President Nana Akufo-Addo’s government has come under intense pressure as it tries to revive Ghana’s economy following last year’s Covid-19 lockdowns. But he could be set for even greater headaches this month, after the Supreme Court quashed an indefinite ban on protests on June 8.
Accra’s High Court had slapped a restraining order on street protests by supporters of the #FixTheCountryNow and #FixTheCountryCampaign, which, over the past two months, have seen young Ghanaians take to social media to demand action over creeping youth unemployment, increasing taxation and the high cost of living.
The young campaigners have also called on the government to tackle endemic corruption and to address rising fuel prices, ballooning public debt, erratic power supply and poor road infrastructure in the country.
Youth unemployment continues to be a challenge in West Africa’s second biggest economy, despite claims by the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations late last year that an extra 2.3 million youth had found direct employment during Akufo-Addo’s first four years in office.
His government had introduced a number of initiatives, such as the Nation Builders Corp (NaBCo), Planting for Food and Jobs (PFJ) and the One District One Factory (1D1F) schemes. These had reduced youth unemployment to less than 9.5 per cent before the Covid-19 lockdown.
However, a report by the World Bank last September estimated that youth unemployment had crept back up to 12 per cent during the first few months of the lockdown, while youth underemployment was believed to stand at around 50 per cent.
Paul Kofi Asante, a beneficiary of NaBCo and a graduate of the University for Development Studies (UDS), laments the situation, stressing that ‘even though I am a beneficiary of the government’s flagship employment programme, I feel underemployed and I wish government would take steps to ensure sustainable employment for us’.
The growing despondency among the youth has heightened insecurity in the country, with statistics showing violent crime in the first quarter of 2021 inching up above that of 2020.
With tensions running high, the Ghana Police Service applied to the Accra High Court for a restraining order against a planned protest in May, which the judges duly granted, saying it was inappropriate to hold rallies while Covid-19 restrictions were still in place.
The use of protest has become a major tool employed by the citizens to press home their demand for improved living conditions, however, the government of Nana Akufo-Addo is yet to witness such street protests in his second term in office.
Above: President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana.
A planned street protest scheduled on May 28 in Accra by young activists connected to the #FixTheCountryCampaign was called off at the last minute, due to a restraining order by the High Court.
However, on June 8, the Supreme Court quashed the Accra High Court ruling on demonstrations. In a unanimous decision, the five-member panel held that the Accra court exceeded its jurisdiction by granting an indefinite restriction order against the demonstrators.
Organisers of #FixTheCountryNow campaign led by Mark Anthony Kervor, a youth activist and a member of the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), have hailed the decision of the court and have started rallying their troops to mount pressure on the government to accede to their demands.
The call for the government to fix the country now, however, has divided opinion with others forming a counter group tweeting under the hashtag #FixYourAttitudeNow.
Spearheaded by Valentina Nana Agyei, a popular socialite known in Ghana as ‘Afia Schwarzenegger’, and a prominent member of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP), Kennedy Ohene Agyapong, the #FixYourAttitudeNow campaigners are advocating behavioural change as means of fixing the country.
While admitting that the country needs a ‘fix’, this group believes the quagmire the country finds itself is not the fault of the current government.
‘I agree with everything the young guys are saying,’ Agyepong told NewsAfrica.
‘We need to fix our roads, fix our electricity, fix our education and also fix corruption, but we equally need to fix ourselves, too.
‘The question I ask is, who are collecting bribes at the offices? Is it government? Is it government that is executing the shoddy roads? No!’
He added: ‘Until we fix our attitudes, not even Jesus Christ can fix our country for us.’
After meeting protesters, the Minister of Finance, Kenneth Kuntunuku Ofori-Atta, outlined a number of initiatives taken by government to fix the country.
He said: ‘The government will move in swiftly to address some of the issue that has been raised by the #FixTheCountry activists.
‘I am working with the Minister for Water and Sanitation to immediately ensure potable water to areas with need, especially in the most urban areas.’
Despite such public reassurances, youth activists intend to continue with their planned street protest. James Class-Peters an unemployed graduate told NewsAfrica: ‘We need to hold the feet of government to the fire. This is the only way we can get them to act, so I will fully participate in any street protest organised in any part of the country.’
Meanwhile, the Chief Executive Officer of the John Agyekum Kuffour Foundation, Professor Baffour Agyeman-Dua, is calling for radical measures in fixing the myriads of challenges confronting the country now.
He believes that the situation will continue to spiral unless radical measures are taken to address the fundamental challenges of the Ghanaian economy, which has become dependent on foreign donors.
Speaking at a forum called ‘Whose duty it is to fix Ghana', Agyeman-Dua added: ‘I wish to emphasise that the situation we face today was not created today, and it is not the creation of President Akufo-Addo and his government, because it began long ago and has encompassed all leadership and government of our country.’