By Oli A. Rahman, Tesano, Accra .
On Saturday February 23 2019, a day before the 53rd anniversary of the military overthrow of Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s founder and first President, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) went to the polls to elect a presidential candidate for Election 2020.
The expectations and outcome were confirmed when former President John Dramani Mahama (JDM or JM) was overwhelmingly endorsed to pick up the mantle again to lead the Party into an election. There were six other candidates ranged against him – the one who was clearly the preferred public choice and who did eventually silence them with his emphatic win.
There were times when it felt as if the polls would never come on due to one objection after the other as well as legal challenges by the six. The Party strained every democratic muscle, bone and tendon to accommodate the objections and law suits for the election to come on.
The events at Ayawaso West Wuogon and Kumasi had cast dark shadows over Ghana’s democratic agenda for 2020, for which reason the country had taken in a deep breath of apprehension when the NDC went to the polls on February 23. There was a collective exhalation of relief and confidence for the future at the close of the exercise. As a countrywide affair, voting took place at all the 275.Constituencies and if there ever was a dress rehearsal for 2020, that was it.
Though an intra-party exercise, it also reflected the country’s mood for violence-free elections – a mood that was shockingly traumatised by the incidents at AWW and Kumasi.
With the professional organization, peaceful and emphatic outcome of the polls, in which President Mahama garnered almost 100% of the votes cast, the NDC had proved the point that as modern democratic political parties go, it is as good as the best of them. Certainly, one of the top in Africa, having spent decades practising and honing its democratic credentials with an unambiguous political philosophy of social democracy, unlike the NPP which espouses liberal democracy but aligned to the Republican Party (right wing) in the US and the Conservative Party (right wing) in the UK.
When the party was formed in 1992 it was hamstrung by baggage from June 4 1979 and December 31 1981, for which reason it was erroneously stigmatised by opponents as lacking brain power, finesse and sophistication as opposed to the rival NPP which portrayed itself as the party of knowledge, intelligentsia, business and academia. Of course, it had no basis in reality but as a perception it persisted well into this 4th Republic. But as time went on, in all those benchmarks the NDC had been matching the NPP “boot for boot” to the point where in recent times it can even be argued that the NDC has an edge over the NPP! It is no longer an issue and has ceased being a point-scoring reference for the NPP.
The Rawlings factor had noosed itself around the neck of the party for years. Strong man Rawlings’ say-so was law in the party, which was increasingly looking like his personal property. Ghanaians generally, but specifically some within the party had come to accept the notion that without Rawlings the party could not function. This view was so very pervasive that some had resigned themselves to the idea that without his face fronting a campaign, the NDC could not win an election. He had such a stranglehold on the party.
It is only very recently that the party started cutting itself free, having had gravity assist from Rawlings’ own sometimes erratic behaviour and oftentimes inarticulate political clarity. Slowly, but defiantly, the kind of unquestioning authority he once commanded has started eroding away. His credibility and role as an almost infallible arbiter received a beating when he made the Mills and later Mahama administrations targets of his “opposition” attacks. Many party supporters did not take kindly to that. From his current posturing, it is clear that he is working himself gradually into a tight corner, especially his very public political flirtation with Nana Akufo-Addo and the NPP. Again, some critics have marked him either as disloyal or a downright saboteur to his party. He has grown very distant from the party, not even bothering to vote in the recent primaries…The umbilical connection between “Founder” and party has become extremely tenuous and will, before long, vanish altogether, unless he reboots his relationship with the party he owes so much to.
If not, the NDC will have to let go of the past and march on into more modernising democratic precepts.95.24% is an emphatic mandate for change and independence and that gives John Mahama the authority to lead and command.
It was an open secret that the NPP dreaded a Mahama win, or if he did, it should be so unconvincing as to make it ineffectual, say 50-60%. Mahama became the target of hysterical verbal attacks spanning anything from “Boot for Boot” to meeting with foreign envoys. These were blown out of proportion, with the likes of Senior Minister Osafo Maafo and Majority Leader Kyei Mensah Bonsu leading the charge. It was all meant to tarnish his stature in the days leading up to the polls. They were as stumped as his six challengers, when the delegates gave him a resounding 95.24% (almost 100%) of their votes. The NPP will try to put a brave face to this ringing endorsement or downplay its significance, but they cannot be feeling easy about it. According to the NDC Professionals Forum, in a congratulatory statement to JDM, “The viciousness and malice with which the NPP has conducted itself towards President Mahama has been unrelenting since Election 2016 to the present. The attacks and calumny will intensify now that he is the Presidential Candidate of our Party. As professionals, we wish to serve notice of our ever readiness to provide appropriate responses to any such provocation. We however pray that in the name of peace and stability of our country the NPP will play by the rules of decorum and responsibility.”
With very little to show but a divisive and insensitive cathedral project, the NPP would have an uphill, if not impossible, task to hold up incompetence and corruption in 2020 as it did in 2016 as its main campaign mantra. As for the promises, they have since been discredited!
The Mahama Generation
It was the foresight of the late President Mills that defied the Rawlingses and brought John Dramani Mahama on board as running mate for Election 2008. It was an extremely popular choice which was reflected in media reports of the time. Though the NDC as a party would continue to suffer the stigmatisation of June 4 and December 31 from those who could not or would not let such a past go, John Mahama’s was the fresh acceptable face – Mr. Nice Guy – that even ardent critics of the party were comfortable with. As President, he did not disappoint and with an eye for the future, went to great lengths to empower young people in the party, raising some to ministerial positions – a move that was to bring much grief to him because some old guards felt marginalised. Today, he stands vindicated as the line-up of personnel to take over and move things are these same young people who have matured and gained experience in party political governance. The NDC executive, with the exception of veteran General Secretary Asiedu Nketsia, is made up of very young people, including Chairman Ofosu Ampofo who trounced a number of party veterans at congress to become chairman – the party had sent a clear message. For his campaign for the primaries, JDM devised a very delicate balance between the old guards who provided vital strategic backing and the younger ones who saw to the day-to-day tactical needs. It worked perfectly and the outcome was the almost 100% endorsement he got…
John Mahama did not lose Election 2016 because he headed an incompetent or corrupt government. In a fair and impartial auditing of his tenure, it would be difficult to prove that beyond reasonable doubt. That is not to say it was perfect; there were instances that could be picked upon and blown up and flogged ceaselessly, which was exactly what happened. It was neither an incompetent nor corrupt government that was able to achieve so much in infrastructure development, healthcare delivery, security, schools building, airports, economic management, etc, and proactive foreign policy which earned Ghana the respect of the International Community. The negative sound bytes of “corruption” and “incompetence”, amplified by an eager and gullible media meant all the positive achievements were swept aside and the Mahama administration had to make way. As 2020 approaches, many are asking whether it was wise to let Mahama go. His 95.24% endorsement, though only an NDC internal approval, very much reflects a wider national appeal. His was a safe pair of hands, many people are now realising – something Ghana could do with now and in the future…Both JDM and the NDC have proved a point and can, with a lot of justification, look forward to 2020 with confidence.