On December 7, 2020, incumbent President Nana Akufo-Addo, 76, of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) faces challenger and former President John Dramani Mahama, 61, of the National Democratic Congress (NDC). This is the third time in a row the two will be pitted against each other, in what has been a series of closely contested races. In 2012, Mahama narrowly defeated Akufo-Addo in the 2012 presidential race, winning 50.7 percent of the vote. But then, in 2016, Akufo-Addo beat Mahama with 53.8 percent of the vote. In fact, since 1992, the presidency has repeatedly changed hands between the NPP and NDC, Ghana’s two main political parties, via largely peaceful and transparent elections. This has cemented the country’s democratic consolidation and enhanced its reputation as West Africa’s “shining democratic star.”
Akufo-Addo’s 2020 running mate is current Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia. Former President John Mahama made a historic choice with his vice presidential running mate Jane Naana Opoku-Agyeman, who will be the first woman on the ticket of a major Ghanaian political party. Opuke-Agyeman, 69, is a former education minister and academic. She was also the first female vice-chancellor at the University of Cape Coast. Mahama has touted Opoku-Agyeman’s personal traits and experience, calling her “God-fearing, a distinguished scholar, a conscientious public servant and a role model”.
So what outcome will the December 7th election deliver? Historically close elections, and a range of economic concerns coupled with worries over Covid-19 and pervasive corruption, mean it is anyone’s guess. Fighting corruption was one of the main campaign platforms of the current NPP government. In fact, Akufo-Addo claimed the “war of graft” was his top priority, urging citizens to step up to help expose corruption and misuse of public funds. The NPP government recently created the Office of the Special Prosecutor, an independent agency in charge of investigating and prosecuting allegations of corruption. But the agency lacks teeth, and has had very limited success, due to “wanton disregard of statutory requests made by the office for information and production of documents to assist in the investigation of corruption and corruption-related offences”. Corruption remains pervasive, and Ghanaians are hesitant to report it: only one-third (34%) of Ghanaians believe they can report incidents of corruption without fear of retaliation or other negative consequences. Trust in the current president has declined by 15% since 2017, and this may influence election results this December.
Voters are also faced with widening cracks in the Ghanaian economy, resulting in negative impacts on their own lives. Thus, they could punish incumbent President Addo by voting against him. The most important issues for Ghanaians include unemployment, infrastructure and roads, education, and health. Yet GDP is projected to grow only 0.9% this year, the lowest growth rate since 1992, due to the pandemic. And Ghanaians citizens are increasingly expressing dissatisfaction with government’s economic performance, and their own personal living conditions. In fact, the most recent Afrobarometer survey reveals troubling data. Approval ratings on indicators of government economic performance have declined sharply since 2017. Only one third of Ghanaians describe the country’s economic conditions as “fairly good” or “very good”, which is a 35% decline from 2017. A majority say the government is performing “fairly badly” or “very badly” in narrowing income gaps (66%), improving living standards of the poor (56%), and creating jobs (54%). Ghanaians personal circumstances are suffering as well: only 37% feel their personal living conditions are “fairly good” or “very good.”
The election may also be a referendum on how Akufo-Addo handled the Covid-19 crisis. Addo took immediate action, closing the country’s borders and instituting a partial lockdown in major urban centers from mid-March to mid-April. The NPP government also closed schools, banned public gatherings, and enforced enhanced public hygiene measures. Major economic relief measures include the Coronavirus Alleviation Program, which focuses on strengthening public health systems and providing Covid-19 treatment. The NPP response seems to be working: borders have recently reopened, and case counts and deaths remain extremely low. Thus, citizens may reward incumbent President Addo by reelecting him.
While the outcome of the 2020 Ghanaian presidential election remains difficult to predict, what is clear is that voters have serious issues to weigh as they head to the polls.