Adding fuel to the fire: seven difficult months for Mahama

Baffour Ankomah

Seven months ago, John Dramani Mahama came into office as a president in his own right, although his position is being challenged at Ghana’s Supreme Court. With the case hanging over his head – capped by a series of major fires and a controversial rise in pump prices – Mahama is finding it difficult to deliver on electoral promises

Some presidents get lucky in their first few months in office, but nature and circumstances appear to have conspired to haunt Ghana’s President John Dramani Mahama since his controversial electoral victory last December, which the opposition candidate, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, is still disputing at the Supreme Court.

Seven months have passed since his inauguration on 7 January 2013, and if politicians were given to introspection, Mahama would be the first to admit that these have not been seven easy months at all. Misfortune after misfortune appears to dog his government’s every step and, as such, forced them to behave more like firefighters than soldiers under control of a plan, the government has not achieved much in the half year it has been in office.

Mahama first came to power on 24 July 2012 when his boss, President John Atta Mills, suddenly died on that day. As Vice President at the time, Mahama was made President six hours after Mills’ death in accordance with Ghana’s constitution, to finish Mills’ remaining term of office – which ended at last December’s elections. As ‘interim president’ (as many people saw him), Mahama was not given a hope in hell’s chance of winning the December presidential election, so his victory by a narrow margin confounded the pundits. According to the Electoral Commission (EC), Mahama won 50.7 per cent of the vote to challenger Nana Akufo-Addo’s 47.7 per cent.

Akufo-Addo cried foul and sought redress at the Supreme Court to overturn the EC-announced result. After initial pre-trial hearings lasting three months, the court started hearing the substantive case on 17 April, broadcast live on both TV and radio.

The counsel for the petitioners, Philip Addison, concluded his cross-examination of the Electorial Commissioner Kwadwo Afari-Gyan mid-July to bring the trial to an end. At the time of going to press, the parties involved were required to appear before the court on 31 July to present their final addresses. Judgement is to be delivered within 15 days after this.

The case has dominated the political discourse since Mahama’s inauguration, and caught the imagination of the population because of the live broadcasts.

As expected, these legal wrangles have polarised the politics of the country and appear to be distracting Mahama’s government from its course. The ruling party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and its supporters have accused Akufo-Addo and his New Patriotic Party (NPP) of being sour losers who want to destabilise the country through unbridled political ambition.

The polarisation of politics has been so acute that the King of Asante, Asantehene Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, felt obliged to make it the central plank of an address he gave at this year’s Annual Democracy Lecture organised by the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) in Accra in May.

The King, who normally does not dabble in national politics, in accordance with Ghana’s constitution, warned the nation that “the politicisation of everything in society was threatening the very foundations of the country”, and that if it did not stop, Ghana would be “in such a dangerous political minefield that one risks getting blown apart by the incendiary force of combined misinformation, misrepresentation and misconception”.

At the conclusion of the trial, pastors, priests and other civil leaders held meetings urging the supporters of both parties to accept the final ruling of the supreme court. Whether they will do so or not could well dictate the shape of Ghanaian politics in the near future.

In fact, political polarisation has not been Mahama’s only headache. A combination of misfortunes and brash decisions have made life difficult for his government. First was the fuel price. Ghana started producing oil in December 2010, but production has not reached a level to have a serious impact on the economy or affect the politics of the country. In the meantime, Mahama’s new government felt compelled by the world market price of crude oil to increase the domestic pump price a few weeks after coming into office.

It was a controversial decision, as most Ghanaians were expecting a cut, rather than a rise, in the fuel price. Traditionally, fuel price increases in the country have been accompanied by sudden jumps in the prices of goods and services right across the board. Because of the inflationary side-effect leading to a diminution in political popularity, previous governments have been reluctant to go down that route. To elect to bite the bullet after only a few weeks in office showed Mahama and his government to have no fear. But little did they know what was waiting for them at the next corner.

Days after the fuel price hike, the lights in the country went dim – and then out. The government explained that the West African gas pipeline that brings gas from fields in Nigeria to Benin, Togo and Ghana had developed unforeseen problems, disrupting supply to Ghana’s thermal plants at Aboadze in the Western Region and thus reducing the nation’s capacity to generate enough electricity for all.

As the fault was being repaired, the government promised to introduce electricity rationing as a short-term measure, but ‘load sharing’ as electricity rationing is known in Ghana, was still in force four months later.

Then followed water shortages in Accra and Kumasi, the nation’s two largest cities, and people began to wonder what was happening. But worse was to follow.

Between April and early June, nine markets across the country (six in Accra, two in Kumasi in the Ashanti Region, and one in Tamale in the Northern Region) were gutted by fire, compounding Mahama’s headache and conjuring in the minds of his supporters an army of arsonists, or even terrorists, who want to make matters worse for the already beleaguered government.

A worried Mahama moved quickly to set up a five-man committee to investigate the spate of fire outbreaks and report back in 21 days. It is a serious issue if one market burns down in Ghana. For nine to burn down on the trot is a grave political matter.

Unlike most modern nations, Ghana does not have a supermarket or shopping mall culture. In fact supermarkets and shopping malls are new concepts in the country, and even now they are few and far between.

But the market has always been king. Without an industrial sector to write home about, the market is where the wheels of the national economy turn, and the place where over half of the country’s 24 million population, mostly women, make their living. Thus if a market burns down a lot of livelihoods and national revenue go down with it.

The only saving grace for Mahama, in the midst of the misfortunes, has come from the Supreme Court where Akufo-Addo’s election case has been struggling to gain the expected traction. The case has equally paralysed the main opposition party, the NPP, as it is waiting to see the outcome before embarking on a rejuvenation drive.

If Akufo-Addo loses the case, the NPP is likely to replace him as leader. If he wins, Ghana will be in a constitutional crisis – how Mahama’s supporters will take his removal from office at the say-so of the Supreme Court is anybody’s guess.

About the author:

Ghana-born Baffour Ankomah is editor of the London-based New African magazine


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