Republic of Ghana President John Atta-Mills died suddenly in late July 2012. Atta-Mills represented the National Democratic Congress Party (NDC) in the West African state., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Ghana mourns a president; focuses on future
By Brian E. Muhammad-Contributing Writer-
Updated Aug 10, 2012 - 11:23:06 AM
(FinalCall.com) - There was grief, shock and immense sadness in Ghana and throughout the world over the sudden death of its head of state, Professor John Atta-Mills, on July 24. At the time of his death, the well-respected statesman was preparing to run for a second term in December 2012 elections.
According to reports, President Atta Mills, 68, succumbed to an undisclosed illness at 37th Military Hospital in Accra—the nation’s capital.
In accordance with Ghana’s constitution, there was a prompt swearing in of Vice-President John Dramani Mahama as president of the republic. The National Executive Council of the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) has confirmed the 53-year-old Mahama as the new flag-bearer of the party in upcoming national elections.
“I am personally devastated—I’ve lost a father, I’ve lost a friend, I’ve lost a mentor and a senior comrade,” President Mahama remarked after being sworn in at Parliament.
Political analyst and editor of the Pan-African News Wire Abayomi Azikiwe told The Final Call that a “smooth” and “stable” transition was widely expected for the West African nation that’s perceived as politically evolved despite a volatile history of military interventions going back to the overthrow of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah in 1966—its first post-colonial president.
Mr. Azikiwe doubts any military intervention is probable during this period in Ghana—unlike recent West African coup d’états in Mali, Guinea-Bissau and the intrusion of France into Côte d’Ivoire politics that ousted President Laurent Gbagbo during 2011 electoral violence. “Hopefully that won’t happen,” Mr. Azikiwe said.
Other than the American CIA coordinated downfall of Dr. Nkrumah, Ghana underwent coups in 1972, then 1979 and 1981 respectively that brought President Jerry John Rawlings, the military officer subsequently handed power over to civilian rule replete with elections and parliamentary participation in the 1990s. Since then Ghana has been on the short list of success stories of working democracies in Africa.
Mr. Atta-Mills served as vice-president to President Rawlings from 1997 to 2001 when he unsuccessfully ran for president losing to the opposition National Patriotic Party that governed Ghana until December 2008. He narrowly won a runoff against an opposition candidate by a few thousand votes.
The nation of 24 million people is experiencing the first time a president died while in office and in a week of national mourning, flags flew at half mast. Although the reaction to President Atta-Mills’s death by supporters and detractors alike was dignified, he leaves behind a country beset with severe economic challenges and uncertainty.
Economist Cedric Muhammad, chief executive of AfricaPreBrief, a U.S.-based consultant firm on African Financial Markets, predicts that President Atta-Mills’ death won’t change much in the way of economic policy. But, he added, “the rubber will meet the road” with elections.
Mr. Muhammad told The Final Call, with Ghana’s currency, the cedi, in disarray, whoever wins the election will likely compensate for the weak cedi with more exports of mineral wealth like oil, gold and cocoa. Traditionally such commodity-based measures have been entry ways to the curse of foreign domination and political domestic decay and corruption.
Currently the cedi has rapidly deteriorated against foreign currencies which could be a death sentence for any incumbent government in an election year.
As one of the world’s newest petroleum producing nations Ghana also suffers from thwarted expectations of oil revenue which critics say have not changed the quality of life for ordinary citizens.
“How can the economy grow if the people are not going to be better educated; (have) better health conditions … I just don’t (see) how Ghana becomes the jewel of West Africa depending on cocoa and oil,” said Mr. Muhammad. “As the Bank of Ghana offsets the reduction in the foreign component of the monetary base, running down its foreign exchange reserves, with domestically created money, the cedi will continue to devalue and inflation will spike dramatically before elections in December,” he predicted.
Since discovery of oil off the coast of Ghana by Britain-based Tullow Oil, pundits have debated whether the newfound wealth will be as bittersweet for Ghana as it is in nearby Nigeria. Moving forward, President Mahama is left with the ordeal of balancing the fast-growing economy if the NDC is re-elected.
Professors E. Gyimah-Boadi and H. Kwasi Prempeh in a July 2012 Journal of Democracy article described Ghana as a “patronage” political system still deeply divided along ethnic lines. The professors wrote that Ghana’s advancement in democracy is threatened by that divided coupled with the existence of oil. They cited the NDC government passing laws permitting the “immediate collateralization of oil revenues” before they were generated.
They wrote further that the previous NPP government and main opposition party in the December 2012 elections “fast-tracked” the Jubilee oil fields development schedule from the discovery phase to production in less than four years. These moves are indicators of the effect the “Black gold” is having on Ghana politics. “Many speculate that the 2012 elections will be even more bitterly fought than the 2008 contest, as the winner of the next elections will preside over the allocation of oil revenues during Jubilee’s years of peak production,” they wrote.
While the world mourns with Ghana over the death of President Atta-Mills, there is still the challenge of who will control the second wealthiest economy in West Africa to Nigeria. With the cedi destabilized and oil on the horizon, will Ghana become the latest victim in the re-colonization of Africa, sold to global currency bandits?
“Hopefully the oil resources can be utilized for the benefit of the people there in terms of enhancing the social infrastructure, the country’s access to technology, and a higher standard of living among the people,” said Mr. Azikiwe. “Otherwise it’s no good if it’s just only going to enrich the oil companies and the politicians.”
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