Can Ghana’s new wave of protesters force President Akufo-Addo to change course?

By Jaysim Hanspal, Jonas Nyabor

Posted on Monday, 11 July 2022 11:58
Ghanaians march in the streets on the second day of protests over recent economic hardships, in Accra, Ghana, June 29, 2022. REUTERS/Francis Kokoroko

Just days before President Nana Addo Akufo-Addo announced on 1 July that his finance minister, against his will, was opening negotiations with the IMF, thousands of young Ghanaians took to the streets in Accra protesting against spiralling food and fuel prices and wider cost hardships.

The huge crowd disrupted traffic along some of the city’s busiest routes, including the road leading to Jubilee House, the seat of the government.

A clash with the police on the first day of the protest left people with injuries and over two dozen arrested. The police fired tear gas, a water cannon and live rounds to disperse the protestors.

The demonstration was organised by Arise Ghana, a new pressure group that, until last month, no one had heard of.

So how did this unknown group pull off one of the biggest anti-government protests in the last five years?

Who is Arise Ghana?

According to Bernard Mornah, an activist in the People’s National Congress (PNC), the pressure group was launched in April and has strong ties with the main opposition party, National Democratic Congress (NDC).

Weeks before the scheduled protest in Accra, pro-NDC social media accounts began pushing a hashtag to draw attention and support.

The group was bringing in Ghanaians from all walks of life, all of whom are volunteers.

“Our members and supporters come from various groups, including political parties, civil society organisations who feel the pain of bad economic leadership,” says Mornah.

Arise Ghana capitalises on the negative sentiments and anger against the Akufo-Addo government’s handling of the economy to drive its activities.

Who are its leaders?

The group has no structured leadership: A spokesman on culture for the NDC, Rex Omar, chairs its campaign meetings.

Three individuals act as the group’s co-conveners: Sammy Gyamfi (national communication officer of the NDC); Bernard Mornah (former national chairman of the PNC); and Listowell Nana Poku (a critic of the Akufo-Addo government). This is for “strategic purposes”.

We cannot mention some of the people who have contributed to our activities because some members of government have also contributed

“We know how the system is. They will go to every extent to take on individuals and try to influence them. After some bad experiences, we [don’t] want Arise Ghana to suffer the fate of other pressure groups,” Bernard Mornah tells The Africa Report.

How widespread is their support?

According to Mornah, the group is targeting supporters from the Trades Union Congress and former president John Agyekum Kufuor.

Just before its demonstrations last month, it received endorsements from Franklin Cudjoe, President of the IMANI Africa think tank, as well as Dr Nyaho Nyaho-Tamakloe and Dr Charles Wereko-Brobbey, both founding members of President Akufo-Addo’s New Patriotic Party.

All of the NDC’s national leaders, including its chair, general secretary and organiser addressed protestors last week.

How are they funded?

Arise Ghana’s activities are funded by unknown donors, but it benefits greatly from the influence of the NDC. For example, the opposition party is ensuring pro-bono legal services for demonstrators who were arrested at last week’s protest.

Regional protests are in the offing because the insensitivity of our government is felt all over the country

“Most of the things have been done pro-bono. We cannot mention some of the people who have contributed to our activities because some members of the government have also contributed. People gave us food, drinks and paid related bills,” says Mornah.

Arise Ghana vs. Fix the Country?

Although many of Arise Ghana’s ideas mirror those of the other big protest group, ‘Fix the Country’, they differ over tactics and themes.

Fix the Country’s lead figure is Oliver Barker Vormawor, but Arise Ghana doesn’t have such a frontline leader.

Oliver’s group fundamentally wants the country’s constitution reviewed besides the bread and butter demands while Arise Ghana targets the Akufo-Addo government for inaction in the face of economic hardship.

What next?

The group is planning a series of street protests outside Accra after their ultimatum to the government expired in early July.

“Regional protests are in the offing because the insensitivity of our government is felt all over the country and so we will take the protest [to] the communities all over the country,” Mornah says.

Arise Ghana focuses more on fighting poverty while #FixtheCountry’s concentrates on free speech.

Both groups lambast the declining economic conditions and policies, such as the e-levy, which covers most electronics transactions, including mobile payments, but it has failed to yield the required revenues.

It operates primarily online, with 10,700 followers on Twitter, with the capacity for youth activists to make accounts on their website and support causes in a variety of ways.

#FixtheCountry has been more conciliatory towards Ghana’s leadership recently, with the group commending President Akufo-Addo for reinvigorating the country’s education system.

The group also boasts of its transparency. On 29 June, it released a Google Doc, listing donations and expenses. Donors are listed by name, but only $3000 has been donated so far.

#FixtheCountry has had a few organisational glitches. In December 2021, Economic Fighters League (EFL) stepped back from the group.

#FixtheCountry said EFL’s decision resulted from the sentiment that their platform “does not offer an honest and credible platform to continue to mobilise”.

The group also cites “the selfish interest of some”, which they said, “appears to be driving the movement to what we feared the most – that the hard work of activists will […] benefit partisan political forces or interests”.

Oliver Barker-Vormawor, one of the leaders of #FixtheCountry, remains detained in Ghana indefinitely, as he awaits trial for a traffic violation. He was arrested on his way to Tema High Court for a “motoring offence”, where he was facing treason charges for “threatening to start a coup”.

I keep moving from safe house to safe house due to threats we have been receiving, particularly after we started focusing on incidents of police brutality and extra-judicial killings

Barker-Vormawor was kept for four weeks in police custody and says he was tortured and prevented from contacting his lawyers. His case has been adjourned until 1 August.

The authorities have confiscated his passport and he cannot return to Britain to continue his doctoral research with the Faculty of Law at the University of Cambridge. Barker-Vormawor says: “For six months we have been waiting for the Attorney General to commence the process by filing the charges and evidence.”

“I keep moving from safe house to safe house due to threats we have been receiving, particularly after we started focusing on incidents of police brutality and extra-judicial killings.”

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