Ghana (1)

John Mahama is attempting to make history by running for president again despite possible legal impediments in his way. 

By Frank Kokutse, Accra

In a country where politics is often full of intrigue, it is not clear whether any last minute legal spanners will be thrown in the way of  John Mahama’s quest to run for president again. The constitution makes it clear that sitting presidents can only serve two terms but does not state whether they have to do so consecutively. This is the grey area that some political analysts are turning their attention to now that Mahama is preparing for his third contest with long time foe and incumbent Nana Akufo-Addo after the  National Democratic Congress (NDC) chose him as its flag bearer for the 2020 presidential race earlier this year.   

Mahama previously served as president when he won the 2012 vote against Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), before losing to his rival four years later.  While Mahama cut a straight talking, statesmanlike figure, his government failed to solve a crippling energy crisis that resulted in routine power outages. The country also had to turn to the International Monetary Fund in 2015 for a bailout after inflation jumped to 20 percent and increased the national debt.

Although President Akufo-Addo began his administration firing on all cylinders, the pace of reform has been anything but fast and people continue to feel the pinch due to the poorly performing economy.  

This has given the NDC plenty of ammunition to fire at the government. One person who has been at the receiving end is vice-president Mahamudu Bawumia. He was at the forefront of the NPP’s attack on Mahama before the 2016 election and, as an economist and banker, was seen as the politician most able to move the country’s economy forward. In power, he has not shown this in practical terms and the Ghana cedi continues to lose ground against the major currencies. While Akufo-Addo blames this in part on the volatile oil market and strengthening US dollar, the business community has gone on the offensive, forcing the Bank of Ghana to make several attempts to keep the currency in check. Whether or not any of the initiatives are working depends on which political colours one is wearing.

Youth unemployment remains a massive problem, too, despite government initiatives such as the planting for food and jobs programme. Alfred Kusi, a 34 year-old graduate turned Uber driver in Accra has already made up his mind about the coming elections. “I am voting against President Akufo-Addo in 2020 because he has deceived most of us,” he said. “He promised to create jobs but there has nothing to show for it. They are just making a mockery of people.” 

Corruption is another bugbear and public perceptions that not enough is being done about it are not helped by accusations that Akufo-Addo is creating a “government of family and friends”. Finance minister Ken Ofori-Atta is said to have given former colleagues at Databank, the finance house that he co-founded, plum jobs in the administration: Yoofi Grant is chief executive of the Ghana Investment Promotion Authority (GIPA), Daniel Ogbarmey Tetteh is the director general of the Security and Exchanges Commission, and Samson Akligoh is a director in the ministry of finance.  

Akufo-Addo’s attempts to re-shape the country’s educational sector is also receiving flak. A new curriculum intended to improve the basic level has brought changes in the way the Ghanaian history is to be taught, but the president has been accused in the court of public opinion of rewriting the country’s independence struggle by granting his uncle, the statesman and lawyer JB Danquah, a more prominent role than Ghana’s founding father Kwame Nkrumah. At the tertiary level, a new bill that the government says was intended to improve governance in the public universities has been condemned by dons as an attempt to curb academic freedom. In the meantime, the flagship Free Senior High School scheme got off to a faltering start when parents and teachers complained about it not working. 

These travails may be giving Mahama hope that he can win the hearts and minds of the public again. But the truth is that the country is divided down the middle and it is the floating voters who will determine the required 50 percent-plus-one outcome. 

There is also the thorny problem of his eligibility to stand for election, given that as vice-president under John Atta Mills, he stepped into the presidency following Mills’ death in office in July 2012 before going on to defeat Akufo-Addo in tightly fought polls the following December. The argument has been put forward that two terms must mean two terms. This means that there should be a determination as to whether, Mahama only fulfilled the constitutional requirement to become president after Mills’ death, meaning it does not count as a term.

During the main NDC’s primaries none of the other candidates raised the issue publicly and Mahama went on to win the presidential ticket. Privately, though, a number of NDC members said this was only down to the fact that the party hierarchy is filled with people who served under him.  

Even if he does not face any legal challenges, Mahama’s choice of a running mate will also be a determining factor in his desire to become president again. One communications expert, Etse Sikanku, is using his Centre for Public Discourse Analysis to determine who partners Mahama. It is not known if the NDC is behind this or whether it is Mahama himself who has sanctioned the move.  It is not easy to be a ‘come-back kid’ and so far, it is only the Beninois, Mathieu Kerekou, who has achieved that feat regionally. He lost one election and came back to reclaim his position in another.

Since winning the primary, Mahama has become a thorn in the flesh of President Akufo-Addo, who in effect has been forced to get on the campaign trail earlier than usual to counter some of the charges against his government. It is as if anywhere that Akufo-Addo turns up, there is a bullet waiting for him from Mahama and his NDC. Akufo-Addo has called critics who blame his administration for failing to improve the living conditions of Ghanaians  “traditional Jeremiahs”, saying they have failed to open their eyes to see the development that the country is witnessing under his leadership.

“Some traditional Jeremiahs… are saying you can’t do this, you can’t do this. They have been saying it all along, that I can’t do this and I can’t do that. They should open their eyes. I am doing it all, one by one, ” he said in March during a northern durbar celebration. 

The president reiterated his commitment to bring accelerated development to all parts of the country; saying he is on course to deliver all promised programmes and projects under his administration. “The commitment that I have made to the people of Ghana, that we are going to witness a revival and a redevelopment, are on course and our programme for government is on course,” he added.

But his task is not helped by factions within the NPP who are unhappy with the government’s performance. A leading member, Kennedy Agyapong, MP for Assin Central, has been openly bitter about the way some of his fellow lawmakers have dealt with him over his criticism of government policy. Within the NDC camp too, the campaign to select Mahama as presidential candidate has not been without acrimony and even though things appear calm at present there are likely to be some undercurrents. This means that, the fight to win the floating votes is going to be a difficult for both parties.  

“Things are not very clear in the country as everything has been reduced to politics,” one financial analyst said.  

Whether the NPP is on course or not, 

there are pointers to some cracks within the party.