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Politics of Ghana: pivotal moments in history

22 January 2024

Politics of Ghana explores the significant milestones that have shaped the nation's political journey. This article provides an overview of these key events and their impact on Ghanaian politics. It delves into the individuals, policies, and challenges that have characterised Ghana's political history, reflecting on their significance and contributions to the nation's present and future.

The Road to Independence

Ghana's path towards independence from British colonial rule was a long and difficult one. The movement towards independence began in the early 1900s but gained traction in the post-World War II era when Ghanaian nationalist groups started demanding self-rule.

The push for independence continued despite the British government's attempts to suppress it, leading to protests and demonstrations across the country. The most significant of these events was the 1948 Accra riots, which marked a turning point in Ghana's struggle for independence.

One of the key figures in the movement was Kwame Nkrumah, who became the face of Ghana's struggle for independence. Nkrumah founded the Convention People's Party (CPP) in 1949, which quickly gained popularity across Ghana and became the dominant political party at the time.

On 6 March 1957, Ghana became the first African nation to gain independence from colonial rule.

Kwame Nkrumah's Vision for Ghana

Kwame Nkrumah became Ghana's first Prime Minister at independence and later, its first president from 1 July 1960. He had grand plans for the country and implemented the following policies:

  • Nationalisation of industries: this gave Ghana control of its own resources and reduced foreign economic domination
  • Free education: increase access to education and eventually, the literacy rates across the country
  • Infrastructure development: improved transportation, sanitation, and health care facilities in urban and rural areas

However, Nkrumah's approach to governance was not without controversy, with allegations of human rights abuses and suppression of political opposition. This became a recurring theme in the politics of Ghana. He was ousted in a military coup on 24 February 1966 whilst on a state visit to China.

The Nkrumah Era and Pan-Africanism

During Kwame Nkrumah's presidency, Ghana emerged as a key player in the Pan-African movement. Nkrumah believed that African countries' independence was interconnected and advocated for collaborative efforts to achieve a united Africa.

One of Nkrumah's notable achievements was championing the establishment of the Organization of African Unity (OAU). The OAU aimed to promote political and socio-economic cooperation between African countries and strengthen their voice in global affairs. Nkrumah’s ideas influenced subsequent African leaders, and Ghana has remained an important player in Africa's political landscape.

Rawlings' Rise to Power

Ghana was ruled by successive military rulers until the 1990s. Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings staged a coup on 31 December 1981. Rawlings had previously led a coup in 1979 but handed over power to civilian rule within months. However, he was dissatisfied with the civilian government's approach to tackling corruption and underdevelopment.

This time, Rawlings assumed full control of the government and established the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC), marking the beginning of his authoritarian regime.

The coup was necessitated by the prevailing situation in Ghana at the time. Rampant corruption, economic instability, acute poverty, and poor governance had led to widespread dissatisfaction among the citizenry. Rawlings presented himself as the solution to Ghana's problems and promised to bring about change through radical means.

The immediate impact of the coup was a period of instability and uncertainty. Rawlings used force to silence opposition, suppressed the media, and restricted civil liberties. His government also embarked on a house cleaning exercise to rid the country of corruption. This exercise, though laudable, was marred by human rights abuses, with many Ghanaians subjected to arbitrary arrests, detention without trial, and extra-judicial killings.

The Rawlings Government and Economic Reforms

Despite the human rights abuses and authoritarianism of Rawlings' government, his economic policies gained wide recognition. He set a different tone for the politics of Ghana. His government embarked on a program of economic reform that sought to address Ghana's economic problems by introducing market-oriented policies and liberalising the economy.

One of his most notable initiatives was the Economic Recovery Programme (ERP), launched in 1983 to address Ghana's economic crisis. Under the ERP, Ghana experienced improved macroeconomic stability, a reduction in inflation rates, and increased foreign direct investment. However, the reform process did face several challenges, including high external debt and a widening income gap among Ghanaians. 

Rawlings' efforts to modernise the legal and regulatory framework of the Ghanaian economy improved the country's business environment and made it an attractive investment destination in Africa. An important outcome of Rawlings' economic reforms was Ghana's growth as an exporter of gold, cocoa, and timber, leading to a diversification of the economy and helping the country weather the global economic downturns better.

Transition to Multiparty Democracy

Rawlings retired in 2001 and was succeeded by the democratically elected John Agyekum Kufuor. Kufour was the president of Ghana from 2001 to 2009.

During his presidency, Kufuor emphasized good governance, economic growth and poverty reduction. He implemented several policies and programs that aimed to strengthen the country's democratic institutions and increase transparency and accountability in government.

Under Kufuor's leadership, Ghana held several free and fair elections that were widely considered to be transparent and credible. During his presidency, the Electoral Commission of Ghana underwent significant reforms to improve the electoral process. Several amendments were made to electoral laws, and electronic voting technology was introduced to eliminate electoral fraud.In 2004, he won a second term in office after winning the presidential election by a significant margin.

The Era of John Atta Mills

John Atta Mills was elected in 2009 after a close and highly contested run-off election. Despite his untimely death in 2012, Mills' tenure left a lasting legacy on politics of Ghana. During his time in office, Ghana experienced economic growth, with GDP expanding at an average rate of 7.0% per year. One of the key policies of Mills' presidency was the promotion of transparency and accountability in government. He established the Better Ghana Agenda, which aimed to improve access to education, healthcare, and infrastructure, while also tackling corruption and promoting good governance.

Mills' government also implemented social programs to support the most vulnerable members of society, including the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) initiative, which provided cash transfers to poor households.

Another important aspect of Mills' presidency was his focus on developing Ghana's nascent oil industry. Oil was discovered off Ghana's coast in 2010. Mills' government was tasked with managing the new resource in a way that would benefit the country as a whole.

Mills was committed to ensuring that Ghana's oil revenue was used for the benefit of all Ghanaians. His government established the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC) and the Ghana Oil and Gas Company (GOIL). The state owned companies were tasked with managing Ghana's oil resources and ensuring that they were used to support national development.

Furthermore, Mills was a strong proponent of regional integration and played an important role in promoting the economic development of West Africa. He served as the chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in 2010, where he advocated for greater economic cooperation among member states.

The Mahama Administration and Economic Challenges

John Dramani Mahama became the President of Ghana in 2012 after the passing of President John Atta Mills. During his tenure, Ghana faced numerous economic challenges, including high inflation rates and a currency in free fall.

President Mahama implemented several policies aimed at stabilizing the economy. One of these policies was the introduction of the National Fiscal Stabilization Levy, which aimed to generate revenue for the government. The government also sought assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to tackle the economic challenges.

The Mahama Administration also prioritized infrastructure development, and Ghana experienced significant progress in this area. Major infrastructure projects included the construction of new hospitals and roads, as well as the expansion of existing ones.

Despite these efforts, the government faced criticism for corruption allegations and the high cost of some of the infrastructure projects. The opposition party accused the Mahama Administration of mismanaging the economy, leading to a defeat for the President in the 2016 election.

Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo and Democratic Progress

When Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo came into office on 7 January 2017, expectations were high for what his government would deliver. Akuffo-Addo’s election promises included providing free secondary school education, building hospitals and factories across Ghana. The government set aside many of the austerity measures and taxes implemented by the previous government as part of austerity measures. Ghana entered into a $918m IMF programme in 2015.

In the last six years, the Ghanaian economy has struggled under the weight of heavy borrowing, rampant corruption and poor governance. Inflation reached as high as 54% and the Ghanaian Cedi depreciated in value. This administration has demonstrated a worrying decline in the politics of Ghana.

Conclusion on the Politics of Ghana

In conclusion, Ghana's political history is marked by pivotal moments that have shaped the nation's journey towards democratic governance. From the struggle for independence, led by figures like Kwame Nkrumah, to the current administration of Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, Ghana has faced and overcome many challenges. The next Presidential election is set for 7 December 2024.