An important transfer of power in Ghana

Ghana has been different from many of its contemporary African nations especially in terms of its ability to see through peaceful transitions of power since 1992. Often, the credit for this is given to former President JJ Rawlings, who after being responsible for two military coups (1979, 1981), stood for democratic elections in 1992, and organised the next presidential election in 2000. But greater credit must go to the Ghanaian people who cherish this ‘difference’ enough to ensure that in every subsequent election, the outcome was democratically determined, and acknowledged by the main contenders to power.

Over the last two decades, the NDC and NPP have established themselves as the chief contenders in what is essentially a two-party system in Ghana. Prof. John Atta Mills (NDC) took power in 2008, passed away just before he was up for re-election in 2012. John Mahama, then the Vice President, took over the office and later, won the 2012 presidential race over Nana Akufo Addo (NPP). Anyway…the tale of presidential contenders in Ghana is slightly repetitive one, as you can see below.


Having lived in Ghana for two years from 2009 to 2011, I have a massive soft corner for the country and its people. In 2009, buoyed by the promise of oil revenues, Ghana was seen to be doing quite well. Although experts cautioned Ghana against the pitfalls of over-reliance on oil revenues and that infamous ‘Dutch disease’, there was hope all around that continued into 2012.

In 2016, Ghana was clearly in trouble. The exchange rate stood at about 4 GH Cedis to 1 US$, down from 1.7 in 2011. Corruption scandals had erupted in recent years, and while the opposition’s campaign had been relatively muted (primarily because they were starved of resources), public discontent was reportedly widespread.

While Ghana has witnessed tightly contested elections, with both principal political parties respecting the popular mandate, this system is prone to other forms of mal-governance – the most prominent of which is a tacit consensus between the main contenders regarding the appropriation of state power (and resources). There is indeed very little that is different in the stated policies of the two parties, and the popular experience of the functioning of the two governments led by them respectively (2000 – 2008 and 2008 – 2016).

However, the NPP has been out of power for two terms and in terms of its economy and resource revenue potential, Ghana is finds itself in 2016/17 in a vastly different from the situation from that in the 2000s. Having come back to power after eight years in the wilderness, hopes are high from President-elect Nana Akufo Addo and the NPP. 2016 has been a depressing year if you try to frame the narrative in terms of elections around the world.

As Ghana voted on 7th December, it was an opportunity for Ghanaians to usher in their version of ‘change’ and they have succeeded in effecting a transfer of power. Unsurprisingly, Nana has two major promises: Jobs and an anti-corruption drive. We will be watching.



On Alternative Dispute Resolution in Ghana

From the ever-interesting Africa Power and Politics Programme, through the latest working paper by Prof Richard Crook

In spite of its current limitations, the record of the Court-connected ADR programme therefore confirms the crucial role of the state in organising and sustaining a genuinely informal, popular and accessible form of dispute resolution….The ability to give ADR agreements the force of a state court’s judgement is particularly important; but so too is the capacity to provide a form of mediation which manages to be responsive to, indeed share, popular values and expectations whilst maintaining a consistency of standards. The practical hybridity of the Court-connected ADR is at the core of what success it has enjoyed, even though it has yet to change a well-entrenched culture of resistance to amicable settlement amongst those who go to court to settle their disputes.

The paper notes that the ADR system faces critical challenges in mediating in cases where the stakes are high and even if the parties do agree on a settlement, enforcement remains a key issue. 

Land tenure: Sierra Leone and Ghana

Two stories: First, from Sierra Leone, by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson on how chieftancy rules and uncertain property rights depress long-term investments in agriculture

Only economic institutions that guarantee some degree of property rights, so that people know that they will be able to reap the benefits of their investments and efforts, will generate prosperity. But there are no property rights to land in rural Sierra Leone — at least not in the sense that we understand it in the United States. Nobody has a written title, though some dynasties and families do have traditional user rights to use certain pieces of land. Most out of luck are “strangers” meaning anyone not born in a particular chiefdom (like say the two of us in Cambridge, Massachusetts). A stranger has to “beg” (the word the Sierra Leoneans use) for land and even if he or she gets it they cannot plant any perennial crops, like bananas, cocoa, coffee or oil palm because this would be tantamount to trying to establish de facto property rights on the land

Second, from Ghana, by Chris Udry on how the same plays out in southern Ghana

In the case of southern Ghana, while rights over land itself are quite uncertain, cultivators almost never lose control over their growing crops. This particular form of tenure insecurity has substantial negative consequences for investments in fallow in a food-crop farming system, but was irrelevant for long-term investments in a tree crop like cocoa. The congruence between a farming system centred on a long-lived tree crop and a customary land tenure system that provided secure rights over growing crops facilitated the meteoric growth of cocoa cultivation at the turn of the 20th century. 

 Chris Udry offers a resolution in the very next line though and also offers some hope

The interactions between the rules of a particular land tenure system and incentives to invest in agriculture can be subtle; thus it is no surprise that the empirical evidence relating investment, productivity, and land tenure systems varies across Africa and over time. At the same time, these tenure systems play a crucial and flexible role in redistributing resources in the face of unpredictable variations in need. As a consequence, most of Africa is distinguished by the almost complete absence of a rural landless class. This system may provide important insurance in times of need, and a remarkable degree of social stability due to the redistribution of land within rural communities.

Lant Pritchett on CCTs for education

…“seeing” that teachers should be more accountable for a quality of schooling experience that would retain students however requires seeing what even a child can see, but which the state has no interest in seeing, and hence no capability to see. Holding powerful teachers accountable, while cost-saving and learning increasing, is politically difficult. Even giving poor people a choice in where their children attend school is politically difficult to get by the educationist lobby. But holding poor people accountable is always politically easy…

Lant Pritchett – please read in full

Lant Pritchett explains why CCTs are not the way to go if we really want to improve the quality of education in our schools, and are not just happy getting more bums on the seat. Pritchett explains why education cannot be approached purely from the demand side – and there is plenty of evidence to back this argument – including some plainly obvious data on enrolment and quality of learning among kids in countries like India, Ghana and many others. Clearly, unless teachers can be held accountable (whether hiring contract teachers en-masse is even possible is a different question altogether) in some form, there is not much governments can do to improve education outcomes among children.

Update on 12/1: a response from Berk Ozler, arguing that more school in itself may be a good thing

Juggling dual lives

Fun NYT story about Isaac Osei, a taxi fleet owner in New York, who is also a chief in the Eastern Region in Ghana – ends with two great quotes from his wife

“They spoil you,” Ms. Osei said of her husband’s staff members in Ghana. “When you get to J.F.K., they don’t pick up your suitcases.”
“When I get to Africa, I have to worship him,” she said with a hint of frustration in her voice and a broad, mischievous smile. “When I get back, he has to worship me.”

Moving on from Ghana…

I wrote this post just after I got here


Today, I complete three weeks in Ghana – everything has been smooth and pleasant so far. In many ways, settling in has been easy and I am starting to believe that approaching a change of location as emotionless-ly as possible works! Neutralise expectations from people you are likely to meet, temper the doubts in your mind about food, weather, transport…everything. (admittedly though, what I am really paranoid about are snakes – and no, in my mind, it is not stupid at all that I try to keep my feet off the floor as much as possible!).

Kind partner institute, ISSER sorted out housing for me even before I got here – a major portion of settling down. Transport – I bought a bike (bicycle) – after two weeks of careful consideration of the distance I need to commute to work, the deep open gutters all along the road and getting used to the traffic driving on the right – its great fun and I would strongly advise it to everyone. As I told a friend here last week, I am confident I am not going to die young…So thats essential transport to work taken care of. The lifeline of public transport in Accra is the tro-tro (mini-van) and I was completely intimidated by them for a few days to begin with. I havent mastered it yet, but have sampled them enough, started recognising the hand signals that refer to specific stations and can count on them as an option when I travel.

What I have little hope with are the local languages. It pricks my ego that I cant seem to pick even a single word (I had learnt the word for ‘Thank You’ and then promptly forgotten). It amuses me (reminding me of India) when people from different parts of Ghana themselves do not understand each other’s languages and have to resort of English to communicate. If I were able to even partially crack even one of the local languages, I would consider that a great personal achievement.

And work…has been fine. I enjoy the sense of camaraderie that exists here across hierarchies and I know I am working with a group that is serious, committed and competent.


About 21 months later, happy to report that I had a great time here. Public transport is fine; the language still a mystery. Both ISSER and IPA were great to be around and I leave hoping I will come back – adding to the list of places I feel familiar with and that I know I could live in. Work has seen ups and downs, as one might expect and there have been moments that were hugely satisfying professionally and some others, that were pretty frustrating. I will write more about it after I leave here, I think – there are lots of little things that made a difference; and none so much as to make these two years any different on average from any previous year – and that’s mostly the way I wanted it to be.

Now with three weeks to go and at the verge of taking major leaps in both my personal and professional life, I am trying, as usual, to be calm and non-curious. Its a bit harder this time though.

Delhi, I know; a job with KPMG – not really. Sanjana, I know; marriage – ??