Ghana was the first sub-Saharan nation to throw off colonial rule and the first to halve its extreme poverty rate. It continues to be a leader in West Africa as more children pursue their education and living conditions improve. Yet growing inequality means that the poorest are falling further behind.
Ghana has changed significantly in the past few decades. More people are moving to live in urban areas; more children have the opportunity to stay in school longer; the economy is diversifying away from subsistence agriculture (although agriculture remains an important source of employment and income) and it continues to grow.
Despite fluctuations in the economy, millions of Ghanaians have risen out of poverty, particularly from extreme poverty. Between 1991 and 2012, the poverty rate dropped from 52 per cent to 21; the extreme poverty rate fell even more sharply, from 37 per cent to nine. The under-5 mortality rate in Ghana has also come down in that time.
But economic conditions have worsened in the past five years and these gains are under threat. A gap is widening between the richest and poorest. Those left in rural areas bear the brunt of low incomes but the people crowding into expanding cities face the problems of rapid urbanisation: greater congestion, dangerous pollution, lack of access to safe drinking water and other basic necessities.
Nana Akufo-Addo won the presidential election in December 2016 and recently declared that his nation would be a “shining example” when it came to meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals and lifting people out of poverty. He also announced 2019 to be the “Year of Return”, marking 400 years since African slaves were taken from their homeland and shipped to the USA—and encouraging the African diaspora to return to Ghana.
At the coming 2020 election, President Akufo-Addo will face off against the opposition party’s John Mahama (himself a former President) for the third consecutive time. A key issue will be who has the stronger plan to restore a faltering economy and help the most vulnerable Ghanaians to overcome the challenges of poverty.