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AD351: Ghanaians’ acceptance of security-related restrictions faces test with COVID-19 lockdown

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Key findings
  • In late 2019, three-quarters (75%) of Ghanaians said the government should be able to curtail people’s movement in the face of threats to security.
  • A lockdown may pose particular challenges for Ghanaians affected by “lived poverty.” Almost three-fourths (72%) of respondents said they went without a cash income at least once during the year preceding the survey, while one-third (32%) said they went without needed medical care and one-fourth (26%) reported experiencing shortages of food.
  • Only three in 10 Ghanaians (30%) have running water inside their homes or compounds. A similar proportion (33%) source their water from public standpipes.
  • Comparing the two regions affected by the lockdown, residents in Ashanti region are far less likely than those in Greater Accra to have piped water (39% vs. 62%) and toilets (56% vs. 68%) in their homes or compounds.
  • Even among citizens who experienced lived poverty and lacked ready access to piped water and toilets, most expressed support – in principle, as of late 2019 – for the government’s right to restrict people’s movements to protect public security.

Effective Monday, 30 March, parts of Greater Accra and Ashanti regions – the areas of Ghana most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic – were placed on lockdown, in accordance with President Nana Akufo-Addo’s announcement in his fourth address to the nation on measures to fight the new coronavirus (Myjoyonline, 2020).

The rapid spread of COVID-19 around the globe has led many countries to institute a variety of prevention and mitigation measures, in some cases including drastic steps curtailing citizens’ civil liberties. An example is the Chinese government’s near-total lockdown of Wuhan, where the virus first emerged – a measure widely credited with helping stop its rapid spread in that country. Other countries, including several in Africa, have since adopted similar policies as they battle to contain the pandemic.

As of March 29, Ghana had recorded 152 cases of COVID-19 – most of them among recent arrivals from other countries – and five deaths (Ghanaweb, 2020). Facing sharp increases and an anticipated rapid spread, the Trade Union Congress, the Ghana Medical Association, and many others called on the government to declare a lockdown (Emmanuel, 2020; Ibrahim, 2020). Others opposed such a drastic step, arguing that the country’s socioeconomic characteristics – including a large informal sector, high rates of unemployment and communal living, and limited access to water and sanitation services – would hinder the success of such a policy.

Although the president stated in his address that residents in the locked-down areas could go out for “essential” errands such as buying food, banking, and using public toilets, the announcement led to panic buying of food items and cooking fuel, with resultant price hikes in the affected areas (Mubarik, 2020).

How prepared are Ghanaians for a lockdown?

In late 2019, before “threat to public security” would have brought to mind a virus, most respondents in a national Afrobarometer survey said they would accept restrictions on their freedom of movement, such as curfews and roadblocks, if public safety were threatened. Residents of Greater Accra and Ashanti are the first to put this willingness to the test.

The lockdown will also challenge the resilience of significant portions of the population who lack ready access to running water and toilets as well as the resources, even in ordinary times, to provide for their basic necessities.

Daniel Armah-Attoh

Daniel is the surveys manager for North and Anglophone West Africa

Josephine Appiah-Nyamekye Sanny

Josephine is the knowledge transfer manager for Afrobarometer.

Edem Selormey

Edem Selormey is the director of research at the Ghana Center for Democratic Development.