All you need to know about Ghana’s December 7, 2016 elections

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“At elections, Ghana wins.” That is the common sense rhetoric employed by outsiders about a country which has a reputation as one of Africa’s strongest democracies. But for Ghanaians inside the country, it is a much more complicated than that.  Exactly one month from today, Ghanaians go to the polls and some have real concerns about the legitimacy of the poll, including allegations of corruption against the electoral commission itself.  Some challenged the results of the last election, creating a tense environment. The results were only certified after the Supreme Court’s dismissal of the case. There is also sense of deja vu. The major candidates are the same people: incumbent President John Dramani Mahama (of the National Democratic Congress or NDC) is seeking a full second term and the opposition’s Nana Akufo-Addo (New Patriotic Party or the NPP) is making a his third bid for the presidency having already lost in 2008 and 2012. We emailed a series of questions to a group of people with intimate knowledge of Ghanaian politics and history, to help us make sense about what’s at stake on December 7. They could answer which questions they wanted to. This is an edited version of their responses.

The participants are:

Billie Adwoa McTernan, writer and Art and Life editor for The Africa Report.

Malaka Grant, writer and blogger.

Dennis Laumann, historian of West Africa (author of Colonial Africa, 1884-1994) professor at the University of Memphis.

Ben Talton, an associate professor of African history at Temple University and author of the book Politics of Social Change in Ghana (2010)

Kuukuwa Manful, an architect and researcher.

Sean Hanretta, associate professor of history at Northwestern University and author of the book Islam and Social Change in West Africa.

Does it matter who Ghanaians elect as president?

Billie Adwoa McTernan: It does matter. The country needs development and a good president should lead the way so that the people are inspired to work and contribute towards that development.

Malaka Grant: It only matters in the sense that Ghanaians need a face and a name to associate with the nation’s successes or failures. The position of president has become largely ceremonial. The current president’s performance in office is proof of that. He cuts sod, he commissions projects, and he poses for photo ops. However, he can only point to a handful of projects that have gone from concept to completion during the two years that he served as acting president and the four in which he was elected to the office. The real power of the presidency lies in the executive team he or she assembles. A mediocre executive team will inevitably result in a disappointing presidency, and vice versa. The performance and expectations from the top serve as a template for performance in every other area of governance beyond the presidency. This is why Ghanaians ought to take interest and be vested in [who gets appointed to the president’s team] as well as the outcomes of local elections. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Local government has more power to affect positive (or negative) change for the ordinary citizen than the president does or ever can. However the average Ghanaian citizen does not hold their local representative(s) accountable to their duties because of ignorance. Most people don’t know who their MP is or what their function is. Most Ghanaians are not taught civics. An overwhelming number of Ghanaians haven’t a clue about what their constitutional rights and guarantees are or what the responsibilities of their elected officials are beyond campaign promises. But everyone knows that the president is supposed to oversee the welfare of the nation–like a king–which is why so much importance (really, much more than it deserves) is placed on the position.

Ben Talton: The individual and party that hold the office of president in Ghana matter a great deal. The president possesses a broad range of power that allows him or her to define the country’s domestic and international political agenda. Included among these powers is allocating funds for public services and development projects. Every four years in the buildup to national elections, we have seen work on development projects slow down and in some cases stop, and members of the business community table plans to pursue government contracts, as stakeholders anticipate which party will prevail. In the aftermath of an election, funds for a project may dry up entirely if the opposition party wins the election, so pursuing investments or development projects is risky during an election year. From the standpoint of resource allocation, for the business community or small-scale traders and farmers, it matters who has executive powers in Ghana.     

A traveler through any of Ghana’s metropolitan areas encounters large billboard after billboard displaying President Mahama’s image. That same traveler will be hard-pressed to locate similar billboards promoting Nana Akufo-Addo. One encounters a similar disparity on television and radio. Mahama has been airing long commercials styled as documentaries on local television.  Meanwhile, the NPP’s exposure has been limited to the occasional radio ad. The NDC is not unique in exploiting the power of incumbency. In 2008, when the political tables were reversed, the NPP’s campaign was similarly extravagant and the NDC’s campaign exceedingly minimalist by comparison.   

It also must be said, however, that party incumbency does not secure political success. This fact is a testament to the strength of Ghana’s democracy.  Despite the ruling NPP’s glitzy presidential campaign in 2008, Akufo-Addo, in his attempt to succeed President John Kufuor, lost to John Atta Mills of the NDC. We may very well see a similar reversal of fortune on December 7 …  In a country with limited financial resources, the office that holds the purse strings has the capacity to transform local communities and the livelihoods of its residents.  In no uncertain terms, the president matters.    

Who or what has the most impact on shaping the contours of electoral debate in Ghana?

Billie: The media plays a big part, particularly radio. People often form their opinions based on the conversations (which are unfortunately often filled with scandal and sensationalism) on radio.

Does ideology–left or right–matter in Ghanaian elections? How different are the parties from one another or is Ghana’s political system becoming more like the American model?

Dennis Laumann: The differences may not be as stark as they were even 20 years ago, but the ruling NDC espouses a more social democratic politics while the NPP, despite its perennial presidential candidate’s populist and often seemingly liberal campaign promises, embraces a politically and economically conservative ideology. Of course, in the current global neoliberal order, and in a country with limited resources and economic clout, the ability to implement progressive policies (in the case of the left of center NDC) is constrained. Ghana’s two main ideological lineages that originated in the late colonial era — one on the left and primarily associated with Kwame Nkrumah and the other on the right and known as the “Danquah-Busia tradition” — are thus represented by these two major parties in Ghana (though there are a number of very small parties claiming to be Nkrumahist). Whether most Ghanaian voters support either political party for mainly ideological (rather than ethnic or familial) reasons — or even recognize the ideological distinctions — is questionable. I am always struck by Ghanaian-Americans who support the NPP back in Ghana but vote Democrat in the United States and fail to see the ideological inconsistency.

Billie Adwoa McTernan: The line between the two main parties is blurred and I’m not sure there is a big difference in either of their policies. Both talk about encouraging business investment and public private partnerships and both also talk about social development and strengthening the institutions that are supposed to support the most economically vulnerable.

Kuukuwa Manful: No, ideology does not matter. Although the major political parties claim to ascribe to particular ideologies, to even the casual observer this doesn’t play out neatly in the issues they campaign on or how they govern when in power. The NDC fancies itself leftist and encourage public comparison to the American Democrats while the NPP considers itself capitalist, and encourages comparison to U.S. Republicans. On the ground however, the NPP has campaigned on social platforms and instituted massive social schemes while in power, and the big brass of the NDC have not shied away from outright promoting capitalism. The lack of ideological distinction doesn’t mean it’s all about ethnicity though. There are sociological differences between the parties, for example in the kind of leaders they select and how people have moved through the party ranks. Party activists tend to move up through the NDC ranks faster, and a number of ministers and high-ranking party officials in this current government started out as student politicians and community organisers.

Ben Talton: Discerning the substantive ideological and policy differences between Ghana’s two dominant political parties is extremely challenging, because the differences are relatively minor.  Both parties claim vastly different political legacies and ideologies. But once in control of Flagstaff House, neither party has put much in place policy-wise that definitively set them apart from each other. This has been true with regard to both domestic and international affairs. The blurred line between their policies helps explain the personality driven—rather than issues driven—nature of the 2012 and 2016 campaigns.

It would be overly simplistic to describe the NDC as equivalent to the Democratic Party in the U.S., but that has not stopped commentators from frequently making that case.  It’s not a huge distortion, but it is misleading.  The Democratic Party in the United States is tightly wound with corporate interests in ways that the NDC in Ghana has never been.  Members of the New Patriotic Party have compared their party to the U.S. Republican Party, as both are champions of the private sector and of free enterprise as the foundation of social progress.  So simplifying the NDC as the political left and the NPP as right of center, has some merit.

However, we’ve had an opportunity to see both parties in power and the contrast between the NDC and NPP does not rival that between U.S. Democrats and Republicans in substance or form.  The NDC held Flagstaff House from 1992, the start of the Fourth Republic, until 2000.  If we include the PNDC period (when Rawlings governed), beginning in 1982, the NDC had a continuous eighteen-year run.  The NPP had its turn from 2001 to 2009 (presidents takes office the January following the previous December’s election), following President Kufuor.  The current NDC government, under Mahama, won the 2012 election, but the NDC had been in power since 2009, after winning the 2008 election with John Atta Mills as the party’s flagbearer.  These changes in government from one party to another, formally called double alternation, are truly unique in Africa. It has taken place every eight years since 1992 without widespread or protracted violence.

Both parties have largely followed the neoliberal recommendations of international financial institutions. Differences between the two parties have been defined by the outcomes of these foreign prescriptions for the Ghanaian economy. With nearly identical economic strategies, the parties’ approaches tend to boil down to sloganeering and promises of immediate material support for individuals and groups.  

How big a role, if any does regional or tribal politics play in Ghanaian elections? It it does, can you name those forces.

Dennis Laumann: Unfortunately, ethnicity (more accurate than “tribal”) still plays too big a role in Ghana’s elections, though only the NPP can be described as an ethno-centric party. In every election since the return to multi-party democracy in 1992, the NPP has won just the Asante Region, or the Asante Region and one or more surrounding Akan-majority regions only.  Every single one of its presidential candidates has been Akan, too. In contrast, Mahama’s NDC wins Akan and non-Akan regions and its presidential candidates have hailed from starkly different regions (Volta, Central, and Northern) and diverse ethnic groups (Ewe, Akan, and Gonja).

Just look at a map of any of Ghana’s recent election results – you might think you are seeing the United States with its “blue” and “red” states, the latter predominantly white-majority (but in Ghana’s case, Akan).

Supporters of the NPP deny its ethnocentrism, of course, and explain it away by suggesting it is some of the non-Akan ethnic groups that vote en masse for the NDC, singling out the Ewe who live mostly in the Volta Region. But this counter-argument is false, as the Volta Region, where the NDC always receives its highest percentages, is multi-ethnic, comprised of not just Ewe but Akan and other populations, as well. Moreover, since they have backed the NDC in every election, the Ewe have voted for presidential candidates from different ethnic groups from across the country (as opposed to Akan supporters of the Akan-centric NPP).

Sean Hanretta:  Speaking as someone with a professional relationship with Ghana, my experience there makes me conclude that both the NDC and NPP are recruiting support through a mixture of ideological positioning and forms of group identification and that both are trending towards a kind of neoliberal middle. The NDC is keen to preserve its reputation as a more populist and “left” party. But conversations I had in July with some of the neighborhood captains in charge of turning out the Muslim vote in both Accra and Kumasi suggested that even strong supporters are complaining that the NDC has abandoned its traditional commitment to the poor and has simply become a vehicle for advancing politicians’ careers. On the other side, the NPP would clearly love to shed its image as a regional or “ethnic” party and to lay exclusive claim to the long tradition of technocratic liberalism in Ghana, a tradition that dates to well before independence. To that end, NPP supporters will sometimes imply that it is the NDC that is in fact an ethnic party or that its populism is demagogic. But just as the NDC is having a hard time retaining its populist image in the face of growing perceptions of corruption and aloofness, the NPP’s leadership and the default attitudes and networks of some of its core supporters make it difficult to shed its image as the party of “Akan” elites. High levels of migration—both rural-urban and from the north south—have complicated parties’ spatial strategies and efforts to cash in on alliances with local traditional authorities.

It’s important in all of this to distinguish between popular perceptions and the realities of policies and voter response—it was, after all, the NDC that presided over Structural Adjustment in Ghana and the NPP routinely puts forward northern Muslim vice-presidential candidates. But perceptions do matter and will probably matter more and more as the actual policy differences between the parties continue to shrink.

The forces driving the underlying convergence of the two parties—their distinct historical trajectories and, for now, demographic profiles notwithstanding—are not entirely clear, but I’d attribute most of the responsibility to political economic forces. The decade of rapid increase in GDP (roughly 2003-2013) saw a narrow version of the developmentalist discourse gain even more legitimacy than it already had. The last three years have seen a series of changes that have only intensified this attitude among urban elites. As GDP falters, inflation returns, power shortages shape the daily rhythms of the middle class, and the oil sector captures people’s attention, the state finds its legitimacy among the affluent increasingly predicated on its ability to “manage” the economy, attract foreign investment, and restore “growth.” In rural areas, the dynamic has been different with high regional differentiation. Rising fuel prices, erratic commodity prices, increasing environmental spoilage caused by unchecked illegal gold mining, and rampant land grabs have been offset by an expanding (but increasingly privatized) local health system and improved transportation. These dynamics predate the recent economic problems and are not as firmly associated with any particular party. The real difference has been the divergence of the rural north and the rural south. The majority of the decline in rural poverty over the last fifteen years has been confined to the southern half of the country. Overall inequality has increased to around US levels, though it remains far below that of, say, South Africa. But even in the north the prominence of NGO-style interventions seems to have hollowed out the appeal of more transformative politics.

All this is, of course, consistent with broader global trends, and so reflects the narrowing of the kind of politics that will be accepted by the Bretton Woods institutions and other creditors. But changes in the way Ghanaians themselves talk about the state and the economy seem to me fairly significant and to reflect, at least in the first instance, domestic dynamics. These changes have allowed other institutions—the Supreme Court, the Electoral Commission, etcetera—to act in ways that encourage the consolidation of the two-party system. Thus Ghana, like the US, has come to have two parties that increasingly split the vote almost exactly in half (the differences between the first and second place presidential candidates in the first round of last four elections have been 4%, 8%, 1%, and 3%, respectively, with the third party share being 7%, 3%, and 3%, and 1.5%). Such duopolistic parity simply further encourages the professionalization of politics and of electoral strategies and thus the convergence of the parties.

Billie Adwoa McTernan: I do think [regional or tribal factors] play a role, most noticeably outside of the big cities and cosmopolitan areas. People vote for those they feel represent them, whether that is politically or culturally, and they choose which of those two things is most important to them.

How do you explain voting patterns in Ghana?

Ben Talton: Voting patterns in Ghana are influenced by myriad factors.  For example, we have seen palpable ways in which poverty constrains democratic practices. It offers an open window to patron-client relationships.  Both major parties are heavily dependent on foot soldiers, rank-and-file members drawn larger from among low wage laborers, who do much of the grassroots organizing, campaigning, and sloganeering for party leaders. In exchange for their votes and helping to turn out the vote, foot soldiers expect jobs. Patron-clientelism is a highly volatile dynamic in a political system with limited material resources.  

Ghana’s smaller ethnic groups have been less predictable than Ewes and Akans.  The Ga in and around Accra, the capital city, are more divided between the two major parties. Mahama hails from the north, but received a lower percentage of the vote from the Northern Region in 2012 than his predecessor Atta Mills, who was a Fante from the south, enjoyed in 2008.  In any case, the NDC is more popular than the NPP among northern communities.  So, ethnicity is factor and has long been a factor, but far from the defining one.    

Dennis Laumann: As a historian, predictably, I argue the voting patterns are rooted in history. It is no coincidence that the electoral divide is largely along Akan/non-Akan lines. The NDC wins all or nearly all of the non-Akan regions in every election since the return to multiparty democracy in 1992 while the opposition NPP wins all or some or only one (Asante) of the Akan-dominant regions.  This is partly attributable to the old splits between Nkrumah’s Convention People’s Party, socialist and multi-ethnic, and various manifestations of what is today the NPP, conservative and Akan-centric. Further back in history, one can argue the divide is partly the result of the slave trade, as various Akan kingdoms, most significantly Asante, generally enslaved members of other ethnic groups, especially from present-day northern Ghana and the Volta Region, for sale to Europeans. It is arguable whether the average Ghanaian voter is influenced by or cognizant of these historical legacies, but the voting patterns are fairly consistent with these pre-colonial and colonial divisions.

In a number of African countries contemporary politicians are measured by how they fare against the legacy of the ‘founding father’ (example, Mandela in South Africa, Nyerere in Tanzania). Is that the case in Ghana? (Is that Nkrumah? Rawlings?)

Dennis: While there are several small, practically insignificant parties claiming to be the true heirs to Nkrumah’s Convention People’s Party, the ruling National Democratic Congress is Ghana’s Nkrumahist party – social democratic, multi-ethnic, and national. Indeed President Mahama, and his immediate predecessor, Atta Mills (both of the NDC), proudly traced their political lineage to Nkrumah. What is intriguing is that even the NPP, whose origins date back to the anti-Nkrumahism, so-called Progress Party and other incarnations, today pays homage to Ghana’s founding father. In the future the NPP will likewise be forced to at least minimally embrace the Rawlings legacy, too, as the former President remains popular, was Ghana’s longest-serving ruler, and deserves credit for kickstarting the country’s political and economic development over the past few decades. Just as supporters of the NPP tradition long derided Nkrumah and denied his achievements but now speak positively about his legacy, Rawlings will become an icon across the political divide in coming decades.

Malaka Grant: Nkrumah is considered Ghana’s most successful president. Many of the public programs and facilities he instituted still stand and are in use today. This likely accounts for why in this election, it appears everyone is scrambling to present themselves as the heir of Kwame Nkrumah’s legacy. CPP (Nkrumah’s party) has the most logical right to claim. The incumbency (NDC) has pointed to the recently completed public works projects as proof to their legitimacy to that claim. The NPP (the main opposition party) has made no such claims – since it would signal hypocrisy at its finest, as the party’s founders were responsible for Nkrumah’s overthrow – instead chastising the other parties for trying to capitalize on the late president’s legacy. Even they know how Nkrumah’s memory captivates the imagination of the young voter. The scramble to colonize Nkrumah’s reputation for the sake of political expediency is on, and it does us all a disservice.

Nkrumah the Pan Africanist was a great man – a visionary. But he was also despotic, or became so during the course of his presidency. He instituted a one party state, oversaw the jailing of political dissidents and quelled democracy in Ghana. This the stain of Nkrumah’s legacy that today’s political leadership do not want to be associated with, and in attempt to buttress their own public image by making comparisons to Ghana’s first president, they rob the nation of a full picture of the man by sweeping his flaws under the rug.

Today’s political elite ought to be able to stand on the strengths of their own achievements, just as Nkrumah did in his day. We can’t move forward if we are always looking back.

Sean Hanretta: I think the fate of Ghana’s “founding fathers”—and we should pause to think about the gender relations, generational structures, etc. implied by the tendency to compare contemporary politicians to an all-male crew of past heads of state from a lost “golden era” very different from today—has been very complicated.

Nkrumah is an interesting example and a more nuanced case than Rawlings, I think. Symbolic appropriation of Nkrumah comes cheap—at least since the 1980s. Few now openly disavow him but few outside of college campuses and some radical intellectual circles deeply study his ideas or projects either. But even as a symbol, his legacy is a delicate issue. The NPP’s efforts to relativize Nkrumah’s contributions by making him simply one of the “Big Six” of Ghanaian nationalism—alongside Ebenezer Ako-Adjei, Emmanuel Obetsebi-Lamptey, Edward Akufo-Addo, William Ofori Atta, and JB Danquah (the last three not coincidentally all relatives of perennial NPP flagbearer Akufo-Addo)—constituted an explicit effort to build a genealogy of anticolonialism that bypassed the simplistic textbook story of Nkrumah’s heroism. This move was prompted not by any intrinsic commitment to a more inclusive history but by the fact that their opponents were always quick to remind people of the NPP’s descent from anti-Nkrumah movements. On the part of the NDC, an easy assimilation of Nkrumah as ancestor is complicated by the personalization of authority around Rawlings and by the fact that some of the more passionate (and informed) keepers of the Nkrumah flame are highly critical of the party. Among Ghana’s various third parties, Nkrumah serves mostly as a convenient emblem that people can appropriate to assert their ethical or ideological purity—a dynamic surely familiar to third party voters in the US.

The consequences of all this are rather mixed. Needless to say, a whole host of other significant political figures with no current champions have effectively vanished from the public narrative, so any really serious coming to terms with the events of the first few decades after World War Two remains a long way off. (But what country can claim it has fully and dispassionately worked through its origin myths?) And one could argue that the thinness of Nkrumah’s symbolic role in contemporary Ghanaian political life reflects the priorities of a population with a more pragmatic, forward-looking attitude. Probably the most important useful legacy of Nkrumah is the growing public awareness of the circumstances of his ouster—an important lesson about the amount of control any Ghanaian government truly has over the direction in which the country moves.

Given the contested results from the last election, are their fears again about post-election violence?

Ben Talton: Every four years, those who have cast ballots for the losing party are disappointed with the results.  But it has not been the practice that they then return home to sharpen their machete.  Political violence tends to be perpetrated by a small minority of members of the NDC and NPP, rather than smaller parties. Violence is not the expected or accepted response to undesirable political outcomes. That said, the government, the Electoral Commission and the Ghana Police must take seriously these relatively low-level incidents, to prevent violence from settling into an expected and accepted aspect of Ghana’s political culture.

Activists from the rank-and-file members of the political parties strengthens Ghana’s democracy and in many ways help to make elections work. They are the ones mobilizing voters, promoting campaigns, and inventing and promoting many of the popular campaign slogans. And they are also the most likely to be involved in incidents of violence. The most obvious sign of durability of Ghana’s electoral system is the change in the party in power in 2000 and then again 2008.

A more tenuous aspect of the political process is that control over public facility must be handed over to activists from the victorious opposing party.  So, it is not only violence, but the destruction of property is a potential problem. It is dangerous to link economic opportunities with political success. Those on the losing side, will invariably be disappointed. This does not necessarily compel violence, and, indeed, we should cultivate a culture in which such violence is not a part of Ghana’s political legacy. There have been acts of violent intimidation before, during and after elections. Foot soldiers steal or destroy property belonging to the opposing party.

Dennis Laumann: I doubt there will be any violence with the possible exception of a very few isolated, localized, and short-lived incidents. But, as always, the NPP will cry fraud if they lose – again. Like their American counterparts, the Republicans, they will fail to recognize their defeat can be attributed to their own ethno-centricism.

Besides the occurrence of elections every four years, what are the other institutions that make you confident (or not) that democracy in Ghana remains relatively stable?

Ben Talton: Conducting free and fair elections is not the only marker of a mature democracy.  The media are the ballast of Ghana’s political system. The press top the list of institutions that reflect the relative stability of Ghana’s democracy. The country remains high on the list of global south democracies. Ghana enjoys a robust free speech political environment.

There are a variety of news programs on television and radio on which guests and hosts, in English and local languages, criticize political figures, including the president and other members of the ruling party. The tone has remained more respectable and issues-driven than the discourse on U.S. television and radio. Journalists, media personalities and everyday citizen express their opinions without fear of government retribution, but does not appear to be a rampant issue. There have been isolated reports of people losing their jobs for expressing their political perspectives.      

Ghana’s activist communities have grown also stronger during the past decade, aided by social media, the internet, and traditional media coverage. Ghana’s ongoing energy crisis has fueled the largest and most sustained protests in 2015 the country. Many activists have insisted that the government’s failure to resolve the crisis disqualifies President Mahama from seeking an additional term. Last year the NPP organized some of the largest protests.

In 2014 various protest groups came together through the hashtag #occupyflagstaffhouse and petitioned the Mahama administration to address an array of issues, including infrastructure, declining economy, and corruption in the government. The government did not shut these protests down and they remained peaceful.

There is also a vibrant political culture at Ghana’s universities, particularly the University of Ghana at Legon. Most recently, faculty, led by my colleague Akosua Adamako Ampofo, protested to demand the university remove a statue of Mahatma Gandhi the university had accepted from the president of India in June. The protesters prevailed and the government agreed to remove the stature. The government was adamantly opposed the position that she and other protesters held, but, in the end, they acquiesced. I highlight this issue as an example of the strength of the vibrancy of civil society and the freedom of protest in Ghana, hallmarks of a strong democracy.  

Dennis Laumann: The obvious answer to this question is the existence of a free, lively, diverse, and contentious print, audio, and visual media, which has steadily developed since the return to multiparty democracy in 1992 and thrives especially during the present administration of President Mahama.

How invested are you in local elections, i.e beyond the Presidency?  Do voters care who the members of parliaments are?

Kuukuwa Manful: Voters do care who the Members of Parliament (MPs) are, because in the way governance has come to be practiced here, MPs are who people go to when they need things – ranging from tarred roads to school fees and attendance at funerals. For many, the MP is the highest governing authority they have access to and thus will tend to vote for someone who they believe will benefit themselves and their community, and this person is not always the candidate put forward by the party they belong to or the party whose presidential candidate they support unconditionally. We see this manifest in what is known as ’skirt and blouse’ voting – where people vote for a presidential candidate from one party, and a parliamentary candidate from another party. The Jomoro constituency (in the Western Region) illustrated this in 2008 when Samia Nkrumah, daughter of Kwame Nkrumah, won the parliamentary seat. She unseated the incumbent NDC MP although the NDC had held that seat for three election cycles. She campaigned very effectively and was a fresh/new voice and face, the daughter of a beloved president and very active in social issues and philanthropic activities in the area. In that case, compared to the incumbent Lee Ocran, the people of Jomoro constituency chose her because she was perceived as more likely to make a difference in their lives. People will sometimes choose an MP from another party because of their wealth, (positive) character traits, history of philanthropy and/or activeness and popularity in the constituency.

Dennis Laumann: One of the fascinating results of the elections four years ago was that many Ghanaians across the nation voted “skirt and blouse” meaning they supported one party’s presidential candidate and another party’s parliamentary candidate. In other words, in a single constituency, the NDC may have won the presidential vote but the NPP candidate may have been elected to parliament. The dynamics of each local race are complex and often independent of issues and personalities dominating the national level.

Billie Adwoa McTernan:  It depends on the what are the issues for voters. If you live in a community that doesn’t have enough schools you might want to vote for the parliamentary candidate that is promising to advocate for that, but if you are student looking towards the job market you might look at which presidential candidate is promising better job creation opportunities.

What would you say are the most pressing issues for Ghana policy wise right now? Can you list three and say why?

Billie Adwoa McTernan: I can list two. Education. Quality education, with well-equipped institutions that is free and for all. There is no point in building several schools if the teachers are just going to read from a book and not engage students. Also good healthcare.

Ghana has a very youthful population. Do they matter in elections?

Malaka Grant: The 2012 Report of the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER) of the University of Ghana notes that youth constitute about 70% of Ghana’s labor force and a majority of the voting population. The youth don’t just matter in elections; they are the whole point of elections.  It’s the concerns of the youth – especially in those that age on the higher end of the age spectrum – that drive the nation’s policy. Those in the 20-35 age bracket are in their marrying and childbearing stages of life, bringing with them all the concerns of this phase. Housing, education for their children, employment and confidence that theirs’ is a government that understands and is concerned for the future is what drives them to the polls. John Mahama ran – and won – on a platform of “youth”. He was the first president young enough to be born in ‘Ghana’, unlike his opponent who was so old he was born in ‘Gold Coast’. He used an iPad to deliver speeches, signaling that he embraced and understood technology and its function in the modern world. Candidate Mahama dressed like the new African Man. He was relatable and his opponent was not. Even elderly voters in 2012 understood the power of his youth and hoped that he would bring an Obama-ish flair and effectiveness to the office of the presidency. The influence of the youth extends much further than their local communities. Youth influence and opinion goes wider and travels faster than older generations of Ghanaians are accustomed to. Politicians understand this, which is why so much time is invested in Kalyppo Challenges and catchy slogans sung by bleached skin Ga boxers, all in an effort to capture youth imagination and hopefully, allegiance.

Billie Adwoa McTernan: Very much. They are potentially starting “the traditions of voting” as it were for their future families. And the parties know, which is why they have taken to use music by popular youthful musicians in their campaigns.

Anakwa Dwamena and Sean Jacobs

Anakwa Dwamena is a researcher-reporter at The New Republic. Sean Jacobs is editor and founder of Africa is a Country.

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