Nana Akufo-Addo, the 72-year-old leader of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), was elected Ghana’s president on December 9 by a margin of 1 million votes, affirming the country’s status as a leading democracy on the continent. The peaceful election supports former assistant secretary of state for African affairs and election observer Ambassador Johnnie Carson’s recent remarks that the country is “a gold standard for democracy in Africa.”
The results reflect wide frustration in Ghanaian society with low growth, high unemployment, and a government that seemingly had lost touch with the average Ghanaian. This frustration was expressed in the creation of the Occupy Ghana Movement and Red Friday, which had support from various segments of society including previously apolitical professionals.
Akufo-Addo—who lost close races for the presidency in 2008 and 2012 (by only 300,000 votes in the latter)—brings experience to the job as the son of a former president, a human rights lawyer, former attorney general, and former foreign minister. This experience and his focus on job creation played large roles in his defeat of President Johan Mahama of the National Democratic Congress—with 53.9 percent to 44.4 percent of the votes, an apparent landslide. With 171 of 275 seats in parliament, the NPP has been given a clear mandate. This is the largest number of seats that any party has had in Ghana’s parliament since 1992.
In addition, while the incumbent party has twice been defeated at the polls by the opposition, this is the first time that a sitting Ghanaian president has been turned out of office after only one term.
The president-elect’s campaign was based on a commitment to create jobs and to move Ghana to the forefront of industrialization efforts in West Africa. Specifically, the Ghanaian leader promised to establish at least one factory in each of the 216 districts across the country (“1-District-1-Factory”). The Akufo-Addo team has reportedly identified 300 projects that they are ready to move forward on. However, it is not clear how these projects will be financed.
Another priority is to develop the country’s significant bauxite resources as well as an integrated aluminum industry to take advantage of the bauxite, again creating the opportunity for more jobs.
During the course of his campaign, Akufo-Addo pledged on a number of occasions that the private sector would regain its “pride of place” in Ghana’s economy and that “killer” taxes would be slashed. He also promised to develop a “dual system” that would enable artisans and wage workers to go to school to upgrade their skills while continuing to work.
On the “toxic issue” of corruption, the president-elect has pledged to ask parliament to pass legislation to establish a special prosecutor within six months of taking office. He has also said that he will crack down on politicians who are flouting the public procurement act—violations of which have been quite high in recent years.
In fact, Mahama’s tenure as president was marred by persistent corruption scandals, reports of inflated costs of various projects and tenders being awarded to those close to government officials. In fact, an Accra think tank, the Danquah Institute, published a report in November contending that Ghana has lost $1.93 billion to sole-sourced contracts since 2010.
As for the country’s oil resources, which produce about 110,000 barrels per day, Akufo-Addo said that he would transform Ghana’s Western Region, where the oil is produced, into an international oil hub and build a “first-class” port facility.
The challenge ahead
The president-elect will face a steep challenge in revitalizing Ghana’s economy. Rolling power blackouts are common and, according to the World Bank, there is discontent with living standards, rising taxes, fuel prices, and utilities. The government is facing particular challenges with land use, infrastructure, and the provision of services, especially as it relates to housing, sanitation, transportation, and employment opportunities for the youth. The African Development Bank notes that over half of Ghana’s population lives in urban areas.
Ghana’s growth dropped to 3.9 percent in 2015, the lowest rate in two decades, from a peak of 14 percent in 2011, reflecting the global decline in commodity prices. Ghana is the world’s second-largest producer of cocoa after Ivory Coast and, after South Africa, the continent’s second-largest gold producer. However, inflation is at its lowest rate since March 2015, and the cedi has been relatively stable, although nominal interest rates are high.
2016 has not been a particularly good year for democracy in Africa. However, with last week’s outcome in Ghana, South Africa’s municipal elections in August, and Nigeria’s historic presidential election last year, the importance of democracy to the continent cannot be underestimated.
This article originally appeared on The Brookings Institution’s “Africa in Focus” blog.