Making the Economy Count in the Contentious Presidential Election

When people think of successful democracies in Africa, Ghana usually tops the list. Since the transition to a multiparty system in 1992, the country has held free and fair elections every four years, and power has changed hands three times between the main political camps.

In light of this progress, it is easy to forget that there is nothing inevitable about Ghana’s democratic consolidation. A quick look at its neighbors – civil war-ridden Côte d’Ivoire to the West, and ever-dictatorial Togo to the East – shows that peaceful and credible elections are not a given in the region. The political freedom Ghanaians enjoy today are the achievement of a continuing struggle for democracy – and CIPE is proud to have played a small supporting role.

One exemplary program is CIPE’s engagement with the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA)

– the country’s leading public policy think tank – to bring economic issues to the fore during campaign season. In 2008, CIPE assisted IEA to host a presidential debate between the two main contenders for office. John Atta Mills (who went on to win the election) and Nana Akufo-Addo (who would become president in 2017) laid out starkly different economic platforms, and millions of Ghanaians followed their argument on TV or over the radio.

CIPE and the IEA repeated the exercise in 2016, with two debates on economic issues and governance gaps and a series of fireside-style “evening encounters” with individual candidates. Voters were encouraged to participate via social media, and IEA received hundreds of questions on Facebook and Twitter. IEA also summarized the economic platforms of the main political parties on a “campaign promise” postcard, of which several thousand copies were distributed across the country.

Both 2008 and 2016 were high-stakes elections for Ghana which ended in peaceful opposition victories. CIPE’s program with the IEA ensured that party platforms took center stage in the electoral campaign, and that bickering between parties and candidates was balanced by a joint commitment to democratic process.

In this first post-election year, CIPE is now working to improve existing governance gaps. In cooperation with Viamo, CIPE has conducted a country-wide mobile phone survey to assess citizens’ expectations of the new government. The results showed, among other things, that young people’s economic priorities differ substantially from the Akufo-Addo administration’s policy proposals. Concurrently, CIPE and IEA have also studied the governance failures that plague large-scale, foreign-financed infrastructure projects in the country.