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Can Ghana’s Young Protesters Become a Political Force?

A recent demonstration transcended traditional ethnic and political divisions—but youth leaders will have to do more than protest to achieve lasting change.

By , a writer and international affairs analyst from Ghana.
A Ghanian protester holds a banner.
A protester holds a banner during a protest in Accra, Ghana, on Aug. 4. NIPAH DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images

Since the beginning of May, young Ghanaians have been clamoring against bad governance under the hashtag #FixTheCountry. The campaign was initiated on Twitter by social media influencer Joshua Boye-Doe (popularly known as Kalyjay) in reaction to increased fuel prices following a spate of tax increases. #FixTheCountry protests might have fizzled out after a short period (public outcries are rarely sustained in Ghana) but for the insensitive and combative posture of government supporters, who retorted with #FixYourself and #FixYourAttitude, further riling protesters, drawing attention and support to their cause, and precipitating calls for demonstrations.

Such an outburst of youth activism is unusual for Ghana and hasn’t been witnessed in recent times. Although Ghana is regularly praised for its stable democracy—particularly because of its largely free media and relatively peaceful elections and transfers of power—citizens hardly demonstrate, preferring instead to voice their frustrations among themselves or over the airwaves and social media.

Many Ghanaians do not believe they can bring about change by putting pressure on political leaders. Many others feel disinclined to and instead direct their energy toward finding their own solutions to the myriad economic and societal problems that characterize life in a developing country like Ghana. The 2019 Afrobarometer Round 8 Survey revealed that during the previous year, 85 percent of respondents never contacted a member of parliament about an important problem or to share their views while 71 percent never contacted an assembly member. Instead, most Ghanaians typically wait until election time to punish politicians at the polls. Recent election results are telling in this regard.

Since the beginning of May, young Ghanaians have been clamoring against bad governance under the hashtag #FixTheCountry. The campaign was initiated on Twitter by social media influencer Joshua Boye-Doe (popularly known as Kalyjay) in reaction to increased fuel prices following a spate of tax increases. #FixTheCountry protests might have fizzled out after a short period (public outcries are rarely sustained in Ghana) but for the insensitive and combative posture of government supporters, who retorted with #FixYourself and #FixYourAttitude, further riling protesters, drawing attention and support to their cause, and precipitating calls for demonstrations.

Such an outburst of youth activism is unusual for Ghana and hasn’t been witnessed in recent times. Although Ghana is regularly praised for its stable democracy—particularly because of its largely free media and relatively peaceful elections and transfers of power—citizens hardly demonstrate, preferring instead to voice their frustrations among themselves or over the airwaves and social media.

Many Ghanaians do not believe they can bring about change by putting pressure on political leaders. Many others feel disinclined to and instead direct their energy toward finding their own solutions to the myriad economic and societal problems that characterize life in a developing country like Ghana. The 2019 Afrobarometer Round 8 Survey revealed that during the previous year, 85 percent of respondents never contacted a member of parliament about an important problem or to share their views while 71 percent never contacted an assembly member. Instead, most Ghanaians typically wait until election time to punish politicians at the polls. Recent election results are telling in this regard.

Although Ghana is regularly praised for its stable democracy—particularly because of its largely free media and relatively peaceful elections and transfers of power—citizens hardly demonstrate.

Former Ghanaian President John Mahama of the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) was voted out of office in 2016 following public disaffection over widespread corruption among party officials, economic mismanagement, and a debilitating power crisis that plagued the country for much of his term. The incumbent president, Nana Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), narrowly won a second term in the December 2020 elections, which saw a voter turnout of 79 percent.

Akufo-Addo had been widely accused of constituting a “family and friends” government, made up of 126 ministers—the largest government in Ghana’s history. In 2016, he campaigned on a promise to root out corruption, so Ghanaians were angered by the scandals that ensued under his watch, including him forcing Daniel Domelevo, the erstwhile auditor-general, out of office over his investigation of a payment the Ministry of Finance made to a British company. He also incurred the wrath of employees and depositors at the many financial institutions shuttered under his administration’s financial sector clean-up exercise due to their poor regulation, insolvency, and fraudulent activities.

NPP members of parliament were also punished for poor performance. Ghanaians measure their politicians’ performances through the development projects they carry out in their constituencies. The NPP lost their 63-seat majority in the 275-seat unicameral parliament. The party now holds 137 seats and forms a slim majority with an independent member of parliament.


#FixTheCountry protesters—now a full-fledged movement—have denounced both parties for their failings and declared the group to be nonpartisan. The movement has drawn together a throng of youth who, until now, have been seething on the sidelines, disillusioned by a system that has rendered them second-class citizens and left them facing a precarious future. Their grievances include high unemployment and underemployment as well as a high cost of living.

Only 10 percent of university graduates find employment a year after graduating, and it can take up to 10 years for a large number of graduates to secure employment, according to the Institute of Statistical, Social, and Economic Research at the University of Ghana. Many graduates end up doing menial jobs. The situation has deteriorated to the extent that male employers and recruiters commonly proposition young female jobseekers as a precondition for employment.

The government has introduced entrepreneurship and skills training programs to equip the youth with technical and financial support and enable them to tap into opportunities in priority sectors like agriculture and manufacturing. However, with 70 percent of Ghana’s population of 31.8 million people under the age of 35, just a minute proportion of unemployed youth partake in and benefit from such programs.

Ghana’s capital city, Accra, ranks as the 87th most expensive city globally and the 13th most expensive city in Africa, according to Mercer’s 2021 Cost of Living City Ranking index. The costs of real estate and rent are particularly prohibitive for young Ghanaians. Real estate within parts of Accra costs as much as, or more than, real estate in developed countries—mainly because of high construction costs (finishing materials are imported, and construction is supervised by expatriate firms, which charge more than locals firms do), and their popularity as investment properties to rent to expats.

Landlords also request rent advances of up to two years from tenants. A lot of young Ghanaians therefore live on the outskirts of Accra or in neighboring regions where housing and rent are cheaper; during rush hour, they spend as much as two hours driving home from their workplaces in the city.

The NPP made a campaign promise to introduce a rental loan scheme for eligible workers in formal employment. The scheme will be introduced this year, but this intervention will leave out a large segment of the youth who are unemployed or in informal employment. The scheme is also an inadequate solution because it does not tackle the root of the problem: landlords breaching the national rental law by charging more than the maximum allowed rent advance of six months.

Protesters have also been tweeting against general poor living conditions, such as bad roads, substandard health care, erratic supply of water and power, and the lack of social amenities in rural parts of the country. #FixTheCountry is, in essence, a fight for decent living conditions for all Ghanaians.

The government appears to have been caught off guard by the #FixTheCountry movement.

In addition, the hashtag is a forum for protesters to react to and lambast government policies and actions, such as the recent assault of a journalist by national security operatives for unlawfully filming abandoned state-owned vehicles at the Ministry of National Security, the government’s incessant borrowing from domestic and external sources, and the official approval of salaries for the country’s first and second ladies.

The government appears to have been caught off guard by the #FixTheCountry movement. Government supporters have attempted to discredit the group by falsely associating it with the opposition NDC and slut-shaming Efia Odo, an actress and social media influencer leading the movement.

The protesters initially scheduled their demonstration for May 9. However, the police, represented by the nation’s attorney general, secured an indefinite injunction on the protest, citing restrictions on public gatherings due to COVID-19. Protest leaders had been embroiled in a legal tussle with the police over holding the demonstration and had referenced campaign rallies and other instances where the president and public officials had breached the restrictions on public gatherings. The police even went as far as to arrest some members of the group on court premises without cause.

In a U-turn that raised eyebrows, the police allowed the NDC’s youth wing to proceed with a demonstration on July 6. The NDC youths’ demonstration was spurred by the military shooting protesters at Ejura, a community in Ghana’s Ashanti Region. The youth of Ejura had been protesting the killing of a community member allegedly because of his #FixTheCountry activism.

#FixTheCountry’s specific demands include a new constitution that limits executive power and more concretely punishes abuses of authority, an economic charter that guarantees economic dignity for every Ghanaian and liberates them from poverty or economic destitution, and a national development plan that is adopted through a participatory process and is expressly binding on all political actors.

Ghanaian politicians understand the risks of ignoring the protesters’ demands. They have learned this through election results.

Ghanaian politicians understand the ramifications of ignoring the protesters’ demands. They have learned this through election results. It’s the reason they tailor their election manifestos toward the electorate’s needs and grievances. With three and a half years left to serve his presidential term, Akufo-Addo has the opportunity to increase the NPP’s popularity and legitimacy by bending to the protesters’ will.

There is enough fiscal space to meet their demands. The government can and must redistribute spending—from exorbitant emoluments for government officials to the elimination of rural schools under trees, from tax incentives and exemptions for foreign companies to the construction of high-quality roads in working class neighborhoods, and from inflated contracts and other corrupt dealings to well-resourced health care facilities.

This pivot from serving the parochial interests of a few to lifting up the disadvantaged will face resistance from those benefiting from the status quo. But it might be the only way for parties to remain popular and win power.

If Ghana succeeds in this transition, then more patriotic citizens will be drawn to politics and Ghana’s politics will be less characterized by party patrons sponsoring politicians in return for inflated contracts and appointments, the electorate selling their votes because they have no faith in politicians and perceive selling votes to be their only means of benefiting from the political system, and family members and associates of ruling party members leaving lucrative jobs abroad to take up positions in Ghana and make more money because “our party is in power.”


The country’s angry young people are determined to win. If the government doesn’t accede to the protesters’ demands, they will continue to mobilize and will likely form a new political party to fight for their interests. To succeed as a political party, they would have to adopt a completely different model from the NPP and the NDC.

Their party would need to engage extensively with the populace (not just during the election cycle) to make them understand their mission and involve them in their fight. Their party would need to make the people understand that governance requires them to be part of the solutions and that they can engage with their politicians in more impactful ways rather than requesting personal favors and handouts.

To demonstrate that their party is incorruptible, they would have to continue raising funds from the masses and accounting for these funds. Party members who win office should declare their assets publicly before and after assuming office. They could also set a good example and send a strong message by rejecting the perks that come with high office and perhaps donating such funds toward development projects in needy communities.

Although youth protest leaders are ethnically diverse, this factor does not seem to be a key indicator of their ability to draw voters from the ethnic groups that traditionally vote for the NPP and NDC. Both the young and old from those ethnic groups are genuinely dissatisfied with the status quo and have thrown their support behind the protesters. Voters are now focusing more on their needs than on their ethnicities or party affiliations.

Ibrahim “Kaaka” Mohammed, the murdered #FixTheCountry activist, was an NPP member. The youth of Busunu in the Savannah Region rejected their NPP MP’s donation of bags of rice during Eid festivities, demanding jobs instead; these youths were NPP supporters. Similarly, the fishermen of Elmina in the Central Region recently rejected a donation of food items from the fisheries minister in protest against her policy of disallowing light fishing during the restricted season.

If these events are bellwethers, then the #FixTheCountry movement stands a strong chance of winning major support as a political party.

Audrey Donkor is a writer and international affairs analyst from Ghana. Twitter: @AudreyDonkor

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