All Change in Ghana

Opposition leader Nana Akufo-Addo last week won a resounding victory in the first round of Ghana’s Presidential elections. The incumbent, John Mahama, struggled to placate growing discontent in the country over a stagnant economy and rising corruption. But Nana by no means had an easy path to victory. And the President-elect must now face up to some big challenges. BTP’s Adam Maddock looks back at the 2016 Ghana campaign.

The Ghanaian General Election held on December 7 saw the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) defeat the National Democratic Congress (NDC) Government, with the NPP flagbearer Nana Akufo-Addo becoming the first candidate to overcome an incumbent President. The opposition gained a parliamentary majority.

It is interesting to note that the NPP advanced across all ten regions of Ghana. Not only in their historic strongholds of Ashanti and Eastern and the critical swing regions of Brong Ahafo, Central, Western and Greater Accra but also in their traditional weaknesses of Northern, Upper East, Upper West and Volta. The strong showing in the North is a testament to the popularity and influence of the Vice-Presidential Candidate Dr Mahamudu Bawumia.

The centrepiece of the NPP campaign were a series of coherent policy announcements which gave Ghanaians a clear picture of Nana’s vision for the country. In contrast the NDC’s policy offering was muddled. They initially had a strong policy on infrastructure which appeared to resonate with the public. But this early momentum was lost as the campaign proceeded and their manifesto was an anti-climax.

Election campaigns are always a balance between issues and personality. In this case it appears that given the significant problems facing Ghana the electorate were primarily looking for solutions to these questions. The NPP were much more successful in providing them.

While the NPP had a clear and convincing change message with an associated plan, the NDC message seemed to be that Ghana’s problems weren’t the fault of the Government. The President, they argued, was entitled to another four years so he could fix them. While President Mahama did retain some popularity, which manifested itself in him outperforming his parliamentary colleagues, this message was completely insufficient — and the strength of the NPP’s change message proved enough to prevent any potential leakages of support back to the NDC. It also helped the numerous third party candidates, especially the PPP.

Having lost the battle of ideas the NDC campaign ultimately descended into a series of increasingly desperate negative attacks on the NPP flagbearer’s age and alleged poor health. This clearly backfired as Akufo-Addo is a respected and popular figure.

The NPP also benefitted from a far more disciplined, coherent and ‘on message’ campaign with more effective communicators compared to their NDC rivals. On one occasion when President Mahama was photographed giving money to a voter, the NDC media team offered six different explanations in the immediate aftermath. It gave the impression of a chaotic operation that didn’t know how to communicate with itself let alone the voters!

While the NPP deserve to celebrate their well-deserved triumph they will be conscious of the challenges now facing them. Not only dealing with the hopes and expectations generated by their victory but turning around an economy with crippling public debt. Having seen their energy and genuine commitment at close quarters myself I know that if any group can deliver then it’s likely to be Akufo-Addo and his team.

Adam Maddock was part of the BTP Advisers team that worked on the ground for the opposition New Patriotic (NPP) from March 2016, primarily advising on polling, messaging and wider communication issues.

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