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Opinions of Thursday, 24 November 2016

Columnist: todaygh.com

Yvonne Nduom a possible First Lady in-waiting

While the position of the First Gentleman of the land is keenly contested for, that of the First Lady always comes as given. And so with the battle for the presidential positions now drawn with six male aspirants in the race to the Flagstaff House come January 7, 2017, Mrs. Yvonne Nduom, wife of Dr. Papa Kwesi Nduom, the PPP presidential candidate, has every good chance of becoming Ghana’s next First Lady.

Today caught up with her last week in her office to find out who Mrs. Nduom is, her passion(s) as a Ghanaian, the role she is playing in her husband’s bid to become the next President of Ghana and what she thinks about the role of a First Lady of the Republic.

Who is Yvonne Nduom?

The first of eight children (three deceased); Mrs. Nduom is a native of Elmina in the Central Region of Ghana. Like many men, her father’s wish was that his first child should be a boy. He decided to name the baby after his father, Yves Sterlin and so he felt he had a ready name – Yves.

When it turned out that the baby was a girl, her father changed the name to Yvonne. At a very young age, at the Our Lady of Apostles (OLA) Boarding School and as a Catholic, she wanted to have the name of a Saint as most of her friends had. She ended up adding Veronica as her middle name, but her father was not amused and so she had to drop the “self adopted” second name, much to her disappointment.

She started schooling at OLA Girls’ Boarding School in Cape Coast from where she sat the Common Entrance Examination and went to St. Louis, later to be known as Archbishop Porter’s Girls’ High School in Takoradi. She proceeded to St. Louis Secondary School in Kumasi for her Sixth Form education and from where she entered the University of Cape Coast (UCC). On completion of a degree course at UCC, she did her national service at Kumasi Girls’ High School and to make ends meet, she taught a part-time English class at Kumasi Polytechnic.

Even though she had the opportunity after national service to pursue a post graduate programme at the School of Communication Studies at the University of Ghana, she turned it down to join her fiancé, Dr. Papa Kwesi Nduom, who at the time was in America. The two love birds met when they were both studying for the A Levels certificate in the Sixth Form. They used to study Literature and Economics together.

A mother of four, three boys, Nana Kweku, Edjah Kweku, Chief Papa Wassa Kweku (Chiefy) and one girl, Nana Aba, Mrs. Nduom is a proud parent who strongly believes that providing excellent education to their children was indeed the best inheritance they could bequeath to them. And she feels blessed that they were able to provide the solid education they had in mind for their children who are all now in responsible positions, with two of them helping with the family businesses.

Mrs. Nduom is very proud of her Ghanaian heritage. Born and bred in Elmina, she speaks fluent Fanti. “I even read and write Fanti”, she told me. She recounted how once at a Church service in America, no one was ready to read the Lesson in Fanti, “I got up and read it in flawless Fanti”, she said. Though her father has passed on, her mother, Mrs. Emily Sterlin, still lives in Elmina.

So, as a proud Ghanaian, what is it that irks her in our society today and what would she change or improve on if given the chance?

Like many well meaning Ghanaians who are passionate about the good of this beautiful, well endowed country of ours, Mrs. Nduom is bothered with the many social ills that have bedeviled our society. Some of the things that touch her heart day in day out include education, health, sanitation, opportunities for women and children.

She is worried about some aspects of our educational system which, even though the 1992 Constitution makes it compulsory for every child to go through basic schooling free of charge, we still see children of school going-age not in the classroom. Similarly, she finds it difficult to understand why our current educational system only allows nine years of basic education. She asked, “Why can’t we have 12 years of basic education so that we prepare our children very well for secondary or vocational schooling?” She was envious of some developed countries fighting to have tertiary education as the basic minimum education level for their citizens.

On health, she bemoaned the insanitary conditions and the open gutter or drainage system in our country in this twenty-first century. Such insanitary conditions are precursors to some of the prevailing deadly diseases that our people suffer from in this country such as malaria and communicable ones like cholera.

As for the abundant contradictions in the system, the little said about them the better, given the fact that we cannot continue to talk about development by referring to massive infrastructure when we woefully lack the corresponding developments that should be of benefit to the well-being of the masses in our society.

She enumerated some such pressing social interventions as accessible and affordable health care, especially emergency care, high rate of unemployment, poor sanitation and the absence of effective public transportation system. In her estimation, the traffic situation in the country, especially in Accra and Kumasi, where people spend two or more hours commuting to and from work, makes us one of the least productive countries in the world.

Not until we begin to make driving to and from work unattractive by adopting practical measures and also putting reliable public transportation in place, the situation, she feared, could get worse. Most workers have to be on the road by 5 a.m., to avoid traffic congestion. She even bemoaned the fact that some school children have to leave the house at dawn to get to school on time.

Dr. Nduom and Mrs. Nduom always come across as a close couple who tastefully complement each other. I was curious to know and so I asked her during our chat what it is that gets the centre space in a husband and wife conversation at home, for example.

According to her, now that their children are adults, they talk more about social issues as well as human development issues, the latter of which is crucial to them in the success of their businesses. Naturally, they do talk politics because every aspect of our lives border on politics. “We talk about the cost of doing business, electricity, water, taxes, all of that have impact not only on businesses alone but also the lives of workers”, she added.

When it comes to her husband’s political affairs, Mrs. Nduom tries not to interfere. What she does is to try and support him to succeed. “I travel with him to give him the moral support and sometimes get into the public to help espouse on some issues that he campaigns on as I have been doing with my media encounters”. “When there is the need to and he asks me to help with something, I do it, otherwise I would rather leave him to concentrate on what he wants to do,” she added.

If the odds swing in their favour and Dr. Papa Kwesi Nduom wins the December 7, 2016 elections and gets sworn in a month later as the next President of the Republic, Mrs. Yvonne Nduom would become Ghana’s next First Lady. And so I asked her what her own views about the role of a First Lady are.

For her, the role of the First Lady is to play more of an advocacy role to support the work of government and or the legislature. She is right. When one casts one’s mind back at some of the world’s First Ladies of recent times, there has been a bigger shift from ceremonial First Ladies of the past to a more active involvement in advocacy.

In her case, should she become the next First Lady, she would prefer to focus on some of the social needs in our society and work with some themes with the aim of catching the attention of the Executive or the Legislature for redress. She cited such likely themes as special programmes for women in business, better education for children, preventive health and the safeguarding of our environment from pollution.

There is one key message that Mrs. Nduom wishes to leave on the minds of Ghanaian voters as we go to the polls and that is, to give Dr. Nduom a chance to implement his vision to accelerate the transformation of the fortunes of Ghana from our long term status of developing to a developed country. According to her, the PPP flag-bearer has good policies; his party has capable young men and women achievers with the “can-do-spirit” that would propel Ghana’s development to an unprecedented height in our lifetime.

As we go to the polls in a couple of week’s time, Mrs. Nduom prays above all that peace will prevail but like the ever present words on Ghana Coat of Arms, there must be justice if peace should reign. Now is the time for new leadership to get us the economic freedom we deserve.