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Opinions of Monday, 12 November 2012

Columnist: Owusu-Ansah, Emmanuel Sarpong

President Mahama Inflicts A Fatal Blow On African Democracy

Glancing through the stories that made the headlines in Ghanaian newspapers and on various online news outlets yesterday (11/11/12), one story, titled, ‘Northerners are tired of playing second fiddle to the presidency …’ published on and, caught my attention.

The story quotes the President of Ghana, Mr John Dramani Mahama as misguidedly making the following statement: “Our brother Aliu Mahama was Vice President for 8 years. I was Vice President for 3 and half years. For almost 12 years, we have tasted Vice Presidency. It’s no longer exciting; it’s no longer what we want.”

He thus allegedly went on to advise the people in the northern part of the country to cast their votes for him, their fellow Northerner, asking them to completely ignore the biggest opposition party, the NPP, unless it puts up a Northerner, presumably Dr Mahamadu Bawumia as its flag-bearer for the 2012 general elections.

It is understood, that this comment was made when addressing a crowd in Tongo, Upper East in the northern part of Ghana, as part of his campaign tour of the region. This, to the best of my knowledge, is the second or third time such tribalistic or ethnocentric idea has been expressed by the President.

I have always been a huge admirer of Mr Mahama; not even the many stringent bullets of allegations fired possibly to assassinate his character or reputation by his political opponents, have succeeded in diminishing my admiration for the man I refer to as a ‘cool guy’.

However, if he actually did make the statement in question, then he has inflicted a potentially fatal blow not only to/on Ghanaian, but the entire African democracy; and partially confirmed my cautious assertion and that of other academics, that democracy is impracticable in multi-tribal or multi-ethnic Africa.

What is the difference between Mr Akufo-Addo’s infamous statement: “yen Akanfuo dee …” (as for us, Akans …) which was vociferously condemned by the ruling NDC party, and Mr Mahama’s call for Northerners to vote for a presidential candidate from the north?

What Mr Mahama should realize is that if Ghanaians were to vote for presidential as well as vice-presidential candidates from their zones (south or north), no individual from the northern part of the country would ever become a Ghanaian President or Vice President, as the entire people in the north form less than 16% of the total population of the country.

Again if votes were to be cast purely along tribal/ethnic lines, no presidential candidate from any of the tribes or ethnic groups in the northern part of the country would ever ascend the political throne – only Asantes, Akans, or southerners will be ruling the nation, as these groups form the majority (over 80%).

I have, in fact, always questioned the credibility of the practice whereby flag-bearers of major political parties elect Northerners as their running mates, and considered it to be hugely discriminatory. The selection of a vice-presidential candidate should be based purely on merit, not on tribal, ethnic or zonal background. It wouldn’t bother me even if a flag-bearer and his/her running mate are from the same tribe, so long as the selection is on merit, and the two prove beyond all doubt that they can deliver.

Now it is apparent that the vice presidency is kept away from Southerners and reserved for Northerners, which is certainly undemocratic. But does Mr Mahama realize this unfair phenomenon? He should rather be grateful to Southerners for not contesting this undemocratic phenomenon instead of waging war against them. After all, there are a number of tribes in southern Ghana that have never tasted the vice presidency let alone the presidency, yet they are not complaining.

As Mr Mahama knows, no one is preventing ambitious Northerners from embarking on a decent campaign, and working hard to become flag-bearers of major political parties.

Democracy is terribly wounded when candidates or political parties appeal to ethnic loyalties rather than seek a shared ideology. Leaders and would-be leaders who do not encourage or inspire the people to denounce the politics of tribal or ethnic belonging, are not patriotic enough, and not fit for the noble office.

Instead of consistently voting along regional, tribal or ethnic lines, electorates should develop the habit of voting purely based on shared or reasonable ideologies of a political party and the qualities of individual candidates. This is the only way the right people will get the chance to lead the nation.

That which needs to be understood is, if one votes for a presidential candidate just because they are tribe-members and they unfortunately turn out to be crooks, the negative consequences of their bad leadership affect all and sundry including their own tribe-folks. It is in fact becoming increasingly clear in Ghana that an incumbent president usually embarks on more developmental projects in other regions than the regions that they hail from.

If Ghanaians, particularly leaders and aspiring leaders would do away with tribalism or what Wamwere calls ‘negative ethnicity’ and come together as one people to work towards a defined goal, the country will undoubtedly be a force to be reckoned with in no time.

Emmanuel Sarpong Owusu-Ansah (Black Power) is an Investigative Journalist, a researcher and the author of Fourth Phase of Enslavement (2011) and In My End is My Beginning (2012). He may be contacted via email (