Since its transition to multi-party democracy in 1992, Ghana has been a success story, and it has been a natural assumption of those who follow African development that Ghana will continue to prosper. However, Ghanaian prosperity hinges on maintaining a successful democracy, and in the coming year Ghana will face a difficult series of political and economic challenges. Much like other former stars of African development and growth, Ghana risks falling from grace unless some steps are taken.
Historically, Ghanaian governance was a strength. A democracy since 1992, Ghana has experienced two strong presidents in Jerry Rawlings and John Kufuor. Rawlings originally came to power in a coup in 1981, but then successfully managed the democratic transition winning two contested elections in 1992 and 1996. President Rawlings of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), a former air force second lieutenant, set a high bar for Ghanaian presidents; in beginning his leadership, he put an end to a series of violent coups that had lasted over a decade. President Kufuor of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), elected in 2001, participated in the first peaceful transfer of power between democratically elected leaders since 1957. Since Kufuor left office in 2009, two presidents have been elected – John Atta Mills and John Dramani Mahama, both of the NDC.
The political climate in Ghana has lately been plagued by corruption and uncertainty. The Mo Ibrahim award for “Achievement in African Leadership” rewards good governance with five million USD paid over ten years to support government programs. The award was not issued in 2009 or 2010 despite that Kufuor was widely considered a frontrunner. This snub was seen by Ghanaian news sources as a criticism of corruption in several of Ghana’s recent administrations, as well as a reaction to allegations of a flourishing cocaine trade in Ghana.
The current voter register has been called “bloated” by all three political parties – the NPP, NDC and the Progressive People’s Party – but their suggestions for reform are causing gridlock. They all agree, however, that the current register contains illegal entries by those ineligible to vote (including children, foreign citizens and doctored photographs). Ghana currently has no electoral laws to handle the situation, and the government communique addressing the voter register admits that “Ghana should emulate the example of Kenya by codifying a set of electoral laws which adequately deter electoral fraud.” In 2012, the Ghanaian Supreme Court had to decide the election results when the NPP claimed that over ten thousand polling stations were guilty of violating procedure. Since then, the NPP has advocated for reform to the Ghanaian voter register. Two possible avenues for reform include scrapping the current lists and starting again or building on the current list and attempting to cut down on illegal entries.
Time and financial constraints will make either of these options a massive undertaking. The upcoming Ghanaian election is on November 7, 2016 – the day before the US election on November 8. This timeline means two things for Ghana – first, that reforms must happen quickly and efficiently, and second, that international media will not adequately cover the Ghanaian election in favor of focusing on the U.S. election. Although solid estimates are hard to come by, any fix for the disorganized voter register will certainly cost Ghana tens of millions of dollars, and could cost more than $100 million. Kenya’s Biometric Voter Registration system, which was created in 2013 to solve similar registration issues, cost $95 million.
Over the past 15 years, Ghana has seen significant economic growth that has further strengthened its image as a beacon of stability. Ghana saw as high as 14% growth in 2011, but was at a much slower 4.3% in 2014. The Ghanaian economy is built largely on the back of commodity exports, which saw a boom through 2011, but has tracked the fall in commodity prices.
Ghana produces over 100 thousand barrels per day of crude oil. Corruption in the Ghanaian oil and gas industries has been a concern since the discovery of the Jubilee oil field in 2007. However, Ghana is a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), which requires countries with a heavy dependence on oil, gas, and mining industries to accurately report taxes, royalties, and fees paid by extractive companies.
With a little bit of support from its friends and responsible choices moving forward, Ghana has every opportunity to remain the star it has been for the last decade. The upcoming year is a critical one, and will require keen vigilance to ensure Ghana’s continued growth and development. Another contested election or mistreatment of the opposition could endanger Ghana’s economic and political progress.
Article Published in Forbes.com on December 3, 2015.