Elections in Ghana are scheduled for December 7th this year, although legal action by disqualified candidates have raised fears of a delay. However as it stands Ghanaians will go to the polls with four presidential candidates to choose from. The list is, as always, dominated by candidates from the two major parties.
The incumbent John Mahama of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and Nana Akufo-Addo of the National Patriotic Party (NPP) are widely viewed as the only realistic candidates in the presidential race, and it is their faces that stare down at you from the posters littered all over the walls and streets of Keta, a small town in Ghana’s Eastern Volta region.
Keta has traditionally been an NDC dominated town, but this year many feel let down by performance of the NDC, with promises from the previous election going woefully unfulfilled.
The major issue facing the area is that of the sea defence wall, completed to much fanfare a decade ago, but not adequately according to Josephine Kpodo, 68. “They promised to raise the land between the sea and the lagoon above sea level. But it hasn’t happened. They built the wall and left it at that, so if the sea levels rise even a little we are in big trouble”.
Keta is located in a precarious position on a small strip of sandy land between the Gulf of Guinea and the Keta lagoon and has lost around two thirds of lands in its electoral area to the sea since 1910. Coastal erosion is a clear and present danger here, an issue that has already turned some residents of the area into so-called ‘climate refugees’.
Added to the temporary nature of the solution of the sea defence wall in Keta, unforeseen consequences such as the trapped flow of sediment has lead to even more rapid erosion further down the coast, passing the problem along and causing two villages to all but disappear earlier this year. The lack of a focused management strategy by the government for the protection of Keta and its surrounds from the sea is seen by many residents as a major failure of the NDC.
The government has poured funds into infrastructure, which it hopes will lay the foundations for future prosperity. Roads have been improved, along with large numbers of schools and hospitals. According to local farmer Promise Okumeh 46, however, some of these projects are somewhat misdirected. “The new roads are nice, but how can we use them if we don’t have money for cars and bicycles?” This is a common complaint, that spending has not been prioritised.
With electricity bills rising up to 60% in the last year, many basic needs are not being met. Most people are getting by on subsistence agriculture, farming and fishing to feed themselves and their families only with a little surplus to sell in the market.
The land is rich and the seas provide plenty of fish, there are just no means of storage or processing these products as the electricity cost hikes make refrigeration unfeasible. The high levels of spoilage reduces the opportunity to collect the surplus for trade.
Librarian Wisdom Gozah, 28, is clear about the need to create jobs in rural areas like Keta. “Instead of building a new aerodrome in Ho, the government should focus on people’s basic needs. We need a proper fish market here with refrigerated storage space for fishermen to keep their catch. We need factories to process the mountains of tomatoes and other vegetables people grow, put them in cans, make sauces and sell them to other countries. This makes jobs for the people here. Not fancy aerodromes for the rich who can afford to fly”.
He fears there may be arising some voter apathy, saying that many people have given up believing that a change of government will change anything in the area. “The Eastern Volta region in general is neglected by both of the major parties” he says. With Accra being overwhelmed by rapid rural to urban migration, this is an issue facing many African nations as the countryside is gradually being emptied out.
Despite these issues the locals are partisan and are reluctant to vote for the NPP, so ingrained is NDC as the party of choice in the region. “Most people would rather not vote at all than vote for NPP” says Edna Adzakey, 19, a local headteacher. However she believes there has been development in the minds of the youth in previous years and an understanding that although NDC dominate, they are free and able to exercise their individual opinion and vote for NPP if they so wish.
There’s a feeling around town that there might be a low turnout in Keta, as a means of punishing NDC for not living up to expectations. Miss Adzakey feels that voting is an important right and a duty to uphold what she considers to be an example to other African countries, there is great pride in the peaceful nature of democracy in Ghana. She does understand people’s sense of apathy however and fears it could lead to vote buying. “I have never met anyone who has accepted money to vote a certain way, but I have heard that it does happen as the election date gets nearer and that kind of behaviour is certainly possible for a hungry man”.
Is Ghana’s much celebrated democracy hitting a speed bump? “A good democracy isn’t just about the election process every four years or so”, said Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary general and a Ghanaian himself. Good governance between elections should include things such as safety and rule of law, participation by citizens and a respect for human rights, sustainable economic opportunity, and human development .
The Ibrahim Index of Good Governance, which provides an annual assessment of the quality of governance in every African country, has once again marked Ghana down the list to 7th place. This is still a reasonable position but is part of a general negative trend of deterioration since 2011, with the biggest fall being in the area of sustainable economic opportunity. The NDC has its work cut out if it is to reverse this trend and restore confidence in the country.
Predictably a raft of new promises are on the table from the incumbent NDC Keta MP Richard Quarshiga, urging his constituency to put hope in oil exploration in the area. He says that $40 million has been earmarked for continued sea defence in the area, and has the desire for Keta to reclaim past glories as a commercial hub built around a brand new seaport. Grand claims indeed, but do residents believe? Skepticism appears to be the order of the day.