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Advancing U.S. Development Goals with Ghana

 Kumasi Central Market in Ghana's Ashanti Region.

Ghana is an example of a reliable ally in an often-volatile region. First recognized by the United States for its democratic tendencies during President Bill Clinton's tenure, Ghana has consistently made progress towards socioeconomic outcomes desired by successive U.S. administrations.[i] Embodied in President Nana Addo Akufo-Addo's "Ghana Beyond Aid" (GBA) vision, Ghana has demonstrated growth from its status as a recipient of U.S. foreign assistance to that of a steady U.S. partner in security, trade, and the promotion of democratic values.[ii] In this spirit, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Government of Ghana (GoG) co-developed the objectives of 1) accelerating and sustaining broad-based economic growth in Ghana, 2) increasing the accountability of quality service delivering the country, and 3) accelerating sustainable development in Northern Ghana.

The GoG stewards a robust democracy that is noted for regular and peaceful turnovers of power since its transition to a multiparty system in the 1990s. It ranks among the top countries in Africa for speech, press, and religious freedoms.[iii] A stable economic manager and a leading buyer of U.S. goods, Ghana imported $840 million in U.S. goods and services in 2019 and is one of seven "strategic markets" identified by the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).[iv] Its agricultural capacity as a supplier of fruit and vegetable products has significant potential to benefit regional and European markets.[v]

Ghana's noteworthy security sector has contributed forces to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) security initiatives and peacekeepers to the UN missions in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cote d'Ivoire, Lebanon, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[vi] Furthermore, its security forces embody professionalism, efficiency, and an ethnic structure representative of Ghanaian society.

However, sub-optimal economic growth, poor governmental public services, and regional inequalities threaten to undermine long-term U.S. development goals in Ghana. Unprocessed commodity exports drove Ghana's strong macroeconomic performance from 2000 to 2019 with an average GDP growth rate of 6.65 percent.[vii] However, these commodities — gold, cocoa, and oil — generate few domestic jobs and push the burgeoning youth population from rural areas towards urban Accra for employment. This demographic influx into the capital increases the risk of unrest and strains government resources.[viii] The agricultural sector dominates the remaining GDP performance by employing 60 percent of the country's workforce, but it suffers from production inefficiencies and weak market competitiveness.[ix]

The GoG continues to make advances in healthcare, education, and power generation. Notably, infant mortality decreased by half from 1997 to 2017 and primary school net enrollment increased 13 percent from 2010 to 2017.[x] Nevertheless, neonatal mortality is still high at 24 per 1,000 live births, and results of the Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) from 2013 to 2016 indicated that only two percent of second grade students read at grade level, with 50 percent unable to recognize a single word.[xi] Between 2000 and 2019, electricity generation capacity increased at a rate of 6.4 percent a year, and supply capacity doubled; yet power remains expensive and unreliable for consumers — a severe constraint on businesses in the country.[xii] The Afrobarometer Round 8 survey (2019) indicated a decline in citizen approval ratings of government performance. Eighty percent of citizens surveyed indicated that the government does little or nothing at all to strengthen health, education, electricity supply, water, and sanitation.[xiii]

A significant development gap also exists between the north and south of the country, which weakens GoG legitimacy and strains public service and development resources. In the northern districts, the combined underemployment and unemployment rate is more than double the national average.[xiv] The northern region is home to 75 percent of the country's extreme poor, with agriculture being the primary source of income for the majority of households.[xv] Despite prioritizing agricultural development in the north through programs like the Northern Development Authority, GoG failures to reform farming inefficiencies or invest in manufacturing resulted in growing youth unemployment in the informal sector, a major catalyst of instability in the country.[xvi]

The achievement of USAID's developmental milestones in Ghana sets positive conditions for further governance, socioeconomic, and security successes across West Africa. Consequently, the United States can build upon its current policy framework and partner with the GoG to achieve broad, sustained economic growth, improve government services, and accelerate development in the country's northern regions in its path towards self-reliance.[xvii]

Existing bilateral cooperation must be reinforced. The USAID West Africa regional mission stewards Foreign Direct Investment into the private sector, especially with respect to strengthening supply chains. The agricultural sector — a significant source of exports estimated at $4.6 billion — underpins these development efforts because Ghana's program of fiscal consolidation and austerity restricts the public sector's investments and resources needed for export development with other commodities.[xviii] USAID can also steward conversations between the GoG and private sector to streamline trade mechanisms, facilitate policy formation, and improve the business environment.[xix] To maximize developmental effects, the 2018 Multi-Country Millennium Challenge Compact (MCC) still under consideration should be prioritized. This compact has potential to spread developmental gains across the region by addressing underlying drivers of conflict emanating from the Sahel to improve government services, health, education, and electricity, representing tangible development areas that must advance to grow GoG legitimacy and country stability. [xx] To that end, USAID is positioned to provide technical assistance to the Ministry of Education and the Ghana Education Services to address shortfalls in instructional materials and teacher training.

COVID-19 based delays and contract breaches associated with the $316 million Ghana MCC Power Compact, if corrected, also stand to drastically improve the Ghanaian power sector, which currently does not meet consumer demand, and deters private investment.[xxi] Developmental challenges are most prevalent in Ghana's northern regions and must be addressed to achieve the GBA vision. USAID's presence and partnerships bridge the development spectrum in the north and can facilitate public and private integration to address health, education, infrastructure, and service provision through local and national relationships.[xxii]

Ultimately, U.S. development goals — if truly predicated on a goal of Ghanaian self-reliance — have long term, durable implications for local agency and security that will benefit U.S. trade and regional security interests. The partnership between USAID and the GoG demonstrates a template of successful engagement with African nations based on mutual objectives and interests. Work remains to bring long-term stability and self-reliance in Ghana; however, investment in Ghana is an investment in the region, setting a pattern of success for Africa. Current political conditions on the continent cannot be ignored. Democratic backsliding and a spate of coups have recently plagued multiple countries. Given the global climate and limited resources, building on hard-earned achievements in Ghana and the country's desire for regional economic, political, and security engagement provides strategic focus with the potential for positive impact on the future of West Africa.

Will Turner is a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). The author's views are his own and do not reflect the position of the SAIS or JHU.

Photo credit: Kumasi Central Market in Ghana's Ashanti Region by Yooku Ata-Bedu, USAID/Ghana.

The opinions expressed on this blog are solely those of the authors. They do not reflect the views of the Wilson Center or those of the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The Wilson Center's Africa Program provides a safe space for various perspectives to be shared and discussed on critical issues of importance to both Africa and the United States.


  • [iv] Romanus Osabohien, Ngozi Adeleye, and Evans Osabuohien, "African Growth and Opportunity Act and Trade Performance in Nigeria," Heliyon, 2021, 2.

    [v] Millenium Challenge Corporation, "Ghana Compact," 2.

    [vi] David W. Throup, "Ghana: Assessing Risks to Stability," 6.

    [vii] USAID, "Country Development Cooperation Strategy (CDCS): Ghana" (USAID, August 11, 2020), 23.

    [viii] David W. Throup, "Ghana: Assessing Risks to Stability" (Center for Strategic & International Studies, June 2011), 2.

    [ix] Millenium Challenge Corporation, "Ghana Compact" (MCC, June 22, 2017), 2.

    [x] USAID, "Country Development Cooperation Strategy (CDCS): Ghana," 29.

    [xi] USAID, 29–30.

    [xii] Theophilus Acheampong and Bridget O. Menyeh, "Ghana's Electricity Supply Mix Has Improved, but Reliability and Cost Is Still a Challenge," The Conversation, June 9, 2021,

    [xiii] Ghana Center for Democratic Development, CDD-Ghana, "Summary of Results: Afrobarometer Round 8 Survey in Ghana in 2019" (Afrobarometer, 2019),

    [xiv] USAID, "Country Development Cooperation Strategy (CDCS): Ghana," 37. The combined underemployment and unemployment rates in the Northern (24.7 percent), Upper West (29.6 percent) and Upper East (55.4 percent) regions compare with a national average of 15.6 percent.

    [xv] USAID, 39.

    [xvi] David W. Throup, "Ghana: Assessing Risks to Stability" (Center for Strategic & International Studies, June 2011), 12.

    [xvii] USAID, "Country Development Cooperation Strategy (CDCS): Ghana," 7–8.

    [xviii]AGOA National Strategy. The Republic of Ghana, "Improving Business Environments for Agile Markets (IBEAM)" (USAID, November 4, 2016), 9-11.

    [xix] USAID, "Country Development Cooperation Strategy (CDCS): Ghana," 25.

    [xx] Congressional Research Service, "Millennium Challenge Corporation: Overview and Issues" (CRS, October 3, 2019), 13. In its December 2018 quarterly meeting, the MCC Board of Directors selected five West African countries with ongoing or upcoming compacts — Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Niger, and Ghana — to explore development of MCC's first multi-country regional compact.

    [xxi] Millennium Challenge Corporation, "MCC Boosts Energy Efficiency in Ghana," MCC, 2022,

    [xxii] USAID, "Country Development Cooperation Strategy (CDCS): Ghana," 39.

About the Author

Will Turner

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