Ghana’s Ruling Party Seeks Unity After President’s Death

Ghanan Vice-President John Dramani Mahama
John Dramani Mahama, Ghana's Vice-President, center, seen here in January 22, 2012, was sworn in yesterday as president. Photographer: Wils Yanick Maniengui/AFP/Getty Images

Ghanaian President John Atta Mills’ death may spur his divided ruling National Democratic Congress party to unite and bolster the chances of his successor, John Dramani Mahama, of winning a presidential election in December.

“Mahama has been very active and is quite experienced,” Kojo Asante, senior research fellow with the Accra-based Centre for Democratic Development, said in an interview today. “He is a good person for the transition, people know him and his demeanor. Ghanaians will vote on bread-and-butter issues, but one cannot discount the reality of sympathy votes.”

Praised by President Barack Obama as a “model for Africa” in March, Ghana’s democratic machinery reacted smoothly to Mills’ death. Within six hours of the announcement, Vice President Mahama was sworn in and the opposition presidential candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo, 68, suspended his campaign.

Ghana, the world’s second-largest cocoa producer, has been one of Africa’s best-performing economies since it won $3.5 billion in debt relief from the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and other lenders in 2005. The West African nation sold its first dollar bond of $750 million in 2007. Oil production helped to boost economic growth to 14.4 percent last year, the fastest pace of any nation in Africa.

Party Splits

“Mahama is known to be fairly pro-Western, pro-investment, a champion of private industry,” John Bates, head of fixed income at London-based Silk Invest Ltd., which manages $130 million and owns Ghanaian bonds, said today by phone. “Although he may decide to reshuffle his team somewhat, we think that the investment and monetary policy direction of the country will probably move sideways.”

Mills, who celebrated his 68th birthday on July 21, had been in poor health and presided over a party suffering deep splits, especially with its founder, former military ruler Jerry Rawlings.

Mahama must still face a battle for the presidential nomination. In the last contest in 2011, Rawlings’ wife, Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings, lost to Mills. The NDC will hold a meeting of its national executive committee tomorrow to decide what to do, Joshua Hamidu Akamba, the party’s deputy national organizer, said in an interview.

“You have sentiment, you have the renewal factor, and Mills was clearly extremely ill,” Patrick Smith, editor of the London-based newsletter Africa Confidential, said today by phone from Paris. “Mahama is young, has a lot of energy and is very good with the media.”

Rally Challenge

The country’s electoral commission hasn’t opened nominations for president yet and the vote is expected to continue in December as planned, said Amadu Sulley, deputy chairman of the body.

Mahama’s “challenge is to rally the party behind him,” Emmanuel Akwetey, executive director Accra-based Institute for Democratic Governance research group, said today by phone from the Ghanaian capital.

Mahama, 53, was born in the northern town of Damango and has wide experience in government, serving as minister of communications and a member of parliament. He studied communications at the University of Ghana and worked at the Japanese Embassy in Accra and Plan International, a non-governmental organization, before entering politics. He is married to Lordina Mahama and has seven children.

“Mahama does have an established political career,” Simon Freemantle, Africa analyst at Standard Bank Group Ltd., Africa’s largest lender, said by phone interview from Johannesburg today. “He’s certainly got the experience to steady the ship. I don’t see any disruption.”

Natural Gas

In April, he signed the biggest loan in Ghana’s history with China Development Bank Corp., valued at $1 billion, in part to develop a natural gas project.

“President Atta Mills dedicated his entire life to our dear nation,” Mahama said after being sworn in before lawmakers who were wearing strips of red cloth to signify the leader’s sudden death. “Our finest tribute to him at this moment is to maintain the unity and stability of our nation.”

After winning the 2008 election by less than 1 percentage point, Mills presided over the country’s first oil production for export in a ceremony at the offshore Jubilee field.

Mills “helped promote economic growth in Ghana in the midst of challenging global circumstances and strengthened Ghana’s strong tradition of democracy,” Obama yesterday.

Ghana’s debt is rated by Standard & Poor’s at B, five levels below investment grade, and one step higher at B+ by Fitch Ratings. The yield on the Eurobond fell for the first time in three days, declining 22 basis points, or 0.22 percentage point, to 5.622 percent by 1:09 p.m. in Accra.

“The next election is critical because whoever wins will be able to ramp up social spending with the oil money and ensure that their party holds on to power for a considerable time,” Smith said.

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