The sudden death of Ghana’s president, John Atta Mills, throws into upheaval Ghana’s presidential election campaign and immediately thrusts Mills’ vice president, John Mahama, into political center stage.
I spent the month of June in Ghana and will begin a series of posts on the country in the coming days. During my visit, Mills startled political observers by making a trip to the U.S. for what he called a “routine” medical checkup. During his absence one news outlet reported his death, then hastily retracted its report. Mills himself rebuffed criticism of his leaving Ghana for the U.S., saying he wanted to “recharge his batteries” for what was expected to be an intense re-election campaign which pitted him against the same candidate as he only narrowly defeated four years ago.
Mills’ death robs Ghana of a re-run of the last presidential election. At the same time, his vice president Mahama, who has already been sworn in as the new president, has six months in office to consolidate his position atop the country’s government. Based on his personal popularity, which is substantial, Mahama may well quickly emerge as the front-runner in December’s election.
Mills came to power after narrowly winning against a candidate from the then governing New Patriotic Party, Nana Akufo-Addo, in polls in December 2008. Akufo-Addo was considered a likely winner over Mills this go round because of concerns over growing corruption in Ghana’s government, poor service delivery by government agencies and uneven benefits from the country’s economic growth. With Mahama likely to be the new candidate against Akufo-Addo, the election calculus must be redone.
Ghana last year was deemed by The World Bank to be a “middle income” country and its rise from poor-nation status illustrates the general ascent of African economies. Rather than representing a shift in governmental approaches, the campaign between Ghana’s two leading parties highlights the pro-U.S., open-market concensus in Ghana’s elite circles.