Ghana was the first country to gain independence in sub-saharan Africa
Ghana was the first country to gain independence in sub-saharan Africa

Development challenges in an election year

Ghana was the first sub-Saharan African nation to gain independence from British colonial rule in 1957, and in many ways led the way for other countries.


Although Ghana had renowned wealth (the Gold Coast, its name under British rule, makes this plain) and a relatively educated population compared to other European colonies, many Ghanaians at the time of independence were very poor and rural-based.

Today, Ghana’s Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) is estimated at $6400. In comparison, that of Nigeria is judged to be $5,700 and that of Senegal is $4060. PPP indicates price relatives that show the ratio of the prices in national currencies of the same good or service in different countries. PPPs are also calculated for product groups and for each of the various levels of aggregation up to and including GDP. Ghana is doing quite well in PPP terms compared to some of its neighbours, including oil-rich Nigeria.

Social & economic progress

Independent Ghana’s first leaders set ambitious development goals. Plans were thwarted by political instability in the decades following independence, affecting attempts by Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first democratically elected leader, and then a succession of unelected military leaders, to bring about desired development gains. It was not until the controversial Provisional National Defence Council regime of Jerry John Rawlings (1981-93) that there were sustained macroeconomic improvements, consequent to substantial inputs from, among others, the International Monetary Fund. Economic stabilisation paved the way for the Fourth Republic and the transition to multiparty democracy in 1992. Ghana’s current President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, was elected in 2016 and reelected in 2020.

In recent years, Ghana has made marked social and economic progress, punctuated by crises at different points, including the COVID-19 pandemic. Many would contend that after nearly seven decades of independence, Ghana has yet to live up to its human and economic potential.

Today, Ghana is a country of sharp contrasts. I first visited the country as a PhD student in 1985, and again in 1990. Returning to the country 32 years later, in June 2022, in order to research for my forthcoming book – Revolution and Democracy in Ghana: The Politics of Jerry Rawlings (Accra: Digibooks, 2024), I saw a capital city, Accra, which showed considerable signs of development. It was less clear the extent to which other parts of the country have benefitted from successive governments’ development policies.

On the one hand, Ghana is widely regarded as a trailblazer and model of international development, a robust and vibrant democracy in an increasingly troubled region where democratic institutions are widely under threat. On the other hand, Ghana is beset with uncertainties linked to dynamic political and social forces and global developments: the country’s youthful and diverse society contends with unsustainable foreign debt, social and cultural debates (many tinged with religious and cultural overtones), governance challenges, including the persistent scourge of corruption, and tensions and aspirations emanating from today’s globalised world. My conclusion is that Ghana cannot evade the challenges and opportunities of being a middle-income country in a changing world. The question is: What can the new government do about it?


It is against this challenging background that an array of political parties seek presidential and parliamentary power. With the elections just five months away, campaign managers are increasingly focused on how the parties and their presidential flag bearers can maximise votes in the December polls. A recent election survey (June 2024) conducted by Prof. Smart Sarpong found an answer to the following question: “What in your view is Ghana’s most critical challenge today that the next President must address?” It was clear that the number one issue was unemployment. Numbers two, three and four respectively were: price inflation, economic slowdown and poor roads. The issues most concerning to Ghanaians are clearly bread-and-butter issues. Whichever presidential candidate can convince voters that they have some or all of the answers will be elected the next president of Ghana. 

Manifestos & promises 

As July begins, the political parties are completing their manifestos. Soon, we will be able to see what each is promising in relation to, among other things, unemployment, price inflation, economic slowdown and poor roads. Yet, control of such issues is only partially under the control of any president. Those in power like to assert that they are fully in control; yet, it is clear that this is not the case, as, for example, the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic or the wars between Russia and Ukraine and between Israel and Hamas make clear; such events affect economic well-being in many countries, including Ghana, and there is little that individual governments can do about it, it seems.

I urge the political parties to have a little humility in the run-up to the election: don’t promise the earth to voters, they are too sophisticated to believe grandiose claims that president A or B can magically improve things. Instead, be honest; tell it like it is, make it plain there is no magic wand and medium- and long-term improvement will only come about through focused policies put into effect by a committed government dedicated to hard work and diligent application.

NB: The writer is an Emeritus Professor of Politics, London Metropolitan University, UK
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