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U.S.-Ghana Relations Are Strong Following December 2016 Elections

Ghana is one of the leading democracies on the African continent, with multiple peaceful interparty transitions since the return of multi-party democracy in 1992; a good record on human rights; an apolitical military; and a lively, free media. Ghanaians often note that whenever the Republican Party wins the White House, Ghana’s New Patriotic Party (NPP) wins Jubilee House—a coincidental tradition that held true again in 2016. Ghana’s presidential and parliamentary elections were peaceful, transparent, and credible; U.S. engagement played a critical role in that success, as well as in the resulting peaceful transition of power. 

Peace and Democracy Triumph Again

On December 7, 2016, Ghana conducted its seventh peaceful presidential and parliamentary elections since the establishment of the “Fourth Republic” in 1993. At about 8:00 PM GMT on December 9, then-President and National Democratic Congress (NDC) candidate John Dramani Mahama called the NPP’s Nana Akufo-Addo to concede the election and set the stage for Ghana’s third peaceful interparty transfer of power in the Fourth Republic. Shortly thereafter, Ghana’s Electoral Commission (EC) announced the official results of the presidential and parliamentary elections, bringing a sense of calm finality after two tense days of delays and suspicion. The Electoral Commission’s final tally showed Akufo-Addo winning by more than 1 million votes, with 53.85 percent of the vote to Mahama’s 44.40 percent. The other five presidential candidates combined accounted for less than 2 percent of the votes cast. The NPP won 169 seats in Parliament to the NDC’s 106, representing a net gain of 47 seats. The Electoral Commission calculated voter turnout at 68.62 percent, which is slightly lower than in years past yet still consistent with the average of 72.9 percent for first-round elections since 2000. The results were consistent with those gathered by international and domestic observers. The margin of victory, verified by the U.S.-financed parallel vote tabulation (PVT), and the Electoral Commission’s impartial and methodical conduct of the election ensured a transparent process, reduced tension, and likely prevented violence.

The U.S. government, mostly through USAID, provided approximately $7.3 million for nonpartisan, technical assistance for the elections. In fact, U.S. support for the elections proved invaluable, as our investments in the Electoral Commission, the National Peace Council (NPC), civil society and domestic and international observers translated into the peaceful, transparent election that made Ghanaians proud and set their country’s democracy apart from many other African nations. Perhaps most important, through a $2 million USAID grant, the Centre for Democratic Development, an independent Ghanaian NGO, deployed observers to 7,000 of the 29,000 polling stations and conducted a parallel vote tabulation, using data gathered from 1,500 of these observers to independently verify the officially declared results. The PVT results were spot on, showing less than a one-tenth of a percent variation with the official results. In the days between the election and the Electoral Commission’s declaration, the opposition party declared victory while rumors of low turnout, “over-voting” and hacking of the EC’s vote tabulation system swirled. Having accurate and independent PVT results was our ace-in-the-hole, sending a signal that any official results that strayed too far from the PVT’s numbers would undermine the credibility of the election. Having international observers from the National Democratic and International Republican Institutes (NDI and IRI)—financed jointly by the Bureaus of African Affairs and Democracy, Human Rights and Labor—was also invaluable. 

Relentless traditional diplomatic engagement with the Electoral Commission, party flagbearers, and the ruling government underpinned our technical support. Visiting Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield and I pressured the Electoral Commission to expedite the counting process while maintaining transparency. We also encouraged the two party flagbearers to accept the final results and dissuade their supporters from violence, as well as providing encouragement for the loser to concede defeat. At the same time, we used our public diplomacy messaging to call for calm and for all parties to avoid violence, and we coordinated messages with other diplomatic missions.    

Most observers expected a narrower win, and some feared a dispute over the results; yet frequent corruption scandals and accusations of economic mismanagement plagued President John Mahama’s administration and likely contributed to the NPP’s resounding victory. The NPP won the election largely on a message of economic reform and promises of creating a business-friendly atmosphere and stamping out corruption in Ghana, goals that align well with U.S. interests in the country. The new administration of President Akufo-Addo is committed to making Ghana “the most business-friendly” country on the African continent. Senior government officials repeatedly express their intentions to increase collaboration with the private sector, attract needed foreign direct investment, improve upon the ease of doing business in Ghana and rebrand Ghana for economic transformation.

A Regional Leader, with Room to Grow

Our support for peaceful, transparent elections was consistent with overall U.S. goals in Ghana, which focus on improving governance and strengthening institutions, investing in people, spurring economic growth through development assistance, increasing trade and investment and promoting peace and security. The U.S. government provides approximately $250 million in assistance to Ghana each year to support attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals and improve access to reliable and affordable energy, the rule of law, good governance, economic growth, education, health and food security. 

In 1957, Ghana became the first sub-Saharan African country to achieve independence from a colonial power. When Martin Luther King, Jr., met then-Vice President Richard Nixon in Ghana during the celebrations, he reportedly invited Nixon to Alabama “where we are seeking the same kind of freedom Ghana is celebrating.” A major source of the slaves who helped build the United States, Ghana has long drawn a large African-American community back to its shores, including W.E.B. Dubois, who is buried near the U.S. Embassy in Accra. The first nation to welcome Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs), Ghana today still hosts approximately 150 PCVs working in agriculture, education and health. Ghana trails only South Africa as the destination of choice for U.S. students studying in Africa and sends the second-largest African contingent of students to the United States, following only Nigeria. The U.S. government is the largest bilateral donor to Ghana and implements numerous presidential initiatives and priority administra­tion programs. Ghana is one of four pilot countries for the Partnership for Growth (PFG), a development model that emphasizes close collaboration with host governments based on partnership rather than conditionality and a rigorous focus on addressing those “binding constraints” that are the primary barriers to broad-based economic growth. Under the Partnership for Growth, the U.S. government is supporting Ghana in addressing power and credit constraints to growth. 

Ghana is an influential member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU). As ECOWAS chairman from March 2014 to May 2015, then-President John Mahama helped broker a return to democracy in Burkina Faso after the September 2015 military coup and developed a measured response to the Ebola virus outbreak. Ghana contributes to regional and global stability by providing peacekeeping forces to UN and AU peacekeeping missions; Ghana has deployed peace­keepers in Western Sahara, Central African Republic, Mali, Haiti, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Lebanon, Liberia, South Sudan, Côte d’Ivoire and Kashmir. Ghana is also home to the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Center, an ECOWAS Center for Excellence that provides peacekeeping training to the military, law enforcement and civilians, mostly from West Africa. However, Ghana faces major challenges, including poverty and inequality, corruption, human trafficking, macro­economic instability and huge circular debt in its energy sector.

It’s Energy, Not Cocoa

Ghana’s economy is highly dependent on the export of primary commodities such as gold, cocoa and oil. Thus, the country remains vulnerable to potential slowdowns in the global economy and commodity price shocks. Although Ghana had one of the fastest- growing economies in 2011, when its GDP grew at 14 percent, its rate of growth fell steadily to 3.6 percent in 2016. The key challenges to achieving broad-based and sustained economic growth include low productivity in agriculture, unreliable and inadequate supply of electric power, double-digit inflation, high borrowing costs and public debt back to pre-Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative levels of 73 percent of GDP. Despite these obstacles, American com­panies are increasingly exporting high-quality products and ser­vices to Ghana and helping build Ghana’s infrastructure, while adhering to strong environmental and social standards. Bilateral trade between Ghana and the United States stood at $1.1 billion in 2016, heavily in favor of the United States.

Although Ghana currently has 3,045 megawatts (MW) of installed capacity, with electricity reaching approximately 85 percent of the population, experts have identified energy as a key constraint to growth. Under the PFG umbrella, Power Africa is fueling extensive cooperation with the government to facilitate critical reforms in the petroleum and power sectors to ensure that Ghana receives the foreign investment it needs to continue on its current pace of economic development. Ghana successfully completed its first Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact in 2012. Ghana’s second MCC Compact is focused on the power sector and entered into force in September 2016. This second Compact will provide $498 million to support the financial and operational turnaround of Ghana’s power distribution utilities, strengthen regulatory reforms and catalyze private investment in the power sector. The Compact will also improve energy efficiency and demand-side management by supporting the installation of energy-efficient street lighting, increasing public awareness of the benefits of higher-efficiency appliances and equipment and promoting energy-efficient retrofits for industrial, institutional and government facilities. 

USAID recently marked its 50th year in Ghana, and with a budget totaling $146 million in fiscal year (FY) 2016, it is playing a significant role in Ghana’s development. Focusing on food security, health, economic growth, basic education, democracy and governance and sustainable natural resource management, USAID/Ghana is operating under an approved, estimated $858 million multi-year Country Development Cooperation Strategy (2013-2017) with the goal of accelerating Ghana’s transition towards established middle-income status. In health, USAID, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other U.S. government agencies further the objectives of the Global Health Security Agenda. The President’s Malaria Initiative provides approximately $28 million annually to support evidence-based interventions that have contributed to dramatic reductions in child mortality in Ghana. Similarly, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief is providing approximately $12.5 million a year to support comprehensive HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care programs. To stimulate economic growth, USAID—in addition to PFG and Power Africa—leads implementation of the Feed the Future Initiative to reduce poverty, hunger and undernutrition in northern Ghana. In 2015, Ghana was selected to receive $10 million under Trade Africa. The program funds will focus on implementing the WTO trade facilitation agreement, decreasing technical barriers to trade, and increasing Ghana’s sanitary and phytosanitary capacity. USAID’s support to the Ghanaian government in the area of education focuses on early primary education, with emphasis on reading, strengthening basic education management systems and increasing community involvement and participation in education. 

Growing Democracy

Despite Ghana’s status as a relative model of democratic governance on the continent, governance systems at both the national and local levels are weak and often insufficiently accountable to citizens. That is why USAID continues to support local govern­ment service delivery and revenue collection, more accountable governance and reduced corruption at both the national and local levels. U.S. democracy assistance is geared towards strengthening the capacity of decentralized institutions to improve their performance, ensuring that citizens are better informed in demanding more accountability at all levels of government and strengthening electoral institutions and processes to promote fair and transparent elections. Although the government has many of the legal tools in place to combat corruption, it has lacked the political will to enforce these laws. As perceptions, reports, and allegations of corruption have increased, we have amplified our public and private messages on this topic. We have also encouraged the Government of Ghana to increase budgetary support for its National Corruption Action Plan and prosecute high-level corruption cases whenever they surface.

I look forward to working with Ghana’s new government to promote human rights and good governance based on shared values, spur economic growth, foster development and ensure peace and security for Ghanaians and Americans.

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United States Ambassador to Ghana