Seven political parties are registered to contest the next elections, but unless a political earthquake happens only the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the main opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP), have any realistic chance of winning the presidential poll. Between them, the two parties have won every election since the fourth republic began in 1992.
Incumbent president, John Dramani Mahama of the NDC, was returned unopposed at his party’s congress last year. Things have not been as rosy for the NPP. A fierce internecine warfare engulfed the party, which resulted in the suspension of the party’s chairman and some leading members. Also, the Western Region’s acting regional chairman of the party, Benjamin Kwa, died of a heart attack.
All that notwithstanding, the party’s perennial presidential candidate, Nana Dankwa Akufo-Addo easily won the presidential slot. The greatest drama was enacted in the tiny Convention’s People’s Party (CPP). The once formidable Kwame Nkrumah’s party that led Ghana into independence, has been reduced to a shadow of itself – it polled just 0.18% in the last presidential elections.
The CPP held a bruising primary that has left the party in tatters. Nkrumah’s daughter, Samia, who is also the CPP’s sole MP, apparently convinced of the support of the party’s Young Turks who adore her, was certain that the primary would be a mere formality endorsing her candidature.
As it turned out, she lost badly to the party’s secretary-general, Ivor Greenstreet, who garnered 64% of the vote to her 29%. Stung, she resorted to bullying, accusing Greenstreet of being a stooge of the ruling party.
Her outburst led party chairman, Professor Delli, to intervene: “I’m not going to tolerate indiscipline in the CPP. The name of my flagbearer cannot be put into disrepute, no matter who the person is. We don’t tolerate indiscipline in our party. I give her the last warning, let her come again, and she must render an apology to the party and if she does not render it, I’m giving her 48 hours, she will be hauled before the disciplinary committee of the party and dealt with according to the rules and regulations of our party.
“She is not special. She’s like any member of the party … why should she go on trying to put the name of the party into disrepute, when she knows that there are ways and means of handling problems in the party. I dare her to come again.”
With such deep, self-inflicted wounds, it is difficult to see how the CPP can increase its share of the vote. That said, the CPP may be riven by discord, but if the November election were a referendum on economic management, even they would stand a better chance than the incumbent NPP.
Despite officials doing their best to paint a picture of a robust economy, the truth is that Ghanaians are feeling the effects of punishing austerity measures. There are very few job opportunities and however hard the government tries to sell itself on the economic front, the simple fact remains that you do not run to the IMF, as the Mahama government did, unless something is very wrong with the management of your economy.
Ghana’s annual inflation rate was recorded at 18.5% in February of 2016, marginally down from 19% the preceding month, according to the government’s own figures. This rate is mainly driven by higher tariffs for electricity, water, transport and food.
Back to the IMF
Officials initially denied it when whispers began last year that the government was contemplating an IMF bailout. Deputy Minister of Finance, Mona Helen Quartey, told Bloomberg: “We’re not considering an IMF loan at this time.” Later, a Senior Economic Advisor to the President, Dr. Nii Moi Thompson, told the nation that the government had sought only “technical expertise” from the IMF.
President Mahama himself categorically denied that his government was going to foist an IMF programme on the country. He told an Economic Forum, held in Senchi, that: “I wish to take this opportunity to state, with great emphasis, that as president, I have not taken any decision to enter our country into an IMF programme.”
A few weeks later, the president went back on his position during a trip to the US for the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit in Washington DC, where he explained that his government took the decision (to consult with the IMF) “because there was the need for policy credibility and confidence from the international financial institutions to restore economic stability and growth.”
What worries is that the current government appears not to have learnt any lesson from the country’s bitter experiences in its past romance with the Bretton Wood institutions. Although the IMF Managing Director, Christine Lagarde, assured Ghanaians that the Fund has changed its approach in the implementation of its programmes, and claimed that it now focuses on partnerships, events in Greece clearly show the contrary. Ghanaians ask why the IMF, which has shown little sympathy for the Greeks, would look at Ghanaians with more compassion.
The government’s optimistic prognosis and inclination to take on the IMF loan seemed more like a triumph of optimism over experience.
As the secretary-general of Ghana’s umbrella Trade Union Congress warned the government in his last May Day speech: “Your Excellency, times are hard; the prognosis on the economy is not good either, but we must… resist the temptation to seek an IMF bailout. IMF support was a mistake we made in the past. We must take responsibility for this mistake and find [a] solution to our problem.”
The NPP is betting its chances on the perceived disenchantment of the electorate on the poorly-performing economy. The party’s vice-presidential candidate, Dr. Muhammadu Bawumia, a noted economist and former governor of the Bank of Ghana, has constantly accused the NDC government of mismanaging the robust economy it inherited from the last NPP government of President J.A. Kufuor, who took Ghana into the Highly Indebted and Poor Country (HIPC) programme, and got massive debt relief for the country.
Dr. Bawumia accused the Mahama government of increasing the country’s debt stock by 70%, with little to show for it. President Mahama publicly took umbrage at Bawumia’s constant reference to him as incompetent.
President Mahama retorted that Bawumia had not held any position or undertaken any responsibility that came close to the work of the President, yet he always saw the need to call him [Mahama] incompetent.
Another great worry for Ghanaians is the perception of pervasive graft that seems to have become an albatross, strangling the life out of the country. It comes in several guises. The best-known are those that are termed “judgement debts”, where self-styled financial engineers collude with state officials to take the state to court over dubious contracts that were cancelled.
A former minister once shed some light on the scandal and admitted that the government incurred GHC624m (current conversion value $142m) in judgement debts between 2001 and 2011. Out of the amount, $117m was paid in 2009, $63m in 2010 and $52.65m in 2011 (at current conversion values). Eighty-six institutions and individuals benefited from such payments in 2010 alone. The judgement debts were incurred because governments cancelled agreements and contracts their predecessors signed. The aggrieved party then went to court and for judgement to recover lost money plus interest. The state’s legal teams are said to have put up feeble efforts to represent the government. This has resulted in courts finding against the government, and awarding huge sums against the state.
There have also been several unpardonable gaffes by government officials, topped by what happened at this year’s 59th independence celebration on 6 March. The official brochure to mark the day was so error-laden that Ghanaians were left fuming with rage. The brochure not only made the Special Guest of Honour, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, the President of Ghana, but was filled with so many other errors that the head of the agency that produced it had to resign.
Many Ghanaians questioned the idea of celebrating independence in a country that is under an IMF bailout programme. Citizens also wondered if the occasion would not have been best spent meditating on where the former shining Black Star of Africa went wrong. The country that blazed the trail for Africa’s political independence now struggles to provide basic services for its citizens.
It might not be fair, but Ghanaians compare their country with the economies of Malaysia, South Korea and Singapore, which were on a par at independence. The inescapable conclusion is that Ghana’s economic performance has been woeful.
Not only have the Asian Tigers left Ghana far behind in every developmental index, citizens ask what there is to celebrate for a country that relies on donor support for 40% of its budget.
Speaking to New African in the capital Accra, Ghana’s leading pollster, Ben Ephson, believed that the presidential elections are too close to call. “The two main parties have their hardcore supporters, nothing will change their minds. So the battle is for the floating voters, who have been decisive in choosing the last three presidents,” he said.
“A lot depends on what happens to the economy between now and November, and how the NPP manages to patch up its internal differences.”