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Opinions of Saturday, 10 January 2009

Columnist: Nelson, Ekow

Open letter to Samia Nkumah

: The NPP’s loss could be the CPP’s gain Ekow Nelson, January 2009

Dear Samia,

The NPP’s defeat in the 2008 elections and their disappointing though not surprising clumsy antics to hold on to power may have opened up a new space in Ghanaian politics which could well provide a lifeline for a future rejuvenated CPP.

Before I explain why I think this is so and what we can do, let me first congratulate you for pulling off a spectacular victory in Jomoro. Not many gave you a chance but you have proved that with commitment, dedication and honesty, nothing is impossible. Sadly, the rest of the CPP did not do as well but in a pleasing twist of irony, you have emerged as the sole representative of your father’s party and will be calling the shots for the CPP in the corridors of power over the next four years. This places a huge burden of responsibility and expectation on you as I am sure you are aware and the future of the CPP will depend very much on how you handle this.

Contrary to your brother, Sekou’s thesis, we in the CPP do not have to abandon ship and join the National Democratic Congress (NDC) to realise Osagyefo’s dream. The NDC may have pro-Nkrumah supporters but that does not make them an Nkrumaist party with the Pan-Africanist outlook of Osagyefo. In the short-term, joining the ranks of the NDC may be enticing but I sincerely hope that you will not be part of the exodus from the CPP to the NDC. The people of Jomoro had the choice of an NDC candidate but rejected Lee Ocran in favour of you so I am confident that over the next four years you will represent them as their CPP member of parliament.

Longer-term, the NPP’s loss could turn out to be the CPP’s gain if we exploit the opportunity it presents and put in the work required to rebuild our party. While I am not suggesting that the CPP can supplant the NPP as the main opposition party by the 2012 elections, with the loss of their emperor’s clothes, those among our supporters who looked to the NPP to help keep the ‘detested NDC’ at bay, may finally crawl out of their shells, smell the ‘banku’ and explore other ways of achieving the same objectives without compromising their principles or allegiances. It is imperative that we embrace these returning ‘prodigal sons’ and put them to work in the effort to rebuild the CPP as a viable alternative to the NDC and NPP - there should be no witch-hunts.

Secondly, as the NPP goes into a tailspin with finger-pointing and the inevitable internecine warfare to follow, they will be constrained in their ability offer effective opposition which all good governments need. Good governance, as you know, is not only about how governments behave in the interests of majority of the people; it depends on the extent to which elected governments can be held to account. While PNC and CPP MPs may be few in number, your profile gives you a platform from which we can hold the government accountable by scrutinizing and challenging every piece of legislation and executive order to ensure that the interests of the people are served. Even without the numbers on our side, if you signal the right level of leadership, you can rally the demoralised rump of the NPP members in parliament to support principled opposition stances against the NDC programme for government where there are genuine differences of opinion – and there will be many.

Thirdly, are we to limit Ghanaians only to two options in politics for eternity? The NPP and NDC do not exhaust all the possible political alternatives open to Ghanaians; there is room for a third-party that both represents something different and offers disaffected voters an alternative home to the main parties. As I have argued before, in substantive policy areas and the economy in particular, the difference between the NPP and NDC is very marginal and in that regard on the so-called ‘kitchen table’ issues, Ghanaians do not currently have much of a choice. The NDC is unlikely to abandon the NPP’s IMF/World Bank policies many of which they introduced in the first place.

As the sage says, all governments become unpopular over time and although core supporters often hang on, softer and centrist voters are always up for grabs if a serious alternative is on offer. There are many who only experienced adult political life under the P/NDC and were naturally seduced by the political rhetoric of the NPP when they were in opposition, but as Abraham Lincoln once said: “if you want to test a man's character, give him power”. They gave the NPP power but will not have failed to notice how they wobbled when the verdict of democratic elections did not favour them and rather chose to heighten tensions recklessly and risked plunging the country into dangerous violence of the kind we have not seen since 1956. They gave the NPP power and found their rhetoric on corruption did not only ring hollow; instead of the ‘zero-tolerance’ they promised, the new ‘emperors’ buried their snouts deeply in the nation’s almost empty trough and helped themselves to whatever they could lap up. They gave the NPP power only to become witnesses to self-congratulatory medal ceremonies for achievements they did not recognize. They gave the NPP power and a unified country but after eight years, what they got back was a country more polarized than it has been at anytime since independence in 1957.

These voters – and they are many in number - are looking for alternatives to the NDC and NPP but the CPP will not attract them when the time comes unless we are seen as serious, organizationally strong and can project competence and confidence. None of these, however, can be achieved six months or even one year before an election. To be successful, the work to rebuild the CPP’s organization from ground-up should start today and even that, it may not deliver substantial benefits in 2012. It is unlikely to be until 2016 before we begin to reap the benefits of any serious root and branch re-organisation of the CPP so the real question is this: are you ready for the long haul?

With the honourable exception of former president Dr. Hilla Limann, all leaders of the various Nkrumaist factions in the fourth republic, from the late Kow Nkensen Arkaah, Kwaku Boateng, Alhaji Asumah Banda, George Hagan, Geoge Aggudey to the present leadership, appear to have only viewed the party as a bargaining tool for extracting concessions and benefits from either of the two major parties. Successive leaderships have known about the serious organizational weakness of the party but confronted with the enormity of the challenge of fixing it, have bottled out and settled for what they could get by tying their apron strings to one of the other major parties. Do you want to join their ranks and continue in that tradition? Or, are you, like ex-President Limann, determined to do this out of conviction and a belief that the CPP is not dead and can once again be made relevant in Ghana and Africa?

While the CPP has elected executives, your position as the sole MP, along with your heritage and symbolism, give you moral leadership with more influence and power than any elected official. Like Mrs. Sonia Ghandi, wife of the late Rajiv Ghandi of India, your influence in the party is greater than any elected official and I will urge you to follow her example in not rushing to assume a formal executive role in the party’s leadership for some time. There is much you can do being our sole member of parliament and helping to replicate your highly focused campaigning organisation and strategy in other constituencies to increase our numbers in parliament in 2012. Above all, the people of Jomoro will expect you to serve them as their member of parliament especially as the region is set to be transformed with the discovery of oil off the coast of Half Assini. They won’t want to think of their constituency as a transit lounge for leadership ambitions.

Over time, when you have established yourself as an accomplished member of parliament and legislator, the executive leadership of the party will pass on to you and I hope that like Sonia Ghandi you will help lead the CPP back into power as she did India’s Congress Party. I am sure you can do it but that won’t be for a few years yet.

In the meantime, the long road to our recovery begins by forging an alliance with the PNC in parliament and stepping up to be the voice of opposition in Ghana today as the NPP enters a period of blame, counter blame and introspection with little or no opposition leadership in parliament. The alliance with the PNC is only the first toward the eventual and irrevocable united front of one Nkrumaist party that is separate and distinct from the other major parties, including the NDC.

Our ability to achieve this has never been more propitious – if we can create a truly viable independent voice for the CPP while the NDC is in power, we will be back in business. More importantly we will be rid of the double-dealers and double-agents that have plagued us for years and appear to take temporary refuge in our party when the NDC is out of power or they are marginalised from it.

If we can hold the NDC to account while laying the foundations for new party structures using what moral influence you have, you can salvage the current wreck that was Osagyefo’s party and help restore it as a serious third-party contender for government and not the bargaining tool for the self-interests of the many pretenders that have led us since 1992.

Wish the NDC luck but we have work to do: to hold them to account and to prepare the Convention People’s Party for government in the not too distant future!

© Ekow Nelson London, January 2009