Ghana’s Opposition Draws Inspiration From Nigeria Vote Win

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Vice Presidential Candidate Mahamudu Bawumia
Mahamudu Bawumia, Vice Presidential candidate for the New Patriotic Party in Ghana. Photographer: Chris Stein/AFP via Getty Images

Ghana’s main opposition party is drawing inspiration from Nigeria’s incoming President Muhammadu Buhari to wrest power from the ruling party and unseat a leader in office.

“The Nigerian election is an inspiration for us,” Mahamudu Bawumia, vice presidential candidate for the New Patriotic Party, said in an interview on May 15 from his offices in Accra, the capital. “We have to learn from a party that can take out the incumbent.”

The NPP will focus its campaign for next year’s election on the economy’s poor performance under President John Dramani Mahama, said Bawumia, 51. Ghana is facing its biggest power cuts in a decade and has Africa’s worst-performing currency against the dollar this year.

Buhari, 72, won the March election in Africa’s biggest oil producer with 52.4 percent of the votes cast, defeating 57-year-old Goodluck Jonathan and his People’s Democratic Party in the first lawful transition of power since British colonial rule ended in 1960. A former military general, Buhari was helped by the economy’s downturn following a plunge in oil prices and Jonathan’s failure to subdue Boko Haram militants.

Ghana has had several peaceful transitions of power since its independence in 1957.

Like Buhari, the NPP’s 71-year-old leader Nana Akufo-Addo will need to appeal to a youthful population demanding jobs and better government services. Akufo-Addo contested the presidential vote twice before, compared to Buhari’s three times before he was successful.

Young People

Akufo-Addo “relates well to younger people,” Bawumia said. “He has a finger on the pulse.”

In Ghana, 35 percent of the population of 25.8 million are under the age of 15 compared with about 44 percent of Nigeria’s 177 million people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Mahama, 57, and his National Democratic Congress defeated Akufo-Addo by almost 326,000 votes to win 50.7 percent support in the 2012 election. Like Nigeria’s Jonathan, Mahama became leader following the death in office of his predecessor.

He has overseen an economy that’s gone from Africa’s fastest growing in 2011, after the discovery of oil, to expanding at the slowest pace in two decades last year. Public debt is projected by the International Monetary Fund to climb to 68 percent of gross domestic product this year from 31 percent in 2007 as the government borrowed more while failing to keep spending in check.

Currency Plunge

The IMF approved $918 million in emergency aid to Ghana in April to help bolster the currency, which has plunged 26 percent against the dollar in the past year. The cedi reached a record low of 4.035 per dollar in Accra on Tuesday and was trading at 3.9726 as of 4:11 p.m.

“You can’t be rewarded for your recklessness,” Bawumia said. “Four years after oil, you stand with a begging bowl at the IMF asking for a bailout.”

Educated at Oxford University, Bawumia was previously deputy central bank governor under former President John Kufuor.

Economic growth slowed to 4 percent last year as power outages of as long as 24 hours at a time curbed output and oil prices fell by more than 40 percent. Nicknamed dumsor, which means off-on in the local Twi language, the electricity shortages have led to job cuts and street protests.

The government is forecasting growth of 3.9 percent this year.

Failed Pledges

“We will campaign on the government’s failed promises and the reckless management of the economy,” Bawumia said. “Standards of living have fallen dramatically, the currency has collapsed, jobs are not being created.”

Key to the election outcome is a credible voters roll, Bawumia said. The NPP is calling for the use of biometric identification cards, which were used in Nigeria’s election, to help limit election fraud, he said.

In Nigeria, “the transparency of that voter register was very critical,” Bawumia said. “We want the same process.” The NPP is seeking “a new and clean voter register,” since the current one is “tainted and bloated,” he said.

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