Feature: The record of two presidents contesting 2020 elections


The presidential election contest of 2020 is the third between President Nana Akufo-Addo and his immediate predecessor President John Mahama.

In 2012 and 2016, Mahama was the incumbent whereas Akufo-Addo was the challenger. On this occasion, the table has turned, with Akufo-Addo as the incumbent and Mahama as the opposition candidate.

Doubtlessly, this election will not only be about promises but about the record of the two leading candidates.

There is an opportunity to evaluate the promises they make vis-à-vis their record in office. This paper considers the personal, professional and political records of the two candidates.

Personal background

John Mahama, a Gonja native from Bole in the Savannah Region of northern Ghana was born on November 29, 1958, making him the first ever president of Ghana who was born after the nation’s independence. His basic education began at Newtown Experimental School before ending at Achimota School, both in Accra. He had his secondary education at Ghana Secondary School at Tamale and pursued an undergraduate degree in History at the University of Ghana. He has also done postgraduate studies in Communication at the same university, and in social psychology at the Institute of Social Sciences at Moscow, Russia.

President Mahama’s family heritage is multi-faith, consisting of both Christians and Muslims. He and his wife, Lordina are both staunch members of the Assemblies of God church. His dad, Emmanuel Mahama was a Minister of State in the Nkrumah administration and a senior adviser to President Hilla Limann of the Third Republic of Ghana.

Like Mahama, Nana Akufo-Addo’s dad, Edward was a politician too. He was a member of the “big six” founding fathers of Ghana, Chief Justice and ceremonial President of Ghana. Apart from his dad, two other members of the “big six,” J. B. Danquah and William Ofori-Atta were his grand uncle and uncle respectively.

Born on March 29, 1944, Akufo-Addo was educated at Government Boys School in Accra, Lancing College in UK and University of Ghana where he read Economics. He then moved on to the UK to read Law and was called to the English bar in 1971 and to the Ghanaian bar in 1975.

Professional journey

Akufo-Addo’s practice as a lawyer is well-known. He worked with the Paris office of the US law firm Coudert Brothers. He co-founded Akufo-Addo, Prempeh and Co. in 1979 in Ghana. He was famous for the many human rights cases and ideas he advocated for. Prior to becoming a lawyer and an undergraduate student, he taught briefly at Accra Academy.

Mahama worked as a history teacher at the secondary school level before heading to Moscow for further studies. Upon his return, he became the Information, Culture and Research Officer at the Japanese Embassy in Accra between 1991 to 1995. He then worked as International Relations, Sponsorship Communications and Grants Manager at the Ghana office of Plan International between 1995 and 1996.

Political record

John Mahama became a frontline politician when he contested and won the Bole-Bamboi parliamentary seat in 1996. As a member of parliament, he was appointed deputy and substantive Communications Minister during President Jerry Rawlings’ second term in office. When his party lost the 2000 presidential elections, his tenure as minister ended but he continued to represent his constituents in Parliament and served as Minority Spokesman on Communications and later Minority Spokesman on Foreign Affairs. He’s been the NDC’s Communications Director, Vice President of Ghana, and first vice president to assume the presidency upon the death of a sitting president.

His tenure at the communications ministry saw the liberalization and stabilization of the telecommunications industry. He was also a founding member of Ghana AIDS Commission, member of the implementation committee of the 2000 population and housing census and deputy chairman of the publicity committee for the re-introduction of VAT. As Vice President, he headed the Economic Management Team, Police Council and Armed Forces Council. His 2012 book, My First Coup d’Etat: Memories from the Lost Decades of Africa is the first memoir by a sitting Vice President.

As president, Mahama presided over a challenged economy – erratic power supply, rising inflation, increasing debt-to-GDP ratio and slow GDP growth rate culminating in a historic low of 3.4% by the time he exited office in 2016. These led to our enrolment into the IMF’s extended credit facility for policy credibility.

His flagship program was the attempt to establish 200 community day senior high schools, out of which 29 were completed. Others were at various stages of completion. Major landmarks such as Kwame Nkrumah Interchange, Kotoka International Airport’s new terminal, Ho Airport, and several others across the country are often cited as the overarching legacy of the former president. He was appointed co-chair of United Nations advocates for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Despite these, he was branded as “incompetent and corrupt” by his opponents, leading to his defeat in the 2016 elections.

On the other hand, Akufo-Addo’s vast political career spans over four decades. His mates at the University of Ghana knew him as a vocal supporter of leftist Convention People’s Party until the overthrow of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah in 1966 when he switched sides to the rightist United Party, to which his father was aligned.

He became a leading member of People’s Movement for Freedom and Justice (PMFJ), an organization formed to oppose Acheampong’s military government. He continued to be an activist, the climax of which was his involvement in Alliance for Change (AFC) in 1995 to oppose the introduction of VAT and human rights violations by the Rawlings administration. Since then, he’s been a three-term Member of Parliament for Abuakwa (South) constituency, Attorney-General and Minister of Justice as well as Foreign Minister in President John Kufuor’s government.

As Justice Minister and Attorney-General, Akufo-Addo spearheaded the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law, initiated processes leading to passage of the Domestic Violence Act and helped implement the courts computerization initiative. As Foreign Minister, he worked with President Kufuor in the pursuit of good neighborliness and economic diplomacy. A high point of his role as Foreign Minister was when he chaired the UN Security Council session that passed resolution 1701 to boost the presence of UN troops to confirm the withdrawal of Israeli soldiers from Lebanon and monitor the cessation of hostilities.

As president, his most prominent work is the free senior high school program which has put 1.2 million children in school at no direct cost to the children or their guardians. He has also been big on macroeconomic stability, industrialization, digitization, and agricultural production. He has been criticized as intolerant of criticism, running a family and friends administration, lacking political will to fight corruption, and not investing as much as his predecessor did in infrastructure. The verdict on his performance by the people will be seen in the upcoming election.

Will voters want to bring back Mahama or renew Akufo-Addo’s mandate?

The writer, Terry Mante is a Fellow of Ghana Forward; a non-partisan political movement dedicated to promoting and advancing economic development, visionary leadership and good governance.

Email: [email protected]

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