The market decides if we are free

Before Nana Akufo-Addo’s inauguration as Ghana’s new President, the Financial Times sent its Africa correspondent to interview him. Akufo-Addo won Ghana’s presidential elections, on  December 7, 2016, by a wide margin over incumbent John Dramani Mahama. The Financial Times report follows the typical prescription for foreign-correspondents-commenting-on-African-elections. Read it if you are bored.

With slight condescension it uses the specter of corruption to frame the country’s political legacy. It wonders-warns about how the new leader will fare in a climate of political uncertainty. It fake-commands that he “must make good” on his promises. Mahama’s National Democratic Congress (NDC) is glossed as “left-leaning” and Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) as a “center-right wealthy technocrat,” who is too rich to be corrupted.

The backhanded endorsement of Akufo-Addo comes not because of his skill or political courage, but because he already has enough money, which seems a willfully simplistic misunderstanding of the links between aesthetics and politics. The Financial Times’s focus on the personal characteristics and power of individuals and outdated tropes of African political fragility distract from the structural conditions of the Ghanaian state and, globally, the increasingly tenuous relationship between electoral politics and economics.

As both presidential candidates themselves pointed out, Ghanaian political-economic actors are limited in their ability to change conditions because of massive debt and the influence that foreign investors and loan-makers have over national production, consumption, and infrastructure. Even for the Financial Times, all that matters are macroeconomic indicators of fiscal stability. Understanding its ability to service debt and return on investment are the main reasons that most foreign observers are interested in Ghana.

There are substantive differences between Ghana’s two main political parties rooted in their respective histories, but to call the NDC left-leaning and the NPP center-right today distracts from the global power of free market thinking. Akufo-Addo’s NPP is the political descendant of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), which invited Kwame Nkrumah to lead the independence movement against British rule in the 1940s. The NPP follows its forebearers’ legacy with its explicit orientation towards facilitating free market capital through a decentralized state.

Nkrumah’s radical call for “Self-government Now” led to a split with the capitalist oriented UGCC that continues today. Nkrumahists wanted a centralized, socialist state; this radical position was later taken up by NDC founder Jerry John Rawlings, who led two coups d’etat in 1979 and 1983 and was later elected president in 1992 when Ghana returned to democratic rule.

But Ghana entered into a Structural Adjustment Program in 1983, when Rawlings was still a purportedly left-leaning military leader. And since then state policy under various governments has been shaped by the goals of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) which advocate trickle-down development – making the country appear as a reliable place for foreign investment and loan repayment.

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Jesse Weaver Shipley