Ghana goes to elections in December. In this first installment of a two-part article, the author argues that, like in many developing countries, heightened expectations that democratisation would lead to inclusive and sustainable development have not been realised. Ghana has successfully transformed from authoritarian rule to a fledging liberal democracy, but in the midst of poverty and destitution.
On 7 December 2016, Ghanaians will be flocking to the polls in another neck-wrenching elections. The result will enable the incumbent President John Dramani Mahama to secure a second term under the banner of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) or make way for the opposition National Patriotic Party (NPP) led by Nana Akuffo-Addo who is making a third bid for the presidency having lost in 2008 and 2012. Nana Addo is a former Attorney-General and Minister of Foreign Affairs. Voters will also elect members of parliament on the same day. Apart from these two main political parties, other contesting minority parties are the Convention People’s Party (CPP), People’s National Convention (PNC) and the Progressive People’s Party (PPP).
The paper seeks to elucidate the entanglements of current state of the economy, policies, practices and discourses of democratic governance in a broader socio-cultural, religious, historical and regional context. Is the country’s current economic decline the results of bad democratic politicking by Ghana’s two dominant political parties the NDC and NPP? Writ large, we would be probing the outcome of economic and political reform in order to ascertain whether the country is achieving its transformational promise.
Ghana has gone a long way in achieving democratic consolidation, the litmus test of which was amply demonstrated by the recourse to constitutionalism in challenging the results of the 2012 elections and the acceptance of the outcome by the opposition NPP (Asante and Asare, 2016).  Six months prior to this event, the military cemented its traditional role as the custodian of the constitution. This was manifested by the professional manner in which Vice-President Mahama was sworn in immediately after President John Atta Mills passed away on 24 July 2012. This was a clear testimony to Ghana’s democratic feats, as any power-thirsty branch of the military could have snatched the short period of ‘power vacuum’ to make a coup d’état.
Civil Society Organisations (CSO) have mushroomed, and citizens have also inculcated the habit of seeking redress through the courts on contending political and constitutional matters. These have combined to strengthen the conflict resolution capability of state institutions. This does not exclude the crucial role played by traditional chieftains in conflict resolution in their paramountcy and the maintenance of social peace when the political terrain becomes too muddy. This response-diversity to contentious issues is indeed a marker of resilience of democratic governance in Ghana.
Thanks to a rapidly changing socio-political landscape, mediatisation of development and politics, emergent social networks, and above all a new era of democratic convictions among the electorate, ethnicity is gradually losing its once potent force as a decisive marker of political business in Ghana. The media has enlightened people about the tendencies of politicians and their empty promises, and people would not easily lend themselves to manipulative and instrumentalist ethnic mobilisations for political gains. The media itself, though, has also become vulnerable to corruption from politicians, receiving payments in execution of duties. As the Fourth Estate becomes an instrument of greedy power holders Ghana’s democracy may be sliding into lies, trivialization, and indecency. Hence, like any human endeavour, overall political business in Ghana is not without blemish.
Akin to infant democracies elsewhere, the political atmosphere in the run-up to elections is always hyper-tense. In the current campaign trails, the ruling party is on a public relations offensive to seek legitimation of its achievements via evidence-based infrastructural projects, lobbying critical constituencies and Chieftains, and making new promises – not excluding open demonstration of incumbent largesse. The opposition have marshaled arguments against the incumbent’s achievements and inertia. These include lack of financial accountability and transparency, economic mismanagement, lack of vision in the fight against poverty and unemployment, lack of strategic direction for economic renewal, a raging energy crisis and, above all, reckless budget over-run during elections. But the opposition are trumpeting their own promises as well.
The irony is that both incumbent and opposition make promises without any plausible projections about the sources of finance; nor do they portray themselves to have full grips of the complexities and volatilities of the international commodity and financial markets.
The impending election will be taking place against the background of two crucial policy blueprints – the Senchi Consensus (13-15 May 2014) which was reached during the height of the country’s economic downturn and the Forty-year Development Plan (2017-2057). This is an opportunity for the political parties to demonstrate their commitment to the goals and timelines of these documents. It is therefore not surprising that this time around, some CSOs and policy think-tanks have taken on political parties and declared some of their promises as ‘unrealistic and unquantifiable’ (IMANI, Ghana, 2016). 
In the not so recent past, the credibility of the Electoral Commission (EC) and political wrangling about the voter register have become part of the cacophony during elections. The irony is that a close examination of institutional learning and performance in Ghana would reveal that the EC is a resilient institution because of its unique capacity to adapt and self-organise in times of crisis. This learning by creative response to new challenges has strengthened its capacity for flexibility, self-renewal and transformability. As Asante and Asare (2016) have observed, ‘a significant achievement of the EC is that it consistently improves the pre-election, election and post-election organisations of the electoral process as the years go by, that is from 1992 to 2012’. However, the EC must finally wean itself of foreign budgetary assistance and learn how to raise funds at home from state, society and industry. It is rather unfortunate that this successful case of institutional learning has had little or no domino effect on all other institutions. The cyclical nature of the political discourse in the run-up to elections on both sides of the political aisle as well as the electorate has become the ‘new normal’ and not without consequences.
Thus, the local media in turn becomes “electrically” charged as both parties flood the airwaves to put their messages across. In the past and present, the processes are not without tension and pockets of turmoil have been witnessed in some hotspots. Many peace-loving citizens, the clergy, chieftains all do pray for peaceful elections. Indeed, the obsession with politics as the solution to every problem is rather the underlying problem of the country’s socio-economic malaise as this may stymie local creativity, adaptation and transformation in an increasingly uncertain world. Hence, the dictum that has increasingly gained salience – that democracies are well-consolidated when it has ‘become the only game in town’ (Linz and Stepan, 1996)  may not be valid in every context because divisiveness in infant democracies that are still grappling with economic development may not augur well for concerted efforts to achieve long-term development.
A close study of state, society, economy and politics in Ghana reveal that until 1981, the fundamental obstacle to transforming the country had been political instability while lack of a clear-cut strategic direction, broad-based consensus on development, a raging energy crisis, commodity-dependence, and lack of a culture of data keeping have been raging since independence in 1957. In the not so recent past, Christian and traditional religions are booming not only in response to a growing desire to attain spiritual wellbeing but also indicative of the worsening social and economic situation as people begin to look out for alternative means of explaining their predicament in the prevailing socio-economic malaise. Since the 1990s, the overall transformational challenges in the country have overstrained individuals, families and communities.
Despite lack of conceptual clarity in the democracy-development nexus, in the post-Cold War era there was heightened expectation in many new democracies that re-democratisation would pave the way for economic development (Ake,1993).  In Africa in particular, this has however not been realised as many governments struggle to reconcile increasing substantive and normative demands. The Ghanaian case is no exception, as many years of reform have not yielded inclusive and sustainable economic outcomes. Poverty is raging, and even public servants with stable incomes struggle to make ends meet. Thus the key challenge to democracy is a ‘kitchen-table’ issue. That the country has successfully been transformed from authoritarian rule to a fledging liberal democracy in the midst of poverty and destitution outwits some of the standard benchmarks of political transformation.
It is also an open truth that democratic governance in Ghana has become extremely antagonistic, exclusive, and predatory as systemic corruption has become business-as-usual and insecurity takes many manifestations. Political business between Ghana’s two mainstream political parties, the NDC and the NPP, is rather a ‘zero-sum game / winner-takes-all’ with serious consequences for long-term economic planning and development (Gyampo, 2015).  Indeed, the two parties have become political juggernauts for the majority of people who have no party affiliation.
This is occurring despite in-built constitutional mechanisms for institutional checks and balances. In political praxis, one would observe that the strong executive secures political loyalty via corruption, cooperation and cooptation. In one of a series of lectures during a national economic forum in Senchi (13-15 May 2014), the President of the African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET) Dr. K.Y. Amoako reproached the mode of democratic politicking by politicians, which he stated, has exhausted political vitality and creative thinking of decision makers with dire consequences for economic development. He wrapped up the country’s socio-political and economic development after many years of reform as ‘too often a surplus of politics and a deficit of ideas’ (Amoako, 2014).  In September 2014, the founder of the Ibrahim Index of African Governance in his annual speech described political business in Ghana and Senegal as the two countries where the ‘political temperatures is a bit too high’. 
In a recent public lecture, the majority leader of parliament, Mr. Alban Bagbin reiterated among others that Ghana’s democracy is in ‘crisis’. He attributes this to the erosion of values and asserts that ‘the key threat to our democracy now is not the military but civil society’ as endemic corruption eats through the superstructure of the country’s politics and is gradually ruining everything below in the social fabric (Daily Graphic, 2014).  Hence, the representation of Ghana by the international community ‘as a good performer’ (Grimm, Nawrath, Roth, Triebel and Utz, 2009)  is in many respects a misnomer because of inherent constraints in the democratic praxis and a distorted role in the international division of labour as exporter of raw materials. Notwithstanding, the country’s democratic governance remains one of the freest in Africa at a par with Mauritius (Freedom House, 2015). 
Religiosity, electoral politics, and the Ghanaian exceptionalism
Both traditional and orthodox religion have also pervaded not just ordinary life but political business as well. Consequently, it is a period in which what to fear most is not to be chastised by God due to one’s iniquities and transgression but be made to face the wrath of the River Deity called Antoa Anyama. During Ghana’s economic downturn in 2014, in a dramatic turn of events, prominent men of God took to the pulpit to seek God’s intervention for the revival of the national currency (the Cedi) that was rapidly falling against the U.S. dollar. Despite the ravaging impact of many diseases such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, diarrhoea, pneumonia and lower respiratory tract infections on West Africa, many Ghanaian pastors claimed that their prayers kept the spread of the Ebola at bay. On the eve of every New Year, many prophets and pastors would return from prayer retreats making diverse prophesies about state, society, politics, economy life and death of particular personalities and celebrities. In the run-up to elections they prophesy about the intricacies of events during political campaigns, on elections day and who is going to win.
In Ghana, one does not need to make a mile’s journey in order to ascertain the extent of the impact of religion on state and society. That the phrase, fa ma Nyame (leave it to God)/ God is the supreme judge, mostly uttered in response to evil acts and intent is now a mantra of social life is ample evidence of the enormity of the role that religion plays in contemporary Ghana. Victims of all categories of illegalities, abuse, robbery, deceit, cheating, stealing etc. are earnestly implored to leave their predicament to God. Religion has become a moneymaking venture marked by the proliferation of churches, special charges for prayers, spiritual guidance, and sale of anointing oil by pastors. This does not exclude the prevalence of witchcraft accusations by pastors that have torn many families apart.
Some of the pastors who had struggled to be who they are use religion as an instrument of domination, control and extortion. Some of these men of God have become confrontational, full of arrogance and intemperate on matters of social and national concern, give unfounded prophesies to intimidate and control the life of vulnerable groups. People are highly predisposed to call on their pastors than to seek expert advice even on non-religious matters. While there is full appreciation of religious diversity and coexistence in Ghana, we are far from religious tolerance.
In a situation where voters are openly bribed or offered material incentives to vote, some politicians have also developed “innovative ways” to guarantee returns on their “investments” by engaging in the traditional Akan  society invocation of curse /DuabↃ. Curse is a universal practice, embedded in all religions, culturally-grounded and plays a role in all societies. As a verbal taboo, there are varying codes of restraints on its use in all religions and cultures. These practices may vary depending on the extent of hybridisation, syncretisation but also pluralism of traditional culture with non-traditional religion. The traditional Akan conception of God is a triad system of belief – God the Supreme Being, lesser gods/deities and those of ancestors of stature and integrity. Prayers and sacrifices flow through the hierarchy down to the living and posterity.
In traditional Akan society curse /DuabↃ is a performative act of ‘grievance imprecation’, a supernatural invocation. The addressee or the power broker ‘may be God (the most impactful) or any of the deities’ whose name is invoked against evil acts or intent of a ‘referent’ target with detrimental consequences on life and property of the referent, his/her siblings, whole families, and at times posterity depending on the genre, instrumentality, and ends at stake. Given the magnitude of the impacts and implications, DuabↃ is seen in Akan society as an ‘institutionalised verbal taboo’- a ‘weapon of last resort… in bringing about social justice’ (Agyekum, 1999: 359). 
The root cause of the grievance(s) are diverse and may include breach of secrecy and contracts, failure to protect the inviolability of dignity; encroachments on property, infringements on rights, conflict, disturbance of peace, breakdown of trust, dishonesty, betrayal etc. (ibid). The traditional act of imprecation is preferred in many dire situations where people do not want to take the law into their own hands by inflicting harm or bringing death upon others and therefore call upon God or supernatural powers as mediators/facilitators in the dispensation of social justice (ibid). For the purpose of fast-tracking social justice, the deities are relatively preferred since imprecation grievance via the Almighty God may be too slow – He is All-loving, All-merciful, and therefore forgiving. But the impact of DuabↃ may also span between few hours after invoking the imprecation and thirty years.
Nsedie, a ‘self-imprecation’, is also a verbal invocation to protect the virtuousness of the mutual trust binding two parties (ibid). The two notions (DuabↃ and Nsedie) may overlap but the former is more consequential in terms of the retributive-load. Nsedie is a performative self-imprecation, in which the recipient (in this case the voter) is made to invoke the name of God or a deity to cast a spell or doom for him/her should one refuse to vote in favour of the donor (the candidate). While nsedie is purely a bilateral exercise to protect mutual commitments, duabↃ can be dispensed as a unilateral invocative performativity in an offender-offended constellation in favour of the latter.
Some men of God and traditional rulers have implored would-be recipients of such material incentives-to-vote to go in for the cash and vote against the donor/candidate because the money being exchanged is after all the taxpayer’s money. Nevertheless, there are also instances where parliamentary candidates who suffered defeat despite lofty payments to voters had used ‘grievance imprecation’ to retrieve their monies. The resurgence of the practice in the last two decades or so has made the work of many traditional chief priests difficult as people perform the act without due diligence. They are the only ones who can reverse duabↃ by performing rituals to pacify God and the gods.
The interesting question is: why is the political elite making recourse to the traditional justice system of curse/duabↃwhen in the immediate aftermath of political independence these elites had stripped traditional chieftaincy of its sanctions regime? Was it out of sheer fear of the efficacy of the spiritual aspects of traditional sanctions? Alternatively, given the fact that duabↃ had been solely associated with the poor, weak, and the marginalised, is it the case that elites are using the practice to intimidate and demean the poor and the weak in society for political gains?
In the main, in their desperate attempt for social justice, these social groups make recourse to the practice. This is however no longer true, due to increasing uncertainty, insecurity, and distrust vis à vis the judiciary as people across sex, age, religion, and class are enthused about the practicalities of duabↃ in the dispensation of social justice. Synonymous to saying that this is a matter for further research, one would just say that let us take up the issue atnkwankwaa nnua ase – popular discussion (during palm wine drinking) under the village tree where practical wisdom has always prevailed.
Nevertheless, one pertinent question remains. If election candidates who suffer defeat can use duabↃ to retrieve cash-for-votes then this is a “powerful tool”. Given the fact that government has failed to constitute the office of the Independent Prosecutor-General in the fight against systemic corruption, why can’t we reinforce existing legal arrangements with curse/duabↃ to retrieve public money from corrupt civil servants and as a social deterrence? After all, is curse/duabↃ not what we understand in our specific historical configurations? Our institutions and rules have failed to overcome systemic corruption.
If God is the most impactful addressee of grievance imprecation in both orthodox and traditional religions albeit thecodes of restraint in every particular setting, then this might be an effective instrument. This should be a non-denominational, non-partisan project under the auspices of respected religious leaders in all regions. That people of diverse religious backgrounds patronise deities in one way or the other is also no secret in Ghana. In the 1980s, the Chief Priestess at Akyem Anyinam in the Eastern Region was a practicing Catholic who always wore her rosary. Public servants entrusted with budgetary responsibilities and other financial matters must go beyond seeking God’s help to self-imprecate vis à vis the state when taking the oath of office.
In an era of dominant laissez-faire economic orthodoxy, the same can be deployed as a deterrence against environmental pollution in our urban centres, and unrestrained plundering of the countryside. Traditionally, African beliefs, taboos and totems have played significant roles in ‘conservation and management’ of biodiversity (Diawuo and Issifu, 2015).  This is not different from the Catholic Church’s reinforcement of the Ten Commandments and Pope Francis’s call for making actionable decisions and choices on climate change.
Corruption is still raging despite the fact that men and women in public positions are recruited and sworn into office with either the Bible or the Koran in their hands – every ethnic group in Ghana has its own deity(ies) they revere. The fight against corruption is a national emergency that must be grounded in our cognitive, religious, institutional and material resources. The word corruption must be semantically winnowed down to these diverse indigenous meaning-portfolios. This will give the people a unique sense of ownership of the concept of (anti-)corruption and its attendant moral and ethical responsibilities.
This is also a psychological issue. Perhaps the following anecdote may suffice to clarify the point – a tip of the iceberg! Many Ghanaians are aware that it is quite easy for radio presenters or during ordinary conversations to mention the words penis/vagina but is extremely difficult for them to articulate these words in the local (Akan) language (kↃte(Ɛ)/ƐtwƐ) – except the use of metaphors and euphemisms. Likewise, many speakers of the Akan language would downplay being told one is stupid. However, woe betide one to use the local translation kwasea and the ‘earth will move in a nanosecond’. By the avoidance of the local words, they distance themselves from associated taboos and responsibilities and submit themselves to colonial, hegemonic knowledge. This unrestrained submission to externality is one of the underlying causes of blowbacks in shaping intergenerational biographies of local meaning making and knowledge formation.
Hence, situated in the context of a local anti-corruption drive for example, the prevailing Akan word for corruption,kete-ase-hye-ne-prↃ-yƐ (stinky under-the-carpet deals) is woefully inadequate. The author will rather suggestnyansakrↃno – to surreptitiously steal or seek advantages. The latter (with a semantic slur on character and integrity) brings the message closer to home than the former, which is too euphemistic. We are in a system where the most vulnerable in society are jailed ten years for stealing a goat or farm produce such as plantain while the so-called well-educated men and women of reason in public service drain state coffers without being even reproached.
Nevertheless, at one level, the convergence of democratic governance, religious freedom and religiosity may be mutually reinforcing. In every run-up to elections, an interfaith prayer for peaceful transition emerges whereby bishops, pastors, imams, traditional chiefs rally around to pray for peace, remind politicians of the ‘Ghanaian exceptionalism’ as an oasis of peace, rule of law, and freedom in a ‘turbulent region’. Political parties and radio presenters are all cautioned to be mindful of their public utterances, avoid incendiary statements in order not to inflame political or religious passions. Some religious leaders and politicians would even remind their followers of the horrors of war and pogrom elsewhere in the continent including hammering home a scenario of ‘English speaking’ Ghanaian refugees living among Francophone neighbours (Burkina Faso, The Ivory Coast, Togo). However, is Ghana as peaceful as many are made to believe? At least not for those who have become marginalised, dispossessed and alienated by a democratic peace – a new form of tyranny.
The contradictions of Asomdweei Oman (a country of peace): Marginalisation, dispossession and alienation?
The interplay of free trade and liberalisation of investment laws, unscrupulous licensing regime, access to the dark alleys of power, and external business linkages has created a new onslaught on rural communities. Like their colonial masters who sought to make a fortune overnight, they dispossess farming communities of their land for gold mining. Real estate developers also scramble for land by good or foul means thus completely uprooting human settlements in both rural and peri-urban fringes. It was not surprising when for the first time between 1990 and 1995 the export of gold temporarily overtook cocoa (Killick, 2000)  and not without consequences. In order to make way for mining, virgin forests are destroyed, cocoa trees are cut down, and rivers and underground water bodies are polluted. In many rural areas, these rivers are sources of drinking water.
The mad rush to become rich has displaced once environment-friendly traditional methods of mining and extraction of gold. This has resulted in the use of obsolete methods of extraction such as hydraulic gold mining, which has been banned in many industrialised countries. In the small-scale mining sector, in order to ensure quick recovery of gold particles from ore/excavated earth mercury is used in the process to form mercury-gold amalgam. In a similar extractive process, small-scale and industrial miners make use of cyanide leaching (with its ability to affect solubility of material) to facilitate separation of gold particles from the soil or rock. The unregulated use of these poisonous chemicals has wreaked havoc on whole ecosystems, rural livelihoods, and brought some mining communities on the brink as existing mining and environmental standards are not being properly executed (Olympio, 2013).  Birth deformities have also become a commonplace as young men and women who work without proper protective gear in the mines are exposed to a variety of health hazards.
As the countryside becomes mired in abject poverty and destitution, the magnitude of environmental pollution has attracted the catchword ecocide – deliberate destruction of the ecosystem by human intervention. Like elsewhere in Africa, the popular contradiction of our time is that about seventy percent of Ghanaians live in the rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihood but this is where the ecocide of our time is happening right now – ‘Wicked Anthropocene’! This is also the product of the contradictions of capitalism itself, which feeds on cheap resource extraction, dispossession and market turmoil in order to maintain dynamism and transformation.
While interfaith groups and chieftains are praying for peace during the impending elections, many forget that there is already another kind of war going on since the mid-1990s. This is taking place at a time when manufacturing, the main source of wage employment, is consistently contracting and growth rate in the agricultural sector tumbles to negative levels (0.04% 2015 estimate).  If there is any genuine foundation to be built for economic take-off this is where the launching pad must be located – a multiplier effect to achieve economies of scale.
How long must rural communities stand aloof while the very pedestal of their livelihoods are being systematically ruined by the powerful in society? If their demands are not addressed, eventually their agitation for social and environmental justice may take radical dimensions and sow the seeds of implosion. Concurrently, there is increasing discontent in many urban centres due to deep-seated marginalisation, an uncontrolled ‘youth bulge’, unemployment, and lack of prospects for many young graduates and school leavers. This does not augur well for Ghana’s long tradition of unity(-unifying) in diversity, coexistence and social peace. The build-up of sentiments about dispossessions in rural areas and increasing discontent in urban centres may be a combustible mix with far-reaching consequences for peace and prosperity.
The obsession with electoral politics reminds us of the popular dictum among African rural dwellers. Many at times, when they listen to how politicians instruct them about the rudiments of democracy, have traditionally responded – ‘but you can’t eat democracy’. For them Ghana’s milestone achievement as a beacon of ‘democratic governance and peace’ will be of little or no meaning when they decide to change the world around them.
The second and final part of this article appears in Pambazuka News next week.
* Francisco Kofi Nyaxo Olympio, Dr.phil., is at the Chair of Cultural Anthropology, University of Trier, Germany.
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 Daily Graphic Online: 6 Parties make vain promises. IMANI Ghana Research shows. By Timothy Ngnebe, 26.08.2016. http://www.graphic.com.gh/news/general-news/6-parties-make-vain-promises-imani-ghana-research-shows.html.
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RepresenattionRepresentation? The Journal of Social Sciences Research, 1 (4), 41-46.
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 Mo Ibrahim: ‘Political temperature too high in Ghana, Senegal.http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=328183.
 Daily Graphic, Ghana’s Democracy in Crisis – Bagbin. By Kofi Yeboah. http://graphic.com.gh/news/politics/33400-ghana-s-democracy-in-crisis-bagbin.html
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 Freedom House. Freedom in the World (2015). Discarding Democracy: Return to the Iron Fist.https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2015#.V6nP6uNum72.
 Ghana is ethnically, culturally, and religiously diverse. The Akans are the largest ethnic group. Speakers of the Akan language are sub-grouped under many dialects.
 Agyekum, Kofi (1999). The pragmatics of DuabↃ: Grievance imprecation taboo among the Akan. Prgamatics, 9 (3), 357-382.
 Francis Diawuo and Abdul Malik Issifu (2015). Exploring the African Traditional Belief Systems in National Resource Conversation and Management in Ghana, The Journal of Pan-African Studies.
 Killick, Tony (2000). Fragile Still? The Structure of Ghana’s Economy 1960-94. In Aryeetey, Ernest and Harrigan, Jane. (eds) Economic Reforms in Ghana: the miracle and the mirage (pp: 51-67) Africa World Press.
 Olympio, F.N.K (2013). Neo-Panafricanism Foreign Powers and Non-State Actors: Retooling, Reordering,Repositioning, Lit, Germany.
 Pulse.com.gh: Rabiu Alhassan, The declining fortunes of Ghana’s agricultural sector. 26.11.2015.http://pulse.com.gh/agriculture/declining-fortunes-the-declining-fortunes-of-ghana-s-agricultural-sector-id4383491.html
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