In September, Ghana saw a wave of protests against the economic crisis that has been ravaging the country for the past five years. The protests happened in front of the presidential palace (Jubilee House) and were met by the police who arrested 49, including journalists from foreign media outlets such as the BBC.
Ghana’s President, Akufo-Addo, and his government have stated that the economic crisis can be linked to causes such as the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the invasion of Ukraine. But Ghanaian citizens blame the government; NPR states, “many have blamed the government for economic mismanagement and criticized spending on unpopular, expensive projects, such as a new, 5,000-capacity national cathedral, commissioned by the government and costing over $400 million.”
Ghana is still considered a democracy by both Freedom House and Our World Data but its democracy is in danger. The country became a democracy relatively recently in 1992 following a series of coups and military regimes. For years since, Ghana has been a model democracy in Africa, holding free and fair elections and constitutionally protecting rights. According to Freedom House, the right to peaceful assembly is constitutionally protected in Ghana, so what do these protests (and their repression) show?
The situation in Ghana illustrates Bermeo’s theory of executive aggrandizement (Bermo, 2016). Ghana’s government is slowly and successfully undermining constitutionally protected rights of free media and peaceful protests. Ghana authorities are also using force to retaliate against protestors. According to NPR, “Police said in a statement they were arrested for “the flagrant disregard of a court process” served on the organizers, Democracy Hub, who countered that the process had not resulted in an injunction stopping them from demonstrating.”
Ghana is a relatively democratic state with a score of 80/100 on the Freedom House report. However, a closer look shows that the key institutions meant to be impartial to corruption and manipulation have some of the lowest scores. In particular, the government remains plagued by corruption–which is also undermining the judicial system. The U.S. Department of State stated for example that “judicial officials reportedly accepted bribes to expedite or postpone cases, “lost” records, or issued favorable rulings for the payer of the bribe.” Freedom House also notes that, in Ghana, “political corruption remains a problem despite active media coverage, fairly robust laws and institutions, and both government and nongovernmental antigraft initiatives.” Freedom House shows that the Rule of Law and Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights Sections do not have any scores that are 4/4. The report states within the Rule of Law section that even though the judiciary branch is independent, “corruption and bribery as well as delays in dispensing justice continue to pose challenges.”
Overall, the arrests of protestors, and the lack of accountability in the executive branch, show that Ghana is experiencing democratic backsliding. According to the VDem report, Ghana has moved from being a Liberal Democracy towards an Electoral Democracy between 2012-2022, and since 2022 the country has been slowly becoming more autocratic. What could be done to stop Ghana from slowly backsliding towards authoritarianism remains an open question. Recent events also underline the 2023 Freedom House report observation that “protests against governance problems like corruption, societal restrictions, and economic mismanagement can draw large numbers and broad support.”
Akinwotu, Emmanuel. “Ghana Arrests Demonstrators Protesting against the Country’s Economic Crisis.” NPR, NPR, 21 Sept. 2023, www.npr.org/2023/09/21/1200858047/ghana-protesters-arrested.
Bermeo, Nancy. “Project Muse.” On Democratic Backsliding, vol. 27, Jan. 2016, pp. 5–19, https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1353/jod.2016.0012.
“Freedom In The World 2023.” Freedom House, 2023.
“Ghana – United States Department of State.” U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of State, 20 Mar. 2023, www.state.gov/reports/2022-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/ghana.
“Ghana: Freedom in the World 2023 Country Report.” Freedom House, 2022, freedomhouse.org/country/ghana/freedom-world/2023.
“Ghana’s Second Quarter Economic Growth Dips vs Revised First Quarter.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 20 Sept. 2023, www.reuters.com/world/africa/ghanas-second-quarter-economic-growth-dips-vs-revised-first-quarter-2023-09-20/.
Kokoroko, Francis. “Multi-Day Protests over Economic Crisis Grip Ghana’s Capital.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 24 Sept. 2023, www.reuters.com/world/africa/multi-day-protests-over-economic-crisis-grip-ghanas-capital-2023-09-23/.
“Liberal Democracy Index, Ghana, 1902 to 2022.” Our World in Data, ourworldindata.org/grapher/liberal-democracy-index?tab=chart&country=~GHA. Accessed 11 Oct. 2023.
V-Dem. “Democracy Report 2023: Defiance in the Face of Authorization .” V-Dem Institute , 2023.