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New anti-corruption leader takes the helm in Ghana

By Kwaku Botwe | Last updated: Dec 20, 2016 - 1:43:35 PM

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Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo Photo: Twitter
KUMASI, Ghana (IPS)—Ghanaian opposition leader Nana Akufo-Addo has made history as the first son of a former president to lead the West African country, beating incumbent President John Mahama in the 2016 presidential elections held on early December.

Nana Akufo-Addo’s father, Edward Akufo-Addo, was part of the “Bix Six” leaders of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), which included the country’s first prime minister, Kwame Nkrumah. Edward Akufo-Addo later became president in the second republic.

President Mahama, leader of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDC), called to concede defeat and congratulate third-time contender and flagbearer of the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) Nana Akufo-Addo minutes before the electoral commission came out to announce the results of the Dec. 7 election.

The 72-year-old opposition leader fulfilled his lifetime dream of stepping into his father’s shoes by polling 5.7 million votes (53.85 percent) to beat 59-year old President Mahama who managed 4.7 million votes (44.40 percent) in an election with 68.62 percent turnout.

This was about 10 percentage points lower than the last presidential elections in 2012. The average voter turnout is 72 percent.

The NPP’s flagship campaign message of creating jobs and building a stronger economy seems to have resonated with voters in a country where almost half of the youth between the ages of 15 and 25 are unemployed, according to the latest World Bank report.

Image: MGN Online

“I voted for Nana because I believe his one-district-one-factory policy will create a lot of jobs so I could easily find one when I graduate,” second-year university student Modesta Bonsu told IPS.

Osborn Adu, a 26-year-old IT worker, said utility bills and the cost of living have become so high that “sometimes I have to support my mom from money that I’m saving to pursue further education.”

Economic analysts say the NDC’s flagship message of infrastructure development failed to gain traction, with survey results showing that the primary issues of concern for voters were lack of jobs, high cost of living, and corruption.

The energy crisis, which was at its worst in the last two years, also saw electricity bills skyrocket, resulting in the collapse of businesses and attendant job losses. The institute of Statistical, Scientific and Economic Research found in a 2014 study that on average, the country loses production worth $2.1 million per day as a result of the crisis and that it lost about $680 million in 2014, which translates into about 2 percent of GDP.

The Industrial and Commercial Workers Union of Ghana warned last year that more than 3,000 jobs would be lost to the erratic power supply by the end of 2015. It is of little surprise that in a survey conducted among SME operators by Policy Think Tank Imani-Ghana, many wanted to see a change in government.

The NPP not only promised to cut taxes on electricity bills but also to financially restructure and provide a recovery plan for the utility companies to ensure sufficient reserve of energy to end blackouts.

The NPP flagbearer’s message of building a factory in each of the 216 districts in Ghana and ensuring that farming communities, especially in the northern part of the country, have irrigation facilities for year-round production of crops—the one-village-one-dam policy—seems to have been well received by voters.

Former president of the Peasant Farmers Association Mohammed Adam Nashiru believes the policy will help create thousands of jobs for farmers. “Our parents who were rice farmers during the Acheampong regime in the 1970s could buy for themselves brand new Mercedes Benz cars because the agriculture sector was booming due to good government policies,” he said.

“In my personal interaction with Nana Addo, he embraced the Agriculture Mechanization Services Centers program, where in some communities they are going to have equipment like tractors, combine harvesters, dryers and everything, so that small-scale producers who cannot afford to buy these machines can afford the services of these centers,” Mr. Nashiru said.

“So this is also another nice idea because 1,000 peasant farmers combined cannot even afford to buy a single tractor. But when these opportunities are available, the farmers can have the services of these tractors in their respective communities,” he added.

One issue that gained a lot of public attention is corruption. Several cases which many see as loot-and-share have bedeviled the Mahama administration. The legal campaign by a former attorney general to help the state retrieve some $12 million the government illegally paid to NDC financier and businessman Alfred Woyome has dragged out to the point that the frustrated former AG said the only way to get the money back into state coffers was to boot the government out.

Adu Owusu Sarkodie, an economics lecturer at the University of Ghana, believes Nana Akofu-Addo’s policy of fighting corruption and managing the public debt—which has more than tripled from $8.2 billion in 2012, when John Mahama took over, to $26.4 billion—can save the country money it can then funnel into economic development.

Mr. Sarkodie said that the country could easily have raided “the 1 billion cedi [$236 million] Euro bond that we issued right here, because there are so many leakages in the tax system which can be sealed to ensure we are able to raise a lot of money for economic development.

“So Nana’s promise to fight corruption can provide the fuel for his one-district-one-factory and one-village-one-dam policies, because the 51 million Woyome money and other such payments can do a lot of things,” he added.

Economists say the incoming government must work to reduce the high public debt and poor economic indicators such as high inflation, high interest and exchange rates and low GDP growth rate.