Ghana, the rising star: progress in political voice, health and education

Research reports and studies
March 2015
Amanda Lenhardt, Alina Rocha Menocal and Jakob Engel
Ghana has achieved remarkable progress in human development over the past 20 years while undergoing one of the most successful transitions to multi-party democracy in sub-Saharan Africa. As such, it provides a compelling example to explore the factors that have contributed to progress in both the provision of basic services (notably in health and education) and greater political voice for citizens.

Since the 1990s, Ghana has experienced a ‘golden age’ of political voice as it emerged from more than 30 years of alternating military and civilian rule. The space for political debate and expression has increased, and this has included a framework of formal rights, largely peaceful elections with two alternations in political power, and the rapid growth of civil society.

Ghana has caught up with, and is now outpacing, far wealthier countries in terms of health provision, with high immunisation rates, major declines in child stunting, and the halving of malaria deaths among children between 2001 and 2013. Ghana is also one of only a handful of non-OECD countries that has universal health insurance, and while service access remains a challenge in rural areas, concerted efforts have been made to improve health infrastructure in remote parts of the country.

Progress in education has also taken off. The number of years children spend in school (school life expectancy) has increased dramatically, surpassing the average for middle-income countries. Although quality remains a concern, marginal improvements have been made alongside increasing enrolment.

The acceleration of human development in Ghana over the last 10 years also suggests that increased voice can indeed contribute to improved provision of health and education services. Although the country still faces major challenges, including limited improvements in the quality of basic services and rising inequalities, its progress across multiple dimensions of well-being has been outstanding. And while Ghana may appear to be an exceptional ‘rising star’, its experience provides key lessons that transcend context and can inform efforts to secure widespread and lasting human development in other countries and settings.