Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo, who is seeking a new term in office, is a London-educated economic liberal with a reputation for fighting graft.
The 76-year-old former human rights lawyer at the head of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) rode to power in 2016 on promises that included free high school education and a factory in each of Ghana’s districts.
Born in the capital Accra in 1944, Akufo-Addo was never far from power. His family, richly royal and deeply political, includes three members of Ghana’s legendary “Big Six”, considered the country’s founding fathers.
After picking up an accent in Britain, along with a lifelong passion for Tottenham Hotspur F.C., Akufo-Addo worked as a lawyer in France before returning to Ghana.
Throughout his career, as a lawyer, then member of parliament and minister, he built a strong anti-corruption reputation.
“Everybody saw him as the guy who, when voted into power, would be able to bring corruption under control,” said Kwesi Jonah, a senior research fellow at Ghana’s Institute for Democratic Governance.
Once in office, he appointed a special prosecutor to investigate and prosecute corrupt officials. But the prosecutor, Martin Amidu, resigned in November, shortly after releasing a report into a government-backed royalties deal, accusing the president of obstruction and interference.
Despite denials of any wrongdoing from the government, it did not put Akufo-Addo in a flattering light.
– Praise over pandemic –
“In terms of public perception, Akufo-Addo was much better placed in 2016 than he is today,” said Jonah.
Akufo-Addo, currently chairman of the ECOWAS regional bloc, is hoping to convince voters that he has delivered on his promises, as he led the country through a historically difficult period.
On education in particular, “he has done very well,” said Jonah — a point that could hold a lot of weight in a country where 18- to 35-year-olds account for more than half of all eligible voters.
The president — who sports Harry Potter-esque glasses — was praised at home and abroad for his swift handling of the Covid-19 crisis: closing borders early on, banning gatherings and enforcing enhanced public hygiene measures.
The pandemic has also meant that Akufo-Addo hasn’t been on the road as much as his opponent has.
“He had a problem because he was the one leading the nation’s fight against Covid-19,” said Jonah, “so he could not be seen moving around on the campaign trail.”
Still, billboards, posters and flags with the NPP party’s colours — red, white and blue, centred by an elephant as a symbol for radical change — remain very visible nationwide.
– Declining approval ratings –
Ghana made giant strides over the past decade, but the key producer and exporter of cocoa, oil and gold was hit hard by the pandemic.
Growth in the nation of 30 million people is expected to fall this year to its lowest in three decades, to 0.9 percent according to the International Monetary Fund, a steep decline from 6.5 percent growth in 2019.
Some of the country’s economic problems were inherited, and Akufo-Addo has attempted to limit mounting debt and control rising inflation.
But approval ratings on the government’s economic performance have declined, with more than 50 percent of people saying it has performed poorly in improving living standards and creating jobs, according to a 2019 survey by Afrobarometer.
Despite this, the president’s plans for the next four years appear somewhat modest — but rightly so, according to some analysts.
“He has been in power for four years, so he knows it is very difficult to get money to do things,” said Jonah.
Akufo-Addo will be facing 11 opponents including his predecessor, John Mahama, against whom he has already contested two presidential elections.