Unrealistic campaign promises are a staple in elections across the world, and nowhere has that been truer than in Ghana – until now. Last year, Accra-based IMANI Center for Policy and Education launched its 2016 IMANIFesto Campaign, which estimated the costs and rated the feasibility of all campaign promises. For the first time this forced the country’s political parties to justify many of their unrealistic plans to the public. Each IMANIFesto publication was followed by a formal press conference to discuss the findings of its work with political parties vying for elections, which resulted in these parties reforming their promises. Supplementing this initiative was near-constant attention in the national media and IMANI’s savvy use of social media, which stirred the public debate by reaching over 2 million Facebook users and nearly 1 million Twitter users from August to November of 2016. This prompted many political party officials to take to those platforms to defend against challenges from the public. IMANI’s engagement of millions of Ghanaians has reminded the people of Ghana that the power to hold the government accountable is in their hands and transformed the 2016 Parliamentary Election into one based not on political promises but on policy issues. IMANIFesto’s success has even inspired other think tanks in West Africa to visit IMANI in hopes of replicating the project in their respective countries.
“IMANIFesto became a reference point that benchmarked political promises along quantifiable metrics that the common man could relate to and is now the blueprint for political communication along the lines of policy promises,” said Franklin Cudjoe, founding president and CEO of IMANI. “It is exciting to know that IMANIFesto will become the most potent tool to help narrow the gap between political wish lists and reality in Ghana and anywhere we export the idea to – primarily the rest of Africa and anywhere else politicians evade scrutiny.”
Demystifying Ghana’s Political Atmosphere
IMANI tried to rein in the rampant promise making of those campaigning for public office in Ghana by introducing a three-pronged quantitative assessment framework allowing Ghanaian citizens to determine the viability of each campaign promise made by political parties. Those three prongs were financial viability of each promise, its potential impact on private sector development, and overall policy implications of its implementation.
To support this initial framework IMANI published four major research reports as part of its campaign, each with an accompanying press event geared toward political candidates, parties, and members of the government. The three major radio stations of Citi FM, Joy FM, and Starr FM – in addition to the state-owned Ghana Broadcasting Corporation and the Daily Graphic – covered each press event. The most impactful report was 2016 IMANI Pre-election Report: Critical Analysis of the Political Promises in Ghana, which identified all campaign promises of Ghana’s six leading political parties and categorized them as quantifiable, semi-quantifiable, and non-quantifiable. Only 18 of the 247 promises analyzed in the report were deemed quantifiable, 43 were deemed semi-quantifiable, and 186 non-quantifiable; the vast majority of these political promises were proven to be empty and vague.
The findings of the report were announced at the report’s launch event, a true spectacle that was broadcasted live and attended by journalists, politicians, and other stakeholders, with the broadcast reaching millions. A media frenzy followed as the report’s findings made their way onto front-page headlines of Ghana’s top newspapers, forcing party leaders to address criticism of their parties’ platforms. One such promise that was sunk because of the report was the Convention People’s Party (CPP)’s pledge to establish exportation of African tropical almonds as the backbone of the country’s economy, promising that such a move would yield $300 billion in revenue. IMANI found that the value of the world’s current leading almond exporter earned only $4.5 billion – far less than $300 billion – which proved the endeavor to be unattainable and forced the CPP to abandon such a pledge.
Another example was when the New Patriotic Party (NPP) promised “one district, one factory,” a pledge to build one factory in each of Ghana’s 216 administrative districts. IMANI found that such a promise had no measurable indicators and argued that the only feasible way to accomplish such a task was through a public-private partnership model, but NPP doubled down in its official response to IMANI’s criticism, saying they would keep such a promise and accompanying plan for implementation. The NPP came to power after the most recent elections, and its roll-out of the “one district, one factory” initiative notably followed the public-private partnership model that IMANI had advocated for and not its originally proposed state-owned enterprise model.
The IMANIFesto project also tracked the political promises of the previous parliament and will continue to track the current NPP government to provide a tool for Ghanaian voters to hold their government accountable. The NPP made additional market-friendly promises to reduce the corporate tax rate, import duties, and the Value Added Tax; all of which, if implemented, would help raise Ghana’s level of economic freedom, and the pressure IMANI’s watchdog project exerts helps push those reforms further along.
“IMANI demonstrates the vital role that civil society organizations can play in making government leaders more accountable to citizens,” said Atlas Network CEO Brad Lips. “Its IMANIFesto Campaign finally forces politicians to reconcile their campaign rhetoric with the real-world trade-offs that face policymakers in office.”
The IMANIFesto campaign was broad in its digital reach – over 4 million watched the broadcast of the report launch. IMANIFesto reached more than 2 million Facebook users and 1 million Twitter users from August and November 2016. And it had more than 20 direct media placements on radio, traditional, electronic, and state-run media outlets. A famous cartoonist even published a cartoon called “Manifesto Inspector” in the Daily Graphic, Ghana’s most read newspaper, depicting IMANI President Franklin Cudjoe scrutinizing the political promises from the leaders of major political parties.
The impact of the IMANIFesto project is undeniable. It provided a country easy-to-consume information about the issues of the election and the viability of the various political promises from each party and, according to Kenneth Ashigbey (editor-in-chief and managing director of the Daily Graphic), it functioned as “a barometer of legitimacy for the masses.” This allowed the 2016 election to transcend its usual partisan, religious, and tribal lines. IMANI’s work also forced party leaders to revise their party manifestos to increase their feasibility and thus their attractiveness to the electorate. IMANI is even working with think tanks in Nigeria to duplicate this work for Nigerian elections. The campaign on the whole had a dual effect: first, it educated an electorate that previously lacked access to information about the various campaign promises of political parties that preyed upon such a lack of access, and second, it induced those parties to revise their poorly formulated platforms or risk being punished by voters at the ballot box.
About the Templeton Freedom Award and the additional 2017 finalists:
Awarded since 2004, the Templeton Freedom Award is named for the late investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton. The award annually honors his legacy by identifying and recognizing the most exceptional and innovative contributions to the understanding of free enterprise, and the public policies that encourage prosperity, innovation, and human fulfillment via free competition. The award is generously supported by Templeton Religion Trust and will be presented during Atlas Network’s Freedom Dinner on Nov. 8 in New York City at the historic Capitale. The winning organization will receive a $100,000 prize, and five additional finalists will receive $25,000 prizes. In addition to IMANI, the other finalists for the 2017 Templeton Freedom Award are:
- Beacon Center of Tennessee, based in Nashville, Tenn., for its Tackle the Hall Tax campaign
- Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO), based in Norcross, Ga., for its Prisoner Reentry Initiative
- Instituto de Estudos Empresariais (IEE), based in Porto Alegre, Brazil, for its Fórum da Liberdade
- Instituto Mexicano para la Competitividad (IMCO), based in Mexico City, Mexico, for its anticorruption reform initiative for Mexico, 3for3
- Macdonald-Laurier Institute for Public Policy (MLI), based in Ottawa, Canada, for its Aboriginal Canada and the Natural Resource Economy project