venture has since produced nothing, creating an albatross for the NDC.  
  • Extractive Resources: Ghana has made moves in the right direction toward strengthening the legal framework around gas, oil and mining extraction, but it needs to get the Petroleum Exploration and Production ACT, Ghana Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative Act and regulations for the newly created Petroleum Commission and Public Interest and Accountability Committee out of limbo. [14] By doing so Ghana will set a new precedence for extractive resources to be done in a manner that is not a threat to local farmers and the overall health of its citizens. In addition these laws should be designed to take Ghana from a passive partner toward an operator.

Summary

The phrase ‘to the victor goes the spoils’ best illustrates the universe African elections occupy, especially when the management of the very lucrative gas and oil industry is at stake. The party that manages to win the presidency and controls parliament can only mean Christmas comes early for their supporters. The gifts they receive will be in the form of jobs, civil service posts, directorships, building contracts, etc, while opposition supporters will be alienated, detracting from effective statecraft and in some cases invoking violence.

Despite this pervasive ‘winner take all’ political climate we tend to encounter in Africa, Ghana has worked along political, ethnic and religious lines to ensure free, fair and peaceful elections. In 1994 the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) instituted the Inter-Party Advisory Board (IPAC) where the aim has been to cultivate transparency among all parties; further steps were taken by the IEC when they implemented the biometric system to mitigate voter fraud. The participatory nature of this election has generated much excitement brought on by social media buzz from the Ghanaian ghetto in the west Bronx, throughout Ghana and in the African diaspora.

References


[1] Embalo, A Y. (2012). Guinea-Bissau Premier, Election Front-Runner, Is Deposed in a Coup. Available: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/14/world/africa/guinea-bissau-coup-removes-presidential-front-runner.html?ref=guineabissau&_r=0. Last accessed 1st December 2012.

[2] Courtesy Embassy of Ghana, Washington. (1994). Ghana-Launching the Fourth Republic POLITICAL DYNAMICS UNDER THE FOURTH REPUBLIC. Available: http://www.mongabay.com/history/ghana/ghana-launching_the_fourth_republic_political_dynamics_under_the_fourth_republic.html. Last accessed 1st December 2012.

[3] Vines, A. (2012). Ghana’s Election – High Expectations. Available: http://allafrica.com/stories/201212010100.html?viewall=1. Last accessed 1st December 2012.

[4] Huang, R. (2012). Huawei under fire in Ghana for alleged bribery.Available: http://www.zdnet.com/huawei-under-fire-in-ghana-for-alleged-bribery-7000005963/. Last accessed 1st December 2012.

[5] Odoi-Larbi, S. (2012). RED FLAG OVER GHANA-SINOPEC DEAL. Available: http://ghanaian-chronicle.com/red-flag-over-ghana-sinopec-deal/. Last accessed 1st December 2012.

[6] Africa Asia. (2012). Political storm over gas contracts. Available: http://www.africa-asia-confidential.com/article-preview/id/823/Political_storm_over_Chinese_gas_contracts. Last accessed 1st December 2012.

[7] Ali-Masmadi, J. (2012). NPP Manifesto on Agriculture is Bogus and Fraudulent!. Available: http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/features/artikel.php?ID=250074. Last accessed 1st December 2012.

[8] GMS. (2011). Africawatch. Africawatch. 1 (1), p8-9.

[9] GMS. (2011). Africawatch. Africawatch. 1 (1), p9-10.

[10] Vines, A. (2012). Ghana’s Election – High Expectations. Available: http://allafrica.com/stories/201212010100.html?viewall=1. Last accessed 1st December 2012.

[11] Population reference bureau. (2012). World Data Profile: Ghana.Available: http://www.prb.org/DataFinder/Geography/Data.aspx?loc=262. Last accessed 1st December 2012.

[12] GUAHC. (2012). Achieving universal health coverage in Ghana: why a premium-based health insurance model is not a better solution.Available: http://www.modernghana.com/news/429196/1/achieving-universal-health-coverage-in-ghana-why-a.html. Last accessed 1st December 2012.

[13] Oxford Business Group. (2012). Ghana renews efforts to tackle housing deficit. Available: http://www.tradeinvestafrica.com/feature_articles/1345870.htm. Last accessed 1st December 2012.

[14] Gary, I. (2012). Elections and Oil—Ghana’s Choice. Available: http://politicsofpoverty.oxfamamerica.org/category/issues/oil-gas-mining/. Last accessed 1st December 2012.

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