It is early in the morning on a public holiday, but opposition presidential candidate Nana Akufo-Addo is already ensconced with advisers at his house and campaign headquarters.
The compound, its gates emblazoned in bright red and blue election posters for the New Patriotic Party (NPP), reminds everyone that Ghana’s presidential elections are less than 18 months away.
Akufo-Addo’s family home – with its exquisite ebony furniture, vivid tableaux by Ghanaian artists and intricate African sculptures – is an impressive structure on a generous plot in an area of Accra known as Nima Presidential.
That grassroots organisation using mobile technology is not very big around here
The name, given by locals, distinguishes this street of elegant villas from the other Nima: an adjacent and sprawling working-class conurbation whose people are feeling the full effect of rising prices, wage freezes and power cuts.
It may also help Akufo-Addo, the scion of one of Ghana’s leading political families, to keep it real. A few yards from his house, traders are eking out a living selling sachets of ‘pure water’ and scratch cards for cellphone credit.
These are exactly the people, he insists, who will benefit from his policies of free, universal secondary education and a determined state-led policy to industrialise Ghana.
This morning, the talk is of events in Nigeria. Akufo-Addo and his party see the victory of General Muhammadu Buhari and the main opposition party in credible elections in April as holding import- ant lessons for Ghana’s upcoming presidential contest.
There are clear parallels. Both Akufo-Addo and Buhari ran for the presidency multiple times, with their ever-loyal supporters arguing they were cheated of victory, and both men are political veterans in their seventies.
They both say their countries are drifting, suffering from an economic and moral malaise, and their people are losing out to the high-flying economies of Asia.
Akufo-Addo’s team is already dissecting Buhari’s success. Nigerian opposition activists mobilised their supporters to register and protect their votes and then, together with civic activists, organised their own parallel vote count to guard against political interference in the vote count and results.
“I think there are some obvious things we’re going to have to look at,” Akufo-Addo tells The Africa Report. “That grassroots organisation associated with mobile technology is not very big around here.”
Buhari’s decision to declare his assets publicly ahead of the election reinforced his anti-corruption credentials. Would Akufo-Addo be willing to do the same?
“Personally, I would. I can’t speak for the views of my col- leagues, but I think it is a debate that we’re going to have long before the election. We should not be grandstanding.
“Let the parliament have a look at this to decide the is- sues of disclosure and confidentiality so that it isn’t just an example that’s set by one or two people but an obligation that covers all office holders,” he explains.
In Nigeria, Attahiru Jega, the academic who chaired the electoral commission, insisted on a new electoral register and the use of biometric cards. In Ghana, the situation is muddier.
This year, the veteran chair of the electoral commission, Kwadwo Afari Gyan, hands over to a successor appointed by President John Mahama.
The biggest issue that the commission’s new chair will face is whether to organise a new voters’ register. Oppositionists and civic activists say the current one contains millions of extra names.
Third Time a charm?
29 march 1944 – Born in Accra
1992 – NPP presidential campaign manager & national organiser
1996 – MP for the Abuakwa South constituency, Eastern Region
1998 – Lost out to John Kufuor to represent the NPP
2001 – Appointed attorney general by President Kufuor
2005 – Became Ghana’s foreign minister
2008 – Lost to John Atta Mills in the race for the presidency
2012 – Contested the election after his slim loss to John Mahama
There are more than 14 million names on the list for a population of 25 million with a median age of about 18. Should the commission reject the calls for a new electoral register, Akufo-Addo and his party are planning to step up the pressure.
Economic conditions have deteriorated sharply in Ghana over the past two years.
The government’s accord in April with the International Monetary Fund for a nearly $1bn loan is seen by many as a reversion to the bad old days, while complaints of grand corruption are legion.
The campaign trail will again test Akufo-Addo’s pragmatism and stamina to the limit. Almost certainly it will be his final – and perhaps best starred – run for the presidency.
The opposition victory in Nigeria may have been a fillip to his campaign, but his team are already talking of the political fight of their lives. ●
The Africa Report: How serious is Ghana’s economic crisis and who is responsible?
Nana Akufo-Addo: The government in power today has received more resources – from loans, increasing tax revenues, receipts from exports – than any other government in the 60-year period of our national existence. Indeed more than probably three or four of them put together. Yet here we are, wallowing in corruption.
No serious effort has been made to tackle the structural problems confronting our nation, whether in governance or the management of our economy. No one seems to have a clear idea of what’s happened to all of this money.
The economy, four or five years ago, was considered the rising star of Africa. Ghana – everybody’s favourite African country – was on the verge of take off but is now bankrupt and back in the hands of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), begging for a billion dollars to sustain it over the next two or three years.
It’s a very sorry tale: mismanagement and widespread corruption have brought us to where we are now. So, if really we’re serious about going forward, we’ve got to be able to convince our population that we have the policies to do so.
And I’m very keen that we should have the wherewithal, the political will and the technical capability to deal with corruption and mismanagement in our country.
Do you support the government borrowing from the IMF?
It’s a very sad development in our country. […] We worked very hard to rid ourselves of IMF dependency. The sooner we find a way to govern ourselves intelligently and honestly, the better it will be.
It’s a very sorry tale: mismanagement and widespread corruption have brought us to where we are now.
If we don’t have the capacity to accept the dictates and the discipline of the [IMF] programme, it will just be another programme.
No one seems to know the terms of the IMF loan. Why has your party not demanded a full debate in parliament about it?
We’re the opposition, and it’s our prime responsibility to demand parliamentary scrutiny. But the full ramifications of the [IMF] deal have never been put before parliament. The oversight capability of our parliament is a problem because of the distribution of powers between the legislature and the executive.
Our parliament doesn’t have any control over the exchequer. Money bills are all the function of the executive. No member of parliament has a right to bring a money bill without the authorisation of the minister of finance.
I believe our parliament should be like all parliaments: the final authority and the final control [over] the exchequer. These are very important constitutional reforms that will have to be made.
Are you committed to making those reforms if you win the election next year?
That is absolutely where my thinking is. There’s a lot of input that is going to be made in Ghana if we’re going to have a parliament that has genuine independent oversight capability.
What is your plan to tackle corruption?
We’re looking for a system where the prosecutor and the investigator have a much more symbiotic relationship, […] perhaps to have a system of special prosecutors who work much more closely with the police.
That can come out of the Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ). If there’s any institutional rethinking that can be done, it will be to break CHRAJ into two distinct entities: its ombudsman and human rights surveillance capacity on one hand and its anti-corruption and investigative capacity on the other.
It may be that we need to do that and then give the anti-corruption wing of it the teeth to do not just investigation but also prosecution.
How do you respond to the criticism that your party is too conservative and restrained, and can’t mobilise people on the streets?
The NPP is quite robust in mobilising public opinion. About a month ago probably the greatest demonstration in Ghanaian history took place right here [in Accra], followed by a massive rally. Another one is going to be mobilised.
We are very keen on making sure that the world, and especially the government, is made fully aware of the feelings of our people. Within the ambit of our constitution, we will continue to agitate.
There’s part of the image of the NPP which is a good one, which is that we are within the rule of law. I don’t think that it is an image that has prevented us from being able to articulate the concerns of the masses of people.
Your opponents say your party depends overwhelmingly on support from the Eastern and Ashanti Regions, that it is too reliant on the Akan vote. What’s your response?
It’s a propaganda weapon that serves them well, but it has nothing to do with reality. The idea that somehow or other we are confined to these two regions and we have no grassroots support – that’s rubbish.
The country was 50-50 [in the 2008 and 2012 elections], so how do you then say that a party that is capable of winning 50% of the popular vote is in some way some small, narrow elitist party?
Historically, your party is on the right. But many of your policies for a proactive state have a leftist, even an Nkrumahist, tinge.
These are the policies that have developed Korea and Japan. My understanding is that the United States was the first country to have free secondary education. It’s difficult to call America a country on the left. These are tools of development.
We’re looking for the critical things to bring sustainable development. Education clearly has to be a high priority in all of this.
You couldn’t build a modern economy with a mass of illiterate and ill-educated people. I don’t see this as Nkrumahist or leftist. I’m not advocating state enterprises for Ghana. On the contrary, I think enterprise, if properly motivated, is the way forward for our country.
What is your modernisation strategy? Do you favour an industrial policy?
As far as I’m concerned, the three key things that allowed the economies of Asia to develop were modernising agriculture and having a clear industrial policy. And thirdly, rationalising the financial sector so that it can support growth in agriculture, growth in manufacturing and industry. That is the only way we can build a resilient and self-sufficient economy.
Which would you prioritise – democracy or development?
I don’t accept that trade-off. I was a member of President John Kufuor’s government. What he inherited in 2001 and where he left it in 2009 was a radical transformation of Ghana’s economy. And this was with an open political system, separation of powers, respect for human rights, the whole pantheon of ideas and goals for a democratic system.
Because there was a purposeful attitude towards the development of the economy, the correct policies, maintaining fiscal and financial discipline and promoting private sector development, we had this rapid development of the economy. If we had continued from there, Ghana would have made the breakthrough and then we’d be on the other side of the equation.
In our balance of payments, 80% of our foreign receipts are from the export of raw materials: we can give ourselves a target that says in 10 years we’re going to change that balance so it’s 50% and that industrial and value-added exports will make up the other 50%. Another decade perhaps will take us to 70%/30%.
I don’t believe that the Ghanaian people are interested in an authoritarian option. We’ve been through the one-party state. We’ve had military rule, 30 or 40 years of it, and we’re very clear in our mind that is not the way we want to go.
The evidence shows that more countries have developed through the democratic state as opposed to the authoritarian state. You also recognise that most countries turn on their authoritarian states at some point. Singapore is one example and then South Korea.
Do you believe there is a capitalist class in Ghana or are they just business cronies of the government of the day?
The mainstay of the Ghanaian economy has been cocoa – the production and export of cocoa– and that has been a wholly indigenous enterprise based on small-scale peasant farmers. That has generated the wealth of our country such as it is. It’s been the Ghanaian farmers.
Look at what is going on over the border – a tremendous expansion of agricultural productivity. It’s not been done by foreign people. Today, the export value of products from Côte d’Ivoire – cashew, cotton, cocoa and coffee – is $12bn a year. We can do the same here in Ghana with our indigenous farmers.
Secondly, there’s several enterprises that have proved to be genuinely productive. We’re not talking about the briefcase businessmen who are living on 10% commissions. We’re talking about employing people.
It’s not a question of substituting people for other people when you get in power and taking the cake away. It is about creating a system whereby people who have the capacity will emerge to take over development of our country.
The entrepreneurial instincts of Ghanaians are huge. You see it everywhere you go. ●
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