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Opinions of Saturday, 25 October 2008

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Quieter Campaigns from the First Ladies

By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong

Like the wives of United States presidential candidates, the wives of Ghanaian presidential candidates are front-and-centre in the on-going electoral campaigns for the December 7 general elections. They are giving interviews, speeches, appearing on newspaper covers, television and Web sites. This is in contrast to Canada where most of the wives of the political leaders in the just ended general elections were really seen at campaign trails.

The increasing political activities of the First Ladies of the presidential candidates are bringing balance to normally patriarchic playgrounds that do not tout women’s concerns openly. Current Ghanaian wives of political leaders are in contrast to the high profile days of first President Kwame Nkrumah where his Egyptian wife, Fatiah, was more family backdrop and was really seen in political activities.

The First Ladies are enjoying and enriching Ghana’s democracy so much that even the former First Lady, Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings, wife of former President Jerry Rawlings, perhaps the most high-flying and driven First Lady Ghana has seen, not wanting to be left out of the contemporary First Ladies showcase, is on the campaign trail for the largest opposition party National Democratic Congress (NDC).

Ironically, incumbent First Lady, the exquisite Mrs. Theresa Kufour, wife of President John Kufour, has not been seen on the campaign trail as Mrs. Rawlings and other leading wives.

It is amazing to see pictures of the pretty Mrs. Rebecca Akufo-Addo, wife of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) presidential candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo, at various Ghanaian Web sites campaigning and dancing the party’s signature campaign “kangaroo dance.”

At the minority Convention People’s Party (CPP) oriented web site ghanaianjournal.com, Mrs. Yvonne Nduom, wife of the CPP flagbearer, Paa Kawsi Nduom, is a regular feature. Like other leading wives, Mrs. Nduom is occassionally seen donating food items to various charities, making policy statements, and seeking votes for her husband and the CPP.

While Mrs. Akufo-Addo, Mrs. Rawlings and Mrs. Nduom are having significant roles of their husbands’ parties and have had key note roles of their parties’ conventions; others remain in the background. Mrs. Naadu Atta-Mills, a retired educationist and wife of the NDC presidential candidate John Atta-Mills, is one such wife – she is really seen at campaign stops. Mrs. Atta-Mills, like Mrs. Edward Mahama, wife of minority People’s National Congress (PNC), remain primarily as a family backdrop unlike the beautiful Mrs. Nduom who typically show up at campaign stops waving and smiling.

None of the First Ladies are standing as parliamentary candidates unlike Canada where Olivia Chow, wife of the leader of the minority National Democratic Party, Jack Layton, stood as a parliamentary candidate at the just ended elections and was re-elected.

While normally wives of vice presidential candidates are really seen in ads, Web sites, and campaign stops waving and smiling, Mrs. Samira Bawumia, the lovely and beautiful wife of Mahamadu Bawumia, the running mate of Nana Akufo-Addo, is an exception. Mrs. Bawumia is seen gracing newspaper covers, Web sites and campaigning for her husband’s party. Marginally, Mrs. Lordina Mahama, wife of the NDC vice presidential candidate, John Mahama, has shown up at some campaign stops, playing hardball politics and promising good omen for Ghana if the NDC is elected.

With the trail blazed by Mrs. Rawlings during the almost 20-year-rule by her husband, wives of presidential candidates have come to be part of their husbands’ work, complimenting their jobs as advocates for women’s development in a culture where certain aspects of its values stifle women’s progress. In Brong Ahafo, Mrs. Akufo-Addo called on women to vote for her husband to improve their living conditions, as build-up to the work of what Mrs. Kufour and her husband have done.

Like most wives of presidential candidates elsewhere in the world, nearly all of the wives of the Ghanaian presidential candidates are well educated, some with higher university degrees. Among others, NPP’s Mrs. Bawumia has degree in sociology and Mrs. Atta-Mills is educationist. Such background has made the leading wives discuss Ghanaian women’s issues in particular and broader Ghanaian development challenges insightfully.

These entirely aside, the tough Ghanaian political campaign make the December 7, 2008 campaigns still paternalistic. This makes the leaders’ wives lonely on weekends when their lovely husbands are out in the campaign trail. But the loneliness is worth it for the larger progress of Ghana, especially in opening women’s issues for broader progress against the backdrop that some aspects of the Ghanaian culture suppresses women’s development and need to be refined for progress.