Ghana inaugurates New President

The world’s second largest cocoa producing country yesterday celebrated the inauguration of its new president, John Atta Mills. The event marked the end of the John Kufuor’s presidency which lasted two four-year terms. The initial election last December ended inconclusive since neither Mills nor his opponent Akufo-Addo received the necessary 50 percent of the vote. The runoff election on December 28 was extremely close–50.23 percent for Mills vs. 49.77 pecent for Akufo-Addo.

The election of Mills marks Ghana’s second  turn-over of power from one political party to another since former leader Jerry Rawlings reintroduced democractic elections in 1992. Rawlings himself came to power in after his second coup d’etat in 1981. Mills’ party, the National Democratic Congress, was originally founded by Rawlings as a vehicle to contest the first presidential elections in 1992. Rawlings was reelected in 1996. In 2000, having reached the constitutional two-term limit, Rawlings turned over the reigns of the party to John Atta Mills.

Ghanians, however, chose John Kuofor of the opposition New Patriotic Party in the 2000 election. This election marked the shift from a more social democratic to a market-based philosophy. Ghana’s economy grew rapidly under Kuofor, but the benefits of that growth were distributed very unevenly. During my own visit to Ghana last Feburary, I noticed both the signs of economic growth–new contstruction in everywhere in Accra, traffic choking the streets, large billboards advertising the newest cars and electronic gadget–and evidence of the unequal distribution. Obvious poverty existed right next to the new construction sites. It seemed as if the majority of the population was busy hawking wares on the sidewalks.

Mills and the National Democratic Congress have promised to focus more on poverty alleviation. This shift in perspective comes at the very time that Ghana is poised to become an oil producer (see my earlier post on Takoradi). Newfound oil revenue can serve as a catalyst for development but the experience of Nigeria should serve as a reminder of how much can go wrong when it comes to investing oil revenue wisely. Oil revenue can distort an economy quickly and cocoa, a main export crop, can easily fall by the wayside.

But the slim margin of victory will make it difficult for Mills to implement dramatic changes. This was certainly not a strong mandate for change.

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