Ghanaian Chronicle

President Mahama plays the “Northern” card

Date published: November 7, 2012

Arthur Kobina Kennedy, University of Cape Coast—Cape Coast.


I have always wondered whether the Presidency does something strange to decent people who come near it. Now, I know that it does.

Yesterday, in Walewale, President Mahama joined the infamous ranks of those who invoke ethnicity and/or  regionalism in pursuit of power.

Addressing the  people of  Walewale, which is NPP running-mate Dr. Bawumia’s hometown, the President said, “I am a Northerner looking for President. My younger brother, Bawumia is a Northerner, looking for Vice-President. There is a world of difference between being President and being Vice-President.” The President then went on to entreat his audience to vote for him since from the point of view of Northerners, it would be better to have a President than to have a Vice-President.

While it is difficult to quarrel with the logic of the President’s argument to the people of Walewale, it must trouble all Ghanaians. When our leaders appeal to us for our votes based on ethnicity, regionalism, religion or gender, they divide us. Inevitably, they make us see ourselves, first as Gonjas, Manprusis, Fantes, Ashantis, etc rather than as Ghanaians. The same applies in the religious or gender realm.

Furthermore, the President’s argument undermines the notion that when we vote, we vote, not for a President for the north, the south, the east or the west but for a President for all of Ghana.

Now, suppose that another candidate, say Nana Akufo-Addo,  were to take a cue from the President and invite Akans to apply the logic of the President’s argument to their votes. It would mean that Akans would determine whether getting Amissah-Arthur as Veep would be worth as much as getting Nana Akufo-Addo as President. Thankfully, I believe that Nana will not follow the President’s example.

The reason I began this by wondering what proximity to the Presidency does to people is that President Mahama is not the first to invoke ethnicity in his quest for the Presidency. In 2008, when late President Mills made “adze wo fie a oye” as his mantra in the Central and Western regions, he was appealing to ethnic sentiments.

Indeed, one of the things that disturbed many about the remarks that accompanied “All-die-be-die”  most was the unfortunate reference to Akans.

Since then, there have been unfortunate references to ethnicity by leading figures in both parties. Indeed, Dr. Bawumia, who was on the receiving end of President Mahama’s unfortunate and crass appeal to the citizens of Walewale, has himself, wrongly appealed for votes on the basis of his religion.

Indeed, just last week, one of the most progressive and nationalistic politicians in Ghana, Dr Nduom, appealed to Central regioners to support him in words  that came uncomfortably close to invoking regionalism or ethnicity.

As one of the few who have publicly shown concern with the expression of such sentiments by my party members, I believe that I stand on firm nationalistic and principled grounds in rebuking the President.

I have always seen President Mahama as a committed nationalist and his remarks have disappointed and discouraged me. It creates the unfortunate and ( I hope)  wrong impression that he would do or say anything to be President. He is listening to and sadly taking bad advice.

As is usual in such circumstances, many of the voices that should be raised are silent. Where are the voices that were raised in condemnation of “All-die-be-die” and against Hon. Kennedy Agyapong? Let those same voices, in our nation’s interest, be raised against all those who will divide us-tribe/ethnic group against ethnic group, region against region or religion against religion. Let us hear the Christian Council, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Muslim groups, IEA, CDD, IMANI, GIJ, National House of Chiefs, and all the alphabet soup of groups that  care so much about our national cohesion.

Let us, just like we are paying attention to insulting language, pay attention to coded language that can divide us along unhealthy lines.

Many of the election-related disputes that we read of in places like the Ivory Coast, Kenya and Zimbabwe began by politcians fanning differences— ethnic, regional and religious. We must not go down that road. It will lead to nothing good.

During the time of Fiolera La Guardia, the most celebrated mayor in New York City’s history, he wanted to bend the rules in pursuit of an agenda dear to the heart of liberals. One of his most liberal friends and a staunch supporter wrote to him a letter that said in part, “Mr. Mayor, good men in good times must not set bad examples for bad men in bad times.” The bad things that good men do in pursuit of good ends become precedents that are followed later by bad men in pursuit of bad goals.

I believe all our candidates would rather lose in a united and peaceful Ghana than win in a divided Ghana at war.

For the rest of this campaign, I urge all our leaders, particularly the President, to do and say things that will appeal to the better angels of our nature instead of to our darkest spirits, enlarge our nationalist culture and unite us. A Ghana leading Africa in the African century deserves nothing less. And we should accept nothing less.

Let our media stop being partisan excuse-makers for those who will divide us and be willing to name and shame the dividers.

Let our civil society organizations stand on guard—for Ghana , for unity and for peace.

Let our political parties be true guardians of our nations interests—prepared, when needed to repudiate their own members for conduct that undermines national unity and cohesion. Irresponsible behaviour must not have partisan responses. Divisive language or conduct, regardless of where it comes from, must be rejected. Therefore those who were concerned with references to Akans as a politcal block must be equally concerned by references to Northerners as a group.

Let our voters reject divisive language and vote for inclusive and unifying language. Divisive language that reminds us of our differences often lead to  disputes and to violence.

Let us move forward— together towards a peaceful and unifying election.

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