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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 September, 2004, 08:06 GMT 09:06 UK
Ghana's grudge match
By Kwaku Sakyi-Addo
BBC Focus On Africa magazine

President Kufour
President Kufour is known as the "Gentle Giant"
It's that time again - when politicians emerge from hibernation and flock to humble villages and windswept hamlets to speak before the tattered masses - as Ghana prepares for December's elections.

Already, political billboards are sprouting up along the highways, while posters and party banners multiply and flutter on poles against the dusty winds.

On the surface of it, this ought to be a thriller.

This is the fourth election since Ghana became a multi-party democracy in 1992. Although there are five presidential candidates, only two have any realistic chance - John Kufuor, the 65-year-old incumbent of the governing New Patriotic Party (NPP), and 60-year-old John Atta Mills, of the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC).

There have been two previous face-offs, with a win for each.

In 1996, Mills, contesting on ex-President Jerry Rawlings' ticket as running-mate, beat Kufuor. Four years later, Kufuor reversed the score in a Christmas-time run-off, closing the door on eight years of NDC rule.

Now, it's the tie-break. There's a grudge to resolve. The loser retires - not an appealing prospect for either man.

Economic clash

Since August, Kufuor has revved up into campaign mode after spending much of the election year nation-hopping in high-stakes international diplomacy.

"Our president's contribution is sought and respected in Africa and among world leaders, and that's why he was invited to the G8 summit, for example," his spokesman, Kwabena Agyepong, said, defending Mr Kufour's growing air-miles.

"As chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), he's the lead mediator for Ivory Coast, and it's our duty to help put out the fire in our neighbour's beard so that our own hairs don't catch fire," adds Foreign Minister Nana Addo Akufo-Addo.

In any case, the president's strategists reckon that his diplomatic stature, including his hosting of a dozen African leaders in July as part of the search for peace in Ivory Coast, could have the side-effect of dwarfing his domestic rivals.

Meanwhile his opponent worked the countryside. And at Gyankama, a village on the ridge overlooking the Accra plains - where the people make a living retailing fruits by the roadside - the impressions that count tend to be closer to home and very basic.

John Atta Mills
Mills is thought to be more popular in Ghana's rural areas
"Times are hard. So me, I'll vote for the person who'll get me out of this torn cloth," says the mother of one, Abena Nyankwabea, holding a basket of green avocados.

"We'll listen to what they have to say about improving my life and then we'll decide," she adds.

As in most elections, the economy is also likely to play a huge part in campaigning.

"The NPP has enjoyed higher international prices for cocoa and gold, and more manageable petroleum prices, and yet the price of petrol has doubled," Rojo Mettle-Nunoo, a Mills campaign aide, points out.

"In contrast, we had to battle with stormy international trade conditions and service our debts.

"If Kufuor's government had better social policies and technical competence, it should have performed much better with all the donor support that has poured into this country."

However, Kufour's side insists that Ghanaians will enjoy better conditions when largely positive macro-economic indicators trickle down to them.

"I think that our people have to be more real and creative - If government builds a new feeder road to a village, it makes it possible for a farmer to transport more of his produce to the big town to sell on market day," argues Anthony Osei, deputy minister of finance.

"If we provide electricity, it means the tyre-repairer or the carpenter can be more efficient.

"He can invest time in something else, like growing his own vegetables. That's money in his pocket."

Party events

Meanwhile, officials in Kufuor's administration say the NDC's manifesto is more a catalogue of promises than a potential vote-swinger. "They say they're going to build hostels in the cities for street children," argues Steven Asamoa-Boateng, deputy information minister.

"They don't tell us how they'll finance it and who'll pay the utility bills."

Nor is Mills' campaign helped by outbursts from Rawlings, who is, officially, the leader of the NDC.

At a recent party event in the countryside, the 57-year-old ex-president, in a typically froth-filled fit of inexplicable rage, asked the military and the police to arrest President Kufuor.

Such rabble-rousing contrasts sharply with Mills' kinder, gentler persona, and could be a turn-off for the middle class and undecided voters - who, above all, want non-violent elections.

"Rawlings' presence is definitely a crowd-puller; Mills could use his symbolic endorsement," says Professor E Gyimah-Boadi, executive director at the Centre for Democratic Development, an Accra-based think tank.

"But I'm not sure his pronouncements help his candidacy."


SEE ALSO:
Country profile: Ghana
17 Jul 04  |  Country profiles
Ghana police question Rawlings
11 Jun 03  |  Africa



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