PoliticsElectionsGhana's perfect election – shame about the toxic politics


Posted on Thursday, 15 November 2012 18:47

Ghana's perfect election – shame about the toxic politics

Ghana Flag/Photo©ReutersIt has been the longest-ever election campaign and it could be the closest, with polls suggesting there is less than a 5% gap between the leading candidates, President John Mahama and Nana Akufo Addo of the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP).


According to Mahama and Akufo Addo, the election campaign is all about the issues. How much money for secondary education? Where will the new jobs come from? But one underlying issue dwarfs all others.

The party that wins power in the national elections on 7 December will preside over a dramatic upturn in oil revenue and the start-up of industrial-scale gas production.

That gives the victor an unprecedented opportunity to modernise the economy: it may also mean that the party could hold power for a generation.

That is why politics has become so venomous and factional at the grassroots level, where party footsoldiers fight for dominance, constituency by constituency.

Day after day, MPs and party hacks turn up at FM radio stations to argue their corner and metaphorically hammer their opponents. After four particularly violent by-elections over the past three years, there are worries that partisan loyalties could spin out of control.

President Mahama, in an interview with The Africa Report just after his inauguration, down-played talk about financial and strategic interests:

"I don't think it's about stakes. It's about Ghana and Ghanaians. Ghanaians think beyond bricks and mortar [...] what kind of leader they have is just as important. Issues like corruption, rule of law and justice are just as important."

Akufo Addo said the election would send a signal to Africa: "The new source of wealth is raising the temperature. If we in Ghana are able to have an election that is free and fair and devoid of incident, it will be a huge statement about our future."

Such high-minded talk is not always matched on the ground. "Every matter of significant public interest or controversy, even the fratricidal killing of a local chief, is seized upon by the two rival parties – the National Democratic Congress and the NPP – and turned into an occasion for political grandstanding and gamesmanship," say Dr Emmanuel Gyimah-Boadi and Kwasi Prempeh in a paper warning about the corrosive effects of oil revenue on Ghana's democracy (i).

They argue that the management of billion dollars of oil and gas receipts will reinforce the "winner takes all" nature of the political system.

The party that emerges victorious in December will take almost absolute control of the state, with massive advantages over its opponents.

As youth unemployment rises, political campaigns have become a job-creation scheme for party footsoldiers. That has skewed the parties' focus on short-term issues: raising salaries for the police and security services, free school uniforms and lunches (both the latter mean lucrative contracts for party supporters).

But it has militated against longer-term investment in public services such as health and education.

Amid the razzmatazz, Mahama and Akufo Addo are talking seriously about longer-term commitments.

Mahama is trying to bring civil society groups on-board to push better delivery of public services, and a government commitment to free and universal secondary education is at the heart of Akufo-Addo's campaign.

Yet neither seems willing to spell out a vision for a more equitable division of power at the centre●

(i) Journal of Democracy, July 2012, Johns Hopkins University Press


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