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In the second and final part of this essay, the author argues that one cannot deny that democratic constitutionalism has had profound impacts in Ghana – civil society activism is flourishing and inculcation of democratic habits has become a normalcy. But the state of transacting political business among the dominant players has grave consequences for trust, solidarity and social cohesion.

Musings from Afar

Ghana has not escaped the entanglements of globalisation. It has moved from decay in the early 1980s to transition, transformation, and in the recent past back to a crisis period amidst a struggle to reposition itself in the globalisation bandwagon in production, finance, trade, investment, and diplomacy. The country has also re-entered the competitive tussle to regain its national pride as the ‘Gateway to Africa’ in a period when its ‘regional rival’ Nigeria has confidently acclaimed for itself the accolade ‘Destination of Africa’. Both countries have become vulnerable to recessionary stressors and liquidity crises due to falling oil prices and austerity management.

 As many African countries (and Ghana’s) economic fortunes in the first decade of the new millennium began to wax and wane, people across age, sex, class, and political ideology began to make critical reflections. For those who have gone through the Ghanaian education system at the Ordinary and Advanced levels prior to education reforms in the mid-1980s the state of affairs of African polities, politics, policies and economy were vividly articulated in examination questions. Examination questions of the West African Examinations Council in those days actually ‘make folly’ of the current state of affairs as far as problem solving is concerned.

In the 1980s, one of the popular examination questions in economics at the Ordinary Level was, ‘name and discuss the causes of underdevelopment of African economies’. At the Advanced Level, this question was slightly altered to ‘name and discuss five main constraints of Africa’s development’ (in Economics or General Paper). The author developed affection for both questions. Among the answers given in the form of essay writing were rapidly increasing population unmatched by increasing agricultural production, dependence on a single or few export commodities, deteriorating terms of trade, rain-fed agriculture and vagaries of the weather, low industrial capacity and contracting manufacturing, unrestraint imports, ballooning public sector employment and payroll expenditure, inefficient state owned enterprises, nepotism and corruption, political instability, etc.

Today, a response to the same question may attract additional factors such as entrenched business-as-usual syndrome; conspicuous consumption of imported goods; lack of courageous and astute leadership; unbridled corruption, conscienceless environmental pollution, paternalistic relations with external powers, etc. Students who suggested solutions to these bottlenecks scored over-average marks. At that stage, students were not exposed to the full workings of the international political economy such as the dynamics of the global financial system, exchange rate, the politics of technology transfer and the international trade regime. Therefore, what has prevented us from overcoming the constraints that we had been so early exposed to in our education system?

The paradox of the 1980s for Africa in particular was that it was a period wedged in geopolitics calibrated by the scorched-earth politics of the Cold War; the neoliberal austerity capture of Africa; economic globalism and technological developments in mass communication and free movement of people. As many Asian countries steamed their efforts to reclaim the twentieth-century, African states languished and anguished in deep and steepened economic decline, rampant coup d’état, political turmoil, long periods of droughts, declining terms of trade, fiscal indiscipline, unwieldy debt burden and harsh debt servicing conditions.

This was more than three decades ago – so why in the world are many African countries such as Ghana beleaguered by these same factors today?  In the 1980s, Ghana transitioned from crisis to ‘transformation’, so why is the country now making another steep move from transformation to crisis? After decades of elaborate, stringent Structural Adjustment Programme (SAPs) why is Ghana again making recourse to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) after many failed interventions in the past? Why has excessive borrowing become the norm instead of wealth creation after so many years of economic reform?  Why has almost two decades of growth failed to trickle-down to all Ghanaians? Why has corruption become so endemic; and why are people in positions more emboldened than never before to engage in corruption and financial malfeasance?

Even more probing is why has government become overseer of such acts without developing any culture of sanctions regime? In addition, and in a more sobering tone, why have previous governments stayed clear of any radical alternative path of development, fell short of any efforts to refine some of the existing dominant economic orthodoxies or failed to restructure and diversify the economy away from commodity dependence?

In this critical moment, many Ghanaian are nostalgically referring to the visionary policies of the first President of Ghana, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. What many forget is that, as a man of vision and strategic direction, and a man who was far ahead of his peers he would definitely renew the basic tenets of his political and economic thoughts today.

If he were around today, Nkrumah would not invest millions of money in creating Import Substitution Industries (ISIs) and hand them over to Ghanaian managers educated with taxation from the toils of cocoa farmers only to mismanage them using their intellect and wit to ‘steal’. Had he had full comprehension of the Ghanaian mind-set vis à vis the indigenous conception of the state and the associated distantness/foreignness, he would have definitely steered off from dirigisme or state capitalism. Given the spirit of Ghanaian entrepreneurship, he would definitely embrace public-private-partnerships as the first step towards full private ownership of industries by Ghanaians. Mismanagement, corruption, and financial malfeasance creep in when property is owned by the government – a distant/foreign entity in the Ghanaian mind-set. In contrast, our cocoa farmers toil all year round adhere to government regulation in order to ensure that their produce gets to the international market on schedule – they know that time series is crucial for a successful business venture – while elites are draining state coffers and plundering the countryside.

Chronic austerity-pain: ‘Its the economy, stupid?’

 When James Carville was appointed as an aide to the Bill Clinton campaign team during the 1992 U.S. presidential elections, little did he know that his message (It’s the economy, stupid?) regarding the neglect of the working class would become an electioneering mantra. Perhaps, African rural folks are the true pioneers of making creative expressions about their neglect, dispossession and the ongoing environmental onslaught condoned by politicians - ‘you can’t eat democracy’. Both inscriptions remind us of the dignity of life as ordinary people struggle to bring food to the table, educate their children, have reliable and affordable health care, improve infrastructure and value-for-money by government appointees. Chronic austerity interventions create uncertainty, depreciate income and wealth, and breed social antagonism – the losers are hardworking ordinary citizens.

Hence, the political character of the state and the caliber of its social intertexture have implications for its economic structure and processes of accumulation and wealth distribution.  With a long history of economic austerity and reform, successive governments have failed to restructure the national economy away from commodity dependence (Hutchful, 2002 [17]; Aryeetey and Harigan, 2000). [18] The country has remained vulnerable to commodity and financial market volatility and therefore global recessionary stressors. Government’s response in the form of externally imposed austerity management has most of the time worsened the plight of the most vulnerable in society (Addo, Korboe, Williams and Osman 2010).  [19]

In post-colonial African history, one of the prescient responses to commodity price collapse was made in 1965 during the administration of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. It was in that year that the country experienced the worst revenue shortfall from the export of cocoa beans - the mainstay of the economy. It must also be noted that in that year Ghana exported the largest amount of cocoa – 557,000 tons. Cocoa price volatility remains the key cause of ‘periodic convulsions’ and not without negative impacts on fiscal management and the broader macroeconomic environment (The Nkrumaist, 1965; Gwendolyn, 1989). [20]

The administration took homegrown initiatives by communicating directly with Ghanaians, informing them about the hardships of expenditure adjustments. Nkrumah earnestly requested patriotic Ghanaians who had financial assets abroad to purchase ‘Bearers Bonds’ issued by the Ghana Commercial Bank. Aware of International Financial Institutions (IFSs) as instruments of imperialism and neocolonialism, the government introduced a homegrown austerity regime for restructuring the national economy (The Nkrumaist, 1965). [21] In brief, it was in response to budgetary constraints caused by the interaction of shortfall in commodity earnings (cocoa – 60% of exports) and ISIs.

For the first time, the government slashed ‘wasteful expenditure of luxuries’ in order to re-channel critical resources to ‘investment expenditure’. Fresh credits were budgeted for crucial, productive investments in agriculture and industry, while the tax net was widely cast through innovative collection methods. In order to spur members of parliament to monitor and coordinate the performance of state institutions the budget introduced guidelines on transparency and accountability of all state-owned and joint enterprises, not excluding their financial projections and output targets. Like austerity response anywhere the social cost of public expenditure adjustments heightened public discontent across social classes.

The government’s intervention were a replacement of a stringent IMF prescribed austerity package, which the government had repudiated because of its contradictions in terms of the country’s ISI policy, prevailing trends in regionalism, and above all, its impact on the implementation of the Seven Year Development Plan 1963/64-1969/70 (ibid). It was ‘designed to speed up the socialist transforming of our economy through rapid industrialisation and the diversification and modernisation of our agriculture’ (ibid).

Notwithstanding, in resilience parlance, this homegrown initiative should be a repository for local ‘resilience thinking’ and austerity management in democratic governance. The fundamental objective is to create innovative and proactive pathways for efficient fiscal management frameworks and financial discipline in order to respond to adverse economic shocks so that strained economies would be able to achieve rapid turn-around from fragility to recovery, and ultimately a return to robustness, sustainability and transformability. Such resilience biographies will enhance ‘the capability to discern the complexities of disruption, change, or failure in the everyday life (actual and potential) and demonstrative ability to foreground adaptive capacity for creative (re)purposing’ (Olympio, 2016). [22]

Hence, Ghana’s economic doldrums is not different from many other countries as the problem can also be attributed to a government that began to live beyond its means. Externally imposed austerity management had been implemented in 1967, 1969-1971, 1978, 1981, and the most stringent package from 1983 to 1993. During the height of the revolution (1981-1989), austerity measures compromised industrial democracy that was then being nurtured by the regime while the job generation potential of economic reform has eluded the country since independence.  Since the ushering in of the Fourth Republic in January 1993, budget over-runs in an election year have become one of the key threats to sustainable fiscal policy. On many occasions, as in the immediate aftermath of the global financial and economic crises, this may interact with adverse commodity market shocks. It was the combined effects of excessive electioneering expenditure during the 2012 presidential and parliamentary elections, the 2014-16 commodity market glut, and weakened macroeconomic fundamentals that caused Ghana’s current economic downturn.

The recourse to the IMF for a three-year programme has been branded as a departure from classic, harsh interventions in the form of SAPs, as vocabulary such as ‘financial bailout’ has gained ascendancy in the Ghanaian polity. The intervention package is supposed to, among others, offer Ghana technical assistance to stabilise macroeconomic imbalances by improving fiscal expenditure and monetary policy; reduce current account deficits, enhance capacity for diversification of the economy, improve balance of payments with the overall goal of overhauling the structural challenges facing the economy (The Economist, 2014). [23]

By mid-October 2014, a former minister of finance Dr. Kwesi Botwe, finally hinted that even though the country is going for a comprehensive IMF programme, ‘we have come a long way from the old style Fund Conditionalities…,’ [24] without explaining to Ghanaians what is in stock for them this time around.  This was also a period of heightened public expectation, low trust, and shrilled voices for accountability in the face of high public perception about corruption and other acts of financial malfeasance, which many believe are the cause of dissipation and waste in the system.

Even though the government adopted a homegrown austerity response to the crisis, the Senchi Consensus (13-15 May 2014), which was reached  during a multi-stakeholder consultative forum at Senchi in the Eastern region of the country remained wedged in IMF conditionalities attached to austerity management and zero-sum local politics in the run up to elections 2016. The opposition boycotted the forum and described it as an indictment of incumbent failure. The current economic crisis is evidenced by ballooning public expenditure (60-70% of government revenue) and rising national debt (67,6% of GDP, 2014 estimate), [25] intermittent fiscal deficits, unprecedented borrowing spree, inherent budgetary constraints, a shrinking tax net, falling commodity prices, high subsidies, lack of confidence of development partners, double-digit inflation, contracting agriculture and manufacturing among others (The Economist, 2014). [26] By 2015, the IMF described Ghana’s economic predicament as: “The emergence of large fiscal and external imbalances in recent years, which led to a slowdown in growth, is putting Ghana’s medium-term prospects at risk. The Government’s efforts to achieve fiscal consolidation since mid-2013 have been undermined by policy slippages, external shocks and rising interest cost. Until mid-2014, the net international reserves position had further weakened and the exchange rate depreciated sharply, fueling inflationary pressures…while public debt continued to rise at an unsustainable pace (IMF, 2015). [27]

The government negotiated with the IMF for a bailout in the form of a three-year Extended Credit Facility (ECF, 2015-2018) (BBC, 2015) [28] to assist the country in its medium-term fiscal consolidation, debt sustainability, and economic reform framed in ‘Ghana’s Shared Growth and Development Agenda I (2010-13) and II (2014-17)’ (ibid). Ghanaians were once again called upon to make sacrifices in the face of IMF conditionalities attached to economic austerity such as public expenditure cuts, frozen employment, increased user fees on public utilities – water, electricity, and energy simultaneously increased in January 2016. Has the country now cemented its position as Africa’s premier ‘austerity state’?

The magnitude of discontent among Ghanaians from all walks-of-life has sharpened debate for rethinking economic policies of the past two and a half decades. The experiences of the past should however be seen as a resource in itself to rethink some aspects of neoliberal interventions that have penetrated national polities, politics, and policies not excluding capture of the symbolic platform – local demands, sensitivities, and meaning-portfolios. [29]

It must also be pointed out that despite the country’s severe economic stagnation, decay and decline in the past and present, Ghana has rarely slipped to the fringes of implosion. As indicated already, notwithstanding the economic odds, the country has been successfully transformed from authoritarian rule to a fledging liberal democracy. This triggers scientific examination of resilience of Ghana’s socio-cultural tapestry - in its many and varying manifestations. As noted by Killick:

“If by fragile we mean inflexible, then the economy is still fragile. Yet during the economic development which occurred in earlier times and in the way in which they coped with the adversities of the more recent past, Ghanaians have demonstrated time and again their resilience and their responsiveness to incentives, positive and negative. If the economy is nonetheless fragile, the answer must lie with the constraints which prevent this human responsiveness from being translated into a flexible economy’ (Killick, 2000). [30]

These constraints are indicative of inherently high rates of strain in multiple domains of Ghanaian polity, politics, policy - some accumulative others instantaneous. The intersection of such entangled strains in the context of globalisation have the potential for destabilising key transformational matrixes thus leading to a buildup of complex deformations, and consequently explosion or implosion if unmatched by reform of governance structures, processes, and overhaul of negative entrenched practices. Here institutions matter – and the actions of political and economic elites must be guarded by established institutional rules of the game.

The high propensity of political and economic actors in Ghana in circumventing the rule of law via unpopular informal deals (within and outside government) creates a shadow economy that privileges particular groups over others in the processes of production, wealth creation and distribution. It is worth it to formalise some of the informalities undergirding socio-political and economic transactions in Ghana and elsewhere in Africa. The Forty-year Development Plan (2017-2057) is an innovative strategic direction for restructuring the economy and should therefore be balanced by the realities in the informal sector. Apart from recommendations to cast the tax net, the 984-paged Constitutional Review Report, and the Forty-year Development Plan have no recommendations or a concrete policy framework to transform the large informal sector, which employs about 86% of Ghanaians.

Ghana’s “Mahamometer” – The presidency and the transformational promise

The post-2007-08 global financial and economic crisis has been a painful turning point after a decade of vibrant economic boom that began to bust thus ushering in another era of crisis. During the term of office of President John Mahama, the presidency in particular has become an embodiment of ‘transformational promise’ as he has repeatedly promised Ghanaians a brighter future based on an ambitious transformational rubric - diversification, inclusive growth, jobs for the youth, macroeconomic stability, and create enabling environment for policies that supports social inclusion and equity, innovation and technological advancement.

The president has authoritatively stated that he has ‘laid the foundation for economic take-off’ evidenced by the scale of infrastructural projects launched so far and initiatives that have been put forward in  education, food security, modernisation of agriculture, water infrastructure, improve communication among others. The elaborate art of communicating this and the media attention it has received have brought the President’s vision for Ghana under scrutiny, especially his ‘accounting to the people tour’ in 2016 -  ‘changing lives and transforming Ghana’.

This novel transformational narrative is also in reflection of Ghana’s Medium-term National Development Policy Framework: Ghana Shared Growth and Development Agenda I (2010-2013) and  II (2014-17); the African Union’s Agenda 2063; the African Development Bank’s long-term strategy - At the Centre of Africa’s Transformation, and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa 2013 Report - Making most of Africa’s commodities: Industrialising for growth, jobs, and economic transformation among others. Such public relations offensives are a departure from his predecessor’s calm, behind-the-scenes, consultative approach to matters affecting Ghanaians.

On some occasions, the presidency took further steps to inaugurate new projects, attended sword-cutting ceremonies, commissioned completed projects with pomp and pageantry, travelled outside the country to woo investors, and gave powerful speeches in international fora on the state of affairs of Ghana’s economy. The president has also taken credit for widening coverage of the National Health Insurance Scheme, launched a new era of giving policy attention to the elderly such as the provision of health and social services. During a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama at the U.S. Africa Leaders’ Summit 4-6 August 2014, he reiterated among others how Ghana’s democracy has brought ‘prosperity to all Ghanaians’ (Allafrica, 2014). [31]

In his State of the Nation Address in February 2015, the President promised to build a resilient economy, and make the persistent energy crisis ‘a thing of the past’ as he went further to create a Power Ministry. The long list of promises made to Ghanaians also include peace and stability in a “turbulent” region, building more schools and teacher training colleges, more access to ICT facilities, rehabilitate old infrastructure and build new ones, completion of all abandoned projects, ultra-modern markets for Kumasi and Tamale among a large set of promises. In the run-up to elections, all political parties have joined the “promises bandwagon”. A vocal policy think-thank IMANI Ghana has observed that “seventy-five per cent of the promises made by six political parties are not feasible because they cannot be quantified (IMANI, Ghana, 2016). [32]

These promises are being made amidst dim economic forecasts – 4.1% growth (2015, est.); an inflation rate of 17.7% (2015) (Ghana Economic Outlook, 2016) [33] and as indicated already, a 0.04% agricultural growth rate. By September 2015, the IMF had placed a temporary moratorium on Ghana to borrow, which slowed down the implementation of developmental projects in infrastructure such as roads and transportation, schools, and other social interventions designed to reduce poverty (Ghana Web, 2015). [34] Could this have been prevented by genuine resilience learning by harnessing Ghana’s long experiences in austerity management for creative adaptation and therefore sustainability and transformability in a crisis period?

In the context of heightened public expectations, dwindling trust and solidarity, widening inequality, and at a time when nepotism replaces meritocracy, these promises may have the potential to “charge” the socio-political dynamics of the country with detrimental consequences. The President has gone to the extent of claiming that the IMF’s intervention is unavoidable and would help catapult the country from Lower-Middle-Income-Country (LMIC, since July 2011) to Middle-Income status (World Bank, 2013). [35]

In another realm, during his term as Chair of ECOWAS, President Mahama stepped up sub-regional cooperation, and worked in close collaboration with external and regional partners in the face of the Ebola epidemic. He worked closely with members of the regional body to ensure peace and security during the period of political turmoil in Mali, and neighboring Burkina Faso as well as during the run-up to elections in Togo and Nigeria. His rapid-shuttle diplomacy in tackling regional crisis and emergencies won him praises among his peers in the sub-region.

Again, at the domestic level, the cumulative effect of his promises has unleashed a new sense of consciousness among Ghanaians, especially beyond the national capital where people make use of the local radio stations to make critical comments about the state of development projects in their constituencies. The ‘mediatisation of development’ has in turn polarized the political terrain as dominant parties of the political aisle claims to deliver on their election promises when the other fails to perform.

Some Traditional Chiefs who are currently not profiting from the system (manifested by the horrible state of their road network) threaten to boycott the impending 2016 elections. [36] Even though Traditional Chiefs are constitutionally restrained to engage in politics, the scramble for development projects has set in motion a new trend of behavior whereby chiefs openly endorse the incumbent or the opposition’s aspirant presidential candidate. Mounting public demands and promises by political parties in the midst of economic austerity have made many question their implementability.

At the same time, if the government is able to turn the declining economic fundamentals around before the 2016 elections, a new ‘Mahamometer’ would have succeeded to garner the political momentum decisive enough to measure up to the expectations of Ghanaians. That would also be crucial for the survival of the government in a period of high political tension and potential for social unrest and turmoil. Such a success story would have been achieved against the background of hard work of ‘leadership engineering’.

This will of course enhance implementation of policy in an otherwise political environment marred by distorted, exclusive politicking and lack of a culture of implementation. On the other side of the coin, this would have been achieved against the background of a political system that is persistently elitist-driven and top-down despite more than two decades of decentralisation and civil society resurgence. A turn-around of macroeconomic fundamentals in the short to medium term is however not likely because of IMF austerity (2015-2018).

Hence, in the short to medium term, whoever wins the elections would not be able to implement the promises being made because of ongoing austerity regime with the IMF, commodity and financial market volatility, and the country’s financial credibility. It would take positive macroeconomic indicators, and plausible arguments to convince and regain investor confidence. The recent botched attempt by the government to raise capital in the Eurobond market is just the tip of the iceberg of how nervous investors are about the country’s financial security portfolio.

A portent of things to come? Petrodollars, incumbent advantages and excesses

In countries where oil wealth directly fuels the governance system the electoral system has been turned into a tool for manipulation and trivialization with serious implications for the logical functioning of the political system (Ross, 2001). [37] Thus, power and money converge during election campaigns. The ‘monetization of elections’ results in stark anomalies in liberal democratic politicking (Muhumuza, 1997). [38] As Ninsin has observed, ‘elections in Africa have become arenas where the elite contest for the consent of the people to exercise state power. The people on their part perceive elections as the vehicle for securing development projects to improve their material conditions. To this end, the elite employ various mechanisms such as intimidation, election fraud, and primordial identities like tribe and religion to bend election outcomes in their favour…in reality elections produce choiceless democracies’ (Ninsin, 2006). [39]

In Ghana, the incumbent’s approach, epitomised in the accounting to the people tour 2016 is not without criticism. Some vocal civil society organisations such as the Ghana Integrity Initiative reprimanded the President for ‘abuse of incumbency’ by using state resources for advancing his electioneering campaign in the run up to the December 2016 elections. This is quite reminiscent of political campaigns in many petro-states in Africa such as Angola, Chad, Gabon, Nigeria, Sudan etc. Is this style of politicking just the beginning in Ghana?

In petro-states, party financing is the sole prerogative of the incumbent. As is the case in other African countries, governments tactically make cash available for political campaigns in the build-up to elections. Incumbents use the resources at their disposal to seek competitive advantages that opposition parties could hardly match-up to. The most powerful of these resources is of course petrodollars. Against the backdrop of the harsh socio-economic context, incumbents prey on economic insecurity among their populations through direct rewards for votes in the form of cash or other material incentives that have immediate utility for the poor. The resources also include unfettered access to the state media. In petrol-states such as Angola, Chad, Gabon etc. governments also have the legal space to manoeuvre, pass laws that limit free flow of information, ban anti-government private newspapers for alleged acts of infamy that put the reputation of politicians into question (Olympio, 2011). [40] As indicated in the introductory section, in terms of materiality and votes, some of the traits of petro-states are already apparent in Ghana.

In addition, during elections, thanks to petrodollars the government sets up pseudo political parties to create confusion among voters. These parties compete with genuine ones and share state resources with them thus putting more strain on the already meagre resources. Nevertheless, the most cunning incumbent strategy involves wooing and bribing legislators and government appointees to support government legislation on issues that are of national concern and touch on the credibility and legitimacy of the government. By so doing, legislators have become accountable to the executive, while the judiciary becomes an abode for incumbent loyalists, loses its independence and exceptional discretion for controlling and scrutinising executive excesses (ibid).

With core institutions of the state - the executive, legislature and judiciary - involved in a marriage of convenience, universal values such as justice, liberty, equality, accountability and transparency, though enshrined in the national constitution are rarely defended, and political parties that are the linchpin of democracy lose their logical-functional role in the transformation process. In the end, the civil and political rights of the citizens are severely compromised with dire consequences for democracy and good governance. Such political inertia at the political centre permeates society that is increasingly dependent on state resources, thus creating a cycle of dependency that is pawned by the incumbent as a political capital (ibid).

Backed by oil wealth, incumbents are able to steer the institutions of the state outside the traditional ‘checks and balances’, co-opt  key strategic actors such as the police force, the military, the national oil company, influential corporate actors, successful economic entrepreneurs, and civil society coalition groups that are pro-government. Last, but certainly not least, incumbents secure international backing by powerful states that have direct interests in the national economy, especially gaining direct access to energy and mineral resources. In order to safeguard their national interests these powers may chose to remain passive as regards the troubling human rights portfolio of the petrol-state (ibid).

However, conventional wisdom suggests that countries with relatively developed institutions should be able to overcome the ‘resource curse’. Despite the adoption of a Petroleum Revenue Management Act,  [41] Ghana’s infant oil industry is proving otherwise. This is taking place in a period when CSO and other watchdog groups are flourishing, including their active participation in the development of resource management regulatory framework and capacity building. However, key decisions remain under executive control. Hence, the enthusiasm and initial commitment by civil society groups in the management of the country’s nascent oil sector is slowly crumbling as the executive appropriates the ‘monitoring and oversight’ regime.

The government’s posturing includes remaining passive on issues such as open, televised competitive bidding for companies, a disaggregated revenue and expenditure roaster including open declaration of payment of royalties to government (Gyimah-Boadi and Prempeh, 2012.  [42] Thus, Ghana’s nascent oil sector may be a portent of another commodity-dependency syndrome after more than 2000 years of gold exploitation, over hundred years of a cocoa-driven economy in the midst of elite profligacy.


The excesses of the incumbent in infant democracies in Africa cannot be overcome overnight. On the one hand, even if we take the oil factor out of the equation, the lessons from Kenya’s electoral violence in 2007 is still fresh in our memories. We saw how the incumbent placed personal interests and the party’s political ambitions above the state of the union. This has informed us that when political temperatures are high the office of the incumbent may be a peril to democratic governance. On the other hand, the opposition’s strivind for power by hook or crook, unfounded allegations of vote rigging against the incumbent as well as acts of divisiveness and vindictiveness from both sides of the political aisle may combine to increase the internal combustion with serious implications for peace and development.

One cannot deny the fact that democratic constitutionalism has had profound impacts – civil society activism is flourishing, and inculcation of democratic habits have become a normalcy at the interface of polity, politics, and policy in Ghana. However, the current state of transacting political business among Ghana’s dominant political parties has grave consequences for trust, solidarity, and social cohesion. Since the onset of the Fourth Republic in 1993, political communication between the NDC and the NPP has become extremely confrontational, unrestrained, and negativities-laden (Haynes, 1999). [43]

It is also indisputable that religion is part of Ghanaian social life, and the country has been spared religious extremism and radicalisation. However, our religious leaders must bear in mind that Ghana is not a theocracy and therefore religion is not a Gesellschaftsbild / social ideal / social panopticon! Instead of claiming to know the truth about God, we should be humble and make the search for God our ultimate goal. This will put the country on the path of a genuine religious accommodation, peaceful coexistence, and enduring tolerance. Anytime we position ourselves in defense of the truth, religious intolerance is the distorted outcome.

Bearing in mind also that successful economic transformation must be undergirded by innovative ideas-portfolio and broad-based strategic direction; the current mode of democratic politicking is detrimental to local creativity, adaptation, and transformational development. The Senchi Consensus (May 13-15 2014) was a botched attempt at local resilience learning due to internal political bickering and IMF conditionalities attached to austerity. We would not reach anywhere near the goals of the Forty-year Development Plan (2017-2057) if we continue to make neoliberalism and economic austerity another form of socio-economic life. In the 1960s, Dr. Nkrumah was conscious of the negative impacts of liberal internationalist economic orthodoxy and imperialism on the Seven Year-Development Plan 1963/64-1969/70, regional integration, and African Unity.

When the people of Greece voted against extended retirement age, tax increases, cut in public expenditure, increase user fees, privatisation of some of the commanding heights of the national economy such as habours and railways, procurement agencies etc they were exercising their democratic rights against foreign control of the economy. If the Greek experience has taught us anything then it is the bare reenactment of the ‘no alternative’ mantra in a neoliberal era. Perhaps, it was one of the many reasons, which compelled the Finance Minister of Greece, Yanis Varoufakis to resign after the elections as he referred to the ‘no alternative’ as the ‘flimsy edifice’ of our time. [44]

Hence, under current dispensations, chronic austerity management, the increasing polarization of politics, the zero-sum nature of politicking, insecurity in many manifestations, and entrenched exclusions in society are contradistinctive to democracy triumphalism in Ghana. It is high time politicians heed to the voices from nkwankwaa nnua ase – popular discussions and perspectives from under the village tree.

* Francisco Kofi Nyaxo Olympio, Dr.phil., is at the Chair of Cultural Anthropology, University of Trier, Germany.

End notes

[17] Hutchful, E. (2002). Ghana’s Adjustment Experience: the paradox of reform. James Currey.

[18] Aryeetey, E & Harrigan, J. (eds.). (2000). Macroeconomics and Sectoral Development since 1970. In Economic Reforms in Ghana: the miracle and the mirage (pp: 5-31). Africa World Press.

[19] Addo, Benjamin, David Korboe, Jody Williams and Osman Mensah. (2010). Implications of IMF loans on the poor and vulnerable. Actionaid Ghana, Final Report.

[20] Nkrumah, Kwame. (Speech). Sessional Address marking the ceremonial opening of the fifth session of the Parliament of Ghana. Cited in The Nkrumaist, Vol. 2, Jan/Feb 1965. Also Gwendolyn, Mikel. (1989). Cocoa and Chaos in Development. Washington D.C: Howard University Press

[21] Nkrumah, Kwame. (Speech). Sessional Address marking the ceremonial opening of the fifth session of the Parliament of Ghana. Cited in The Nkrumaist, 2, Jan/Feb 1965.

[22] Forthcoming, Olympio, F.N.K. (in press). Contemporary Road Architectures and Roadside Institutions: Mapping Agentive Resilience in Regimented Urban Spaces in Ghana, Journal of African Studies.

[23] THE ECONOMIST: Time for thrift. A mounting deficit forces Ghana to ask for help. Aug 9th 2014, ACCRA.

[24] Head of the National Development Planning Commission.  Ghanaweb: Dr. Botchwey admits: “Ghana is going for a full blown IMF Programme”.

[25] Trading Bank of Ghana:

[26] THE ECONOMIST: Time for thrift. A mounting deficit forces Ghana to ask for help. Aug 9th 2014, ACCRA.

[27] IMF: Ghana. Request for a three-year arrangement under the extended credit facility. March 2015. Online. 

[28] Akwasi Sarpong, BBC Africa. Ghana secures $1bn IMF loan in bid to revive the economy. 26 February 2015.  

[29] Forthcoming, Olympio, F.N.K. (in press). Contemporary Road Architectures and Roadside Institutions: Mapping Agentive Resilience in Regimented Urban Spaces in Ghana, Journal of African Studies.

[30] Killick, Tony (2000). Fragile Still? The Structure of Ghana’s Economy 1960-94. In Aryeetey, Ernest and Harrigan, Jane. (eds) Economic Reforms in Ghana: the miracle and the mirage (pp: 51-67), Africa World Press.

[31] Allafrica: Democracy Is Producing Prosperity - President Mahama:

[32] Daily Graphic Online: 6 Parties make vain promises. IMANI Ghana Research shows. By Timothy Ngnebe, 26.08.2016.

[33] FocusEconomics, Ghana Economic Outlook (2016).

[34] Ghana Web, Ghana restricted from borrowing – Mahama. Monday 12 October 2015.

[35] World Bank. 2013. Ghana - Country partnership strategy for the period FY2013-FY2016. Washington DC.

[36] Adom FM, Radio News, 21 October 2014 – Chief threatens to boycott elections if roads are not repaired before elections.

[37] Ross, Michael, L (2001). Does Oil Hinder Democracy? World Politics, 53 (3), 325-61.

[38] Muhumuza, William (1997). Money and Power in Uganda's 1996 Elections. Journal of Political Science 2 (1), 168 - 179.

[39] Kwame, A. Ninsin (2006): The Contradictions and Ironies of Elections in Africa. Africa Development, XXXI (3), 2006.

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[41] The Eighth Hundred and Fifteenth Act of the Parliament of the Republic of Ghana. The Petroleum Revenue Management Act, 2011.

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[44] Video: Conference Panel Yanis Varoufakis and Joseph Stiglitz, Institute for New Economic Thinking 2015, Liberté, Egalité, Fragilité, OCDE-OECD. 8-11 April.