Ghana’s Protesters Are Trying to Wake Up a ‘Sleeping’ President

Ghana’s Protesters Are Trying to Wake Up a ‘Sleeping’ President
Ghanaian President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo leaves after the funeral of former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in Accra, Ghana, Sept. 13, 2018 (AP photo by Sunday Alamba).
Arise Ghana, a Ghanaian political pressure group, organized a two-day protest last week to express the public’s growing anxiety over economic conditions in the country, including unemployment, the rising cost of living and the depreciation of the Ghanaian currency, the cedi. The group called on the government to take “pragmatic steps to alleviate the suffering of the people of Ghana.” During the protests, demonstrators marched to the headquarters of Ghana’s Ministry of Finance, where they presented a petition calling on the ministry to “take urgent steps to ensure that inflation is brought down to the barest minimum to allow the poor with little income to afford basic commodities.” The protesters’ grievances, as spelled out in the petition, also included the imposition of a new electronic tax, allegations of land-grabbing by state officials, police brutality, questionable coronavirus expenditures and a controversial gold deal involving Ghana and the tax haven of Jersey. The protesters later marched to the Ghanaian parliament, where they presented a copy of the same petition to lawmakers. The demonstrations last week were the latest in a series of protests to rock Ghana. Last year, several demonstrations under the banner of #FixtheCountry were held in Accra and other parts of the country to lament the worsening socio-economic and security landscape. Earlier this year, many Ghanaians took to the streets of Accra to protest a proposed new tax on electronic payments, known as the “e-levy.” The measure has since been approved by parliament, and an effort by the opposition to block the tax’s implementation was unsuccessful in the courts. Meanwhile, an association comprising four of Ghana’s largest teachers’ unions have declared an indefinite nationwide strike to demand payment of outstanding living allowances. Last week’s protests in Ghana are the latest of a number of similar cost-of-living demonstrations across Africa. In recent months, protests have broken out in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Morocco, Sudan, Mozambique, Malawi, South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania. While many analysts point to global conditions arising from the fallout of the war in Ukraine, the adverse economic conditions in these countries predate Russia’s February invasion—some by a few years—and have undoubtedly been exacerbated by the pandemic. As such, they represent a persistent level of popular frustration with governments’ inability to address basic pocketbook issues that only look likely to get worse. Ghana’s economic woes, in particular, have reemerged as a topic of international attention after the government announced days after last week’s protests that it will begin talks with the International Monetary Fund to negotiate an economic assistance package. Accra had previously refused to seek IMF support for an economy reeling from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, skyrocketing inflation and a depreciating currency. But many now argue that Ghana has little choice given its worsening macroeconomic outlook and fears of a balance of payments emergency amid a tightening external environment. Ghana’s inflation rate jumped to its highest level in more than 18 years, with annual inflation accelerating to 27.6 percent, an increase from April’s 23.6 percent clip. For many observers, the growing anxiety felt by Ghanaians over deteriorating economic conditions is a troubling, if predictable, development that Ghana’s political leaders failed to detect. Although Ghana’s recovery from the economic slowdown brought about by the coronavirus pandemic was relatively impressive, there have been other macroeconomic warning signs elsewhere, as well as considerable evidence that growth did not necessarily come with an improvement in living conditions for many of its citizens. Several key segments of the Ghanaian economy—from laborers in the cocoa industry, which generates nearly a quarter of Ghana’s total export revenues, to health care workers—rang in the New Year with nationwide strikes related to demands for better working conditions as well as a pay rise.

The growing anxiety felt by Ghanaians over deteriorating economic conditions is a troubling, if predictable, development that Ghana’s political leaders failed to detect.

For others, the government’s decision to seek assistance from the IMF confirms their suspicions of an ailing economy beset by high levels of mismanagement and graft. Moreover, Ghanaians’ historical experience with the conditions attached to IMF loans under Jerry Rawlings in the 1980s and 1990s is cause enough for foreboding. The “Citizens Coalition,” a new civil society coalition comprising 32 Ghanaian civic groups that launched yesterday in Accra,  expressed “grave concerns about the prevailing socioeconomic and governance challenges facing the country,” pointing to several examples of alleged corruption, including of a former auditor-general accused of having misappropriated public funds. Last month, opposition lawmakers also filed a motion for an inquiry into allegations of corruption into the construction of the National Cathedral of Ghana. The $350 million initiative, one of President Nana Akufo-Addo’s legacy-defining projects, was launched in 2017 as part of Ghana’s 60th anniversary celebrations, with the Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye selected to oversee its design. But from the beginning, the project has drawn criticisms from a wide segment of Ghanaian society for issues ranging from a lack of broad consultation and the project’s troubling implications for separation of church and state in what is constitutionally a secular state, to corruption allegations and the perception that the cathedral represents an example of the government’s misplaced priorities. For its part, the government insists that the cathedral project will create jobs and serve as a magnet for national, regional and international tourism. In any case, it appears to have enough support among a section of the public, political elites, Christian leaders and the Ghanaian diaspora to withstand the relentless criticism it has received. Whether that will be true for Akufo-Addo’s legacy is another story. A recent piece in the online media portal Modern Ghana titled “The President is sleeping!” captures sentiments held by many Ghanaians about Akufo-Addo’s disappointing   second term. But even if Akufo-Addo wakes up in the roughly 18 months remaining before he steps down from the presidency, Ghanaians’ demands for an improvement in their living conditions will be hard to meet, meaning last week’s protests will almost certainly not be the last.

Chris O. Ogunmodede is an associate editor with World Politics Review. His coverage of African politics, international relations and security has appeared in War on The Rocks, Mail & Guardian, The Republic, Africa is a Country and other publications. Follow him on Twitter at @Illustrious_Cee.

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