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Feature Article of Sunday, 19 August 2012

Columnist: Abudulai, Sulemana

The 'Northern' Factor in Election 2012

This short piece addresses the so-called ‘northern' factor in successive Ghanaian democratic processes in recent years. For some, the northern factor requires that presidential candidates select northerners as their running mates if they are to stand any chance of winning votes in the Guinea Savannah regions of the country. For others, it is about declared and past evidence of policies aimed at transforming the predominantly rural economies of this part of the country. It does not therefore come as a surprise to hear people of northern extraction begin to talk about making sure a northern president is secured by any means necessary.

Dr Hilla Limman, a northerner, was in power for a little over 2 years (24th September 1979 to 31st December 1981) when his reign was sadly cut short by a coup d’etat. Now, exactly 31 years down the road, northerners are being offered an opportunity to vote for President John Mahama to remain in power over the next 4-5 years, as another 'northern' President, in a political party established by the person who overthrew Dr Limann. Many a northerner argue that they are in a dilemma because, even though they have always voted for the New Patriotic Party (NPP), they are not sure a northerner can ever become president in ‘this Akan-dominated’ Party. Some surmise that although they believe Dr Mahamadu Bawumia to be an excellent choice, President John Mahama is a nice chap, also capable, and is the incumbent.

This is where my head begins to spin!

It is almost as if the death of President Atta Mills has erased the slate clean on the issues, values, and policies that set apart the NPP and National Democratic Congress (NDC) as political Parties!

My issues are: Do we support political parties because of their values, philosophies and policies, or because of the limited self-interest of the ethnic group? Does one see Nana Addo and the NPP as best placed to deliver at the district, regional, national, and international levels of political, economic, and social transformation, or will it be President Mahama and the NDC? Which party can arrest the rapid decline of the Ghana Cedi, increasing unemployment, especially among the youth, high school drop-out rates due mainly to poverty, chieftaincy disputes, land grabbing, and acute political polarization at all levels of the Ghanaian population and body politic? Which party and leader can drive real, solid, sustainable economic and social development? How 'northern' does one need to be to bring about real change for the people of northern Ghana. I was reminded recently that Kwame Nkrumah's free educational policy and rapid development of infrastructure in the north may really explain in part, the Presidency of John Mahama and the Vice-Presidential candidature of Dr Bawumia!

Few governments since Independence have made sufficient commitment to reversing the relatively low level of economic and social development in the north. Having said that, someone recently observed that the Ghana Education Trust Fund (GETFUND), had made serious dents in infrastructure development at tertiary and secondary levels up north during the tenure of the NPP, pointing to University of Development Studies (UDS) and the Medical School up north. They also noted that the Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA), launched by the NDC, does hold a lot of promise.

As with many initiatives aimed at the 'north', some careful and further thinking is required if these laudable interventions are not to become like the after-thought that the Programme of Actions to Mitigate the Social Cost of (Structural) Adjustment (PAMSCAD) was in the 1980s – namely, a series of ill-coordinated actions aimed at mitigating decades of damage caused by economic policies skewed towards the industrial and export southern parts of the country.

Indeed, as one travels from the affluent parts of our national capital, through the industrial, mining, cocoa, and other export crop growing areas of southern Ghana as a whole, to northern Brong Ahafo/Volta Regions, and of course the Northern, Upper East, and Upper West Regions, one can see there are structural problems underpinning the unequal levels of development across Ghana.

This is why it is important for those facing choices on the ‘northern factor’ in the forthcoming elections need to address some questions:

What will it take to secure a paradigm shift towards more equal involvement, by northern Ghana, in the national wealth creation and wealth distribution process? How does one ensure a 'northern voice' is truly heard - after all, we have had influential Northerners in all ruling parties over the last three decades. What difference will Nana Akuffo Addo and President John Mahama make in the absence of this bargaining platform or voice? Will a President Mahama rule immediately make the Dagbon, Nanumba, Konkomba-Bimoba, Bawku, and other seething areas of tension disappear overnight simply because he is a northerner? What will it take to assure northern members of the NPP that northern leadership within the NPP is possible, given the way former Vice-President Alhaji Aliu Mahama ‘was treated by the outgoing President Kuffuor’; that is, by contrast to the level of support President John Mahama has enjoyed within the NDC since the passing away of President J E A Mills.

My limited experience of national and international politics suggests that elections won on promises of ethnically driven change agendas often end with drawn daggers between Party hierarchies and the target ethnic groups. The experiences in Ivory Coast, Nigeria, to some extent Kenya, suggest the outcomes can be tragic. For me, it is important to define positions across the spectrum of issues that unite poor small scale farmers, the youth, women, low income workers, our business community, our student population and other interest groups ACROSS ALL OF GHANA’s REGIONS.

Yes, there are disparities, but these challenges cut across these social and economic groups nationally. Policy actions that recognize this will be better able to address the problems according to their levels or degrees of manifestation across the country. For example, there are young people whose parents cannot afford to meet their educational needs, although those in the north are likely to face more acute forms of exclusion, thereby requiring actions to enhance wealth generation involving all sections of Ghanaian society, not a privileged few! What should our governments do to arrest the large numbers of young girls and boys flooding our cities in search of exploitative, degrading, and hazardous sources of income? Why is it that the majority of this group come from the Guinea Savannah geographical regions (northern Volta, northern Brong Ahafo, and the three northern Regions); and why is the majority of the migrants girls and women?

Let’s have a national debate on the ‘northern' factor in our democratic processes!

I don’t want to take anything for granted!

Dr Sulemana Abudulai, freelance development commentator

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