Skip to main content
Blog post

Opinion Piece: Ghana President Shows Exemplary Leadership in COVID-19 Fight

President Cyril Ramaphosa hosts President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo of Ghana for a State Visit to South Africa
President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo of Ghana during a state visit to South Africa.

President Nana Akufo-Addo surprised many Ghanaians when he announced on April 19 an end to the three-week partial lockdown imposed on the cities of Accra and Kumasi. At the time of his televised evening address — his seventh since the first two cases of COVID-19 were registered in Ghana on March 12 — 1,042 cases had been confirmed, with nine deaths from the disease. Hence the panic and concern that cases would skyrocket with a return to full business activity the next day, April 20. Schools were to remain shuttered, while the ban on public gatherings remained in effect.Akufo-Addo explained that the increase in COVID-19 cases recorded over the three-week lockdown stemmed from the decision to "aggressively" trace and test contacts of infected persons. As of April 19, Ghana had tested over 68,000 contacts, earning Ghana the rank of first in Africa for the number of tests conducted per million people.

Not all Ghanaians had misgivings about the timing of the end to the lockdown. For the less privileged, who have to hit the streets daily to eke out a living, this decision was welcome. Aside from improved testing capacity, a key reason the President gave for ending the lockdown was its severe impact on the poor and vulnerable — a justified concern given that approximately 90% of Ghanaian workers are employed in the informal sector. Indeed, Akufo-Addo had earlier resisted calls by the Ghana Medical Association and other bodies to impose a total lockdown, citing the negative impact a lockdown would have on the poor and vulnerable. He eventually acceded to a partial lockdown, delivering a quote that earned him local and global admiration: "We know how to bring the economy back to life. What we do not know is how to bring people back to life."

President Akufo-Addo has been attuned to the rights and well-being of all Ghanaians throughout his response to the pandemic. To limit and stop the importation of coronavirus into Ghana, he ordered the closure of the country's land, air, and sea borders to human traffic with effect from March 22. The last passengers to arrive from abroad to the international airport in Accra were placed under a 14-day mandatory quarantine at plush hotels. The government covered the costs of accommodation and meals for all 1,200 passengers. By contrast, travelers arriving at airports in Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia were made to foot the costs of their quarantine at hotels or other substandard accommodation.

In an address to the nation, the President announced the establishment of a COVID-19 National Trust Fund to "receive contributions and donations from the public to assist in the welfare of the needy and vulnerable." He proceeded to pledge his salary for the months of April, May, and June toward the Fund — a move that won him rapturous applause from Ghanaians and was replicated by his Vice-President.

Ghanaians were also elated to learn that Akufo-Addo had mandated the creation of a stimulus program to support households and businesses. Through the Coronavirus Alleviation Program (CAP), funding worth GH¢1.2 billion (USD$209 million) was allocated towards relief measures such as providing food to the vulnerable and free water for all Ghanaians for the months of April, May, and June; incentivizing frontline health workers with an additional allowance worth 50% of their basic salaries from March to June; and exempting all health workers from paying taxes on their emoluments for the months of April, May, and June. Struggling micro, small, and medium-scale enterprises will receive a total of GH¢600 million (USD$104 million) out of the CAP funds in the form of low-interest loans. In addition, the Ghanaian government earmarked GH¢1 billion (USD$174 million), exclusive of the CAP funds, to absorb the electricity bills of Ghanaians from April to June.

With Presidential and Parliamentary elections slated to be held in December, Ghana Twitter has been replete with predictions of a re-election victory for Akufo-Addo. It is common to see an eruption of praise for him following his addresses to the nation, with hilarious memes mocking former President John Mahama's chances of getting elected. Mahama has contributed to relief efforts through donations to households and medical centers; however, his efforts have been overshadowed by the orderliness and effectiveness of Akufo-Addo's leadership.

The successes credited to the government's management of the crisis have inspired the confidence of Ghanaians. Drones are now used to deliver blood samples from remote areas to laboratories for testing, making Ghana the first nation in the world to employ drones in the coronavirus fight. Another victory is the successful sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 genomes by scientists at the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research and the West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens, both institutes of the University of Ghana. In a press release, Professor Abraham Anang of the Noguchi Memorial Institute hailed the feat as "a significant milestone in Ghana's response to the pandemic, as it will strengthen surveillance for tracking mutations of the virus, and aid in the tracing of the sources of community infections in people with no known contact with confirmed cases."

To supplement the shortfall in personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline health workers, the government is engaging local garment manufacturing companies to produce face masks, medical scrubs, hospital gowns, and headgear using locally produced fabrics.

Akufo-Addo has handled the COVID-19 crisis in an inclusive manner, meeting regularly with professional, academic, traditional, and religious groups to elicit their opinions and concerns and apprise them of his decisions. This approach has garnered him their support and trust. Speaking on behalf of the National Chief Imam, Sheikh Dr. Osman Nuhu Sharubutu, his spokesperson, Sheikh Aremeyaw Shuaib, commended the President for "the able leadership that you have exhibited, obvious for everyone to see, since this disturbing phenomenon raised its head in our country." He continued, "We have had no choice but to accept and adhere to the directives you gave us, especially those that have to do with the restrictions on meetings."

The Council of State, a body of eminent citizens that advises the President, was similarly effusive in its praise of Akufo-Addo's leadership. "We are lucky, as a country, to have you as President at such a time as this," gushed Nana Otuo Siriboe II, Chairperson of the body. He congratulated the President on "the very able manner in which you have handled the crisis that has beset this country with the advent of COVID-19," adding "your regular broadcasts have really brought a lot of encouragement to the country, and, as if by design or accident, the cloth that you have been wearing has been depicting the mood of the country at that time."

Speaking at a virtual ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) Extraordinary Summit held on April 23, Akufo-Addo touted his government's adoption of an "all-Ghana approach," which consults and mobilizes all social forces in the pandemic response. He emphasized that "it is very important we tailor a specific Ghanaian, African response to the handling of this pandemic and not necessarily copy blindly the methods that are being adopted in countries to the North of us and elsewhere." He cited the instance of the African Vaccine Manufacturing Initiative, which is promoting the manufacturing of a specific African vaccine to fight coronavirus in Africa, given that the virus mutates differently in various parts of the world.

President Akufo-Addo's leadership in the COVID-19 fight, in addition to winning broad national praise, has also received favorable international commentary.  For example, at a virtual meeting held by the World Health Organization's Regional Office for Africa on May 6, Ghana was heralded, alongside five other countries, for having the most innovative and effective plans in the management of the pandemic. At the meeting, the Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the World Trade Organization and other International Organizations in Geneva, Julian Braithwaite, commended Ghana for easing restrictions on the movement of people and using drones to deliver testing samples and PPE.

According to Dr. Dacosta Aboagye, the Chairman of Ghana's National Risk Communication and Social Mobilization Committee for COVID-19 who participated in the May 6 WHO virtual meeting, ECOWAS has also requested using Ghana' s response plan as an anchor for the sub-region.

Audrey Donkor is an International Affairs Analyst and a Freelance Writer from Ghana. She has a Master's degree in International Affairs from Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

Photo sourcePresident Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo of Ghana during a state visit to South Africa. Credit: Government of South Africa/GCIS. Source: License: 

About the Author

Audrey Donkor

Africa Program

The Africa Program works to address the most critical issues facing Africa and US-Africa relations, build mutually beneficial US-Africa relations, and enhance knowledge and understanding about Africa in the United States. The Program achieves its mission through in-depth research and analyses, public discussion, working groups, and briefings that bring together policymakers, practitioners, and subject matter experts to analyze and offer practical options for tackling key challenges in Africa and in US-Africa relations.    Read more