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Opinions of Thursday, 2 September 2010

Columnist: Atta, Kofi

Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings for President?

Though I am not a member of the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC), I want to contribute to one issue of current debate within the party in this article, but as in a typical Ghanaian political discourse, or should I say, I am following ‘the norm or practice’ I will make some brief references to the National Patriotic Party (NPP). After all, contemporary politics in Ghana is no politics without the two major political parties that have dominated the political landscape since the Fourth Republic.

Before I do so, can I also take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to all the readers who commented on my first article on the Ghana@50 High Court ruling? The comments were very positive and encouraging, especially, those on Ghanaweb. Some questioned if I am not a lawyer. I can confirm that I am not a lawyer but as my background is in Equality and Human Rights, I deal with issues that are closely related to the law. Another asked if I was an Oxbridge. No, I am not but I have had the opportunity of attending some of the excellent educational institutions (St Augustine’s – Cape Coast, St Peter’s - Khawu-Nkwatia both in Ghana for “O” and “A” Levels respectively and the London School of Economics and Political Science here in England for postgraduate studies). I was glad the article was not seen as pro and anti NDC/NPP but as objective. I will try to maintain that same objectivity in this article, though, that would be a mountain to clip as it is almost impossible to write about a subject as passionate as contemporary politics in Ghana and the Rawlingses without offending someone and in so doing, be seen to be allied to a faction, a personality, a political party or be part of “tribal politics”.

When I use the concept “tribal politics”, I am not referring to “ethnicity based politics”, which is very common and dangerous in most developing countries. I have no intention of fanning tribalism in Ghana through this article. Instead, I am referring to the intra and inter struggles within and between groups, organisations and political parties that divide them into two opposing groups on the same subject. For example, both the NDC and the NPP have the same goal of developing Ghana into a middle income country except that they have different strategies or ideologies for achieving the same goal. The differences in approach between the NDC and NPP have resulted in a fierce political competition and differences, often with very little substance to argue over. As a result, anything and everything in Ghana is seen in the prism of either NDC or NPP. Members from each side blindly or openly, rightly or wrongly, rationally or irrationally defend their positions. In fact, opposing members become obsessed and behave as fundamentalist once they take positions on an issue and strongly defend such positions at any cost. That is what I refer to as “tribal politics”.

Who can shy away from tribal politics these days? It’s all over everywhere, even in corporate bodies, religion, sports, etc. Here in the UK, the Labour party had its tribal politics between the Blairites and the Brownites, New Labour and Old Labour and the tribal politics in the United Sates is between the Republicans and Democrats as well as the internal politics within the two parties. The Tea Party Movement versus the Republican Party establishment, Neo-Conservatism are typical examples of US tribal politics. Tribal politics usually develops around ideologies, values, beliefs, principles and issues and could even be single issue politics such as the BP oil spill, the US Health Care, big government, reducing the national debt, etc. The term tribal politics is used because members of the opposing sides irrespective of the fact that they may belong to the same group and have different life experiences, opinions, and values are strongly united by a common objective. As a result they behave like tribes in defending their entrenched positions. Tribal politics In Ghana is largely between the NDC and NPP but both also have their internal tribal politics. The good news for the NPP at the moment is that, with the Presidential primary election over, the tribal politics between Alan Kyerematen faction and Nana Akufo-Addo faction has receded but internal factions may not be totally over yet. Time will tell.

Is tribal politics good or bad? Depending on which side of the fence one is, the answer could be either. Being passionate about something one believes in (whether an ideology or a single issue) could be good. It can be used as tool for positive action and vice versa. For example, Gorge Bush used tribal politics of the war against terror (either you are with us or against us) to invade Afghanistan and Iran. Was that good or bad? In the same way, Sarah Palin is today using the Tea Party Movement as a platform her Presidential ambition in 2012. The challenge with tribal politics is that some become obsessed with an issue and lose sight of the fact that a coin has two equal sides or to borrow the NDC National Chairman’s words, there are many ways of killing a cat. The difference in Ghana and for that matter, developing countries is that tribal politics divides the country dangerously along ethnic groupings that leads to violence and conflict. This is because tribal politics in African is less issue based and more ethnic aligned so it can easily degenerate into tribalism and ethnic conflict. Moreover, the level of education and political maturity in African societies are such that tribal politics is easily hijacked by a few against many.

That is what concerns me about the level of tribal politics in Ghana, especially between the NDC and NPP. Ghana is a very polarised society along two political fault lines. Almost every issue and institution in Ghana is seen in the prism of either NDC or NPP. Tribal politics is in the media, religion, the judiciary, civil service, educational institutions and many others. The situation does not augur well for the country. For example, why do the parties refer to their grassroots members/activists as foot soldiers? What is the role of macho men in political parties and in a democracy? NDC and NPP should remember that they are competitors and not enemies, they are in battle for votes and not at war for the control of territory, people and nation state. They have a duty to Ghana and future generations to educate their members so that they get a better understanding of (tribal) politics in a democratic society, multi-party democracy, the rule of law, freedom of speech and respect for human rights. I am not a prophet of doom but I am sometimes of the view that the country is sitting on a political time bomb. The 2008 presidential elections were not far from causing violence in Ghana and the threat is still there, if not even stronger. If the Atiwa parliamentary bye-election is anything to go by, then the 2012 elections would be interesting to watch.

With the 2012 elections only twenty-eight months away, there is every reason for tribal politics between NDC and NPP to be heightened and particularly, within the NDC as they are yet to choose their Presidential candidate. Every single vote that each party can win over is important and that is where the danger lies. In fact, the NPP has already fallen short of its founding fathers strong believe in democratic principles. The NPP recently welcomed some defectors from NDC into their midst. In my personal opinion, these defectors are enemies of democracy if they claimed to have either knowingly changed their dates of birth, stolen or tampered with ballot boxes during the 2008 elections. I was disappointed but not surprise when they were welcomed by the NPP. After all, that is what happens in politics. It’s like the cold war between the West and the former Soviet bloc. Defectors from opposing sides were graciously welcomed with open arms, no matter what their offenses were. But NPP and NDC should just be careful with defectors who claim to have breached electoral laws of the land.

Let me now return to my original topic and not deviate too far. I have heard and read about the arguments within the ruling NDC for a new Presidential candidate for 2012. The tribal politics within the NDC (the Ata Mills faction versus the Rawlings faction) has led to different schools of thought. One is of the view that the party will lose the 2012 Presidential election if Ata Mills, the sitting president is retained as the candidate for 2012. This has led to a group within the party to, campaign for a change of presidential candidate in 2012. Another, is openly calling for the candidacy of the former First Lady, Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings to replace the sitting President as the party’s Presidential candidate for 2012. There have been some articles to promote her candidacy and alleged printing of ‘T’ shirts in support of her candidacy.

This is what I want to make a meagre contribution to. I am fully aware that by treading into NDC’s internal or tribal politics, I stand the risk of being accused of either being pro or anti NDC and supporting one of the factions within the party. Far from it, I can still contribute to a party political debate without necessarily been seen as an ally or opponent of one or the other. I am also conscious of the fact that, I am not a member of the party and therefore may not have any legitimacy in contributing to internal party matters. My excuse is that, despite not being a party member, matters of the presidency are of national and international interests and therefore I can legitimately contribute to such an important subject.

First, let me assure the Rawlingses faction within the NDC and all pro Rawlingses that I am not anti Rawlings. In fact, I have respect for former first families including the Rawlingses. My views on the candidacy of Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings are not tainted by any motives whatsoever but a fair, honest and objective assessment of the present Ghanaian political and democratic development.

In short my view is that, the idea of the former first Lady contesting the presidential primaries and if she wins, becoming the Presidential candidate for the NDC in 2012 will not be good for herself and the her party for a number of reasons.

As Equality and Human Rights practitioner, I would have loved to see a woman President in Ghana for various reasons. It would be good for democracy in Ghana and would also be another landmark in Ghana and Africa (though Liberia already has a woman President). It will also be an opportunity to prove that Ghanaian women are equally if not more capable, of running the affairs of the state. However, one part of me says that the political environment in Ghana is not yet conducive for a woman to win presidential elections. In other words, the Ghanaian electorate is not ready for a woman President. It would also be exciting as it would be Nana versus Nana.

Let us assume that Nana is successful in securing the nod from NDC and Ghanaian electorates prove me wrong that they are ready for a woman President, she runs the risk of, “oh!, she won because of her husband”. She could not have won if she was not the wife of Rawlings and many others. That would be sad, because for those of you who do not know the Rawlingses personally, Nana has a very strong personality, perhaps even stronger than the husband.

The Nana candidacy could be a gift to the NPP. Why? Remember the “tag” against the than candidate Ata Mills, that, he would be controlled by Rawlings if he won the presidency. I am sure Ghanaians believed it in 1999 and 2004 but not in 2008. Unfortunately, Nana cannot run away from such a critical subject throughout her campaign and in fact, it would overshadow her campaign. The fact is that, it is a truism that she and her husband are inseparable and in the minds of many, she could not rule without some interference from her husband despite the fact that she is very strong and independent minded as a person. In reality, her influence on her husband both as military Head of State and elected President was more powerful than if the roles are reversed. Nana is a force to reckon with and I will not be wrong if I equate her with the Great Ashanti female war leader, Yaa Asantewaa who led her people against the British. But still the NPP will make capital out of the fact that she would be controlled by her husband and sadly some Ghanaians will believe it. I can imagine NPP campaign slogan against her saying “Vote Konadu and you get JJ”.

Again, Ghana is not a constitutional dynasty or monarchy to be ruled by one family. Of course, the US has had two father and son presidents and there is the possibility that husband and wife could follow if Mrs Clinton ever becomes President. I am sure Mrs Clinton would also face similar allegations of being controlled by her husband if she ever became the Presidential candidate for the Democrats. I am not sure if the idea of a former First Lady (no matter how qualified she is) becoming a President appeals to Ghanaian voters. I could be proved wrong. Would it be “buy one get, one free or the other half price”?

The fact still remains that, the Rawlingses are still popular in Ghana. It is equally true that they are unpopular with some sections of the Ghanaian society for whatever reasons that I do not intend to go into the merits or otherwise of such reasons. Bearing in mind that the 2012 presidential election will be decided by independent voters, a candidate that may be unable to attract votes from all sections of the electorates could be a liability and not an asset.

The other important factor is that unless President Ata Mills decides not to go for a second term, any attempts to replace him will divide the party and could weaken or even destroy the NDC. It could lead to another breakaway group from the party, defections to other parties including the NPP and ultimately, what is known in Ghanaian elections as “skirt and blouse voting” at the general elections. That is, some NDC members and supporters voting for the party’s parliamentary candidate but not for the Presidential candidate. If Ata Mills is forced to or coerced into standing down at the end of his first term, it can still be damaging to NDC. However, if on his own accord decides that for whatever reason/s (health, party unity or national interest), he will not stand for a second term, the damage to NDC’s ambition to retain power in 2012 could be minimised. The fight to replace the President with another candidate for 2012 will escalate the infighting and lead to a civil war within the party, especially if the candidate against Mills is Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings or any of the party big shots from the Rawlings faction such as Spio Garba.

Replacing Mills with Nana could cause NDC the Central region votes that any winning candidate must get. As Mills is from the region, it could be seen by some people from the region as a coup against one of their sons. In addition to losing Central region, Nana may not be able to obtain the Ashanti region votes as it is the stronghold of the NPP, though as a daughter of the region she could make considerable gains.

Though Nana is very popular, especially within the NDC and can easily defeat any candidate for the party’s nomination, things would be very different in 2012 against Nana Akufo-Addo in a national Presidential election. The NPP, I believe has learnt lessons from losing the 2008 Presidential elections. The re-election of Nana Akufo-Addo with increased majority is clear indication that they are ready to stand united for 2012.

The Rawlingses should carefully analyse the current political climate in Ghana before Nana enters the race for 2012. The two of them may consider the Mills Presidency to be slow, but it is important for them to remember that the democratic governance and accountability in Ghana under Rawlings at the beginning of the Fourth Republic is very different from today. The media has got stronger and some of the institutions of governance and accountability are asserting their independence. It means that today, even Rawlings may not be able to drive through some of the actions and changes they expect the Mills administrations to deliver.

Whoever represents the NDC at the 2012 presidential elections (whether Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings or Ata Mills), the outcome is dependent on the performance of the Atta Mills first term. If the NDC administration is unable to deliver the campaign promises, Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings would not and cannot save the NDC from returning into opposition, unless the tribal politics in the NPP disrupts Nana Akufo-Addo’s campaign strategy. The likelihood of that happening is low and I have no doubt that Nana Akufo-Addo will deliver not just because the NDC would be weak but he is a excellent candidate and it is good that the NPP gave him a second chance. In fact, the electoral process was a credit to the party and good for party democracy and Ghana as whole.

History is also not on the side of either the Nana or the NDC. The evidence suggests that on average, political parties that forcibly remove their leaders before elections are punished by the electorates. The most recent examples are the Australian Labour Party and how they got rid of a popular Prime Minister and were punished by electorates at the general elections. Another was the UK Labour party getting rid of Tony Blair for electoral advantage, yet they lost the May 2010 elections. When the younger brother of JFK challenged President Johnson for the Democratic nomination which forced Johnson not to contest for the party’s nomination, though the junior Kennedy did not live to win the nomination, the Democrats lost the Presidential election to Republicans. On the other hand, I am also aware that history does not always repeat itself as the Conservative Party won the next general elections after they forcibly removed Margaret Thatcher as party leaders and Prime Minister. On that occasion, the Labour Party was weak and unelectable but today, the NPP is strong and electable. They have a formidable Presidential candidate who narrowly lost to Atta Mills in 2008.

Finally, the Rawlingses will remain a force to reckon with in Ghana. They continue to make significant contributions towards development in Ghana. Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings’s leadership of the 31 December Women’s Movement is an immense contribution to development in Ghana. She does not need to be President of Ghana to contribute her quota to the nation’s socio-economic and political development. Who knows what the future holds for the Rawlingses? No one expected the children of Kwame Nkrumah to be in Ghanaian politics but they are. Tomorrow, one of their children could be leading their party and Ghana. 2012 is definitely not the time for a second Rawlings President.

For the above reasons but not exclusively and in my opinion, Nana should not run for 2012 as that would be a golden gift for NPP. In conclusion, the NDC should remember the saying that, “opposition parties do not win elections, governments lose elections.”

Kofi Atta Cambridge, UK