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Ghana’s opposition look to Zambia for election tactics

Recent events in Ghana point to an increasingly politicised relationship with China, reminiscent of the electoral conditions which brought Micheal Sata to the presidency in Zambia. The opposition NPP party who lost power in the previous election in 2008, seem to have learnt from Sata’s tactics in Zambia, and Akufo-Addo’s party are making efforts to brand the ruling NDC, lackies of Beijing. The next election is still a year away, but recent comments about a $3bn loan from China look like the beginning of a campaign to discredit President Atta-Mills.

In the previous election in 2008 the NDC defeated the NPP by less than 1% in the second round of voting, the NDC winning out with promises to build infrastructure and reduce fuel and food costs. However with the Presidency the NDC inherited a parlous national budget, and a long wait for oil revenues to start to take an effect on revenues. Production began last year, but Ghana’s oil wealth is not as bountiful as that of Nigeria or Angola, so the results do far have been welcome but not transformative. The previous NPP government has borrowed significantly in anticipation of future resource wealth, so Atta-Mills has struggled to fulfil his promises of large scale infrastructure spending. This lack of action has left him vulnerable for the elections in December 2012, and therefore he has taken measures to ensure his government can deliver on their promises before then.

This was the motivation for the $3bn loan agreed between the NDC government and Beijing in September 2010. The loan has proved controversial with both the opposition NPP and the IMF obstructing the loan’s progress. The NPP have argued that the loan is overly conditional, requiring that 60% of the value of the loan be spent with Chinese contractors. This is an odd stipulation for Beijing to insist on considering that Chinese firms routinely win competitive tenders in infrastructure. The NPP have also argued that the government is wrong to saddle itself with further debt. Having withdrawn from IMF support under the previous NPP government, Atta-Mills went back to the IMF for support early in his presidency. The IMF have recently criticised the loan as they argue that it contravenes debt conditions contingent within their support. The NDC need to deliver big ticket projects if they are to stand a chance of winning the elections next year. Therefore Atta-Mills has remained defiant, threatening to withdraw from the IMF and rubbishing NPP suggestions of an overly cosy relationship with Beijing.

Ghana, like many countries in Africa, has a media which is suspicious of China’s impact. Recent stories suggest that the NPP’s attempt to link the Atta-Mills to a wider unease with China has the potential to succeed. Since the start of October a number of stories have surfaced which demonstrate suspicion over the Chinese working practices, and also of a more general moral deficit in Chinese dealings. In a more directed articlequestions have also been raised over the NDC’s new headquarters, reputed to cost as much as $20 million dollars. The article insinuates Chinese support for the project. Ironically the NDC made similar accusations aimed at the ruling NPP prior to the 2008 elections.

In terms of working practices the press was quick to highlight the halted construction of a major road in the Volta region. China Jiang International Construction Company is accused of having failed to comply with Ghana’s labour laws. The company reportedly banned employees from joining a union and failed to pay compensation after serious injuries occurred. Also in the news was the deportation of 25 Chinese miners working ona concession belonging to Force Field Mining. The firm has been fined GHȼ 2,000 for each illegal miner and is to provide tickets for their deportation.

Other stories surfacing in the last couple of months highlighted the trafficking of Chinese prostitutes for work in mining areas. The Accra-based Non-Governmental Organisation, the Enslavement Protection Alliance West Africa (EPAWA) said victims are recruited under the guise of working as restaurant assistants. They are then confined and forced to provide sexual services. Another article focused on corruption and Director for Finance and Administration of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, Seth Dumoga. Dumoga allegedly defrauded an estate developer of about $100,000, and was said to have a Chinese accomplice, Tang Hong, who is currently at large. In a more colourful offering Ghana Web published this poem about the neo-colonial injustice of qualified Ghanaian engineers working for uneducated Chinese foremen.

This mistrust for China has been simmering for a long while. Back in January 2009 I wrote this article on the prospects for China in Atta-Mills Ghana. The common thread between the two is China’s keen interest in establishing itself in Ghana, especially within the oil industry. The difference is that now China seems more willing to fight back, often using the media.

Xie Yajing, China’s Commercial Counsellor for West Asia and African Department of the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, called recently for Chinese companies in Ghana to be held to account (full article). Ms Xie called for sanctions on Chinese outfits which fail to operate at sufficient standards, and called for disgruntled Ghanaians to make their case to the Chinese embassy in Accra. While it seems unlikely that this process will be carried through, it is nonetheless interesting that Chinese officials should take this stance.

A Chinese delegation led by Zhou Tienong, Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of China, visited Ghana in mid-November. Zhou met with the Ghanaian Vice President John Mahama and the parliament speaker Joycelyn Bamford-Addo during his visit. This personal touch in bilateral relations has been a real advantage for China in contrast to Western countries’ distant attitudes to the continent.

Western institutions are however making their feelings known. As mentioned previously the IMF have been obstructive. At an event organized by the NPP aligned Danquah Institute, the World Bank chief economist in Ghana warned Ghanaians against white elephant projects. At the same event it was reported that Ghana has, “unlimited access to the United States Exim Guarantee Bank and can access any amount of loans it requires for embarking on developmental projects of the country.” This assertion was apparently made by Mr Ryan Bowles, the Chief of the Economics Section at the US Embassy in Accra. The GOP might be surprised to hear it.

Ghana was famously the first international destination for a President Obama visit. The country is the darling of western investors and academics excited by its democratic success, and balanced middle income economy. This stability is equally attractive to Chinese partners resulting in competitive international courtship. For Beijing, the tendency for opposition politicians to play the China card will be a worrying trend. The western media has been successful in whipping up a monochrome view of China’s faults in Africa, which many Africans have been receptive to. Much is made of China’s imperialist tendencies, but it is telling that those complaints most often come from a western media sensitive to encroachment into their back yard. Hopefully this competition between China and the West will ensure that Africans get a good deal.

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