Covid-19 and Ghana’s December Elections

The Ghanaian government has expressed relief at the relatively low number of Covid-19 fatalities throughout the country. In late July, President Nana Akufo-Addo announced that the Ghanaian people “are not dying of the virus in the hundreds and thousands that were earlier anticipated and predicted.” As of August 26, the government has recorded approximately 44,000 cases but only 270 deaths.

Akufo-Addo’s swift introduction of public safety measures probably saved many lives. The government, however, faces the triple challenges of maintaining its robust Covid-19 response and ensuring infections do not spike, salvaging its economy, and holding free and fair elections scheduled for December. There is an opportunity for international partners to support the electoral process and provide funding and training for additional public health protocols.

Q1: How is Ghana responding to the Covid-19 outbreak?

A1: Akufo-Addo took immediate action against Covid-19, instituting health and safety measures—including a partial lockdown—to curb the spread of the virus. In mid-March, following the country’s index case, the president issued a travel advisory barring foreigners from countries with more than 200 cases. Citizens and resident permit holders were exempt but were required to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. The government closed schools, suspended public gatherings, and enforced social distancing and enhanced hygiene measures.

In late March, Akufo-Addo announced a two-week partial lockdown of the country’s two biggest cities, restricting movement in the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area, Greater Kumasi Metropolitan Area, and neighboring districts. Residents were instructed to stay home and only leave their houses for critical outings like visiting the bank or purchasing food and medicine. The government extended the partial lockdown before finally lifting it on April 19. Ghana became the first African country to do so. Though Ghana was criticized at the time for lifting its lockdown, other African countries followed suit.

The Ghanaian government has faced challenges in its response to the Covid-19 outbreak. Authorities have reported widespread breaches of safety measures despite extensive public communication campaigns. Former deputy minister of trade and industry Carlos Ahenkorah, for example, resigned in early July after admitting to flouting Covid-19 protocols even after testing positive for the coronavirus. The government also has experienced a shortage in funding and material. While domestic manufacturers have worked to produce face masks, surgical scrubs, and gowns to address the shortfall, it has not been sufficient in responding to the country’s needs.

Q2: What economic relief measures are the government providing?

A2: The Ghanaian government has implemented a number of economic initiatives to soften the financial fallout from Covid-19. Overall, the government has allocated approximately $540 million to alleviate the pandemic’s social and economic consequences. A majority of this funding is going toward its Coronavirus Alleviation Program (CAP), which is designed to engage the pharmaceutical industry, support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), build or upgrade 100 district and regional hospitals, and ensure availability of testing kits, equipment, and beds across the country. In addition, authorities have covered individuals’ electricity and water costs since April (100 percent of the costs for the very poor, and 50 percent for all others) and plan to extend this to September. Looking forward, plans are afoot to launch a three-year $17 billion “Ghana Coronavirus Alleviation & Revitalisation of Enterprises Support Programme” (Ghana CARES).

These economic responses are crucial. Ghana’s economic growth is expected to slow to 1.5 percent in 2020, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), compared to 6.5 percent growth in 2019. The IMF attributes this in part to lower oil production, global supply chain disruptions, and decreased international travel and trade.

To address this financial shortfall, Ghana secured a rapid credit facility of $1 billion from the IMF in mid-April, a $315 million loan from the World Bank in June, and a $69 million grant from the African Development Bank (AfDB) in July. The Ghanaian government has also activated some internal financing measures, including more than $200 million in funds for emergency CAP expenditure and $1.7 billion as part of an asset purchase program overseen by the central bank.

Q3: Will the pandemic affect the December elections? If so, how?

A3: If the December 2020 general elections go ahead as planned, Akufo-Addo of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) will face off against former president John Mahama, flagbearer of the opposition party, National Democratic Congress (NDC), who Akufo-Addo defeated in the last election.

The government has taken steps to ensure public safety during the December elections. Between July and August, the government registered voters through an updated biometric system and tested potential protocols including an online queuing platform to avoid crowds.

These positive steps have not been without their challenges. There were pockets of violence during the biometric registration exercise, and some minors and foreigners managed to register to vote. The NDC has since called for an independent audit. In addition, if Covid-19 numbers spike, civil society and the international community might put pressure on the government to postpone the polls.

Covid-19 will undoubtedly change the way elections are held, but it may also influence voter sentiment toward the candidates on the ballot. When it comes to the big issues, Ghanaians are most worried about unemployment, infrastructure and roads, education, and health, according to a 2019 Afrobarometer survey. But many voters will also be influenced by the new economic challenges they face, potentially leading them to vote against the incumbent. In addition, should Covid-19 infections and deaths increase in the lead-up to the election, voters could punish Akufo-Addo and the NPP.

Q4: How can international partners support Ghana’s Covid-19 response?

A4: The IMF, World Bank, and AfDB have provided the Ghanaian government with loans and grants to strengthen its Covid-19 response and lend financial support to its citizens. More targeted interventions might be beneficial from multilateral banks and foreign governments, including the United States, China, and others who have already provided financial and material support. 

  • Provision of testing kits and personal protective equipment (PPE). Like almost all its African counterparts, Ghana could use additional testing kits and PPE. The shortage of testing kits leads to a backlog of samples and a delay in results, potentially increasing the rate of infections. At the same time, the Ghana Medical Association has attributed the rise in infections among its members to a shortage of PPE. While numerous foreign partners, including the United States, Turkey, and Japan, have provided funding and supplies to Ghana, countries that are actively funding other countries across the continent—including Ireland, South Korea, Spain, Italy, and the Nordic countries—have overlooked Ghana. Accra could turn to these countries to provide much-needed support.
  • Additional external financing and debt relief. The Ghanaian government is juggling budgetary constraints and a large external financing gap, which could require an additional $1 billion in financing, according to the IMF. The Ghanaian government may be forced to source these loans from expensive local markets if additional external support fails to materialize. Greater debt relief is also needed, though lenders must ensure that the market and future loans do not become punitive for Ghana. Minister for Finance and Economic Planning Ken Ofori-Atta has called for the activation of IMF’s international monetary assets known as special drawing rights (SDRs)—not just in Ghana, but across the continent—as well as for lower interest rates on loans from international capital markets. The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa has also recommended the pooling together of Africa’s external debt into a special purpose vehicle to improve creditworthiness and reduce borrowing costs.
  • Support free and fair elections. Ghana’s upcoming general election must be transparent, inclusive, and accountable. International partners should maintain existing programs offering technical guidance, pre-election and election security assessments, training, and funding. In addition, partners should work with the Ghanaian government and the Electoral Commission to ensure heightened health protocols, such as social distancing, continuous disinfecting, and handwashing.

Rafiq Raji is a senior associate (non-resident) with the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C.

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Rafiq Raji
Senior Associate (Non-resident), Africa Program