This article considers the timing and entry into the public discourse of the “#fix the country now” movement, both as a deliberative concept and as a rallying cry to hold the government accountable. Whilst, as the title suggests, political accountability is the central theme of this discourse, it can be appropriated by a few politicians as a diversionary conflict stratagem to distract the people from the real social and economic challenges arising from the Covid-19 pandemic.
The urgent task of rebuilding the economy in the face of Covid-19 requires all Ghanaians and political parties to realign their values and principles to respond to the challenges that lie ahead as we navigate these complex times. It requires humility, inclusive engagement, collaboration, and sound judgment about the kinds of sacrifices the people ought to make in coping with the current hardships, as well as the difficult policies they must support to rebuild the economy.
The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the flaws in our society and the vulnerability of our economy to external shocks. Huge egos, grotesque selfishness, political fragmentation and manipulation through misinformation and confrontation will undermine the honest and intentional dialogue we need to fix the country.
With this background in mind, my goal is to bring some clarity to a question that has been trending on social media and in the news lately: #fixthecountrynow, but who should fix it? I admit the answer to this question will raise the political temperature a bit because any narrative that claims to capture the entirety of each successive government’s achievements and shortcomings will amount to an oversimplification. I will, however, draw on some key statistics from 2008 to 2018 as objective criteria to answer the question.
“Mr. Speaker, for the past seven years, the nation has undergone dramatic progress. What has been achieved so far required our collective sacrifices. The key areas that can be cited for mention include the following:
These were some of the key elements of the 2008 Budget Statement, which was presented in Parliament and succinctly set out the achievements of the NPP government. In fact, few could have imagined that, within 8 years of NPP government, Ghana could transform from a heavily indebted poor country to a middle-income one. Unfortunately, the 2008 financial crisis, which was followed by a decline in the global economy, triggered a political change in Ghana. That is, the NPP
government was swept away in the election that followed notwithstanding its historic achievements.
The NDC won the election by almost 40 000 votes, the thinnest margin in history, and yet, Nana Akuffo Addo conceded to his main rival, Professor Mills. The peaceful transfer of power that ensued was hailed as another success story in Africa. Fueled by the commercial production of oil, Ghana’s economic growth spiked to new heights. The economy grew at 7.9 % in 2010, 14% in 2011, and had spectacular growth of 9.3% in 2012. It seemed like President Mill’s government was rising to the challenge and poised to relegate President Kufour’s historic achievements to the periphery.
Thus, in July 2012, when President Mahama assumed the presidency, the economic landscape was promising. Ghana was on course to meet its millennium development goal of cutting poverty rates by half. Ghana, the black star of Africa, had once again become a beacon of hope and a model of political and economic stability in Africa. In fact, President Obama, at the heights of his popularity, chose Ghana as one of the first African countries to visit to showcase his confidence in the direction of the country. However, by 2015, Ghana’s success story, built on good governance and sound economic management, was floundering. Corruption had become endemic, power supply was erratic (dumsor), and industry had nearly collapsed. In fact, Ghana received its worst ever ranking by Transparency International on perceptions of corruption in country. The cedi lost 18.75% in value against the dollar that year alone.
Ghana’s decline into economic trouble was not only dramatic and swift, but broad and pervasive. With dwindling foreign exchange reserves, low exports, high inflation, a growing fiscal deficit, and a current account deficit, the country found itself knocking on the doors of the International
Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bail out. The problem arose because President Mahama’s government gambled heavily on infrastructure development to sustain and spur economic growth in the face of declining commodity prices. The policy of investing in infrastructure was laudable except it fostered an environment for rampant corruption, complacency and rent seeking as project costs were over-inflated to fill the pockets of a few highly connected people.
Thus, the socioeconomic crisis the country faced under President Mahama’s government was not a consequence of a drought, civil strife, or global crisis, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, but in large part attributable to corruption, bad governance, and incompetency. The NPP government inherited an incredibly sluggish economy from the Mahama government, with shocking levels of unemployment and a bankrupt state. For example, the economy grew at 2.9% and 2.2% in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
Confronted with an economy in crisis, the government introduced several policies, including “one district, one factory” and Planting for Food and Jobs, etc. The economy responded to these policies and annual growth took off in an upward trajectory. Economic growth was at a spectacular 8.1% in 2017 and 6.3% in 2018. Furthermore, the economy grew by 7.6% in 2019, and inflation fell from 18% to 8% followed by a significant reduction in interest rates.
What is clear is that, whereas NPP governments led by both President Kufour and Nana Akuffo Addo focused on fiscal discipline and macro-economic stability while pushing for growth, the Mahama government was singularly preoccupied with building infrastructure with the associated malfeasance and rampant corruption.
The emergence of the #fixthecountry movement” is a reminder that the challenges facing the country go beyond economic recession. The movement is rallying cry for the government to focus on reviving the economy and addressing the social ills in the country such as gross indiscipline and selfishness as well as corruption and backstabbing. As the statistics provided from 2008 to 2019 show, the President’s economic management team led by Vice President Bawumia are competent, experienced, and committed to getting the economy moving again. It is, however, the sacrifices, contributions, and the attitudinal changes we make now that will define the pace of the recovery and the quality of society that will emerge post-pandemic.
The “#fix the country” movement can be a positive force for change. However, to achieve the change we seek, every person must engage in introspection with humility to become a good citizen. Being a good citizen means taking responsibility for your actions, being honest and trustworthy, and abiding by the moral code of the land. Also, part of being a good citizen means showing respect to others and learning to chose wise attitudes and behaviours that promote peace and stability in our society.
The task for fixing post-pandemic Ghana is our collective responsibility. We must not allow a few greedy and opportunistic politicians to appropriate the narrative and use it to divide, misinform, and instigate irrational action. Insulting our leaders, elders, Nananom and people we disagree with will undermine the nascent civic engagement this movement has unleashed.
Written by Kwame Attakora Abrefah, Canada.