Election campaigning wraps up in Ghana this weekend as some 17 million voters prepare to go to the polls for presidential and parliamentary elections on 7 December. The elections are expected to be a closely fought battle between two heavyweights of the Ghanaian political scene – incumbent President Nana Akufo-Addo and former President John Mahama.
"Has my work over the past four years impressed you?” Akufo-Addo asked supporters this week during campaigning in Ghana’s southern Ashanti region. “If it has, then vote four more for Nana,” he told a rally of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP).
Ghana’s 2020 elections feature two old rivals who have faced off in elections on two separate occasions, besides 10 other presidential contenders.
Mahama first came to power in 2012 following the death of his predecessor, John Atta Mills, and later beat Akufo-Addo in elections to secure his first full term as president.
In 2016, Akufo-Addo beat Mahama, accusing the then-incumbent of corruption and mismanagement.
These polls will be held against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic and shortly after the death of Jerry Rawlings, a charismatic, two-time former president who led two coups and loomed large over Ghanaian politics.
Policies on education have been one of Akufo-Addo’s key campaign points, according to correspondent Zubaida Mabuno Ismail.
“Nana initiated free education, today our children can attend school,” said Maame Serwa, during an NPP rally in Nkwantakese, 20 kilometres north of Kumasi, a city in Ashanti.
“Jobs have also been created in his four years and we have peace to work. We want him to win again,” said voter Serwa, in a report filed by correspondent Mabuno Ismail for RFI’s Africa Calling podcast.
Akufo-Addo’s free senior high school policy includes provision for school fees, meals, textbooks and school uniforms. It was a key promise during his 2016 election campaign.
The other key tenet of the incumbent’s campaign is his Planting for Food and Jobs initiative, designed to encourage farming and agriculture. Farmers taking part in the programme receive assistance for seed and fertilizer.
“I used to cultivate four acres of land but since the president started giving us free fertilizer, I’ve been able to add some 12 acres to my farm,” said cocoa farmer Amoateng Thomas.
The Ashanti region is traditionally a stronghold of the ruling NPP and Akufo-Addo scored a resounding victory in the 2016 polls, taking the region’s 47 constituencies with more than 76% of the vote.
“Don't say Nana has already won - I will not win until you vote so go out and cast your vote come Monday,” said Akufo-Addo, urging his supporters not to be complacent.
Reversing the incumbent’s policies
Former President Mahama focused on small-scale, artisanal mining on the campaign trail for his National Democratic Congress (NDC) party in Ghana’s Eastern Region this week, vowing to dismantle an initiative started by the incumbent.
Operation Vanguard, put in place by Akufo-Addo in 2017, targets illegal mining, known as galamsey, using a joint task force set up to crack down on unregulated operations.
“The NDC is returning to power and when we do, we will dissolve Operation Vanguard,” Mahama told supporters in Abrem north district, reported correspondent Mabuno Ismail.
NDC supporters complain that Akufo-Addo’s mining policy has robbed small-scale miners of their livelihoods.
“He brought Operation Vanguard to stop us, yet his family and the leaders of NPP are those engaged in the small-scale mining,” said Paa Yaw, complaining that his family had lost out, while those connected to the ruling party continue to benefit.
Mahama also criticised Akufo-Addo’s record on infrastructure projects, notably road development for the cocoa industry, aiming to improve major arterial roads across the country.
“We awarded your road from Nkawkaw on contract then we left office,” said Mahama, referring to a project linking transport connections to a town in southern Ghana. “In four years, the road was never attended to until three weeks to elections and all these are tricks, it’s not good enough,” he said.
The former president’s campaign has been marked by the inclusion of the country’s first ever female female vice-presidential candidate for a major party.
Former education minister Jane Naana Opoku-Agyeman candidacy as Mahama’s running mate could give the opposition NDC party an edge amongst Ghana’s female voters.
Ghana’s economy has been hit hard by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and both candidates have promised more spending to help boost the recovery.
Akufo-Addo’s NPP has proposed to help support rent and Mahama said his party will help create 1 million jobs.
The incumbent won the 2016 polls with more than 53% of the vote, with Mahama taking 44% of ballots, turnout was 68%.