ghana protest washington dc

Protesters outside of the Ghanaian embassy in Washington, DC

On Wednesday July 23rd, 60 protesters converged on the steps of the Ghanaian Embassy in Washington, DC. Brandishing signs that screamed “Ghana Must Work Again," “Stop the Decline Now," and “#BringOurGhanaBack," demonstrators belted protest songs as they marched in a continuous circle.

This rally is one of three different demonstrations against Ghana’s governance in the month of July alone. On July 12th, the Progressive Alliance Movement held their inaugural meeting at New York’s Riverside Church with the stated aim of “[organizing] Ghanaians under a responsive and accountable government that would serve and elevate the country." Harlem Congressman Charles Rangel was in attendance.

On July 1st, a group of young professionals called the Concerned Ghanaians for Responsible Governance, or CCRG, led about 300 sympathizers in delivering a petition to the President’s office and residence Flagstaff House. The protest was dubbed #OccupyFlagstaffHouse.

While the groups were founded by Ghanaians living in and outside Ghana, all have expressed frustration with leadership they feel has failed to alleviate poor quality of life for its citizens.

“It’s like being hit with a myriad of ailments at the same time,” said Nana Akwasi Awuah, co-founder of the non-partisan CCRG. Referring to the barrage of challenges currently facing Ghanaians, Awuah placed the blame squarely on ineffective leadership.

“Governments are given a four year mandate to deliver,” Awuah, 26, explained via email from Ghana’s capital city Accra where he works as a lawyer. “We are already in the second year since this government took office and the living condition of the people is not encouraging. It is prudent to demand responsible governance now than to wait till things fall into complete disarray.”  

Despite Ghana’s status as one of the world’s fastest growing economies, most Ghanaian citizens have yet to feel the benefits associated with the country’s middle income status.  

Public sanitation remains heinous as open gutters stream with sewage, creating breeding grounds for flies, malaria-bearing mosquitoes, and all manner of disease. Meanwhile, sewage treatment plants stand unused due to lack of adequate oversight by paid government stakeholders, as human waste is disposed of in the ocean.

According to a recent video report commissioned by the World Bank and Cities Alliance, it would take $6 million to get sewage treatment facilities up and running again—half the amount the government airlifted to national football team The Black Stars in Brazil, when the players threatened to boycott their World Cup match against Portugal if they were not paid their owed appearance fees.

As 2014 World Cup pundits made sport of the Ghanaian plane packed with cash, and news followed that screenwriter Darryl Wharton-Rigby had inked a deal to pen a “soccer-themed thriller” about the drama; 200 Ghanaians who had gone to Brazil as tourists requested asylum in the city of Caxias do Sul due to “religious conflict” back home. The Brazilian city’s police chief suggested to the Associated Press it was more likely the asylum seekers were fleeing joblessness. 

Jobs are not the only scarce commodity in Ghana.

While the World Cup was raging, residents in parts of the nation’s major hubs were hit with a severe fuel shortage. The reason for the scarcity of petrol? The Ghana government’s non-payment of 1.5 billion Ghana Cedis ($294 million) to the Chamber of Bulk Oil Distribution Companies. Ghana’s President Mahama has since reportedly ordered $60 million paid against the debt.   

Amidst this pain at the pump, Ghanaian social media lit up with news Ghana had taken a $156 million World Bank loan, with $15 million earmarked for sanitary pads. The pad money, part of a scholarship package meant to prevent girls from missing school because they have their period, has been roundly condemned by many Ghanaian pundits, opposition party politicians, and citizens.  

Some have cited poor management of the economy, which has created a culture of impoverished girls more focused on marrying for financial reasons than attending school. Others expressed humiliation that Ghana’s government cannot afford to supply pads to their citizens without borrowing money. Ghana’s Minority Spokesperson on Education Professor Dominic Fobih asked, in reference to the loan provision, “Why can’t we use our own budget to buy such a thing?”

The pads, World Cup headlines, poor sanitation, and recurring petrol shortages, join years of erratic water supply, increasingly aggressive electricity outages, and the sinking value of Ghanaian currency to deflate public faith in the government.

At the beginning of 2014, 1GHS was worth about $0.41; as of the date of this post, it was worth $0.29. This, after a steady decline from 2007 when 1GHS was equal to $1. While the African Development Bank expects Ghana’s economy to rebound this year, at 2014’s midway mark Ghanaian citizens of all ages and economic standings are losing hope and speaking out.

Awuah says #OccupyFlagstaffHouse is one of the many legitimate ways the CGRG plans to keep the government accountable. Meanwhile, an OccupyGhana Facebook page is encouraging all 16,000 of its “Likes” to show solidarity by wearing red on Fridays.

#redFriday and Awuah’s Concerned Citizens have been careful to stress peaceful, legal, and sartorial resistance, but some Ghanaians are taking more subversive measures.

In June, a doctored resignation letter bearing the President’s letterhead read: “Following recent bouts about the state of the economy, and my inability to effect positive change and significant improvement, I hereby tender my resignation…”

The two-sentence missive quickly went viral. Ghana’s Deputy Minister described the letter as a “spurious” attempt at “sowing seeds of panic, anxiety and chaos within the Ghanaian society”, and announced plans to criminally punish the letter’s author.

Ever since Ghana returned to democracy in 1992 after three decades of on and off military rule, it has been on the receiving end of patronizing compliments for remaining stable. Now that the PR is not so good, and its citizens are finding their voice, it’s time the government responded with tangible change the majority can benefit from.

Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond is the author of Powder Necklace. Named among the 39 most promising African writers under 39, her work will be featured in the forthcoming anthology Africa39.