Out of the political closet

There is no better way to find out how someone feels about you than to give them the opportunity to vote for you or your arch rival. That is what  typically happens in political elections. Two main parties vie for votes and wait for the surprise. In the case of Ghana’s December 2012 presidential elections, the surprises that popped out were stranger than costumes at a gay pride parade.

Since its conversion to democracy in 1992, every four years, Ghana’s main political parties the New Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP) campaign bitterly for the Ghanaian vote. They give out darling favours like pens, T-shirts, flip-flops and of course perishable essentials like rice, cooking oil and of course, hard cash.  Both parties engage in this art of persuasion but because of the NDC’s checkered past, it is often assumed that kicking them out of office is a no-brainer. Afterall, between 1979-1981 and 1981-1992, the PNDC ruled Ghana under the military dictatorship of JJ Rawlings. The earlier years of this rule was dominated by bloodshed, curfews, public flogging of women and confiscation of assets. Facing enormous pressure from various international bodies, in 1992, Rawlings opened the country to multi-party elections. PNDC became NDC, but the reign of terror that Ghanaians had experienced became the single motivating factor to vote against NDC.

Anyone who declared their support for the NDC stood the risk of being chastised as an apologist for murderers and oppressors. As far as some Ghanaians are concerned, any good that Rawlings did is nullified by the role he played in Ghana’s version of the Bolshevik revolution.

It has been sixteen years since the military beret toting Rawlings peacefully exited political office, yet he remains an enigmatic power house. The lean virility of his youth has given way to a rounder but still domineering physique. His sharp jawline which when clenched used to send ministers crawling under tables is now softened with a healthy roll of grey beard. He continues to be undeniably charismatic. He entertains crowds, eviscerates his opponents and still has the ability to make the average Ghanaian believe he is their humble ally.

With these mega watts traits in tow, Rawlings’ endorsement helped his predecessor, a demur civil servant called Atta Mills, win the elections in 2008.  But once he was sworn in as President, Atta Mills needed to show that he was his own man so he went to great lengths to distance himself from Rawlings. Ministers in the previous (P)NDC administration who used to lick Rawlings’ boots now mounted podiums and derided him. Rawlings was alienated from the party he had founded and the post-Rawlings NDC makeover was in full swing.  Yet the political climate still frowned upon private citizens who supported the NDC administration.

By 2012, when NPP was preparing for a political comeback, the NDC’s makeover went into overdrive. Four months prior to the elections, their leader, President Atta Mills died and a relatively new face, John Mahama, sought to lead the NDC to another victory. Oozing charisma and promises of a better Ghana, a new NDC was born under Mahama. Gradually, people started coming out of the woodworks to publicly say the forbidden: I am voting for the NDC. Even individuals whose families have been diehard NPP supporters, side stepped family loyalty and rooted for the NDC. They were out of the political closet.

My own cousin came out. A real Ashanti man whose family has long supported NPP changed his Facebook profile picture to that of NDC emblem. The family was up in arms, but he stuck to his guns and voted NDC. What is behind this coming out parade for the NDC? At an engagement party last December, I turned to a friend whose family has financed several NPP campaigns and asked:

“Who did you vote for?”  Without flinching she replied “I voted skirt and blouse. CPP for my constituency and Mahama for president.  I rotated to another girl whose family was scathed by the excesses of the Rawlings era.

“Who did you vote for?”

“NDC all the way.”

“What? But your family is NPP, I thought you were NPP. Why are all you traditional NPP supporters voting NDC?”

“Maybe we are rebelling against our parents who have always supported NPP simply because of what Rawlings did. But we, we have moved on.”

I smiled inwardly, maybe Ghana has finally reached a stage where votes are not driven by ‘who did what to my family 30 years ago’… Then her voice jarred into my thoughts again.

“Plus, the NDC is more open. They will give me some of the government contracts. E dye be k3k3.” My smile is widened sardonically. In Africa’s popularity contest, votes are influenced by politics of the stomach and rarely by policy.  With the NDC makeover complete, their supporters can now chop without guilt.

Photo credit: gulfnews.com

John Mahama; Ghana’s saviour?

 

On the heels of a hotly contested presidential campaign, Ghana‘s electoral commission announced the winner of the December 2012 elections. His name is John Dramani Mahama but I call him ‘Teflon John’ because  like high quality frying pan, nothing sticks on him. No allegation or scandal, regardless of how close it is to his office can be pinned to him.

To grasp the significance of this pseudonym, a bit of history is required. John Mahama was the former Vice-President in President Atta Mill’s administration.  When Atta Mills died unexpectedly from an undisclosed illness, Mahama was sworn in as president. By default he also became the flag bearer for the ruling NDC* party which meant he had to lead a campaign against the main opposition, the NPP**, and 5 other political parties. According to the electoral commission, 5,574,761 votes were cast for NDC and 5,248,898 votes were for the NPP.

Although Mahama was declared the winner, his victory was tainted with allegations of fraud. The NPP petitioned Ghana’s Supreme Court, that 1,340,000 votes were illegally recorded. The objective of their case is  to remove John Mahama from office and replace him with opposition leader Nana Akufo Addo. An ordinary politician would have called a press conference to address this serious allegation. Not Teflon John, he boarded a plane to South Africa to attend to ‘private matters’.

The press was rife with speculation. Why would Mahama surreptitiously leave the country days after an election whose results were still being disputed? What was the ‘private matter?’ Was Mahama hiding something from Ghanaians the same way his predecessor Atta Mills had? In Ghana, when a government official ‘goes to South Africa’ on a ‘private visit’ it is usually code for seeking medical treatment that Accra’s crumbling healthcare system cannot support. The rumor gathered steam and certain newspapers publicly declared that Mahama was suffering from kidney disease. Privately, Ghanaians wondered if he was suffering from the effects of an NPP juju curse… Amidst allegations, rumors and political tension, Teflon John returned to Ghana, donned a sparkling white Batakari and was sworn in as President of the 4th republic of Ghana.  

Allow me to go and record and state that there is no political leader (present or past) as slick skilled as John Mahama. Except for his cool temperament, facts about his personal life are blurry. Nobody can say for sure the number of children he has or if they were all born by one woman. He is from the Northern region which is predominantly Muslim, but he is a practicing catholic and a rumored polygamist. We see a charming woman by his side, her name is Lordina and she is an enthusiastic supporter of her husband. She is mighty convincing when she says her husband is going to do a great job for Ghana. The jury is still out on that verdict, but so far, Mahama’s government appointments hint at an extremely bloated government with an excessive number of ministers and fancy titles awarded to a wide variety of people.

If Ghanaians turned a blind eye to Mahama’s obese cabinet, they showed unreserved anger at his nomination of Nana Oye Lithur, as Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection. Their ire was not directed at the fact that she is a woman, but because she publicly stated that ‘she would protect the rights of gays and lesbians in Ghana’. Leaders of prominent religious and secular organizations lashed out at Mahama and warned him of dire political consequences if he did not withdraw his nomination. In a country that is irrationally homophobic and defiantly against same-sex relations, Nana Oye Lithur was appointed Minister of Youth and Social. Kudos on this one Teflon John!

However, barely a month into his presidency, yet another scandal threatened the Mahama administration. 80 million dollars worth of gold being transported from Ghana to Iran was intercepted by Turkey. Who authorized this transaction between Ghana and the principal member of the Axis of Evil? What was oil-producing Ghana going to get in return for the 1.5 tons of gold? The opposition party’s demand for answers was met with silence. Just as quietly, Turkey released the gilded cargo with a fine of $1019 for lack of proper documentation.

John Mahama has stepped into the political limelight at a time when Ghana is experiencing unprecedented growth. Ghana’s economy continues to be on a steady climb, the middle class is expanding, real estate is booming and its coast is bubbling with oil. Mahama has managed to cement fissures within his party and seemingly mended the tattered relationship between his caucus and the founder of the NDC, JJ Rawlings. However, questions still remain on whether Teflon John will secure a Supreme Court victory and sustain real growth in the country. Your guess is as good as mine.  

NDC* New Democratic Congress

NPP** New Patriotic Party