Ghana: Government risks re-opening land borders as economy tumbles

By Kent Mensah
Posted on Friday, 25 March 2022 11:20

Ghana's Nana Akufo-Addo
Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, President of Ghana, speaks during the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain, November 2, 2021. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/Pool

Two years after Nana Akufo-Addo closed Ghana's borders, the President is under pressure to re-open them, as the economy struggles to recover post-pandemic.

Leading the charge is the main opposition leader and former president John Mahama, who said border communities are the worst hit under the distressed economy.

“The long border closures have devastated the economy of our border communities. Government’s announcement that it is deliberating at Cabinet about a possible opening of our land borders is long overdue. Let’s open the land borders now!” Mahama posted on Facebook.

Ghana shares borders with Togo to the east, Côte d’Ivoire to the west and Burkina Faso to the north. The English-speaking country enjoys stable and peaceful relations with its French neighbours including vibrant informal trading among border communities.

‘We’re back to normal times’

“Things have not been easy for us here in Elubo [a border town in western Ghana]. Before the border was closed two years ago, business was booming. I was a taxi driver and I used to convey traders to and from the border on a daily basis. The place is dead now and I have been forced to look for something else to do now. How do you expect us to take care of our families,” Evans Kumah, a resident in the Jomoro district in western Ghana tells The Africa Report.

“Akufo-Addo must open the border now. We are back to normal times. Coronavirus is staying with us so we can only manage and deal with it just like any other disease. For how long are we going to live in such situation? I used to take goods including dresses to Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire) sell but now the business is dead,” Felicia Mintah, a trader who has relocated to Accra tells The Africa Report.

We want to protect lives and also protect livelihood. At the appropriate time, very soon, you’ll hear from us. – Anthony Nsiah Asare, presidential advisor on health

As of 21 March 2022, there were 88 case of Covid-19 out of over 160,000 confirmed cases since the virus was first detected in the country two years ago.

“My people are dying,” Dorcas Affo-Toffey, the MP for one of the border towns in western Ghana tells The Africa Report. “Businesses have collapsed. People have to pay loans and the youth are resorting to other social vices which will eventually be a burden on us as a country. The president must open the borders now for the people to do business with our neighbours. Why open the main airport and keep the land borders shut? Can’t we propose proper measures to control Covid-19 at the land borders, too.”

‘Expect announcement soon’

Anthony Nsiah Asare, presidential advisor on health, says the government is treading cautiously so that it avoids importing new variants of the virus into the country.

“We want to move as much as possible into normal life. Luckily for us the fourth wave is almost down. Seemingly, we’re experiencing a quiet situation and that is being seen in the sub-region. Very soon the president will announce the official position on the re-opening of land borders,” he tells The Africa Report.

“We want to protect lives and also protect livelihood. At the appropriate time, very soon, you’ll hear from us. More importantly we’re also looking at our vaccination deployment rate. We don’t have to be complacent. The restrictions we’ve put in place have helped us. So we have to make sure that the airport and other points of entry are tight, and to make sure that all those coming in have been fully vaccinated.”

But while re-opening land borders makes business sense, on the health front it may be risky. “It’s tempting to ease restrictions when we start recording low numbers, however, we need to also consider the number of people who’ve vaccinated,” says public health expert Nana Kofi Kwakye.

“Vaccination rates should be high enough to make such decision. Protecting lives is very important because you need healthy people to do business,” he says.

Ghana has vaccinated 13 million of its population, out of which five million (16% of total population) have been fully vaccinated, according to official figures provided by the Ghana Health Service.

‘We want to see a return to normalcy’

It has been three months since the West African regional bloc agreed in principle to re-open land borders after taking into consideration the fact that their economies lost $50bn in value or 6.7% of their cumulative Gross Domestic Product (GDP) between 2020 and 2021.

“We are not yet out of the woods in post-Covid-19 but we want to see a return to normalcy with the movement of goods and service through our borders. And therefore, whatever proactive measures the government needs to take, there can be no justification for the continued closure of Ghana’s land borders,” the minority leader Haruna Iddrisu said at a press conference.

“Therefore, as a minority, our primary concern is to call on the President as Chair of ECOWAS, to do that which is needful to give meaning to the resolutions he so chaired for ECOWAS to pass; to allow and facilitate the free movement of goods and services between us [Ghana], our neighbours and the rest of the world.”

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