Rawlings' legacy won't harm me - Mills
SOUNDING UPBEAT, National Democratic Congress (NDC) flagbearer for the 2004 general election, ex-Veep John Evans Atta Mills, has said he would thrash incumbent President John Agyekum Kufuor at the presidential polls.
Addressing journalists in South Africa's commercial centre of Johannesburg last week Tuesday, the leader of the NDC expressed a firm belief that he would defeat the man who out-punched him at the last general election in December 2000.
“I'm sure I'm going to win the elections,” said Mills, adding “When I travel around the country, I feel it that we're going to win.”
Mills was in South Africa to follow up on campaign finance, and to see how he could raise pledges of up to $10 million from the rainbow nation for the December polls, Gye Nyame Concord checks, revealed.
Mills told South African reporters that the central issue around which the poll will be fought is the state of Ghana's economy. Ordinary Ghanaians, he claimed, were battling to make ends meet in a climate of joblessness and spiralling prices.
“Ghana is facing serious economic problems. People are suffering and they want change,” Mills said, adding that “living (costs) have doubled, tripled and quadrupled” since President John Kufuor took power three years ago.
NDC Campaign Communications Director and former Communications Minister John Mahama, told Inter Press Service (IPS) news wire that “Poverty is rampant in the three northern regions (of Ghana) - with seven out of every ten people living below the poverty line of one dollar a day.”
“In the south, where there are more economic activities, four out of ten people live below the poverty line,” he added. “Generally, half of Ghana's population lives in poverty.”
According to the United Nations Development Programme's Human Development Report for 2004, about 44.8 percent of Ghanaians live below the poverty threshold - while 78.5 percent exist on less than two dollars a day.
Mahama said Ghana's minimum monthly wage of just over a dollar is hardly enough to live on.
“For example, if you buy a bottle of beer for ¢6,500 (about 60 cents) and, on your way home, grab a loaf of bread for ¢5,000 (around 50 cents) then the whole of your salary is gone,” he noted.
Asked by IPS how the poor coped in such a situation, Mahama replied “We even ask ourselves the same question.”
These claims form a stark contrast to statements by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which have described Ghana as a model for Africa.
Official statistics from the country indicate that its economy grew by 5.2 percent last year, while inflation dropped from 41 percent four years ago to 11.2 percent at the end of 2003.
The ruling New Patriotic Party has used statistics like these to trumpet its success in the economic sphere as campaigning gathers momentum.
Quoted by the official Ghana News Agency over the weekend, the Minister for Regional Co-operation and the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), Kofi Konadu Apraku, said the ruling party was rebuilding a foundation for economic growth that “it took the NDC 20 years to destroy.” He cited ongoing efforts to improve roads, build schools and hospitals, and improve national security.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Felix Owusu Agyepong was also quoted as saying that the ruling party had fulfilled every pledge in its 2000 Election Manifesto, in the key areas of agriculture reform, good governance, private sector development, the provision of social services and economic development.
Ghana is ranked 131st in the latest Human Development Report - down from 128th position in last year's index. It is also grouped with South Africa, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Kenya as being amongst the countries with the poorest income redistribution rate in Africa.
Mills arrived in South Africa on Tuesday for a four-day visit. During his stay, he met a range of business and political leaders to also discuss ways of promoting peace and democracy in Africa - and highlight what he calls the “striking similarities” between South Africa and Ghana.
“Ghana shares many common ideals with South Africa,” he said. “They are both examples of hard-won democracy in action. South Africa is the litmus test for peace and democracy in the sub-continent, while Ghana is determined to pave the way in turbulent West Africa.”
Mills noted that each of the two countries was juggling the need to bolster its “fledgling” democratic institutions whilst addressing social ills.
“Both have gone through a TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) process and both countries face enormous challenges in terms of poverty alleviation and job creation,” said the NDC leader. “This cannot be achieved in isolation and, should my party be successful (in the December elections), I intend working closely with South Africa to realise NEPAD objectives throughout the continent.”
Mills also sees NEPAD as a vehicle for public-private partnerships that will “marry the efficiency of markets with the compassion of the state to uplift the most vulnerable among us.”
“It is high time we as Africans stopped running to the international donor community to solve our problems,” Mills noted.
“With NEPAD, African leaders for the first time admitted that they were part of the problem as much as they could be part of the solution. Only Africans can develop Africa.”
During Tuesday's news conference, Mills rejected claims that the legacy of Rawlings - a previous leader of the NDC - could work against his election.
“In the 1970s Ghana was in a state of hopelessness when Rawlings came to power. Ghanaians were queuing for everything. They would join a queue and find out later what the queue was all about,” Mills observed.