Accra, Ghana – A middle-aged man driving a Toyota pick-up truck shouts political slogans into a loudspeaker while campaign music booms from the back of his truck for all to hear. As he barrels along a two-lane motorway in Ghana’s capital Accra, pedestrians wave their arms and motorists blast their car horns. Despite slowing economic growth, high unemployment, an unstable power sector and allegations of government mismanagement and corruption, excitement is high in this West African nation in anticipation of the December 7 presidential and parliamentary elections.
Incumbent President, John Dramani Mahama of the National Democratic Congress, and main opposition leader Nana Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party are the leading candidates, although four other parties and an independent nominee will also be on the ballot. Akufo-Addo lost to Mahama in a hotly contested election in 2012, after alleging fraud. The case was brought to the Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled in Mahama’s favour.
Elections in Ghana are generally peaceful, but anxiety and tension lurk in the shadows in a country that is only a generation removed from the establishment of democracy. Although voter confidence in Ghana’s independent election facilitator, the Electoral Commission (EC), is at an all-time high, opposition parties have fuelled distrust by questioning its credibility.
Al Jazeera spoke to voters about the integrity of the upcoming elections and the key issues that have dominated public discourse in the run-up to the vote, including the economy, unemployment, healthcare and the state of the country’s politics.
“The main problem Ghana in is that [politicians] promise things way beyond what they can do. They should begin to be very realistic about the policies they are rolling out.
During the 2012 elections, the NPP promised free high school education. In a developing country like Ghana, I thought it would’ve been very tough to achieve that goal. If it worked it would be very good, but I think it was just a promise to get people to vote for them.
NDC also promised that they would build 200 community high schools, but up to date, only a fraction of those have been built.
I think we should vote based on the policies and ideas of the parties. I should be convinced by the ideas you are bringing onboard and not because my family or tribe is NDC or NPP. That way we can never change the situation. We have to be floating voters.”
“When [NPP] was in power 8 years ago, I saw what they brought. They brought health insurance, school feeding programmes, capital and employment for the youth.
Now everything is spoiled. The economy is very bad. The cedi to [US] dollar ratio is almost four to one. This government has borrowed enough.
Based on what NPP did in the eight years they were in power, they will do much better than this president.”
“Some people are taking [the election] so personally, but I think it will be fine. We’re looking forward to a peaceful and safe election and I trust the EC.
I’m voting for NDC. I think our president deserves another chance. He needs time to be able to cover everything. You can’t expect him to do everything you want him to do in a small or limited amount of time.
I believe he will fulfil every objective he’s laid out. He’s been able to build more hospitals and schools, but he can work on increasing the salary of government workers.”
“The economy is not good, but I wouldn’t blame it on the government. I think it’s a worldwide problem. Still, [Mahama] is doing well. For example, when it comes to healthcare, he just opened Ridge Hospital [in Accra]. He has done what [former President] John Kufour couldn’t do, or what [former President] JJ Rawlings couldn’t do. He needs to be given a pat on the back, not insulted.
That’s fine if the NPP wants to come to power, but they should at least say [Mahama] has done well. Everyone knows what Mahama has done is good, but the NPP is overlooking it and saying it’s nothing.”
“Due to the economic hardships, I had to leave Kumasi and come to Accra. I had to divert my work from weaving kente to selling second-hand clothes from abroad.
I believe in the policies of the NPP. They are going to manage [the wealth] very well. But now we are suffering because of mismanagement and bad leadership.
Before, banks were chasing people for loans with a low interest rate. Now, you dare not go for a loan because you cannot pay. You have to provide collateral security, but what can I use as collateral security? I have nothing.
The NDC only thinks of themselves. They’ve been squandering the nation’s wealth. They keep on putting this nation into hardship. God has blessed us with so many resources like timber, gold, oil and diamonds, but we seem to not be making good use of them.”
“One of the biggest issues is about the elections being free, fair and transparent. Opposition parties in Ghana are having doubts about the credibility, which to me shouldn’t be so as they have been involved in all the decision-making processes regarding the election. But it’s politics, so I understand.
We are also focusing on healthcare with regards to the National Health Insurance Scheme because its current status is not encouraging. Portable drinking water is also an issue that Ghanaians care about.
Although there have been challenges, [Mahama] has been bold. That’s one of the qualities of a leader. You must see beyond your challenges and be on your feet. I would say on the whole he has done well.”
“In Ghana, [politicians] are giving us big promises, but they just want our votes. Four years later they’ll come again and tell a new story to get our votes. They start fixing the roads just when it’s about to be elections. The leaders are power and money drunk.
As for me, I’m not schooling because I need money to continue my education. I’m working to save. The economy is bad. The money is under people’s pillows and they’re sleeping on it. If the politicians would sacrifice one month’s pay, I’m sure Ghana would be a blessed nation.
So, I won’t vote. Why should I queue at 4AM when [politicians] don’t follow through with their promises?”
“I hope this year we are going to change the government because there’s no money in the system. We are suffering with all the school fees, light bills and water bills. Our youth are roaming about without work, so we need someone who will give them jobs.
With the NPP, we will have free senior high school, which will benefit me because I will get something small to support my children since they are about to enter high school.
If Mahama wins, we are going to suffer more. Day in and day out, things are getting worse. A few are enjoying [the economy], but the vast majority is suffering.”
“I don’t think the best party is in power, so I want to see a change in this election. Things are very difficult. It’s not like it used to be.
The government keeps taking taxes from us, but I don’t know what they’re using it for. They say they’re using it for the roads, schools and hospitals, but I only see them fixing some of that.
I want to see what the NPP can do, especially with its plans to build one dam in every village. There are some villages that don’t have access to water. They have to fetch water from the ground, which isn’t healthy.
I’m also hoping food prices will reduce. I’m ready to vote to see change in Ghana.”
“For most of us graduates, there are no good jobs. That’s the biggest issue people are facing.
The currency is also not doing well and electricity is unreliable. You buy pre-paid electricity and, in the blink of an eye, it’s gone. In the beginning [the power] was really bad. The light would go on and off all the time, but things are changing.
I think Mahama is investing in the country. It’s like a business. You have to invest in your business without expecting to gain an immediate profit. Then later, it will be successful.
For politics, it’s the same. And at the end of the day, it’s just an election. Someone is going to lose, so I don’t think there should be any conflict.”