The period between the end of June and early July was tumultuous in Ghana, especially in the capital city, Accra, where demonstrations occurred. People took to the streets to express their discontent with the country’s economy. All prices have been hiked astronomically and nothing is being done to increase the income of the average citizen.
A general sense of dissatisfaction has got hold of Ghana, for more than a year now. The party in power, the National Patriotic Party (NPP), which is, generally, perceived as the capitalist party of the country, has been in power since 2016. During its first term in government, from 2016 to 2020, things seemed slightly better. The NPP tried to stick to their promises and stood out as the antithesis of their rival party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), the traditionally socialist party. The four years of NDC in power were marked by inflation, corruption, police brutality and some degree of poor leadership that accounted for their loss in the presidential elections of 2016, and the victory of the NPP.
What Ghanaians are living now is like a nightmare. The NPP, that fared reasonably well during its first term under the leadership of Nana Akufo-Addo, is now massively disappointing. Living conditions are deteriorating and no sector is spared. Education is failing from the basic level to the universities. The first reason is that the only source of sponsorship for education is parents’ income, and since inflation has reduced the purchasing power of parents, students all across the spectrum are feeling the pinch. The crisis is more acute at the senior high school (SHS) level, where the free education policy of the NPP Government is caught up in serious difficulty. That policy was devised as a mark of ingenuity, a kind of effort to bridge the gap between the various social classes. Parents paid nothing when their wards reached SHS level. Text books, meals, uniforms, accommodation were all provided by the government. That made many Ghanaians rejoice, it was a grand gesture, and not many African countries could boast of such an achievement.
From 2020 onwards, free SHS started exhibiting some signs of weakness and unsustainability: textbooks were not supplied to schools, or they came late; feeding students was becoming difficult, and the quality of the food was very poor. The general comment was that the Ghanaian Government had bitten off more than it could chew, or they had made sweet promises that could lead them to power but that they could not keep. Free SHS certainly contributed to the current government’s ascension to power but that policy has now come to a standstill. It is riddled with practices that hinder good education. Students are put into a double-track system (green and yellow), since their number is very large because (remember it is free) and, as such, one track remains in school while the other one stays at home. Parents complain that students spend too much free time at home, but the government defends its policy by stating that those students learn at home during that period. The truth is that only students whose parents who can afford to pay for the services of private tutors receive tuition while they stay at home.
The second factor that has contributed to the failure of the current government is the unbearable cost of living. In less than six months, the price of every commodity has tripled, from fuel to foodstuff and medical treatment. The most frustrating aspect is that all this has occurred in a context where the leaders of the country maintain a lifestyle that demonstrates high luxury, and makes people accuse them of corruption. Nana Akufo-Addo, the president of Ghana, is said to be travelling in a rented private jet that costs the coffers of the country 20,000 Euros per hour. The news shocked everybody since there is no rationale behind it. Ghana has always had a presidential aircraft, so why should the president be travelling in a rented private jet and keep enriching himself (as his ministers also do) while most of the population are wallowing in poverty?
That explains the demonstrations that shook Accra over the past few days. The main body behind these protests is an arm of the opposition party, the NDC, whose youth organized themselves as the “Arise Ghana Pressure Group” and spearheaded the action, with Bernard Mornah as their leader. The protesters walked to the Jubilee House, the seat of the government, to voice their demands that highlighted the following: scrub the transfer levy off and arrest the deterioration of the currency. These two are key points because the E-Levy issue is a pivotal one that touches the core of the Ghanaian economy. Mobile money transfer is one of the main nerves that sustain the trade of the average Ghanaian businessman/woman, and it enables basic transactions among people. The government instituted a law that taxes mobile money transfers heavily and people find this to be unreasonable and unbearable. Many see in it a way to recover the funds that were embezzled or squandered by the government and party officials.
The other stumbling block on the march of the Ghanaian economy is the high price of fuel since that affects all other sectors of the country. The high cost of fuel is generally linked to the Russian invasion of Ukraine but Ghanaians refute that and I guess such a feeling and attitude stems from the fact that not a single effort has been made by the government to alleviate the burden of the citizens. The Ghanian Government seems insensitive to the plight of the people. As a result, during the protests of the past few days, one could read the following messages on placards: “Probe the Covid-19 expenditures now; Say no to party police; Ken Ofori-Atta (the current minister for finance and economic planning) is a thief; the Russian-Ukraine war has nothing to do with the hikes; Reduce fuel price now!” and many others. The sad thing is that these demonstrations reveal the unsympathetic attitude of the government.
Instead of looking for sustainable and “home-grown” solutions, Ghana’s government went to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for assistance. Analysts point out that this is the 17th time that Ghana’s government has gone to the IMF since 1966. University lecturers have expressed their reservations regarding that choice. To them, the country has competent specialists who can provide solutions to this “result of mismanagement”. It is a pity to see such a resource-rich country go to the IMF, an institution that is known for hitting their clients (countries that solicit their assistance) with heavy measures that rather increase and preserve the interest of the West and “enslave” their client-nations.
These demonstrations, undoubtedly, have a zero impact – most of the demonstrators were, allegedly, bussed from certain parts of the country to Accra. While those whose actions can shake the government out of its slumber do almost nothing, in the name of “Ghana being a peace-loving country”. The current Ghanaian Government is, therefore, adopting “the dead goat syndrome”, a saying coined by John Dramani Mahama, the former president under the rule of NDC. He meant that he is insensitive to the complaints of Ghanaians. President Akufo-Addo has not said that yet, but he is obviously and sadly displaying signs of that political “condition.
Moussa Traoré is Associate Professor at the Department of English of the University of Cape Coast, Ghana.