What Happened To Akufo-Addo?

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Azu Ishiekwene

If we could cast a vote in the December 8 presidential election in Ghana, President Nana Akufo-Addo, would have won re-election by miles. Nigerians love him to bits. He talks a good game.

In the first two years or more of his presidency, I remember a number of videos shared with me on the Akufo-Addo promise. On a tour of the US, he met with the conference of US governors and awed with his presentation. On another occasion, he wowed French President Emmanuel Macron with his speech on “Ghana Beyond Aid”.

That speech, which has chalked over three and a half million views on YouTube, spoke the minds of many self-respecting Africans. The continent’s leaders have so degraded themselves with their begging bowls, that they have become unwanted guests in many European capitals. We would give them away, if we could.

But Akufo-Addo was different. It was refreshing to hear an African leader tell a major European leader, face-to-face, that Ghana – and indeed the continent – was no longer peddling the begging bowl.

The continent wanted fair trading terms, that’s all. Akufo-Addo did not take his seat until he refreshed Macron about how the injustices of 18th century European history laid the foundation for some of today’s problems. Yet, he ended on the note that Africa must take responsibility for its own future.

He made a few more stirring speeches – at the UN – and wherever he went thereafter, bearing the torch of what seemed, quite frankly, to be a new overdue renaissance of Africa, a place where the Mo Ibrahim leadership prize has languished for three years now for lack of a worthy recipient.

In a way, Akufo-Addo became the president Nigeria never had. But we coveted him for more than his stirring speeches on the global stage. We also thought he wasn’t doing too badly at home. At no time did we seem more certain of his performance than during the initial outbreak of the coronavirus this year.

While some Nigerians were still sharing wicked jokes about whether or not President Muhammadu Buhari could pronounce the word well into the outbreak, Ghana seemed to be on the front foot. There were reports that Ghana was not only leading the continent in testing and tracing, it was also using drones to deliver test results in hospitals in remote areas! It was testing, per capita, more than any other country on the continent, followed by South Africa.

This was at a time when Madagascar President Andry Rajoelina was still brewing his herbal tonic, when Tanzanian President John Magufuli was insisting that coronavirus was a spiritual problem, the Sierra Leonean president’s wife was rebranding COVID-19 materials as political party handouts, and when the Nigerian president was being accused of dispensing COVID-19 relief materials in small bread nylon bags.

The only president who came close to Akufo-Addo was perhaps Rwandan President Paul Kagame. Yet, even he was a distant second.

In a year when congenital incompetence compounded by catastrophic mismanagement of the COVID19 pandemic cost President Donald Trump his second term, you would think that Akufo-Addo’s advertised exceptional handling of the virus in Ghana would override any earlier transgressions. We thought so.

But from the result of the election, Ghanaians think differently. The man won by the skin of his teeth. Not just because winning a second term is a tough call even in the best of circumstances, but perhaps because Ghanaian voters seemed determined to punish the hubris carefully buried under the veneer of Akufo-Addo’s good public relations in much of the last four years.

He was lucky to get off with his pants on.

The result of the presidential election on December 8 showed that Akufo-Addo won with 6.7million votes compared with John Mahama’s 6.2million votes, a difference of about 500,000.

The opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) flipped 36 seats, drawing level with Akufo-Addo’s New Patriotic Party (NPP) and as you read this the opposition insists that the government and the Electoral Commission rigged the final result.

What did Ghanaian voters see in Akufo-Addo that outsiders missed almost completely in the last four years? Why was it that the incumbent could easily have lost the election, in spite of his status as a nearly patron saint of African leaders?

Some Ghanaian friends have been talking – and they have been talking vehemently. At least ten mortal sins have been listed against Akufo-Addo, from the Ghana banking sector crisis to nepotism and the conduct of party constituency executives and from the cost of party primaries to the so-called Galamsey affair and the Agyapa deal.

Of these charges, three stand out, which politicians in Ghana and elsewhere might do well to pay attention to.

The first is NPP’s narrow elitism. While the NDC focused on bread-and-butter issues and campaigned in language most ordinary people could understand, the incumbent’s party was on a high horse. It used elite platforms, wasting time money and resources on arm-chair voters.

Trump has taught the world that politics responds to the language of ordinary folks – the marginalised, the displaced, the powerless, the embittered and angry. The opposition tapped into that lava and did so with a vehemence that left the ruling party doubting even in areas where it had achieved modest successes.

Second, Akufo-Addo positioned himself as the clean guy, the man whose government had come to deliver Ghana from the multiple scandals of the Mahama years – scandals which even Jerry Rawlings confessed, even before his death, had become an embarrassment for him as a founding father of the party.

It was good campaign tactic for Akufo-Addo four years ago, but after four years, he appears to have been caught in his own trap. And the opposition he once accused of being corrupt is making heavy weather of it, topping the charge of malfeasance with nepotism.

One year ago, the opposition published a list 51 appointees in Akufo-Addo’s government that they said were relatives of the President. Though, it was largely a dubious list, the similarity in names hardly allowed any distinction between Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

The resignation of the country’s Special Prosecutor, Martin Amidu, days before the presidential election didn’t do Akufo-Addo any favours. In a bitter, lengthy letter, the Special Prosecutor accused the President of interfering with his job. In specific reference to the Agyapa Royalties corruption saga, Amidu accused the President of trying to protect the Minister of Finance, allegedly involved in a gold deal bribery case with a South African company because the minister is his cousin.

He claimed that his office was underfunded and that he had not been paid a Cedi since taking office two years ago, saying he hoped they would at least pay his deputy, now that he was “out of the way.”

Garbage doesn’t get any messier. Even though Akufo-Addo survived it, he’ll still have to deal with it in his second term.

I think the near-fatal blow, which is the third point, was the banking sector crisis between 2017 and last year. About nine banks of the 28 private banks in Ghana had almost been brought to their knees by poor corporate governance. These were banks where large swathes of the poor and low-income earners had their savings. Although Akufo-Addo was not responsible for the laxity that nearly brought the system crashing down, he was perceived as being “too soft” on those found to that brought on the crisis.

“To date”, my Ghanaian friend lamented on Wednesday, “many of them are still walking the streets free, and even castigating the government for blocking their private accounts!”

The opposition’s story was that the government condoned the errant fat cats because top officials of the government had been paid off.

Akufo-Addo has another four years to repair the damage. If he struggled in the last four years when he had the parliamentary majority to make bold and lasting changes, you guess is as good as mine what his fate would be with a hung parliament.

But that’s the way it is: he has his job cut out for him.

Ishiekwene is the MD/Editor-In-Chief of The Interview

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