Ghana: Nana Akufo-Addo, obstinate lawyer in the race for a second presidential term

At 76, President Nana Akufo-Addo, who is seeking a second term on Monday, must convince that he still remains the tenacious and upright candidate who had won over Ghanaian voters four years ago.

But the ballot is far from won in advance for this liberal lawyer: since his election in 2016, the economic crisis has hit hard the English-speaking West African country and its reputation as a slayer of corruption has been tarnished.

Born in 1944 in the capital Accra, Mr. Akufo-Addo grew up in a family of the national political elite. His house regularly served as a party headquarters.

His father, Edward Akufo-Addo, was himself president in the late 1960s, and is one of the “Big Six” (the “Big Six”), as the fathers of independence and of the Ghanaian nation, the former Gold Coast, a British colony.

He was educated in London, where his unwavering passion for football club Tottenham was born, and from where he drew his particularly polished British accent.

A lawyer specializing in human rights, he practiced in France and England before returning to Ghana. But it was not until 1992, when the country regained democracy after decades of military rule, that Mr. Akufo-Addo joined the New Patriotic Party (NPP).

Throughout his career, as a lawyer, then as an MP and Minister, he has built a solid anti-corruption reputation.

So once president, “everyone saw him as the one who would be able to put an end to corruption,” said Kwesi Jonah, researcher at the Institute for Democratic Governance of Ghana.

– Resignation of the anti-corruption prosecutor –

After his election in December 2016, he appointed a special prosecutor to investigate and prosecute corrupt officials.

But he resigned in November, a month before the poll, accusing the president of obstructing his mission.

“In 2016, Mr. Akufo-Addo was in a better position to win the ballot than he is today,” said Jonah.

At the time, he promised to focus on education, with free high schools, and job creation in this country where youth unemployment is massive.

He also pledged to diversify an economy dependent on primary resources (gold, cocoa and, more recently, oil), and to reduce taxes in the private sector to encourage investment.

On education, “he did very well,” says Mr. Jonah. An asset for the president, in this country where the 18 to 35 years represent more than half of the voters.

Economically, Ghana has made a giant leap over the past decade, but the country has been hit hard by the crisis caused by the pandemic. This year, its growth is expected to fall to 1.5%, the lowest rate in 37 years.

If the president has succeeded in containing rising debt and inflation, more than half of voters believe he has failed to improve their standard of living and create jobs, according to poll by Afrobarometer in 2019.

However, his swift handling of the coronavirus crisis has been praised in Ghana and abroad. The early closure of borders and the ban on gatherings have notably slowed the progression of the virus.

But the pandemic also took the president away from the field: “Being the one leading the fight against the virus, he could hardly be seen moving across the country,” adds Mr. Jonah.

In this ballot, the president will face 11 other candidates. The most serious of them is his predecessor John Mahama, against whom he has already contested the two previous presidential elections: a defeat in 2012, a victory in 2016.

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