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Opinions of Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Columnist: Nyamekye, Kofi

If Nana - then no vote!

The NPPs own swedru declaration and the coming disaster in 2016

There is a ghost haunting the New Patriotic Party and it is the ghost of hero-worship and the probability of a very long spell in the hellfire of opposition. That ghost comes from within the NPP itself as it stands right now and my hope is that come the elections for our flag bearer the rank and file will banish that ghost for good. The ordinary party members: the teachers, the post office workers, the taxi drivers, the Susu collectors etc should vote to open up a new era in the Danquah-Busia tradition lest the tradition recede into unimportance. Why do I say so? My answer is that ever since the loss of the court case challenging the victory of His Excellency President Mahama, there has been a Swedru Declaration of sorts in the NPP. Right from the moment the then General-Secretary Kwadwo Owusu-Afriyie announced that Honourable Akufo Addo was going to be the next flag bearer, some NPP national executives, regional chairmen, MPs and other leading members have come out to declare their support for Honourable Akufo-Addo as the next flag bearer for the 2016 election.

Given their stature in the party, this is similar to what His Excellency President Rawlings did in Swedru in 1999 when he stated his preferred successor was then Vice-President John Mills. This statement by President Rawlings shut off any meaningful debate in the NDC about who was to succeed him as flag bearer and it led to the creation of the Reform Party by NDC. The Reform Party activists had immense influence at the grassroots and their breakaway made victory for the NPP in 2000 easier. Although the Reform Party managed to get only 1% of the vote at the 2000 election, its impact was felt at the base of the party since it was made up of those responsible for mobilizing electoral support at the grassroots. J.A. Kufuor thus went into an election at the head of a united NPP while Mills led a divided NDC weakened on the ground. Times have changed however and going into 2016 President Mahama is at the head of a united NDC. NPP should take note.

When JB Danquah, George “Pa” Grant, Robert Blay and others decided to form the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), the parent organization of the Danquah-Busia tradition, they put in place a political party based on a number of ideas that included political freedom, open markets, the importance of traditional rulers, etc. Theirs was a tradition that was based on values, principles and beliefs and not on individuals. Made up of the finest minds in the Gold Coast at the time, it is therefore not surprising that Danquah himself, although the most popular member based on his role as a lawyer, was not the leader of the UGCC – instead Pa Grant was the Chairman, Blay was the 1st vice-Chairman and Danquah was “just” the 2nd vice-Chairman.

Seventy years later the UGCC continues to exist in the form of its direct descendant the NPP and I argue that this stems from the groundwork of the forefathers. I am on solid ground when I state that the Danquah-Busia tradition is one of the four most durable political traditions in Africa - in good company with the African National Congress, the Mauritius Labour Party and the Botswana Democratic Party. All other political parties formed to win independence in Africa have vanished, or they have been reduced to irrelevance, or they continue to survive and govern just because they have used state power to harass and intimidate their opponents into submission. The Danquah-Busia tradition has been outlawed, overthrown, fragmented, defeated, and yet it is still here fighting to build a prosperous Ghana.

One of the things that was really important in the tradition in its early years was the absence of hero-worship. Somewhere in the newspapers of 1969-1972 there is a statement by Kofi Abrefa Busia attacking party executives who had arranged for supporters to sing songs about him when as Prime Minister, he made a trip to the Brong-Ahafo region. His point was that if you do this, when he was dead and gone, the tradition will collapse with him. His call was for the party to be sustained around the political beliefs of Danquah, himself and others and not around their personalities. In my books, that re-affirmation of our principles enabled us survive the coup of January 13th 1972, the division in 1979, and the hounding of our members after the coup of 31st December 1981 even though strangely, we were not in power then.

The NPP has been slipping away from this tradition. In the past year leading party members have made everything about “Nana” and no one else: “when Nana is president” “Nana this and Nana that” etc. It is as if we the rank and file of the party are so stupid, so ignorant, so lacking in common sense that without the leading members’ guidance we can’t hail a taxi from Kejetia to Baba Yara sports stadium in Kumasi. I don’t want to accuse anyone of cowardice but the critical thinking displayed on television and radio programmes seems to vanish in the wake of the Nana Addo band wagon as all leading party members seem to have fallen in line, living in fear of the machine that has been created. Right now one tactic that is employed is that they are appearing on TV, radio etc telling the whole world that the election of the flag bearer is a done deal. This is a sly way of neutralizing any opposition by suggesting your vote is wasted on any other contestant. They have the money to pay the serial callers to ring the radio stations to push their agenda and this adds to the false impression being created the Nana Addo is the best to lead us to victory in 2016.

I have been looking at electoral results in Ghana since 2008 and my view is that if the Conservative party of the UK can get rid of their second most successful Prime Minister, Maggie Thatcher when she was in office in 1990 because there was the fear that the party was going to lose the 1992 election, then the NPP needs to take a good look at itself. The fact of the matter is that the NPP needs a new flag bearer. Since 2008 we have lost the 4 vital swing regions. This to me is not a small error that can be corrected easily in 2016. Rather it is a major turn of events. It was those swing regions that helped us to victory in 2000 and 2004 and hence they are critical battle grounds. However, what is even worse is our performance in our 2 strongholds since 2008. The facts are dismal. In 2000 NPP won 74.80% of the vote in the Ashanti region. The run-off was even better as we secured 80.50%. In 2004 we won 76.97% of the vote. Figures in the Eastern region were also healthy. In 2000 first round, the party won 52.94%. In the run off this shot up to 56.90%. In 2004 we enjoyed a stunning victory when we bagged 60.30%.

Then along came Nana Addo and our strongholds started to crumble. In the first round in Ashanti in 2008 Nana fell to 72.53% of the vote. In the 2008 run off he crept up to 74.39%. In 2012 Nana collapsed to 70.86% of the vote. The Eastern region looks equally sad. In 2008 first round Nana Addo had 57.14% of the vote. In the runoff he inched up to a mere 57.47% and in 2012 he dropped to 56.91%. It is this sad performance in the Eastern region that should tell anyone with a critical mind that Nana just does not appeal to floating voters! What is even more tragic is that JAK converted the Central and Western regions into NPP strongholds. From 49.57% in Central in 2000 we went to 58.80% in 2004. In the Western region we went from in 49.13% 2000 to 57.70% in 2004. Under JAK we were getting more in Central and Western regions than we are getting in Eastern under Nana Addo! If party elites, most of them well-educated bankers, lawyers, accountants, economists, political scientists etc. do not see this and continue to force Nana Addo down our throats then perhaps we deserve our sad plight in opposition

In effect those who are jumping up and down calling for Nana Addo for a 3rd effort (in reality a 4th effort) should note that our problem is not in just the swing regions – he has created a problem for us at home as well! If you think your girlfriend’s headache is a calamity then what of your mother who has had a stroke and is on her deathbed I ask? Thus for those shouting No Nana No Vote the message from the Ghanaian voter is that “If Nana then no Vote”.

This problem is not going to vanish in 2016. It will continue to be there until we address the matter by replacing the flag bearer. The Labour party of the UK lost 4 elections between 1979 and 1992 because their party leaders appealed only to its core support. It was the rise of Tony Blair that led to the creation of a new image and this enabled Labour to win 3 elections in a row including victories in Margaret Thatcher’s constituency of Finchley. This tells me the importance of a leader who goes beyond the core supporters. After 3 NPP losses in the swing regions, after losing in the core areas, and after a slow bleeding of our parliamentary seats, it is unbelievable that elites want Nana Addo for another attempt.

A number of other matters need tackling: First there is the view that Nana Addo is not too old as Ronald Reagan, and Nelson Mandela were in their 70s when they won their first elections as presidents. First let me dispose of the Mandela issue: Nelson Mandela should not be used as an example by anyone anywhere given the unique situation in South Africa at the time But turning to Reagan (and you can add Mugabe, Dos Santos and Mutharika of Zimbabwe, Angola and Malawi respectively) the opposition in the US was so weak at the time, so disconnected from the aspirations of the people that Reagan’s victory, especially in 1984, was perhaps the easiest in US electoral history. His opponents, first Jimmy Carter in 1980 and then Walter Mondale in 1984 were not in tune with America as it underwent major socio-economic changes. It was thus not surprising that Reagan beat Carter a sitting president in 1980 and in 1984 he thrashed his opponent Mondale by winning 49 the 50 states. This was because there was a new breed of voter, the so-called Reagan Democrats, who turned their backs on their political roots and voted for him.

On their part Mugabe and Dos Santos face disorganized and intimidated opposition parties that could not win an election anywhere given the baggage that they carry as being tied to an old oppressive colonial order. In the recent election in Malawi, the incumbent President Joyce Banda was at the head of a minority party that had no seats in parliament. Not surprisingly when the recent general election was held she came in third with around 20%.

Unlike the case in Zimbabwe, Angola and Malawi, the NPP faces an extremely tough opponent in the form of NDC that should never be under-estimated in its ability to win power. Even if we discount the 1992 election which for me no one was going to win except Jerry Rawlings, the NDC has won in 1996, 2008 2nd round and 2012. It can therefore easily win in 2016. With its skill at propaganda if Nana Addo is chosen as flag bearer, the NDC will remind Ghanaians that he will be 82, yes I repeat 82, and I repeat again 82!! and still be in office as President. The Presidency is not a ceremonial position. Neither can it be equated to chieftaincy. There is huge pressure on the president (just look at how President Mahama has aged since he took over in 2012). The President is not a traditional leader who does not face a robust and aggressive opposition. Age is important in choosing a President. NDC is a party that is skilled in the black magic of propaganda and is waiting patiently for us to field Nana Addo. If we do so, they will open fire with this statement and we will have nowhere to turn in his defence.

The second issue is that of popularity: all you hear is “Nana Addo is popular” ”Nana has been marketed” “he is the one that the voters know” and so on. As a result, we should ignore our staggering losses and present him for another attempt. This tells me then that as of now the NPP flag bearer position is for life. Once I am elected I will hold on to the position forever based on the NPP’s new rule: You can’t get rid of me as I have been marketed. However, it is obvious marketing is not the key to victory – Dr. Edward Mahama is the most marketed politician in the history of Ghana having contested 4 elections with the benefit of the internet, private radio stations, text messaging etc. but he is yet to score any major victory at the polls.

The third issue is that Nana has struggled so much for the tradition that the party needs to keep him going until he wins power for us. Since when has this become a major factor to decide our flag bearer? If suffering for the Danquah-Busia tradition is the basis for someone being flag bearer then we should go to the house of Mr. JH Mensah and install him as our candidate without the need for a contest. He served the tradition as finance minister from 1969 to 1972. He was jailed in 1972 after Kutu Acheampong's coup, having been dragged out of his hotel room in Kumasi where he was hiding. I remember a picture of him on the front page of the Daily Graphic or Ghanaian Times in his pyjamas being escorted by the soldiers to detention where he remained for almost 2 years. After his release he began a campaign calling for the peaceful transfer of power from the armed forces to civilians and again was sentenced to jail for 3 years for this. If my memory is correct, during the height of the anti-Union Government campaign he went into prison again for his pro-democracy activism. In 1982 he was forced into exile with the security agents of the PNDC chasing him and remained in exile for a long time. However, when he stood for party flag bearer in the 1990s no one said he should be chosen based on his struggles and suffering.

Given that the party elite want to return Nana Addo for another attempt. I am sure as delegates you know see why they conspired to prevent a national conference from being held in the normal manner in April 2014. Once you bring us the delegates together we realize their power and we use it to change the old order. Face-to-face meetings allow delegates to exchange ideas and information, share facts and ideas. Meeting each other allows us to understand ourselves better by engaging in meaningful discussions instead of listening to some constituency Chairman somewhere telling us what we should think. This is why they tried to keep us in our regions and get us to vote there. They sought to divide and rule. All that they wanted was for us to nod our heads in agreement with their pre-conceived agendas. We were expected to agree to their own preferences for party executives as a part of a grand plan to produce an outcome the elites wanted. Knowledge is power and oppressive ruling classes everywhere have tried to prevent ordinary people from sharing knowledge and gaining power.

With 2 regions, (and even if we exclude the damage caused there under Nana Addo since 2008) the NPP is a powerful electoral force. Increase the vote in these regions back to the 2000 results, throw in at least 2 swing regions and NPP can be in power for the next 30 years. Keep electing someone who can’t win in the swing regions and whose vote in the 2 strongholds declines and we will be in opposition for 30 years. It is for this reason that I am appealing to all delegates, the special forces of the Danquah-Busia tradition, to smash those that are reducing us to a rubber-stamping body because they seek to use clever means to close down the possibility of choosing a new flag bearer.

When was the last time anyone commented on what Dr. Kofi Apraku will do to tackle the trade economy given he was onetime spokesperson for finance and also minister for trade and industry, and has a wealth of knowledge in this regard? What of Alan Kyerematen a man listed by the influential Time Magazine in 1994 as one of the 100 global future leaders of the millennium? Bill Gates was on this list as well and just look at what he has done with Microsoft! When was the last time a high ranking party executive mentioned him in the same breath as the party’s hope to win power in 2016? Then there is Joe Ghartey with an excellent track record of running the Attorney-General’s department. A native of Winneba he too is a new face that can signal a break with the past, appeal to our diehard voters and also to the voters in the swing regions.

There is nothing to suggest victory is certain in 2016 under a new flag bearer but a loss is more manageable and we can learn from this like we did in 1996. If, however, we lose in 2016 (and I am certain this will happen under Nana Addo) then an entire generation of potential party flag bearers will have been shut out of the process from 2008 until 2020 (assuming after his defeat in 2016 Nana Addo does not run again). We will have had twelve years of marking time in the name of someone who by 2016 will have failed to cross the 50% threshold 4 times. Twelve years of a flag bearer who presides over the collapse of votes in the Ashanti region and Eastern Region will destroy morale in the party. This is when accusations will fly about our own Swedru Declaration. Will Dr Apraku still be hanging around waiting to lead? I wonder if Alan Kyeremateng and Joe Ghartey will even have the desire or energy to launch their campaigns one more time. My fear is that the anger will be such that a break up will be a real probability. Electoral history tells us we should earn from the NDC’s folly in 2000. The rank and file should prevent this at all cost by beginning reform from below – the most important sector of the party

If we the delegates do not smash the old order then I have news for all members of the NPP – Johnson Asiedu-Nketia of the NDC will smash the old order for us with consequences we can’t live with. We underestimate him at our peril he is very skilful and has handed out 2 beatings to us already. He is probably praying as I write for a third shot at the NPP led by Nana Addo as this will make him the happiest man in Ghana.

April 12th of this year was the beginning of our own grassroots revolution when we began the destruction of the old order by sacking almost all of the old executives. We held in check those who have tried to manipulate the process of choosing a leader. We the people signalled a changing of the guard and that the party must dance to the tune of its grassroots members for this is our party! Our statement was that don’t you dare treat us like idiots and tell us who will be the Chairman, General Secretary etc. We are the ones who are on the ground. We eat in the chop bars, we cut our hair in the local barber shop, we own the hairdressing salons, we have stalls in the markets and in all these settings we hear what ordinary people are saying and we know that disaster is staring us in the face if we persist with Nana Addo in 2016. This is not to diminish his immense contributions to our struggle but it is time for us to move on with a new vanguard, chosen freely by us as ordinary members and presented to Ghanaians at the next general election.

I end with a note of caution. I hear on the radio stations pro-Nana supporters telling all those who care to listen that a political party in Ghana always gets 2 terms. Thus the NDCs second term is up and this anyone can lead the NPP in 2016 and still secure victory. Hence despite the failings of the past, the NPP, led by Nana Addo, will win the 2016 elections. This is the height of arrogance. To suggest to voters that they are programmed to vote a certain way just because you think this is the emerging practice is evidence that some party members have lost grips with reality. Voters do not like to be told how they will vote. Voters form their own opinions. Moreover, the fact that NPP has achieved so much in the past is irrelevant. An election is about the future and not the past. So many political parties have arrogantly assumed that the voters owe them a living and this has been to their peril. The Liberal Party of Britain is a good example. In the 19th century it was in the forefront of social reform. The modern day welfare state in Britain owes its roots to the Liberal Party and the working classes got their right to vote because of the tireless efforts of the Liberals. Furthermore, their legendary leader, Lloyd George led the UK through the First World War and saved the country from defeat by his example. Notwithstanding this by the 1920s the Liberals were in decline and they have never won power since, having to content themselves with being junior partners in the 1970s Labour government and the current Conservative government. Another example is Lech Walesa in Poland; He was the electrician who took control of worker agitation in Poland in 1982 which culminated in the collapse of the entire Soviet system. He was rewarded with one election victory in 1990 but was voted out of office in 1995. In 2000 he decided to try another attempt at the presidency and got exactly 1% of the vote – so much for the past as a determinant of how people vote for the future. The CPP vote in Ghana has been shrinking steadily from its glory days during the anti-colonial struggle and just after independence. If history and gratitude were factors surely the CPP should have much larger share of the vote for after all, you do not have to be pro-CPP to appreciate the contributions it has made to our country.

Delegates – we have an election to win! After you have read this, please print this off and circulate it among all members of the Danquah-Busia tradition. Also when the time comes for a new flag bearer, vote for change.

Kwabena Nyamekye