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Ghana’s new president pledges to jumpstart economy

By Patrick Smith
Posted on Monday, 9 January 2017 12:17

The new government is expected to make key announcements on policy and appointments this week, after putting together a team of economists and finance specialists to develop strategies to reduce debts and release funds to fire up growth.

“I have been told the financial position is even tougher than we had feared,” Akufo Addo told The Africa Report in an exclusive interview on the eve of his presidential inauguration.

“I’m aware of how high the people’s expectations are but we we will not disappoint,” he said at his house in the Nima area of central Accra. “We are pledged to improving the lot of the majority of people.”

Launching a determined push to raise living standards was a theme that Akufo-Addo returned to in his inaugural speech on the following day. “Sixty years after attaining nationhood, we no longer have any excuses for being poor.”

As he spoke of reopening the shutters for trade and investment, Akufo Addo set out the division of labour between state and business. “We will provide vision and direction and shine the light down the path of our entrepreneurs and farmers,” he said. “We are counting on a vibrant private sector to drive growth and create jobs.”

That message resounded around the 200,000 people thronging the square for the inauguration. It was a blaze of colour and pageantry. The national colours of red, gold and green dominated the stands at the edges of the square.

Traditions and technologies blended with Ghanaian culture and religions. Chiefs, imams and bishops sat alongside each other as energetic young musicians knocked out complex polyrhythms on a line of massive drums, each the size of a small car.

Horseguards, sporting royal blue capes and carrying swords, rode into the square ahead of the new President. A popular hi-life song filled the square. Motorcycle outriders raced around the square, standing up and pumping their elbows in time to the music.

Activists, dressed in their party colours, whooped and cheered for their favourite politicians. This time, the partisanship was good humoured. Outgoing President John Mahama set the tone by warmly congratulating Akufo Addo. Mahama’s “elegant concession” had earned him a place in history, Akufo Addo later told the crowd.

A dozen African leaders — including Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari, Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Côte d’Ivoire’s Alassane Ouattara — arrived alongside luminaries such as the former secretary general of the UN, Kofi Annan, and Nigeria’s cement magnate, Aliko Dangote. Ouattara showed some sang-froid, delivering his own speech as special guest before jetting back to Abidjan to assist his defence minister resolve a rumbling army mutiny in his country

Against Accra’s celebratory backdrop, Akufo Addo delivered some sharp messages on integrity, education and citizen’s responsibility. Much of the work on the economy will fall to the team led by Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia. Ken Ofori Atta, founder of the pan-African Databank, is likely to be formally nominated as finance minister this week but will face confirmation hearings in parliament.

Akufo Addo wants to focus on constitutional and judicial reform. Top priority will be an attack on corruption. “We must restore integrity in public life,” Akufo Addo said to heavy applause. “State coffers are not spoils for the party that wins an election, but resources for the country’s social and economic development. I shall protect the public purse by insisting on value-for-money in all public transactions.”

He promised to strengthen parliamentary oversight: “Our Parliament must grow into its proper role as an effective machinery for accountability and oversight of the Executive, and not be its junior partner.”

At the same time Akufo Addo promised a fairer share of political power nationally: “A consensus is emerging that we must decentralise more. We must devolve more power with resources to the base of our political system and to our people, in the regions and communities.”

After insisting that he would live up to the demand for political and social change, Akufo Addo told the crowd it had responsibilities too. “Being a Ghanaian must stand for something more than the holder of a birth certificate. [It] must mean you have signed up to a certain definable code and conduct. Calling yourself a Ghanaian must mean we look out for each other.”

After the cheers subside, the honeymoon will be brief. Today, journalists and radio phone-in shows are enthusiastically calling for the new President to be held to his pledges, on jobs and accountability.

Don’t miss our full interview with President Akufo Addo in the February 2017 edition of The Africa Report.

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