Picture: degraft_anti/X (formerly Twitter) – Ghanians protest against rising cost of living and corruption. People took to the streets of Accra for a three-day action under the slogan #OccupyJulorbiHouse to protest the rising cost of living and worsening economic conditions. Ghana is facing a severe debt crisis and has entered into its 17th loan programme with the IMF, raising fears of further austerity measures.
By Tanupriya Singh
Hundreds of people took to the streets in Ghana’s capital city of Accra on Saturday, September 23, as part of a three-day protest against worsening economic conditions and lack of accountability and mismanagement by the government in the West African country. Organised under the slogan #OccupyJulorbiHouse, the action had been called by a group known as Democracy Hub.
The protests began last Thursday, on September 21, when people attempted to march to Jubilee House, which houses the office of the president. There were several reports of police officers assaulting protesters. At least 49 people were arrested on Thursday, including some journalists whose recording devices were also reportedly seized.
Police claimed that the people had been detained “in connection with an unlawful assembly”.
In a statement condemning the violence against the protesters, the Socialist Movement of Ghana (SMG) said, “Our Constitution — the basis for Police authority — is not subject to the convenience or policy approval of the Police, any state agency, or indeed other citizens opposed to [the] demonstrators’ agenda.
“We reject the cynical Ghana Police Service’s ‘justification’ that the demonstrators did not have judicial approval for their actions … Demonstrations do not require judicial approval. We reject the casual GPS manipulation of the judicial process in which they wait to the very last minute to file ex-parte applications before the High Court to frustrate demonstrations — usually on the flimsy and unproven claims of threats to ‘national security’.”
As protestors marched in Accra for the third day on Saturday, they made another attempt to reach Jubilee House but were barricaded by the police. They carried placards that read “Ghana deserves better” and “we are tired of being voting machines” and demanded better access to basic social services and employment opportunities. They also condemned the lack of adequate medical facilities in the country, including essential life-saving treatments like dialysis.
Public anger grew following reports of the alleged theft of US$1 million, EUR 300,000, and millions in local Ghanaian cedis from the home of Sanitation and Water Resources Minister Cecilia Dapaah, raising questions about how a government minister amassed such wealth. Dapaah eventually resigned and was arrested on “suspected corruption and corruption-related offences” in July.
“The country does not belong to one person, it does not belong to two families, it does not belong to the people in power. It belongs to us,” a protestor told Metro TV Ghana.
Ghana has been witnessing growing unrest, including by organised labor, as the country experiences what is being called “its worst economic crisis in a generation”. The cost of living has remained high, with food prices rising by 122 percent in 2022. The same year, the cedi lost 50 percent of its value against the US dollar. Fuel prices had reportedly soared by over 150 percent.
In recent months, the national average prices of staple foods including maize and rice have risen to over 50 percent as compared to last year. Significant increases have also been recorded in the prices of agricultural inputs and fertilisers.
The country continues to face high levels of inflation, which had reached 54 percent in January, and has since come down to 40.1 percent. The prevailing conditions also led Ghana’s central bank to hike interest rates to 30 percent in July.
The economic crisis in the country has also been compounded by a severe debt crisis. Ghana’s public debt stands at GHS 575.5 billion (USD 49.8 billion) as of June 2023.
By the end of 2022, interest payments on the country’s debt alone were taking up between 70 to 100 percent of the government’s revenue. In December, Ghana had announced that it was suspending some of its debt payments. Earlier this year, Ghana formally applied for debt relief under the G20 Common Framework.
In July 2022, just as the country was witnessing another round of protests against the economic crisis, the government of President Nana Akufo-Addo announced that Ghana would be approaching the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a loan, the 17th arrangement with the IMF since independence.
The decision had been vehemently rejected by the SMG and trade unions in Ghana, several of whom were at the time either already on strike or were organising to demand a Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) to cope with rising prices.
Recalling the impact of previous IMF arrangements, which have done little to alleviate the structural constraints to development while pushing austerity measures such as a freeze on public sector hiring, Trades Union Congress (TUC) had said at that time, “What we got in return was an economy still overly dependent on production and export of raw materials and import of manufactured products. Most of our productive sectors such as mining, petroleum, and telecommunications are still being controlled by foreign companies.”
In December 2022, Ghana reached an agreement with the IMF for a USD 3 billion loan over a three-year period in exchange for a “wide-ranging economic reform programme” with a fiscal strategy that would rely on “front-loaded measures to increase domestic resource mobilisation”.
Ghana is currently the most indebted country to the IMF on the African Continent.
At a time when the unemployment rate was touching 14 percent, a hiring freeze was put in place in the public sector. The Ghanaian government has since implemented other measures including raising the Value Added Tax to 15 percent and a nearly 50 percent hike in electricity tariffs.
As Ghanaians continue to bear the burden of rising prices, organisations such as the SMG have emphasised that the solution to the crisis does not lie in yet another loan from the IMF, but in a fundamental restructuring of Ghana’s economy, which would break from neocolonial patterns of resource extraction.
“We need to build an economy that responds directly to the needs of the people, to restructure it in a way that will make land available to the tillers, and that will ensure that people have access to services such as healthcare and education,” SMG General Secretary Kwesi Pratt Junior said.
Tanupriya Singh is a writer at Peoples Dispatch and is based in Delhi
This article was first published on Peoples Dispatch