Feature Article of Friday, 23 November 2012

Columnist: Hamilton, John

Mahama Sorcerers Count on Dubious Evidence

By John Hamilton

I’d like to take some time this week to discuss some of the prevailing analyses of the upcoming election and offer some of my own. There are two speculations I will be covering specifically: the Economist Intelligence Unit’s November 2012 Country Report and a piece in Africa Confidential entitled “Mahama ahead by a hair.”

In both of these articles, John Mahama is given a slight edge due to his incumbency, but they offer no data to substantiate this claim. Instead, these reports offer all of the qualitative political hackery you can stomach. They cite no hard evidence to support their claims and only mention in passing that they draw these conclusions “according to local and international pollsters.” No data is given, no specific polls mentioned. The rest of the remarks by each publication go on to analyze issues in the race and say nothing about why they think John Mahama has an edge.

The conclusions by each piece that John Mahama is likely to win reelection seem to be more based on having a beer with NDC hacks than on an actual quantitative understanding of what is driving the electorate.

In fact, the two pieces cite specific factors that highlight the *negatives* impeding Mahama's chances. For example: power outages are still an issue, prices are on the rise, and the overvalued contracts between the Chinese oil producer, Sinopec, the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation reek of corruption. The ever increasing cost of living, as a consequence of the exploding public debt, is hitting the average Ghanaian right where it hurts the most. Furthermore, high unemployment and the view that Ghana is not going in the right direction (according to the Afrobarometer survey in 2011), is going to make a second four years for John Mahama a hard sell to the public. So it's hard to understand how these "analysts" cite all the negatives of Mahama's record and then somehow conclude that he is likely to emerge a victor.

Incompetence and corruption are frequent topics on FM radio across Ghana, as the average citizen has not felt any positive effects of the growing oil industry in the Western region. The Economist Intelligence Unit report specifically states that "claims of financial impropriety have tarnished some government ministers. This has hurt the NDC's reputation, given that it came to power promising accountability and transparency."

Moreover, the issue of name ID looms large. While Mahama posters have been plastered all over the country thanks to a well-funded NDC political machine that has plenty of money and brute force, voters have been exposed to Nana Akufo-Addo for more than a decade, as this is his second time leading the NPP ticket along with his running mate Dr. Mahamadu Bawumia. They know them well and voters are more likely to vote for someone simply because they have been exposed to their personalities for a longer period of time.

In my view, the Mahama incumbency advantage is a false one. Realistically, he has only been the head of State for a few months and is best described as a "caretaker" President. It appears more and more likely to me that incompetence, corruption, and lack of name recognition (especially for his running mate Kwesi Amissah-Arthur) will be the undoing of John Mahama’s administration and the NDC’s majority in parliament.

Given the state of the Ghanaian economy, I cannot share the view that these publications give. It is absurd to believe that simple incumbency gives you an advantage when 1 in 3 is out of work and 1 in 6 have given up looking, according once again to the highly-respected Afrobarometer. The plain truth is that the NDC record has severely damaged their chances for reelection and in some districts, no amount of money can save them from the wrath of the voters.

For sure, the race will be tight because of the money and muscle behind the NDC machine. But the only quantitative poll, a substantial one released this week by Research International, shows the NPP winning a "one touch" victory with 52%. One can only conclude that the Economist Intelligence Unit and Africa Confidential have jumped the gun and have gotten it wrong. This race is very close to call, but the facts on the ground, the quantitative polling, and a simple understanding of how incumbents deal are treated by frustrated populations point to a victory for Nana Akufo-Addo and the NPP on December 7.