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Ghana elections: Akufo-Addo and Mahama face-off for a third time

By Loza Seleshie
Posted on Saturday, 5 December 2020 19:56, updated on Monday, 7 December 2020 17:47

Ghana's President holds final rally ahead of election
Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo greets supporters during his final electoral campaign ahead of the presidential and parliamentary elections, in Accra, Ghana December 5, 2020. REUTERS/Francis Kokoroko

Ghanaians will be heading to the polls on 7 December to elect their next president for a four-year term. Although 12 parties are competing, the electoral campaign has been polarised around two major ones: the NDC (National Democratic Congress) and the NPP (National Patriotic Party).

Their respective candidates are also familiar faces: incumbent president, Nana Akufo-Addo (NPP) is running against former president John Dramani Mahama (NDC).

This is the third time they will be challenging each other, Mahama having won in 2012 and Akufo-Addo in 2016. Although there is a sentiment of déjà vu, there could be many surprises. Results from previous elections have been very tight, and the same outcome is just as plausible this time round with a greater focus on social and economic demands in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Both candidates’ previous mandates are being scrutinised and tensions are on the rise, but power transition in Ghana has been non-violent since 2000. In an effort to ensure a peace remains a priroity before, during and after the elections, President Akufo-Addo and the head of the NDC, Mahama signed the Presidential Elections Peace Pact on 4 December.

Mixed feelings

Incumbent president Akufo-Addo came to power amidst an economic crisis, in part linked to the global downturn of 2008. Under his mandate, there was a “high growth momentum since 2017 [that] has consistently placed Ghana among Africa’s 10 fastest-growing economies” notes the Africa Development Bank’s 2020 Africa Economic Outlook report.

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Things were looking up, until Covid arrived.

According to the IMF , the country’s GDP growth is “set to plummet from a target of 6.8% to about 2.6 in 2020”. Fiscal issues (public debt, volatile stock markets…) are also on the rise. The trade sector has also taken a hit from the pandemic.

Akufo-Addo’s NPP came to power in 2016 on a platform of economic stability, while inheriting a three-year IMF austerity plan. He implemented the “Fiscal Responsibility Act”, as a way to keep the budget deficit under 5% of the GDP. But with the arrival of the pandemic, parliament approved the suspension of the Act in August.

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Other progressive policies were implemented, including in the education sector where secondary education became free and the agriculture sector that created jobs through the Planting for Food and Jobs initiative.

One increasingly major point of contention with his main rival Mahama has been the anti-corruption platform that spurred his NPP to win the previous polls. His 2016 electoral campaign had accused Mahama of corruption and mismanagement. According to Transparency International, corruption costs Ghana’s public sector $3bn every year.

A year after his win, the Akufo-Addo created the Office of the Special Prosecutor to investigate corruption. But Martin Amidu – who headed that office – recently resigned amid controversy and is now a leading member of Mahama’s NDC. And in November of this year, he turned around and accused Akufo-Addo of corruption. 

NDC & NPP: Ethnic and idealogical divisions

Since Ghana’s independence, the country’s democratisation has led to a clear divide between two camps: the NDC representing the Ewe in the Volta region, typically seen as the more ‘centre-left’ and the NPP representing the Ashanti in the Ashanti region, typically of more centre-right.

The electoral campaigns of the two main parties demonstrate that. For example, with regards to Ghana’s mining sector, Mahama’s small-scale, artisanal mining-focused policies clashes with the current government’s Operation Vanguard: a policy created to end illegal mining using a joint task force. NDC supporters say the NPP’s mining policy “robbed small-scale miners of their livelihoods.”

“He [Akufo-Addo] brought Operation Vanguard to stop us, yet his family and the leaders of NPP are those engaged in the small-scale mining,” reported RFI.

Policing peace

As election day approaches, the government has deployed 6000 of the Ghana Armed Forces (GAF). In a statement issued earlier this summer, the GAF denied accusations of intimidation, alleging it is deployed “along the country’s borders” in order to prevent any foreign votes and to secure the country in the face of COVID.

Allegations of intimidation were mainly heard from the Volta region, the opposition stronghold. But this region has had wider instability by comparison to the NPP stronghold in relation to its demands for an “independent western Togoland” . Accra has declared its intention to crush the separatist movement.

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An additional source of contention has been the electoral procedure. The dismissal of the electoral chairperson Charlotte Osei in 2018 caused friction with the NDC who also denounced the choice for her replacement, Jean Mensa, as being too close to the NPP.

Furthermore, rules changed for voters. As of June, parliament authorized the commission to accept only voters who produced a passport and national ID card. The old voter ID card and birth certificate is no longer considered valid proof of citizenship.

The NDC has responded with accusations of discrimination.

Election day itself is expected to be conducted under tightly controlled circumstances. This includes a strict regulation of all motorbikes and vehicles to prevent either party from busing in its supporters.

Bottom line

With a population of 30 million, Ghana will have a crucial choice to make on Monday  which is ultimately bound to affect  policy across several sectors including employment, infrastructure and health.

These demands are also those of the youth, who represent 57% of the population and are a more decisive force than that of identity politics as they have been behind many of the country’s major political shifts since 2000. For all these reasons, it seems the race promises to be as tight as (if not more than)  in 2016 when the NPP had a 9% advantage.