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Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo became a social-distancing social media star at the beginning of the Great Lockdown when he famously asserted that we know how to revive an economy yet not how to bring people back to life.
The message: let’s pay a short-term price to avert long-term devastation to one of Africa’s star economies and democracies.
Now Akufo-Addo is back, this time leading a cautious re-opening of Ghana, while trying to fight the spreading virus. He also has a $1 billion vote of confidence from the International Monetary Fund in the form of an emergency loan, intended to keep the robust Ghanaian economy on course.
Yet with more human targets available as public interactions increase, the invisible global nemesis is on the prowl in Ghana and cases are rising. Even the president is dodging the cunning culprit.
Akufo-Addo, who turned 76 as his lockdown came into effect in March, went into two weeks of self-quarantine on July 4 after an unidentified person in his inner circle tested positive for coronavirus disease or Covid-19. Akufo-Addo tested negative, “but has elected to take this measure out of the abundance of caution,” a statement from his office said.
Meanwhile the president’s campaign manager, Peter Mac Manu, was admitted to the intensive care unit of a local hospital with suspected Covid-19, according to the Graphic Online.
Ghana’s general election is set for December 7 and preparations are under way. Ghana’s Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia showed off his new voter identification card at a registration site on July 3 while wearing a face shield (picture).
As Akufo-Addo announced his easing of the lockdown at the end of May, the country of 30 million in West Africa stood at 7,768 confirmed cases and 35 deaths, with cases rising about 2 percent each day. That meant about 1 in 4,000 Ghanaians were confirmed to have Covid-19.
A month later, on June 30, the tally stood at 17,351 cases with 112 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. A daily gain of 3 to 4 percent in cases is now typical.
Ghana is still in much better shape than the United Kingdom, which colonized and ruled the Atlantic Ocean nation as the Gold Coast before granting independence in 1957 at the buoyant start of Africa’s post-colonial era. About 1 in 240 U.K. residents have confirmed coronavirus, which for a tense time hospitalized Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
In Ghana, coronavirus claimed the life of the country’s popular forestry chief, Kwadwo Owusu Afriye, known as “Sir John,” on July 1. He had served as general secretary of Akufo-Addo’s New Patriotic Party. “His greatest strength for which he will be sorely missed was his broad-mindedness and tolerance that abhorred divisions along party lines,” wrote columnist Larry Dogbe on GhanaWeb.
Ghana had started 2020 with hope and momentum. The economy – based on gold, cocoa and offshore oil, with new technology-driven businesses emerging – seemed headed for a solid year.
The IMF expected sustained annual economic growth of 5 percent after an 8 percent economic expansion in 2017 followed by 6 percent in both 2018 and 2019. A cleanup of the banking industry was making progress. The “Ghana beyond aid” pursuit of more manufacturing and agro-processing along with the expansion of mobile money and the digital economy promised new sources of jobs and growth.
The government expected the country’s offshore reserves would generate ample revenue with crude oil output at $62.60 a barrel. (As global demand collapsed in March under the coronavirus shock, oil fell to almost $20 a barrel, and has now recovered to $40.)
Perhaps the biggest sign of enthusiasm for Ghana’s future came when the country raised $3 billion on the Eurobond market in February. Demand for the debt was almost five times higher, according to Bloomberg.
The successful offering “has been extremely, may I say, divinely helpful and provided us with the needed buffer to anchor the cedi,” Ghana’s currency, Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta told Parliament on March 30. “However, in these apocalyptic times we must do all we can to conserve and preserve our foreign exchange reserves.”
The finance minister cautioned that tax revenue would drop due to the sudden slowdown in economic activity, which the IMF forecasts will slide to 1.5 percent growth in 2020. Economies across the developing world with less potential may find tougher consequences from the pandemic. The impact on low-income households is “particularly acute” and puts at risk gains in cutting extreme poverty since the 1990s, the IMF noted in late June while further lowering global growth forecasts for 2020.
The first two confirmed cases of coronavirus in Ghana came on March 12. Three days later Akufo-Addo moved hard against the threat as Italy and China struggled with the worst of the emerging pandemic. The menace was only starting to gain ground in the United States.
Under the Imposition of Restrictions Act, Akufo-Addo banned public gatherings and closed schools and universities. Six days later came the closure of land, sea and air borders, followed a week later by restrictions on movement by residents of the capital Accra and three other metropolitan areas.
“The greater the level of self-discipline and civic responsibility we maintain in observing the enhanced protocols in hygiene and social distancing, the greater chances we have in avoiding mass job losses and its concomitant hardships,” Ofori-Atta told lawmakers.
Two months later, on May 31, President Akufo-Addo turned to his people for a 10th time to talk about the coronavirus.
“We have demonstrated not only to ourselves, but also to the entire world, that we are capable of charting our own path towards containing the spread of this disease,” he said. “We must all be proud that we have become a reference point for others on how to combat it.”
The president pointed to contact tracing, expanded testing and quarantine measures, along with domestic production of masks, gloves and other protective gear. To cushion the lockdown blow, his government reduced taxes and offered support to businesses.
Akufo-Addo announced that starting June 15 high schools and universities would re-open so upper classes could prepare for exit exams. Churches and mosques could resume services with no more than 100 congregants and social distancing. Restaurants could provide seated service. Conferences and weddings with 100 or fewer people could go forward.
Large public gatherings such as sporting events, festivals and cinema showings are off limits through the end of July. And Ghana’s borders remain closed to human traffic.
Akufo-Addo told the country that Ghana “should embark on a strategic, controlled, progressive, safe easing of restrictions to get our lives and economy back to normal.” Normal hasn’t yet set a date for its return.