Accra: Between 2012 and 2014, Ghana's economic fortunes slipped from better to good resulting in increased disaffection against President Mahama and his government. The cedi depreciation, the energy crisis, frequent increments in fuel prices, cost of utilities, cost of doing business and the frequent emergence of issues of corruptions and judgment debts turned people's anger against the government and the otherwise affable President Mahama.
That anger manifested in the series of industrial strikes actions by different categories of public sector workers, demonstrations by select groups against the government’s handling of certain economic issues and negative public commentary against the president and his team in the media. The president’s frequent promises to resolve key national issues, which often turned out to be empty promises, did not also help the situation.
A typical case in point is when the president said in a campaign promise in 2012 that the power crisis, locally called ‘dumsor’ will end the following year. That comment turned out to one of the empty promises as the power challenges have persisted into 2015, raising the populace’s frustration and that of the business community against the president.
But while these happened, the image of the president in the international community remained intact or even rose further, thanks to myriad of factors that acted in his favour.
The first and the underlining factor has been President Mahama’s personal demeanour, which combines perfectly with his communication skills, making him a humble leader who inspires confidence and exhumes peace around him.
In each of the many international conferences and fora that President Mahama has graced, the feedback of the international community has been positive. His maiden address to the UN Assembly in September 2012 portrayed him as a modern African leader, whose dynamism and leadership skills is the most sought-for in a continent ruled by aging politicians and struggling to embrace modernity.
In the appearances that preceded that one, President Mahama cemented that feeling and he since become a darling of the foreign community.
He did by speaking for and on behalf of Africa, by constantly portraying the continent of 54 countries as a land of opportunities where business can grow, where the entrepreneurial ingenuity, not just famine and/or wars, is capable of coming from it.
He took that message to a higher level in 2014 when he took over as chairman of ECOWAS, the regional grouping of member countries in West Africa. Until he handed over to new chairman in May this year, President Mahama was seen as the face of the regional body, galvanising international support for member countries worse-hit by the Ebola pandemic, which broke out in Guinea in December 2013 and later spread to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Mali.
Those gestures earned the sympathy of the international community towards the affected communities, causing them to step up international support towards the eradication of the canker while agreeing to set up an emergency response center in Accra, Ghana’s capital.
The political future of Mahama
But while these actions and many more endeared President Mahama, a 56 year old, to the international community, his popularity back in Ghana continued to suffer due to the challenges facing his country.
Recent political polls by local and international agencies put his ratings below expectations, while raising that of his political contender, Nana Addo Danquah Akuffo Addo, a 72-year old making his third attempt at the presidency in 2016.
With general elections due in 2016, many predict that the challenges facing the economy would motivate many to vote out the president and give the opposition NPP the opportunity to taste power after eight years in the wilderness. But that is only a prediction.
Since 1992, when Ghana unveiled a new constitution to usher in democracy after years of dictatorship with the military, no sitting president has lost an election.
Both President Rawlings and Kuffour have exhausted their constitutionally mandated two tenures (four years apiece) before handing over rivalry parties. It will, therefore be history if Nana Addo, the son of a former president, is able to unseat President Mahama in the elections that are scheduled for December 2016.
What is obvious is that President Mahama and his NDC party will step up public expenditure to be able to get voter support. The government has already started doing that through the introduction of various social intervention, construction of projects and stepping up of support to eh rural poor, whose votes have always decided the winner of the country’s elections.
Already, President Mahama has has stated his government’s intentions to roll out a free education programme for students in senior high schools, a policy he vehemently critiqued in 2012 as unrealistic when the NPP used it as one of their campaign messages.
But while that is going on the house of the opposition party, led by his flag bearer is embroiled in family battles, which led to the death of one of its regional chairmen in acid attack by disgruntled supporters.
Although that issue has since subsided, a new one on the use of party funds has popped, cementing concerns that while President Mahama and his social democratic NDC are busy strategising to win the 2016 elections, the opposition party are engage in needless squabbles that could cost them an election could determine the political fate of their 72-year old leader his young economist running mate.
While 2016 may be far away (and for that difficult to predict the outcome of the elections), events on the ground shows that Ghanaians may just be presented with two devils on election day; a tired government that requires opposition to rediscovered its governance skills and disorganized opposition that is too disorganised to be trusted with power. But whatever the case, it is instructive to note that the outcome of Ghana’s December 7, 2016 general elections will not only define the political careers of President Mahama and his topmost contenders, Nana Addo; it will also determine the path the country’s fragile economy will take in the next four years.