GHANA’S president Nana Akufo-Addo has come under fire this week for naming what has been described as an ‘elephant’ cabinet – with 31 cabinet portfolios, several ministries have two or more deputies, bringing the total size of cabinet to 110 ministers and perhaps more, as more announcements may be made.
Such a large team may have significant financial implications, in a country where the debt-to-GDP ratio is about 74%, and had to seek a $1 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2015.
But the president defended the appointments, saying that Ghana was facing huge problems and he needed a huge team to fix them. On his part, information minister Mustafa Hamid said the ruling National Patriotic Party (NPP) “never promised a lean government” during the 2016 electioneering campaign.
He told journalists at a press conference in Accra that in Ghana’s history, there were smaller governments that landed the country in bigger problems. The minister said it was “better to have a large government with men of integrity who will be efficient on the job than a lean, corrupt government”.
Looking at Africa more broadly, the median size of cabinets is 30 (excluding deputies); the largest such cabinet is in Cameroon with 63 ministers. Uganda’s cabinet is also huge, with 31 full cabinet ministers but with the 49 ministers of state included, it brings the total number to 80.
The smallest cabinet is in Cape Verde, with just 12 ministers.
In Africa, larger cabinets are more common in post-conflict countries that are trying to build a broader national consensus, especially in countries with high political or ethnic fragmentation: ministerial appointments are an easy way to build loyalty to the regime of the day.
They are also common in resource-rich countries, and in those that have had long-serving heads of state, which tend to have heavy patronage networks. In that way, they serve an important political, if not economic or technocratic function – they create compromise and cohesion within the political class.