Monday,17 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1324, (15 - 21 December 2016)
Monday,17 June, 2019
Issue 1324, (15 - 21 December 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Yours for $50

Last Wednesday’s presidential and parliamentary elections in Ghana proved once again that money counts and the wealthiest often win the day, writes Gamal Nkrumah

Al-Ahram Weekly

Ghana is not Gambia, even though both West African nations suffered from British colonial rule. Gambia’s Incumbent President Yahya Abdul-Aziz Jammeh is toying with the idea of rewriting the rules that govern the tiny nation hanging by a sliver on the River Gambia.

The international community is hoping that Gambia will succeed in salvaging the wreckage Jammeh has wreaked on Gambia. He will not be permitted to lead his country into a political crash.

Not so with Ghana. Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, leader of the main opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP), is now Ghana’s president-elect. Bloggers are hard at work and with faster, cheaper digital technology that collates news on the presidential and parliamentary polls, the nation has ushered in a new age.

Ghana has succeeded in emulating Europe’s liberal norms and the democratic tradition of the United States. Nevertheless, Ghanaians understand that preserving liberal and democratic freedoms does not necessarily preclude corruption nor promote prosperity.

Western-style democracy in Ghana has led to the prosperity of the few at the expense of the many. Ghana’s political and economic elite is characterised by currying favour with the West and lawyer by profession Akufo-Addo is no exception.

He has been elected to the national parliament and served as attorney general from 2001 to 2003. He also served as foreign minister from 2003 to 2007. The son of a former president, he lost prior runs for the presidency in 2008 and 2012.

He is not the first Ghanaian politician to cajole his opponents into submission, but his style was brash and his controversial rallying cry of “ALL-DIE-BE-DIE” was disconcerting for many Ghanaians, and it sent shock waves throughout Ghana.

Former president John Mahama and his ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) Party conceded defeat. His legacy has been marred by his courting of crony local corporates and comprador capitalists. He was the proverbial wheeler-dealer, a big-time operator notorious for back-room deals.

Ghanaian ex-presidents managed to get a foot in the door during and after the presidential poll. “Listen to the voice of the people. Accept the results,” former president John Agyekum Kuffour, an NPP veteran better known as the “gentle giant” because of his gracious and genial character and towering stature, entreated Ghanaians. The president-elect, in sharp contrast, a former foreign minister under Kuffour, is known for his short stature.

In his triumph Akufo-Addo expressed unprecedented magnanimity. “I’d like to take the opportunity to thank the majority of my competitors who have already expressed warm words of congratulations to me. I appreciate the words from Ivor Greenstreet, Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings, our former first lady, Papa Kwesi Nduom, Mahama and Jacob Osei Yeboah. I thank them for their service to our country, and I know that all of them are going to be part of what we’re going to do to bring progress and prosperity to the Ghanaian people,” he declared in a public broadcast.

Mahama’s government accepted a $918 million bailout from the International Monetary Fund, and Akufo-Addo will in all likelihood be obliged to follow suit.

No West African nation seems immune to the contemporary backlash against globalisation and economic liberalism, and yet the people’s will is often not reflected in the election results. Mahama was seeking a second term as leader of what was sadly a quintessential neo-colonial nation. Dubbed “Mr Power Cut,” his administration was criticised for its corruption and nepotism. Ghanaians had high hopes, and it is a shame that the NDC so disastrously botched the people’s aspirations.

Ghana is considered one of the most stable democracies in Africa, having witnessed several peaceful transfers of power since 1992, but ethnic rivalry and tribalism played a pivotal role in the 2016 elections. Of Ghana’s 10 regions, the six predominantly ethnic Akan regions, including the richest and most populous Ashanti, were won by the NPP.

What lies ahead in Ghana is not just a fight over ethnic identity, and Akufo-Addo’s presidency will be a momentous test of identity politics. The Akan people constitute a majority of the population in both Ghana and neighbouring Ivory Coast. Oral traditions of the ruling Abrade (Aduana) Clan relate that they originated from ancient Ghana. They claim to have migrated from the north and they passed through southern Egypt and settled in Nubia, contemporary northern Sudan.

There is a tradition that the Akan people hail from the banks of a great river, presumably the River Nile. Akan royalty were like the pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, and due to pressure exerted by armies from Axum in what is now Ethiopia, they crossed the continent to finally settle in the equatorial forest region of West Africa. Two northern Ghanaian regions, Upper East and Upper West, as well as the eastern Volta region, a predominantly ethnic Ewe region, were the only three regions that voted overwhelmingly for the ruling NDC.

Ghana’s faltering economy is one of the challenges president-elect Akufo-Addo faces. The plunge in global oil prices has reduced government revenues and contributed to soaring inflation. Rampant corruption has complicated matters for the ruling party. The elections had originally been scheduled for 7 November, but a majority of the 275 MPs objected.

In the previous elections in 2012, Mahama defeated Akufo-Addo by fewer than 300,000 votes, so it was third time lucky for Akufo-Addo. He scored a whacking 5.5 million votes.

Last Thursday, before the official tally was announced, Nana Akufo-Addo’s nephew Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko pleaded for restraint among supporters of the NPP. “The NPP must keep calm. Do not be provoked. No need to hit the streets in anger. He [Mahama] will concede. He must. He shall,” Otchere-Darko counselled.

Ghana is a major exporter of oil, gold and cocoa. It is potentially a prosperous nation with rich natural resources, and yet the vast majority of the people live in poverty.

Hackers hit the Website of the Ghana Election Commission just before the presidential poll. The small opposition party hopefuls stood no chance. The other four candidates included former first lady Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings of the National Democratic Party (NDP), whose husband Jerry John Rawlings initially took power in the 1979 coup. She was disqualified along with another 13 presidential hopefuls.

The candidates were disqualified due to incorrect filing procedures. Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings’s disqualification came as severe blow to the political career of the former first lady. Her disqualification was later overturned, however, but she scored a mere 0.15 per cent of the vote.

The Convention People’s Party (CPP) was founded by the founding father of Ghana Kwame Nkrumah, but the Party was banned after his overthrow in a military coup engineered by the CIA in February 1966. The party later softened its socialist stance, just as its right-wing opponents hardened theirs.

The CPP remained dissolved until January 1996, but two decades later it has yet to fully recover its former glory. Disaster struck when the Party split and its leader, Papa Kwesi Nduom, formed his own rival party. There was some promise, though, when Ghana’s first president’s daughter Samia Nkrumah won the parliamentary seat for the Jomoro constituency in 2008. She later rose to be CPP chairperson, the first Ghanaian woman to head a political party.

The mood in Mango Tree Avenue, the headquarters of the CPP, in the Ghanaian capital Accra was sombre as the election results filtered through.

Samia Nkrumah lost her seat in 2012, but came second to the NPP’s Paul Essien. “Gamal, we merely lost a battle, and not the war,” she told me soon after the results were declared.

“I lost because I was starved of funds. I watched askance as $50 bills were dished out to desperately poor people to vote according to the wishes of their benefactors. Bribery is the name of the democracy game. But I will never give up.”

She summed by quoting Kwame Nkrumah’s slogans. “We shall overcome. There is victory waiting for us,” she said.

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