The Ghanaian Paradox

Today, the President of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, begins a two-day State Visit to our country. As a British colony like Guyana, Ghana shares much with us, apart from a similar sounding name. Many of our African ancestors were shipped across the Atlantic as slaves from Ghana, the first British colony in Africa to gain independence, becoming an inspiration to our local “independence” politicians from both the PPP and PNC. We present excerpts from an analysis of Ghanaian politics by former World Bank Macroeconomic Policy Sector Manager, Cadman Atta Mills: “Politics, policy, and implementation: The ‘Ghanaian Paradox’”.
“Ghana is a vibrant democracy where elections are vigorously contested. They are generally free and fair, and voter participation rates are high. Two political parties — the New Patriotic Party (NPP) (President Addo’s party) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC) —have dominated the political scene since 1992. No political party has been able to succeed itself after the mandatory two-term limit of four years each.
Elections in Ghana are “winner takes all.” The spoils are: the right to appoint ministers, presidential staffers, managers and board members of all parastatals, and more importantly, the right to award contracts. Two political parties — the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC) — have dominated the political scene since 1992. No political party has been able to succeed itself after the mandatory two-term limit of four years each.
“The political parties define themselves by ideology. The NDC claims social democracy while the NPP is liberal democratic. There are also differences in the geographic support bases of the two dominant parties. The Ashanti Region is NPP’s stronghold while the Volta and Northern Regions reliably vote for the NDC.  The Accra Metropolis as well as the Central and Western Regions are typically swing regions…
“The political economy of policy formulation and implementation has led to outcomes that we characterize as the “Ghanaian paradox”. The economy has been very vibrant. Growth rates have been respectable and, at times, spectacular, though the exceptional performances are usually linked to booms in the primary sectors. There has been heavy investment in productive, transport, and housing infrastructure. Moreover, Ghana has experienced a relatively stable macroeconomic environment of moderate inflation, stable exchange rates, downward trending interest rates, and sustained public sector wages since 2000.
“At the same time, the economy is afflicted with crushing indebtedness and unemployment. Income distribution is grotesquely skewed. There is underfunding of social programs. The bulk of the population is increasingly impoverished. Social tensions are heightened. The population bitterly complains about unkept promises and predictably votes for “change” every eight years.
“The Ghanaian polity slows economic growth, promotes inefficiency, and is inimical to inclusive and broad-based development. Contracts are awarded to individuals perceived as sympathetic to the political party in power. As a result, a viable and dynamic national private sector is slow to emerge, as few contractors (engineering and architectural firms, for example) survive the eight-year cycle of political alternation of power. “Contracts awarded under previous administrations are often cancelled or forcibly renegotiated, leading to sizable judgement debts.
“The Ghanaian case demonstrates that democracy does not always get it right, and it is definitely not a panacea. In fact, democracy is guaranteed to get it wrong if the choices are all unpalatable (i.e., six of one versus half a dozen of the other). The agenda for reform in Ghana must include economic, regulatory, and political measures. Campaign financing laws must be reformed to eliminate “pay to play,” cronyism, and influence peddling. It is an affront to economic efficiency and justice that contracts are awarded exclusively to party financiers, party-faithful, and family members.
“In conclusion, as democracy makes more inroads and consolidates across Africa, it would be important to ensure that political parties emerge that are more inclusive and reflect the socio-economic aspirations of the broad segment of the population. Moreover, specific socio-economic groups need to find their voices on issues such as the management of national resources and economic and trade policies, as well as demand political representation, regulatory, and political reforms.”