Two weeks. That’s how long Ghanaians have to make up their minds about who will lead the nation into the next four years. It’s supposed to be an election year, and after successful elections in 2008 (which saw a change of guard) and 2012 (which tested the country’s legal robustness), it should be a simple enough affair. Yet for many eligible and first-time voters like myself, it won’t be. The election is just around the corner, but some of us are still riddled with indecisiveness over which presidential candidate and political party is worthy of our vote. Why you ask?
For one thing, there’s the question of whether there actually is an election-taking place on December 7. Years of unmet expectations and dalliance with the needs of the average Ghanaian seem to have taken its toll and rendered many immobile. From the tallest air-conditioned buildings to the shack in the middle of nowhere, Ghanaians seem to not care too much about the 2016 presidential elections as they did previous ones. Where principal streets in the Ghanaian capital Accra used to be draped in the unmistakable party colors of the two major parties, with the odd flag or poster of a smaller contender perched to the side, there is practically nothing.
In the previous years everyone from the taxi driver to the waakye seller down the road would jump at an opportunity to convince an undecided voter to choose their candidate. Today, one couldn’t be bothered. Before, conversations with relatives abroad would quickly turn to election season prospects. But now, the buzz of telephone wires across oceans is filled with talk of Donald Trump’s election win. Even the prophets have been relatively quiet in predicting which presidential candidate has been anointed to lead the charge. As is often preached from the pulpits, without the shepherd, the flock is lost. Besides, America’s ongoing election saga offers more interesting and juicy morsels for casual dinner talk. The vote seems to have already been cast, and apathy won the first round.
Because, the economy.
One cannot talk about the mood in Ghana without talking about the economy. Each reflects the other and these days the appropriate words are “depressed” and “subdued”. Even the main opposition party has waded into online territory to explore alternative financing for its political campaign. I remember the day I woke up in early 2013 with a feeling of apprehension about the future of our country’s economy. I was doing some research for a school project and looking at Ghana’s public debt numbers, which at the time was about 40% of GDP. The rest is history.
— Jemila #GhanaDecides (@jabdulai) February 25, 2014
According to World Bank statistics, Ghana’s GDP growth, which helps measure the robustness of the economy, fell from 14% in 2011 to 3% in 2014. Over the same period, the level of inflation increased from 13% to almost 19%. In 2015, Ghana’s debt to GDP ratio rose to over 70% and the IMF projects Ghana will close 2016 with a debt to GDP ratio of approximately 66%. Now a high debt to GDP ratio does not immediately spell doom; the more important and interesting question is what are we amassing the debt for?
Between the debt, fiscal mismanagement, and three-year energy crisis – which some would argue is ongoing – there is a general sense that the economy is unhinged. Ghanaians are fatigued. For many, living costs have risen and times are hard. Global factors like low market prices for oil and gold have played a role in Ghana’s economic slowdown. But while the IMF’s intervention has helped bring things to heel, the fact remains that the current state of events is largely due to political leadership and decision-making.
Rhetoric and election campaign promises aside, many Ghanaians look to the uncountable number of corruption scandals and misuse of public funds over the years. 2015 was the year we finally decided to air our dirty laundry in public, and what a sight it was to behold. Although there are indications as to who is involved in these corruption cases, efforts at returning or retrieving stolen or “missing” public funds have been abysmal at best. That sends a troubling message about the apathy of not just the current leadership and us citizens, but also the opposition who remained largely silent on key issues, that is until the electoral cycle conveniently rolled in.
Because, the issues.
The free-education promised in the 2012 election? Long forgotten. The oil that brought out even the most reclusive of politicians from their hideouts? Drained away. The lack of clarity on what the key issues are does not bode well for the 2016 election or for undecided voters. The presidential debate series organized by the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA) has been an avenue for formulating opinions and getting a pulse on what presidential candidates seek to do if elected into office. Yet this year, the governing party decided to boycott the debates. After much delay and speculation, four of seven candidates will finally go head to head in a presidential town hall slated for November 22. Whether this one platform is enough for Ghanaians to objectively assess party manifestos and plans of action is yet to be seen. Then again, for many, rallies are all that count.
That said, organisations like the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) and the Center for Democratic Development have taken steps to find out what’s important to the Ghanaian voter. Considering the brouhaha over dumsor this past year, one would have expected more debate and interest in energy – but according to the NCCE survey education rules supreme followed by health care and employment. In lieu of discussions and deliberations on these and other issues, it’s been one jab and hook after the other; an endless bickering between and within political parties both offline and online. The recent threat to shut down social media on election day, has only added to the climate of censorship and silence from many who were hitherto vocal about Ghana’s policies and elections. What yardstick should the average voter use to assess presidential candidates? Good luck figuring that one out.
Because, civic education
By its own admission, the Electoral Commission is charged with a mandate “to educate the people on the electoral process and its purpose.” Something it has made poor work of this year. From the debacle around the cleanup of the voter’s register, to approving and officially announcing the 2016 presidential candidates, the EC has been littered with delays. To be fair, the handing over of the EC’s leadership to Charlotte Osei probably necessitated an adjustment period, but a lot could have been done in the meantime to educate Ghanaians on their civic responsibilities and rights.
Many Ghanaians don’t know how to vote. According to EC figures, 2.2% of ballots cast in the 2012 presidential elections were rejected. Besides the votes garnered by the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP), the percentage of votes received by each of the other parties is less than the 2.2%. Surprised? Don’t be. The high incidence of rejected or ‘spoilt’ ballot papers is but one of many indications of the need for civic education. It goes without saying that a month may not be enough time to get all 15,703,890 registered voters up to speed on electoral processes.
Ask a handful of Ghanaians whether they will be voting and you are bound to have one person retorting, what’s the point? Voter turnout in the 2000 presidential elections was 62%, rising to an all time high of 85.1% in 2004. The 2008 and 2012 presidential elections recorded voter turnout of 69.5% and 79.4% respectively. The lowest voter turnout in Ghanaian history was 50.2% during the 1992 presidential elections. This year? Well, considering the official ballot list was released a mere month to the election, I’m willing to bet we’ll see more modest numbers, somewhere between 50% and 70%.
Because, the task at hand is huge
Considering all these elements, eligible and first-time voters like myself may just decide to throw up deuces and bounce. Yet it’s precisely because of these elements that we cannot leave things to chance. We may have two weeks left to the election, but if used wisely, it may be enough time to shake off our chains of apathy and find out what we need to know. In the grand scheme of things, three weeks of concerted effort at informing and being informed ahead of election day is time well spent. The task at hand is to vote and deliver Ghana into the most capable hands possible. In that vein, the silent lambs must finally speak. Our vote will be our voice, and that dear friends, is something we shouldn’t take lightly.
Jemila Abdulai is the creative director and founding editor of Circumspecte.com, a digital platform dedicated to meaningful insights, interaction and creative action related to Africa(ns). She secured her MA in international economics from Johns Hopkins SAIS, and works with Africa-oriented brands, companies and organisations to leverage digital content and tools. Jemila tweets frequently with the handle @jabdulai.