Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Northern factor in selecting running-mates

Aliu Mahama-who hails from the 'North' is the current Vice-President of Ghana

by Godwin Yaw Agboka

With the election of Presidential Candidates for the various political parties in Ghana coming to full circle, one question that is still being debated within political circles is who best fits the tag of Vice Presidential candidate—to win votes for these political parties. That process has recently been characterized by much discussion, thought, and calculation.

All political parties, especially the NDC and the NPP, are aware of the importance of a regional appeal when it comes to nominating a vice presidential nominee. However, it appears as if when it comes to the election of a Presidential Candidate, some regions are ‘disqualified’ even before the elections begin.

It’s been more than a year since the National Democratic Congress (NDC) organized its congress, and it is still debating who to go in for to fill that enviable slot. The Presidential Candidate for the New Patriotic Party (NPP), Nana Akuffo-Addo, who was recently elected, has been appealing to the rank and file to give him some time to think through the process of nominating his running-mate—indeed, the party chairman Peter Mac Manu has done similar thing.

While political observers will attribute that to the two parties’ attempts to outsmart the other, one thing will be obvious by the time these nominations are made—each of these parties will go in for someone from the North—and by ‘North’ I refer to the Upper East, Upper West, and Northern regions. I will use the same categorization throughout this piece (forgive my lumping these together).

That people from the North are overlooked, and yet could be at the center of a scramble for the vice presidential slot, may not only be disconcerting to those from the North, but is an insult to them. At its most subtle realization, it could perpetuate the idea that those from the North are people who could be used and dumped, once the benefits of their involvement have been exhausted.

In 2000, there was a huge invasion into the three northern regions by the major political parties to win the sympathy of the people from the north to vote for them in the general elections. While candidate Kufuor went for Aliu Mahama, Prof. Mills, surprisingly, went with Martin Amidu, then Deputy Attorney-General. Then in 2004, Mr. Kufuor stuck with Aliu Mahama, while Prof. Mills, who did not change much, went in for Alhaji Mohammed Mumuni, also from the North. Also, recall that the late Prof. Adu Boahen nominated Alhaji Roland Alhassan as his running-mate.

Currently, the names which have been thrown out there do not reveal any new trends in the rush for Northerners to take up this position. The NDC has been debating the candidature of Mr. John Mahama, Alhaji Mohammed Mumuni, and Mrs. Betty-Mould Iddrisu, even though the Betty fire seems to be dying down. The last time the discussions came up, Nana Addo was considering the possibility of calling on Alhaji Boniface Abubakar to join the train.

Thus, if Northerners are good enough for the Vice Presidential slot, why is it that they are ignored in discussions of who becomes the Presidential Candidate for these parties? Both Alhaji Mahama Iddrisu and Vice President Aliu Mahama, who contested on the tickets of the NDC and the NPP, respectively were totally rejected by their various parties.

Of course, one could argue that there were much stronger candidates in each of those elections, and some will even be quick to caution you to be realistic, but if voting for someone from the North who is qualified enough is the height of idealism, then the country has loads of work to do to ensure regional parity or, better still, bridge the spatial inequality in Ghana.

It is a fact—and we can’t run away from this—that when political parties decide to go in for candidates from the North, they do so not because they see these individuals as very qualified to occupy that slot, but because they consider such individuals perfect fits for political ‘cleansing’ and redemption. I did argue before the NPP congress that there was no way Vice President Aliu Mahama could win the NPP primary, and that is not to say he was not qualified, but because he was brought into the NPP to give the party a “Northern” face.

After being used to garner some votes, he was dumped by the party, and that was reflected by his abysmal showing when the election results for the NPP Presidential primary were released. For so many reasons Aliu’s situation was very different and unique: he was the sitting Vice President, he had dutifully served President Kufuor, and he had changed the face of Vice Presidential politics. That a sitting Vice President will only amass 146 of over 2000 votes is interesting in itself.

As I monitored the results come in from the congress grounds, I could read surprise from the voices of the journalists, who were covering the events, who had thought the Vice President would put up a good showing, even if he could not win. I will be belaboring the point if I went further to discuss the rejection of Alhaji Mahama Iddrisu by the NDC.

Am I being fair in this analysis? Dr. Hilla Limann was once President of the country, right? How long was he President? Dr. Limann became President following the 1979 coup led by former President Rawlings. Dr. Limann stood for elections following the disqualification of Alhaji Imoru Egala by the then ruling Supreme Military Council and won 62% of the popular vote in the second round of voting.

He assumed office as president on September 24, 1979, but was deposed in a coup led by Rawlings on December 31, 1981. Technically, then, he was President for only twenty-seven (27) months. In the period in which he was President—of course, even after he was ousted—several stories went out discrediting his personality.

Northern Ghana only gets some attention during the political season when politicians are looking for votes. These regions have become the orphan of the country’s political life, and they have become important as far as political parties can win votes and can exploit people who come from that area to give them a positive image. To highlight that the northern regions are the poorest in the country will be an understatement. Poverty in the country is predominantly rural, and seventy per cent of the country’s poor live in the rural areas, according to an International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) report.

The report indicates that incidence of poverty is highest in the three Northern regions, where more than eight out of ten people in the Upper West region are poor.In the Northern region, poverty affects seven out of ten people. In the northern part of Ghana, the report notes, poverty often has a hold on entire rural communities. Livelihoods are more vulnerable in those regions, and all the members of the community suffer because of food insecurity for part of the year.

Currently, even though students from the three northern regions enjoy free education, the resources that would facilitate this process are either sorely inadequate or non-existent. There was much expectation from the people in the North when Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah initiated a lot of policies and programs like the introduction of compulsory basic education and scholarship schemes for students from the Northern Sector which enabled the less developed, highly illiterate, poverty endemic Northern Ghana to dream of better things to come.

Unfortunately, however, these positive developments were ephemeral. Successive governments after the Osagyefo Nkrumah’s administration failed to implement these policies. Today, Northern Ghana has become the unattended orphan that is crying to be taken care of. Isn’t it a shame that the people who provide a greater percentage of our foods are treated with such contempt and disrespect?

Believe it or not, there is an unfounded stereotype about people from the North that has gained so much ascendancy and currency and seeped into the fabric our political and social life. Politics/politicians can play a huge role in either perpetuating or upsetting this stereotype. Politicians, however, have become complicit in its perpetuation. About three years ago, the NDC Women’s Organizer, Madam Benyiwa Doe was said to have waded into this growing stereotype when she branded Hon. Balado Manu as someone who had huge difficulties understanding simple issues.

But instances like this mirror just the tip of the huge iceberg. I will not be surprised that in the privacy of our homes people will even say worse things. We accuse others of being racist, but we practice the worst form of discrimination. If politicians or political parties cannot lead this crusade of changing this stereotype, the masses can do little, especially in a country where illiteracy is so rife and the people take what their leaders say or do as the gospel truth.

There is no problem with making some attempt(s) to facilitate some regional balance in the activities of a political party, but it is an insult to a group of people when, in our attempt to do this, we side-step genuineness and promote our selfish agenda. I think it would not be politically unwise if all Northerners rejected all offers of Vice Presidential nominations—especially those that come with selfish motives.

The text for this piece is set to American English

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