Development Politics in Ghana (Part 2)

After an extra day of voting due to long lines and technological failures and pending the results of an NPP court challenge, the NDC has come out on top in Ghana’s 2012 parliamentary and presidential election. This continues the electoral pattern that has emerged here since the 1992 conclusion of military rule in which one party leads for two consecutive 4-year terms and then the rival takes over for another 8 years. From 1992 to 2000, NDC was top dog. From 2000 to 2008, the NPP controlled the government. The NDC was in power from 2008 to 2012 and will hold its seat in power until 2016. This 8-year cycle has gotten a lot of attention in local media and general conversation. But there is another pattern which has not gotten as much attention but is probably of more relevance to the lives of everyday Ghanaians; economic growth.

Oil was discovered off of the coast of Ghana in 2007 and, in 2010, Ghana joined the ranks of many other African countries as an oil producer. Oil + 20 years of political stability has made the international community take a new level of interest in Ghana. Coincidentally (read: completely noncoincidentally), after oil was discovered here, George W. Bush became the first US president to spend the night in Ghana. After winning the presidency in 2008, Obama followed up by visiting Ghana in 2009 and delivering his address to Africa, “A New Moment of Promise,” from Accra (Kenyans were pissed). Largely as a result of the new oil but also as a result of growth in other sectors, the Ghanaian economy has bucked the international trend of stagnation and recession and has emerged as one of the world’s ten fastest growing economies. This growth has led to Ghana being declared a “middle-income” country.

In the weeks and months leading up to the election, the NDC reminded the country that this growth had taken place during its administration; this helped bolster its image as a political party who’s focus is on creating jobs. To be sure, the NDC does deserve some credit for Ghana’s economic activity since 2008. In 2011, the NDC controlled parliament approved a 35% oil corporate tax (although it could have pegged the rate as high as 50% and Ghanaians won’t start seeing that money for some time). But how much credit does the NDC, or any of Ghana’s political parties for that matter, deserve for the growth? A casually stated passage from an article published in the days before the election suggests not much.

“Ghana’s upward development trajectory has meant that these polls are being fought with particular ferocity, as victory in 2012 will elevate the incumbent’s chances in 2016 on the back of a rising tide of economic growth. With the economy set to grow by 8 percent in 2012, compared to the 4.99 percent average across the continent, the next party in power will have the advantage of being able to woo the voter with impressive big-spend projects.”

In other words, although the NDC will likely claim responsibility if Ghana’s economy grows as is predicted, that growth probably would have taken place under the NPP as well.

In an era where political structures are increasingly neoliberal, politicians are more and more legislating their way out of the economy in the name of the free market. As a result, the market is expected to do what it will do, regardless of who is at the helm of government. At the behest of their campaign funders, politicians do what they can to leave the economy alone. They still, however, use economic activity to justify their claim to power.

We’ve seen this in the US. As Republicans have blamed Obama for recession and anemic economic growth, Democrats have responded by pointing out that the current financial crisis was fostered and began in the Bush era. While I’m all for Bush bashing, and while his policies (or lack there of) worsened the recession when it hit, the housing bubble which burst and sparked the current crisis was also allowed to overinflate during the preceding Clinton administration. Nobody did anything about it. They just let the market do what it was going to do. At a time that meant growth and at another time that meant crisis.

As is more and more the case for Americans, jobs are a top priority for most Ghanaians (especially young Ghanaians). Like in the US, Ghanaian politicians’ efforts to woo voters include not-so-subtle attempts to convince the electorate that they will increase the availability of quality jobs and that the overall economic well-being of the country will improve as a result. Unfortunately, more and more establishment politicians’ (in the US, Ghana, and many other countries) only real interest in economy is that it will operate in ways that rewards their friends, family, and campaign contributors (read: the 1%). But that doesn’t stop them from exploiting the economic realities of the 99% for the good of their political careers.

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