The government of Ghana resisted going to the IMF for months until its economic crisis degenerated to the point of imminent catastrophe. But once it did, one fine day in July 2022, it has pursued the program with the enthusiasm and zeal of a Pentecostal convert. And been well rewarded for it. In its latest assessment of the program which commenced in May 2023, the IMF was fulsome in praise, at least in IMF-speak.

Source: Tilapia (TV3)

As Ghana’s Finance Ministry gets ready to present its first post-review budget this week, many observers have been frustrated by IMF legalese, diplomatese and double-speak. They want it straight: is Ghana’s IMF program producing the economic wonders suggested by the government with the seeming endorsement of the IMF? This essay attempts to grapple with that question.

There is no doubting the fact that Ghana’s IMF ECF program has stanched the acute blood-flow seen at the height of the economic crisis. Inflation has fallen from 54% at the height of the crisis to 38% today. Currency depreciation has slowed from an annualised rate of more than 55% as at October 2022 to about 22% today. No one can dispute the sheer tenacity and relative skill with which the government, and in particular the Finance Minister, has managed to ram the IMF program through without the barest glint of a national consensus. Despite the absolute disregard for the opinions of civil society organisations, the political opposition, and even numerous dissenters within the ruling party, the government has successfully concluded a staff review of the first phase of the IMF program.

The IMF thus, definitely, has a point when it said in its press release at the end of the review that things have improved. The only question is whether the prospects are as bright and the improvements as solid as they and the government have sought to portray. The simple answer is “no”. The much-touted recovery is sluggish at best, and by some measures even illusory.

For example, a major indicator in any import-dependent economy is the inbound trade level. Central bank data for the first four months of 2023 suggests that imports of goods are lagging 2016 figures, with a possible fall in value by more than 6% relative to the 2016 figures. (Exports do not illuminate macroeconomic trends well in Ghana’s case because they are dominated by commodities whose pricing align with global, rather than local, cycles.) Correspondingly, the country’s main trading port, Tema Harbour, has seen a drop in container volumes exceeding 20% measured against the 2021 level. All the principal interest rates in the economy are at levels last seen two and half decades ago.

Compared to 2022, when the central bank’s Real Composite Index of Economic Activity (CIEA) showed positive growth every month until the last few months of the year, the CIEA in 2023 has recorded, albeit with a tapering trend, persistent negative growth since January of this year. Non-performing loans have risen from an average of ~14% in the last quarter of 2022, when the IMF program was essentially finalised, to roughly 21% today, putting ~$1.1 billion of banking assets at risk.

Some of the worst performing borrowers in the economy remain state-owned enterprises, which have exposed the government to $1.4 billion of potential liabilities not accounted for in the country’s ongoing debt salvage operation. A raft of so-called “public-private partnerships” (PPPs) sold as “commercially self-sustainable”, because the private sector was meant to underwrite commercial risk, have become a quasi-fiscal albatross around the neck of the state. The vaunted Ghana Card scheme (a civil identification project) is one such mess, with unbudgeted state liabilities since 2019 hitting $70 million by close of 2022.

The shakiness of the recovery owes much to the laxity in certain aspects of the ongoing ECF program. Much has been made of the success of the fiscal consolidation plan. But the praise is hardly critical. A great fiscal consolidation strategy must be closely complemented by tightening monetary conditions, at least in the medium-term. Yet, compared to 2022, over the period for which data is available, broad money supply in Ghana has increased by roughly 50%.

As empirical studies on dollarized economies, like Ghana’s, have shown, effective broad money supply expansion is one of the trends best correlated with persistent inflationary pressures. Not surprisingly, the pace of disinflation has been lacklustre with price falls in the producer segment reflecting more a collapse in B2B demand rather than any structural relief. Consumer-level prices thus remain stubbornly high.

Last year, this author wrote the following about the IMF program:

16. IMF will not fix systemic governance deficits

Repeating any treatment for the 17th time cannot be an occasion for celebration. An IMF program is merely an opportunity to attempt a reset of specific fiscal dials. It does not transform national governance culture wholesale on any level. The eventual transformation of Ghana’s economy to one of sustainable growth and widespread prosperity cannot be delegated to technical interventions by international organisations.

17. The fight is still on the homefront

It shall only come about as a product of the nation-building struggle. IMF will come and go. It is not a savior from poor economic leadership. But neither should it be treated as a convenient scapegoat for homebrewed failures. The fight for true economic liberation remains that of Ghanaian citizens alone.

In somewhat depressing fashion, the way the ECF program is being implemented appears to be vindicating the above sentiment much too readily. To fully appreciate this fact it helps to start at the beginning.

Despite Ghana’s initial aloof posture, the IMF was very keen to do a deal, having wooed the country relentlessly. So, in a somewhat expedited fashion, Ghana reached a staff-level agreement (an understanding to move forward, in principle) with the IMF in December 2022, having already begun to incorporate the key elements agreed with the IMF over the previous six months in informal and formal negotiations into the national budgeting framework and in its broader crisis-response strategy.

To get IMF Board approval of the in-principle agreement, Ghana had to undergo debt restructuring, during which the government did everything to pass on all the pain to the private sector whilst preserving most of its political flexibility.

Whilst the entire process was more chaotic and rockier than it should have been, the government did manage to do just enough to secure the coveted approval by May 2023 (after which it returned to the unfinished business of extracting more relief from beleaguered private creditors).

Along with the approval came a disbursement schedule for the $3 billion bailout package in the form presented below.

The government’s strategy of shifting most of the pain in the ECF program to the private sector, instead of more frontally grappling with the need to rein in its spending, dragged out the debt restructuring process well into October 2023. Fitch could thus only upgrade the country’s local debt ratings to one notch above restricted default in November 2023. The restricted default rating on foreign debt remains as the government is driving a very hard bargain with foreign creditors.

As shown in the table below, abstracted from an IMF working paper on the subject, Ghana’s path to international creditworthiness is bound to be more protracted than many other countries that have gone through a debt crisis over the years because of the tactical choices made by the government.

Government data, furthermore, shows that, notwithstanding the supposed fiscal consolidation effort, public sector wage growth continues, with the government on course to spend ~12% more than budgeted for 2023. Government operations costs have also seen no cuts whatsoever. The President continues to retain and pay over 100 Ministers and the Presidency’s personnel roster, long bloated by secondments from across the public sector, has not been revised throughout the crisis. It is useful to bear in mind that a committee of eminent experts tasked to look into constitutional matters has advised that the country will work fine with just 25 Ministers and can easily do away with a whole panoply of sinecures and redundant offices. Even more bizarrely, the government refuses to terminate white elephant projects like a so-called “National Cathedral”.

Yet, in the first review of the ECF program, the IMF has been fulsome in praise of Ghana’s performance under the program. How to explain this paradox? Simple really: sleight of hand.

Frontloading the domestic debt restructuring and freezing payments on servicing overseas financial obligations, particularly Eurobond servicing, which also naturally led to a decline in foreign-financed CAPEX, allowed government spending to come down just enough to lower the fiscal deficit just enough to meet the IMF program’s expectations.

Furthermore, when a government no longer services its obligations, including to corporate holders of domestic debt, it ripples across the rest of the system, tampering economic levels, and conserving scarce foreign exchange, with a resultant effect on inflation and the exchange rate.

Complementing the above strategy is a clever decision by the IMF to narrow down the review criteria to those areas highly responsive to these short-term stabilisation measures. The table below lists the said criteria. A perfunctory examination would show that merely by freezing government obligations to the private sector, the majority of the first review hurdles were already bound to be crossed.

Drawing partly on work done by Accra-based IFS on Ghana’s previous IMF ECF program (2015 to 2019), we can contrast the 2023 scorecard aced by the current government with the review criteria of the 2015 program presented in the tables below.

Some of the key scoring indicators removed from the recent review include wage bill management, domestic arrears management, and broad money dynamics. The very areas the government is underperforming in.

Even more fascinatingly, the IMF decided to scale down the ambition of the phase one review scope by not even touching on the structural reform agenda at all. In the 2015 program, on the other hand, structural targets, as listed in the table below, such as blocking waste in public spending, were important criteria in the review process and the source of some of the relatively harsher verdicts delivered by the IMF then. All this “marking scheme slimming down” stuff is very curious because Ghana’s economy is in a far worse shape today than was the case in 2015. The conventional wisdom, to use a simple analogy, is that the sicker the patient the greater the need for more monitoring indicators.

It is clear to even the casual observer that the IMF having learnt its lessons over the years and having thus become humble about how much its programs can actually engender lasting change has very shrewdly decided this time around to alter the marking scheme in order to prop up the government’s goal of manufacturing program momentum, at all cost. No more shall pesky civil society activists like this author find it easy showing how much the ECF program is falling short of its own reach.

In fact, unlike in 2015 when the first few months of the ECF program saw the government being subjected to diagnostic reviews, this time around, the plan is to complete the first governance diagnostic in 2024, nearly a year after formal commencement of the program.

That the marking scheme for the review was changed by the IMF to ensure that the Ghanaian government will pass with flying colours is but just one of the curious aspects of the ongoing ECF program. In some cases, critical evidence was simply ignored. For instance, in the area of social protection, Ghana’s LEAP program designed to support the most vulnerable in society came up for much praise by IMF reviewers. Yet, Ghana’s own Auditor General have been trenchant in their criticism, lamenting how, for instance, a cost threshold that should not have crossed 10% escalated past 22%.

Just as well that no structural reform issues were tackled. The two main sectors highlighted for special attention in this latest IMF bailout program – energy and cocoa – have degenerated considerably since the program started.

According to analysis by KPMG, the energy sector faces worse outcomes than initially assumed in the areas of distribution-level power sale collections, technical losses, OPEX failures, and generation-level losses. Combined, these problems could lead to cumulative accounting shortfalls of roughly $8.275 billion by the end of 2023 against a 2019 baseline.

According to Ghana’s Ministry of Energy, collection losses in energy sector sales for 2023 have worsened by a mindboggling 20 times compared to 2017 figures. The country’s state-owned gas producers continue to lose 80% of recoverable value on each unit of gas sold to a private generator called Genser. The main distribution utility, and the primary source of cash for the entire energy system, ECG, has wasted tens of millions of dollars on metering solutions that still leave more than a quarter of bills uncollected. Worse of all, none of these solutions were competitively procured. In fact, ECG is working assiduously to be exempted from all public sector procurement constraints so it can continue dishing out sweetheart contracts to favourite fuel and meter contractors.

In the cocoa sector, debt restructuring has not been able to redeem the state-owned marketing monopoly, Cocobod. For the first time in 30 years, it has struggled to close the annual syndication loan well ahead of the main buying season. In spite of the obvious certainty of funding challenges, the government chose to increase the farmgate price of cocoa ahead of securing the necessary financing for the buying season.

None of Cocobod’s worsening financial conditions are inexplicable. Massive waste and inefficiencies have in recent years become hallmarks of how it does business. As the data below from Ghana’s Auditor General shows, Cocobod can save ~65% of its CAPEX on large-scale infrastructure, like the vaunted cocoa roads, that is if a cocoa trader should even be investing in such projects, simply by using competitive procurement methods. It simply won’t.

None of these governance defects have been tackled with any seriousness so far as part of the IMF program because of the tactical decision to focus primarily on shifting the pain of adjustment to the private sector.

The shrewd way the IMF and the government are going about gaming the marking scheme for the government’s performance in the ECF program, notwithstanding, the strategy of deflecting all pain elsewhere may well backfire at some point.

Ghana is due for an inflow of a second tranche of $600 million from the ECF. However, per the agreement with the IMF, the release is conditional on the country’s Paris Club creditors and China issuing a letter of Intent or a draft MOU confirming that agreement has been reached in principle to restructure the country’s bilateral debts. However, some confusion has broken out among countries who want the coverage period of the debts eligible for restructuring to end in 2020, on one hand, and those who insist that it must stretch to end-2022, on the other.

Ghana and the IMF, of course, want the maximum coverage possible in order to extract the deepest possible debt-relief, all the better for allowing the government to postpone harder austerity decisions. They have enlisted the United States into their corner. The US is more than happy to deploy its immense geopolitical capital in support of these causes because it has quietly wrung out important concessions from Ghana over the course of this whole IMF bailout imbroglio, such as the installation of an Advisor in Accra with broad, unpublicised, influence over sovereign financial planning.

The end-2022 cut-off date for debt coverage would, however, also ensnare major export credit facilities advanced by some European countries. And it will impact regional development finance banks like Afreximbank, who advanced a large loan to Ghana within the proposed debt relief period under very opaque circumstances. Afreximbank must have been shaken by this development given its already somewhat precarious international credit rating (BBB, compared to, say, the Islamic Development Bank’s AAA).

The Ghanaian government, with the backing of the IMF, may pat itself on the back for its shrewd burden-shifting, but the export credit agencies and DFIs taking the hit are part of deep financial networks. The government may find that it gets much harder securing new facilities in the near future. Even though freeing up fiscal capacity by restructuring old debts might appear, on first sight, as a clever way of saving borrowing room for vote-attracting projects ahead of next year’s ultracompetitive general elections, there is a massive downside: alienating prospective creditors. Already, Afreximbank has been stalling on arranging financing for planned railway investments.

If the point of the scorecard-gaming is to speed up Ghana’s return to international creditworthiness, then it is clearly in conflict with the burden-shifting, faux-austerity, strategy. And both strategies are, undoubtedly, in tension with Ghana’s true national interest of a durable, reform-backed, recovery.

In 2018, global technology giant, Google, opened its first Artificial Intelligence (AI) research center in Africa. The lucky host country? Ghana. A country whose new leadership was ratcheting up long proclaimed hopes of making the country: “the gateway to Africa”.

Image Source:
Regina Jere (New African Magazine)

The tech giant’s decision to choose Ghana as the home of its AI hub in Africa came on the back of a much-publicized trip by the country’s Vice President to Silicon Valley, and was naturally seen as one of the fruits of highly successful economic diplomacy moves by the new government.

Three years later, Twitter also decided to choose Ghana for its “Africa HQ”.

Though Ghana has had some false starts in its perennial quest to position itself as the continent’s tech hub, the Hope City affair being merely one example, these high-profile seeming endorsements clearly signaled a step-change in the level of seriousness.

Linking intimately with the “Ghana Beyond Aid” agenda (the country’s now seemingly aborted plan to “graduate” from international development aid) and the “Digitalisation agenda” championed by the Vice President, the “hub” strategy was placed in pole position at the top of the country’s engagement with the World Bank, as the extract below from the Bank’s country diagnostic shows.

In other essays, this author has expressed his reservations about how the digitalisation vision has been executed so far. In this brief note, the aim is to quickly, and at a very high level, update readers on the hub strategy specifically using the Google AI experience as a micro case study. The analysis shall be based primarily on public disclosures made by Google’s executives working on the project.

The Google AI center in Accra has so far focused on, or engaged around, six main areas of exploration:

  • Spatial analysis, with a focus on the built environment,
  • Hydrological modeling,
  • Insect pest swarm modeling,
  • Maternal and reproductive health
  • Speech disabilities, and
  • Primary school reading skills

It is fair to assume that a key reason why an African country, or any country for that matter, would aim to attract global technology companies to invest in their country, especially as part of a “regional hub” strategy, is the building of an ecosystem for nurturing capabilities that can, in turn, be harnessed to solve national challenges, and better exploit available opportunities. A secondary objective is to turn the country into a platform for solving regional problems and exporting solutions to neighbouring countries.

A sound question then arises as to whether Ghana has been able to align its national policy priorities with those of Google in the four years since the latter set up shop in the country.

From what can be seen so far that work is still very much outstanding, as should be evident by examining five top Google focus areas in Ghana a bit more closely.


Ghana’s biggest priority in the geospatial space right now is bolstering its digital address system for development purposes. The government is keen to locate people where they stay and work for purposes of service delivery, national security, financial services KYC and, obviously, civil identification.

So much so that it sets up a “digital addressing system” – GhanaPostGPS – that has so far, according to the government, seen 7.5 million individual physical structures geo-tagged. So far, there have been about 1.4 million downloads across the various app stores, suggesting active installations of less than one million.

Most independent analysts who have studied the system describe it as an unmitigated failure, or at best a serious disappointment. Enterprise plug-ins are still unavailable 6 years after launch and virtually no e-commerce or digital service integrating it into their operations. It is at this point completely unclear what problem exactly GhanaPostGPS is solving, vindicating all the earlier scepticism about the approach.

The good thing is that the government itself, albeit belatedly, recognises the lacklustre results and has made overtures to Google for some kind of tight integration.

One would therefore think that with a Google AI Center in the country working on geo-spatial stuff, this would be one of the prime areas for collaboration. Alas, no. Google’s work in Ghana in this context has strictly focused on improving its Open Buildings dataset.

The primary goal of the entire effort is to make it easier for software systems to scan satellite imagery and quickly scope out buildings and their layout. Whilst this is important work (some researchers, for example, are using the data to project urban growth in Africa), it is very early-stage basic research that requires considerable investment in applied development for any sort of socioeconomic impact. Unfortunately, there has been no uptake so far for the outputs among any of Ghana’s main planning agencies, and, obviously, no derivative civil or business services.

Hydrological Modelling

The most topical issue, outside the rough and tumble of political life, in Ghana these past few weeks has been the disastrous way in which a raft of agencies in Ghana handled the “controlled spillage” of water from the country’s biggest hydroelectric dam. Despite claimed simulation successes, the exercise ended up displacing thousands from their homes and livelihoods.

Source: Google Research

Just as the horrors of the Akosombo spillage start to abate, another perennial “controlled spillage” mess, the Kompienga and Bagre Dam overflow, is reported to be imminent.

Regular flooding in Ghana’s capital, Accra, is the stuff of legends.  

It doesn’t take genius to link the need for better forecasting, spatial planning, and effective simulations in Ghana’s flooding management context to Google’s work on its Flood Hub.

Yet, this author’s detailed analysis of various outputs from Google’s “floodcasting” work so far has revealed an insignificant footprint of Ghanaian involvement, engagement, and results. Only broad weather pattern information in Flood Hub touches Ghana, the same kind of information obtainable from other weather data sources.

Insect Pest Swarm Modelling

Google’s work in this area focuses heavily on predicting locust outbreaks, a kind of pest invasion in which billions of the insects converge and descend upon a geographical area to wreak vegetational havoc.

Source: Sebastian Kettley (Daily Express)

Locust invasions are highly blamed for food security challenges in East Africa and elsewhere. In West Africa, on the other hand, the last time locust plagues were a major link in food systems collapse was in the 1940s.

In Ghana, the insect pests of the greatest economic significance are mirids that attack cocoa farms, as any researcher in the space would tell you. Yet, farmers’ knowledge about these pernicious insects are heavily constrained by weak extension services.

AI systems that integrate weather and climate, geospatial, and agronomic data for integrated pest management continue to grow in importance, though clearly not in Ghana. It is rather curious then to see no cross-fertilisation so far between the work being undertaken at the Google AI Center and the various strands of efforts underway to contain the collapsing yields being witnessed in Ghana’s cash crop sector due to insect pests and other infestations.

Maternal Health

Google says it is keen to advance the use of AI in ultrasound technologies to improve maternal and reproductive care in Africa. Some of that work is being done from Accra.

Image Source: Heather Donahoe

In Ghana, the biggest cause of maternal deaths used to be post-partum hemorrhage (excessive bleeding during childbirth) but a growing number of experts say that hypertension-related issues have taken over. Leading clinical excellence organisations in the world have fingered pre-eclampsia as the leading culprit.

Serious work is today going on around the world to apply AI and other digital technologies to the complex prediction and management of pre-eclampsia and other hypertensive disorders. As the proportion of childbirth deaths associated with hypertension-related deaths in Ghana inch towards 40%, one can be forgiven for expecting a raft of technology-enabled interventions.

It is intriguing that none of Google’s AI-for-health work, some of which is apparently supported by engineers based in Ghana, interfaces with actual maternal mortality programs in the country’s health system. Unlike the case in Kenya, where Google is active in getting ultrasound applications into care delivery settings.

Pupils’ Reading Skills

Google says some of the work feeding into its new Read Along app owes to contributions by personnel based in Accra. Read Along literally aims to reinvent the age-old format of parents and teachers teaching children to read through learning companionship (and the occasional bedtime story).

In India, Google works closely with states like Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh to incorporate Read Along into curricular instruction. Unfortunately, there is no such deep engagement in Ghana. Which is sad considering how more than 90% in testing cohorts of primary school children have been recorded scoring zero on national reading comprehension benchmark tests.

Building a Real Tech Ecosystem that can harness the global-class resources takes work

From the quick scan above of Google’s AI work in Ghana, the pattern is obvious. From a corporate standpoint, Google sees the Ghana location as just one node in a global network for early-stage solution seeking (evident in the fact that nearly 5 months after the inaugural Head left to found a startup, Google is yet to name a substantive replacement).

Google does not have immediate responsibility for infusing new capabilities into the Ghanaian ecosystem. That is the duty and burden of the Ghanaian policy community, which has so far failed to build the necessary linkages across the country’s R&D labs, like Google’s; Ghana’s teeming startup community; and the policy think tanks in order to better connect national priorities with the technological resources emerging in the country.

This author was not surprised to see a lack of growth in numbers of Ghanaian engineers engaged in cutting-edge research at the Google AI center. The publishing output from the Center reviewed often had few Ghanaian co-authors (a rough count suggesting less than 10% in certain corpuses).

Global/multinational tech companies have a clear role to play in augmenting national innovation ecosystems. But they cannot invent a policy medium when none exists.

When leaders only extract PR benefits from the early fruits of “regional hub” strategies but fail in their commitment to drive results, we see episodes like the unfolding Twitter debacle.  A year after the Twitter facility was shut down in Accra, following the company’s takeover, former employees have still not been paid their severance. Sadly, the country’s labour regulatory institutions appear impotent to intervene.

Ghana does have what it takes to become a regional tech hub, but it will take more than just hope, enthusiasm, and a knack for PR.

Tomorrow, the man tipped to win the primaries of Ghana’s ruling party and succeed the country’s sitting President as the ruling party’s candidate in the 2024 elections shall NOT be coronated.

The Man of the Moment.
Source: Kojo Emmanuel (Pulse)

Coronation-like landslides matter

His non-coronation is a source of great anguish for party bosses who have done everything to make the ascendancy of the Vice President to the “flagbearer” position resemble a sweeping endorsement from all corners of Ghana’s oldest political party. Since the return to democracy in 1992, no candidate has won the presidential elections without a landslide victory during their party’s primaries.

For instance, the Opposition Leader, himself a former President and Vice President, garnered nearly 99% in the Opposition NDC’s primaries six months ago. The sitting President, in keeping with the same trend, scored nearly 95% in the 2014 primaries that blazed his way to the presidency.

On those occasions when a presidential candidate has won by less than 85% in their own party’s primaries (like in 2002 and 2006 during the NDC primaries; or in 2007 and 2010 during the NPP primaries), their chance of winning the subsequent national elections has been almost nil (the 2000 elections being a notable exception). It would seem from the record that carrying a party to a successful showing in Ghanaian general elections requires a candidate to mobilise a resounding and sweeping endorsement, a coronation, in essence.

The Magic Rise

The current Veep has had a charmed life in his political career. Plucked from relative obscurity, like other Veeps before him, from the technocratic halls of the Bank of Ghana to join the NPP presidential ticket a few months to the 2008 general election, he had everything to prove. Since then, the 60 year-old politician has earned his stripes by transforming himself into the ruling NPP’s most ardent champion of the party’s signature, slogan-heavy, political PR style.

His impeccable academic credentials and northern ethnic and Islamic religious heritage in a party dominated by Southern, mainly Akan, Christians combined to endow his rise with a certain kind of exotic fairy-tale flourish. His profile rose in the party so dramatically that at one point a coronation seemed inevitable as party bigshots lined up behind the narrative of his inevitability. And then Ghana’s economic down-spiral began, eventually landing in a catastrophic heap requiring an emergency IMF bailout and national insolvency.  

The same credentials in economics that had catapulted the Veep in the eyes of the party’s elite gatekeepers during the party’s spell in opposition, and made him the most effective lampooner of the ruling government’s economic policies, have today also become his undoing. His lack of deep grounding in the ruling party is suddenly an issue again. The grassroots of the party are suddenly being asked by his rivals whether they get what all the fuss is about that Oxford economics degree and those majestic lectures that have defined his rise. Many, it would seem, are suddenly unsure about the grand narrative of the Veep’s specialness.

A Maverick party-pooper

Which is probably why the Veep’s most effective rival in the primaries is a maverick businessman and veteran ruling party parliamentarian who boasts of employing 7000 people despite never having bothered to complete his undergraduate degree in a suburban New York university.

The said rival’s shoot from the hip politics and eccentric campaign style of criticizing the record of the government even though this is an internal election has rattled party bosses who have been at pains to deny his accusations of their favoritism towards the Veep, whilst still needing to give as strong a hint as possible that failure to elect the first Muslim and Northerner as the NPP’s presidential candidate will seal the charge against the Party of being biased towards the predominantly Akan Christian South.

The Primacy of Identity Politics

All said and done, there will be no coronation tomorrow, Saturday, the 4th of November, 2023. The Veep is expected to cross the line in a comfortable lead but considerably below the threshold that super-successful candidates have scored in internal primaries ahead of victory at the national polls. What does this mean for his chances in the 2024 general election?

If the 2024 elections were to be fought primarily on policy performance, then, coupled with the less than complete mobilization of the ruling party’s base, as manifested by his expected result in tomorrow’s primaries, the opposition NDC would have won in a heartbeat. But like elections all over the world, policy is rarely the sole defining factor, and the issue of identity politics looms large.

If the Veep wins the primaries as predicted, the NPP’s historical strength in the southern and middle-belt Akan areas mean that he will have far more latitude in pressing identity-related issues in the Muslim majority areas and the geographical North of the country than the Opposition’s candidate, who is a Christian from the North. The reason is simply that the NDC has a somewhat fraught relationship with voters in the Akan heartland, urging serious circumspection about how they approach campaigning in the North and the Muslim-dominated “Zongos” for fear of alienating the highly populous Akan regions.

Because ethnic alliances and allegiances in Ghana usually radiate through the political parties to envelop the candidates, rather than the other way round (very different from the case in Kenya and Nigeria in that sense), the Veep is unlikely to lose many Akan and Christian voters regardless of the intensity of his campaign team’s overtures to the Islamic and Northern constituencies, which frees them to be more creative and adventurous.

The Opposition’s only hope of countering this new dynamic is to come up with their own dynamic to unsettle the Akan heartland of the ruling party. In a recent tweet, I consolidated one possible approach around the idea of an “Akan heartland vote-puller” being selected as the running mate to the Opposition Leader. Upon reflection, it is clear that more than that would be required in terms of effective messaging, and campaign machinery all-round, targeted at the fraying seams of the Akan meta-identity. Recall that the ruling party won the presidential race three years ago with a 500,000 vote margin, a significant gap that the Opposition must close before they can cross the line.

One controversial point is that the “Akan Heartland” refers less to all the Akan regions and more to those parts of the Akan-dominated geography with predictable voting patterns. Highly urbanized coastal towns like Cape Coast or Mankessim tend to swing with the national mood and are thus less susceptible to the kind of strategy discussed above.

It is true that the Opposition is extremely confident of winning the next elections. Their conviction comes from the belief that the Veep embodies a number of serious electoral risks. Some say that a sizeable number of evangelical Christians in the swing voters’ category might balk at voting for a Muslim (Ghana has never had a publicly-confessed Muslim as President). Others say that the Veep is so deeply entangled with the policy chaos of recent years that he will be ready fodder for scathing satirists when the campaign season start.

The religious question, as already hinted, can go either way. What the Veep loses from the evangelical community, he may gain from the devout Islamic community.

The policy charges are stronger. The Veep sold himself as an economic guru responsible for architecting a wholesale transformation of the country. The self-evident reality is that the country has declared bankruptcy and large portions of private wealth have been wiped away in the most intense economic crisis since 1983. Then there is a nascent IMF austerity program. As he himself wrote in 1998, IMF programs tend to create losers and winners, generating electoral consequences.

True, in recent years, the Veep has also positioned himself as a digital champion, and some allege that as the economy has tanked, this “tilt” has now become a hard pivot.

For most people, the digitalisation results are sound but modest. For hardcore policy people, like some of those who regularly read these pages, however, there is actually a lot to fault about the Veep’s handling of the so-called digitalisation agenda. Let us look at a few of the most prominent digitalisation flagships.

Digital Addressing

Ghana has spent millions of dollars on a pre-existing digital application reskinned into a national geotagging platform by the private app developer.

This is despite the said system merely drawing on open-source mapping solutions available at no cost from the primary geolocation platforms. It took years for the Veep and his team to realise this. Instead of a serious fix, he hastily announced to the country three years ago that Google has agreed to “upload” Ghana’s mapping system into its platform, when such a move would be completely pointless as Google already offers the Plus Codes system that duplicates the full set of functions ineffectively performed by Ghana’s quaint customisation. Needless to say, nothing of that sort happened. A little more genuine consultation with the Ghanaian tech community would have saved the country money and ensured that resources go towards more value-adding geolocation integration into service delivery instead of replicating pre-existing geotagging systems. As it is now, all the digital platforms serving Ghana simply use Google or other international digital geolocation tools, and not the national system.

National ID

The principle that national identification can be a critical foundation for public service delivery is not new. The World Bank’s ID4D initiative launched in 2014 builds on policy awareness dating back decades, with various European governments introducing national IDs in 1938 and thereafter before civil rights concerns led to a slowdown in their momentum. The Ivorien national ID Card scheme, for instance, has been running continuously since 2001.

It is undeniable that the Veep’s sponsorship of the Ghana Card project has led to the fastest and deepest enrolment of Ghanaians since efforts to roll out a National ID began in 2003. More Ghanaians than ever before now have a secure form of ID that is compatible with other digital services.

But a great deal of the good that could have been done by this system has been forgone due to the extreme profiteering approach adopted. The system as it currently exists is primarily a cash-cow for its enterprising private sector “partners”, who are not merely contractors but effective controllers and owners of the underpinning technology infrastructure.

Matters came to a head when the country was effectively subject to blackmail during the latest mass voters’ registration. The private contractors demanded millions of dollars before the country could commit to provide enough cards to first-time voters. In the end, plans to rely solely on the Ghana Card had to be abandoned. At the end of the exercise, it was noted that over 60% of young voters registering for the first time did not have a Ghana Card. High expense has prevented sufficient coverage despite the program costing over 40 times the cost per capita of India’s much praised model.

In a similar vein, promises to tightly integrate government services have failed to be realized because every such integration requires participating state agencies to pay millions of dollars to the private contractors for basic database linking.

Rather than focus on providing a low-cost KYC mechanism over the internet to boost the digital economy, the private vendors driving the Ghana Card are focused on selling hardware terminals for card validation to financial institutions, scuttling the government’s open banking promises. The dramatic resistance of the Ministry of Communications to a similar attempt to foist these terminals on telecom agents led to a bizarre situation where the Ghana Card was the sole document for SIM card registration yet telecom operators could not validate the cards in real-time. The country was bewildered to read letters from the National Identification Authority discrediting the approach of the Ministry and insisting on selling these devices and services.

Perhaps, the height of confusion was reached when a misguided effort to bypass the Ghanaian passport and embed the country’s core e-passport mechanism into the Ghana Card resulted in comical clashes with the world body at the helm of affairs, ICAO. In the end, promises to get all of ECOWAS to submit to Ghana’s model for e-Passport functionality failed as, obviously, most countries prefer to conform to ICAO’s pace and strategy. This is what happens when an initiative held up as a public good is in fact motivated primarily by private profit.

And a raft of others

In his digital champion heydays, not a day went by without the Veep launching one “transformative” digital project or the other. A careful assay of the outcomes of most of these projects lead to very sobering conclusions.

Since MASLOC, one of the government’s small business lending programs, was digitalized in 2020 to great fanfare as part of the Veep-led digitalization agenda, ostensibly to eliminate inefficiencies and graft, Ghana’s Auditor General has published scathing reports showing a degeneration in performance, including rising default rates, across activities such as its PINCO, poultry, and tricycle-acquisition projects.

In 2019, the Veep launched a national e-procurement system to fix bid-rigging and other procurement abuse only for the country to be thrust into procurement scandal after scandal, from the cathedral affair to the current Bank of Ghana mess. At one point, even the head of the procurement control agency was entangled in a bizarre “tenders for sale” scandal leading to his indictment. It goes without saying that the e-procurement system launched to great fanfare by the Veep has had no impact whatsoever across most procurement entities even in the central government.


In short, the hard pivot from economic transformation to digitalisation-for-transformation by the Veep has not shielded him and the ruling party from the looming confrontation with the government’s policy record in the 2024 elections.

And yet, to reiterate my earlier analysis, neither policy performance nor the failed coronation is definitive in assessing the chances of the Veep should he win tomorrow’s internal contest as predicted. His mould-breaking ascent has introduced certain uncertainties into the settled electoral calculus of Ghana that should give pause to those in the Opposition’s electoral strategy team celebrating the imminent collapse of the government at the 2024 polls. Their celebration may well be premature.

As of this moment, the 2024 chessboard is only getting set, and one-half of it is cast in the shadow of a man readying his fugu for a date with destiny.