WHAT A YEAR

Ghana 2016 | DIPLOMACY | YEAR IN REVIEW

With commodity prices in the doldrums, chronic power outages, and an upcoming election, Ghana is enduring a slow year. But with solid indicators elsewhere, including promising non-oil data, the West African nation remains upbeat.

Ghana has banked much on its recent striking of oil. The first barrels shipped in 2010, but prices have since crashed and the black gold has become more of a black hole in the country's finances. In that respect, the IMF jumped in back in 2015 with a loan of $1 billion, a sufficiently weighty amount to stop Ghana flying off a fiscal cliff. The loan has inflation in its sights, as well as tighter fiscal discipline, and is earmarked for a program of reform that also contains what has become a hallmark of IMF bailouts in recent years: austerity. The belt-tightening measures include a new tax on petroleum, a freeze on public-sector hiring, and an end to popular energy subsidies. More effort will also be made to formalize the economy, thus driving an alternative revenue stream—according to local paper Daily Guide, only 1.5 million people out of the country's 25 million citizens pay taxes, while 70% of the economy is considered to be informal. Finally, some of the IMF cash will be used to increase foreign reserves to buttress the faltering currency.

All things considered, the IMF loan has provided Ghana with the breathing room it needs. Most expectations for GDP growth in 2016 fall between 4 and 5%. In 2014, GDP came in at $38.65 billion, according to Trading Economics.

And while hydrocarbons extractors may be geared up for a tough year, also spare a thought for factory owners, who have borne the brunt of dumsor (off-and-on), a local term coined to refer to the rolling power outages that have plagued the economy for the last three years. Accra, the capital, currently suffers a day and half without power a week thanks to a perfect storm of low rainfall impeding hydroelectric facilities, an erratic supply of gas from Nigeria, and demand that is outstripping capacity—at peak hours, Ghana can produce 1,600MW, while demand stands at 2,400MW. And while the government is working behind the scenes to ensure the required extra capacity is built, it has resorted to a short-term solution in the shape of two Turkish power ships, which sailed to Ghana in 2015 and plugged themselves into the grid, supplying up to 450MW of much-needed juice.
To give some perspective to the economic landscape, the services sector is the biggest fish in the tank, representing 50.2% of GDP, followed by industry on 28.4% and agriculture on 19.9%. Industry grew by only 1% in 2015, mostly because of power outages and the depreciation of the cedi, driving up input costs for the import-reliant sector.

Another factor that is subduing growth figures over 2016 is the upcoming November elections, when voters will take to the polls to elect a president. Current President John Mahama has been in power since 2012, winning elections called following the passing away of his predecessor. His party, the NDC, secured 50.7% in those elections, with the opposition NPP claiming 47.74%. This year's election is expected to be close again and has led investors to adopt a wait-and-see policy before making any big decisions. In the realm of diplomacy, Ghana has stepped up in recent years, adopting a staunchly independent and pro-African position on policy. Its membership of the United Nations, ECOWAS, and the Non-Aligned Movement have allowed Ghana to legally push for resolutions to transnational and regional issues. Ghana also provides troops and experts to a number of UN peacekeeping missions in countries including Liberia, the DRC, South Sudan, Somalia, Lebanon, and the territory of Western Sahara. The country also took on a key role in the recent Ebola outbreak, playing host to the UN's emergency response headquarters. The government was later applauded by the World Health Organization for its role in containing the virus.

Moving forward, Ghana will wait eagerly for oil prices to rise and look to tackle its power generation woes. And in the meantime, other growth sectors include: tourism, the development of which is guided by the National Tourism Development Plan (2013-2027), which aims to boost income from visitors to $1 billion by the end of the period; agriculture, which accounts for over half of the workforce and the development of which is considered instrumental in the reduction of poverty in rural areas, as well as for the provision of raw materials to local industry; and ICT, where much effort is being made to increase mobile voice and data penetration in lieu of extensive landline infrastructure. Indeed, Ghana was an early pioneer of internet services in West Africa, and it is hoped that a new convergence of technology and services could help to boost economic activity across the board.