I’m a hard nut for Ghana government to crack – Hanna Bisiw
Veterinary surgeon, Honorable Dr.Hanna Louisa Bisiw is the National Women’s Organiser of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) in Ghana. Hanna who holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Veterinary Medicine at Agrarian University, Havana, Cuba is one politician in Ghana that cannot be ignored.
Hanna was the Deputy Minister of Water Resources Works and Housing (2009-2012), and Deputy Minister of Food and Agriculture in charge of livestock (2013-2017). She was a member of parliament for Tano South Constituency, Brong Ahafo Region, (2012-2016).
The energetic politician was born in Techimantia, a farming community in the Brong Ahafo Region of Ghana. She is fond of telling the story of her humble beginning, trekking to the river to fetch water and hawking to supplement the family’s income.
From her own account when she spoke with Sunday Oyinloye, Publisher of Green Savannah Diplomatic Cable, her humble beginning as a girl taught her the importance of giving back to the society.
Listen to her “I trekked daily to and from school carrying my table and chair and did my homework with candlelight and lantern". A woman of destiny you might want to call her, Hanna as a teenager had the opportunity to run her university education in Cuba up to Doctoral level with the government of Ghana’s scholarship.
To give back to the country that made her, she returned to Ghana after her PhD and worked with veterinary hospitals before venturing into politics. Because of her style, she has many youth as her supporters. However, during the course of her political journey, the former Minister had faced some political “attacks”.
In this exclusive interview, Hanna describes herself as a “hard nut for the government of Ghana to crack”
You are one of the top Ghanaian women politicians, how fair is the political system in your country towards women in terms of space to contest elections and political appointments?
If you talk about fairness, it is relative. However, I usually call it cosmetic because we are not pragmatic about it. None of the political parties in Ghana sees to smooth inclusiveness of women in terms of contesting elections and political appointments. Anytime we have elections, what political parties do is to reduce filling fee for women, so when they do that, they term it to mean encouraging women.
What prevents women from contesting is usually not the filling fee, but the political environment, hostility towards women. If you are a woman and you step out against all odds, swim against the tide, you still have to persevere internal and external political attacks. Therefore, if you are talking about fairness, I don’t think the environment has been very conducive for women to actively participate in our political landscape.
As the National Women Organizer of NDC, would you say it is difficult or otherwise to mobilise women for elections in Ghana?
By the grace of God, I am one woman who inspires a lot of our women. They listen to me, they believe in me as a woman, but as a leader, the difficulty is that you have to go around and mobilise the women which entails a lot of resources and the resources for these women to work with.
We have women associations in Ghana and outside the country that you have to mobilise and talk to. In all of these, you need resources. You need to be determined and resolute, so it makes the work difficult, it makes it complicated and it needs a lot of determination. One needs to be resolute.
Any time we have low voters turnout in the country, women did not vote. When you talk about my political party, NDC, we lose election when we have low women turnout, you don’t need a magician, statistician or scientist to tell you.
The NDC women makes a difference, but they don’t want to give them the space to operate and so it’s complicated and I think that in times like this, our women saw that I am probably one person who could lead them. When women get the leader that they believe in, such a leader can easily mobilise them. That has been my experience.
Do you think you have capable Ghanaian women who could lead as President?
We have more than capable women. We have them in abundance; we have them across political parties. Ghanaian women have more than what it takes to lead this country, we have more than what it takes to be President and Vice President. However, whether they will allow us is another issue.
How would you rate the ruling party on economic and political sides?
If it’s about rating them, they are complete failure. The only successful thing that they have implemented is corruption. Not because, I do not belong to their political party, but Ghanaians have discovered that the country is slowly sliding to a wrong direction.
Economically, things are not good, we have infrastructure deficit. Former President John Mahama within four years did much for this country. When he won the election, we were taken to court, for the first six months or thereabout, so it was under four years that he was able to accomplish all he did. But with all the present administration promised, they haven’t fulfilled anyone of them.
The free education that was implemented successfully before them has been disrupted, now they implement it in such a way that the children stay at home for three months and go to school for two months. That is why you see increase in teenage pregnancy in Ghana. Incidences of rape are also on the increase. If you ask me the performance of President Nana Akufo-Addo’s administration on the scale of one to ten, then, I will score them 0.5 percent
You have your eyes on 2020 election, what seat are you contesting for and what gives you the confidence that you will make a difference?
I will be contesting in Tano South constituency, Brong Ahafo Region .As for difference, I have already made it. As a member of parliament for that constituency, I raised the bar so high. I am not the one who is saying I want to contest, all political parties in my constituency are actually pleading with me, begging me and persuading me to come out.
You see, I served with a different style of leadership and touched every sector in four years, they felt my impact. I drilled boreholes; I did electricity extension, provided toilet facilities and took care of students in schools. I don’t know which sector I did not touch. My personal relationship with the people has also made them to love me. Apart from that, the then government was good to us. I was also transparent.
I was always telling my people every Pasewas (coin) I took officially. I would tell them specific projects I want to do. I was in touch with every community in my constituency. I think it was good that a change came; people can now see the difference. Till date, you need to see how people receive me any time I go to my constituency. The youths are now organizing themselves just to make sure I return to the parliament. By the grace of God where I have reached in life, I have to give back to the society.
Looking at how I grew up, like any other girl in the village, I walked on the streets without shoes. Now that God has lifted me up to this level, I don’t want to see children go through what I went through. When I go back to the parliament, I am going to continue from where I stopped and move along with my people. My people are there to tell you what I have done. They regret what happened and I told them that it was good they changed me so that they could make comparison.
Some of you critics alleged that you are corrupt and that you live a lavish lifestyle, but here you are saying that the government of Ghana is corrupt. Does the allegation of corruption bother you?
I am a very strong character woman. I am very principled and firm. I am a disciplinarian. When you see somebody like me and you have a vindictive government like Nana Akufo-Addo administration, If I were corrupt they would have come after me. I have become an impossible nut for them to crack because you can’t just touch me.
When I was appointed in 2009 my uncle said this to me “our family wants good name more than riches, remember where you are coming from”. When I came to the political scene and they do not know where I was coming from, they explored all avenues to get me. I am Cuba trained. I went to Cuba when I was a young girl and came back with PhD.
They went to my school to see if they could get something negative about me. All they could get about me was good news. I was an excellent athlete, I made headlines and by the grace of God, I was an intelligent student, I came out excellently. When they could not trace any bad thing to me, they alleged that I used my body to get my degree. They just wanted something to pin me down. They said I slept with professors to make good grades.
I told them if I could sleep with professors to have my PhD it means that I am smart. I told them that with my PhD, I will work and work until God calls me home. What I am saying is that I am that type who does not compromise. I believe in making positive impact in the lives of people. I can tell you that I am the loudest female voice in Ghana’s political discourse today. I am not worried about their talks, I am not shaken.
In 2016, when you lost an election, it was alleged that you wanted to retrieve what you earlier donated hospitals in your constituency. I want to ask, why are you always “controversial”, does it have to do with your style or people are just envious of you?
No I am not controversial. When you are a woman and you stand out, they come after you. That doesn’t make me controversial. I am happy that you said alleged. As we speak, I am taking somebody to court on that. The originator of the story has been identified and I am taking the person to court. I served my community well and I am very proud to say it. What they alleged that I wanted to retrieve was given by former President John Mahama administration, so it belongs to the government.
How could I have gone to a government hospital to retrieve what government gave them? That will be criminal. The issue is this, when you rig an election, you are never satisfied. It’s like going into marriage with lies; you will be very uncomfortable because you are fake. That is the simplest analogy I can give you. I am a strong woman, I don’t fear.
You are aware that corruption is the major challenge of most African countries, what is really wrong with Africa and what suggestions do you have to tackle this challenge?
What is wrong with Africa is leadership, what is wrong with Africa is that we are not patriotic Take Ghana for example, President Nana Akufo-Addo plagiarized Bill Clinton and George W. Bush speeches during his inauguration. That is what is wrong with Africa. African politics is very vindictive. What they do, though not all of them is to enrich themselves and their family members. In Ghana today, many of the government appointees are relatives of the president and his former girlfriends.
And then we don’t have strong institutions. We need to build strong institutions in Africa. I used to tell my colleagues, (politicians) that when civil servants show you say a thousand Ghana Cedis, remember they might have a hundred thousand, so be careful with what they put on your table. If a document does not stay on the table of a minister for more than few hours, why must it stay on the table of a director for days or weeks? It’s because the director wants to get something from whoever the documents belongs to.
If the person knows that the director will take something, then he will add more to it. What foreigners cannot do in their countries they come and do here? What we need to do is for political leaders to work together and be transparent. African countries need to work together; they need to trade among themselves. We should look at common solutions to our common problems. I have never seen an African leader going to other countries outside the continent to help them solve their problems.
So, what we need to do is to be patriotic. In that case, we should face our problems as Africans and solve them. We have talented people and leaders in Africa. We have talented youths who can make the difference, then why rely on people from outside the continent because of the colour of their skin. We have complexity of issues that are killing us, corruption is one of them.
Now let’s go personal. How do you keep yourself away from men to avoid negative stories?
Anytime you see me outside its either I am going to work or meeting, I don’t have a social life, I don’t hang out, I don’t visit people. If you see me outside it’s because I have official programme. Without any of these, I stay indoors.
What is that thing that the world doesn’t know about you?
I have a very soft spot for children. I love children. When you come to my community, you enter the community with Land Cruiser, the children will be excited. I relate well with the community and the children. I also have soft spot for the vulnerable. I do a lot of charity work that I don’t allow on social media, but these things still get to the social media from people themselves. Again, I am a very strong woman, but compassionate at heart. I don’t want people to be oppressed and I don’t want people around me to feel bad. I also don’t look down on people, all titles are given by God, so I relate with people at every level.
When you mentioned Land Cruiser, I remember the controversy that trailed your birthday in 2014, when a Prado Land Cruiser was presented to you as birthday gift.
Don’t worry yourself; I drive my Prado Land Cruiser which was bought for over $100, 000. This is the story. God blessed me with a baby boy on my birthday after 13 years of waiting. I almost lost my life having the baby. I was the first female parliamentarian who got pregnant and delivered while in the parliament. After me, other women followed. I remember when I was pregnant; some of my fellow parliamentarians asked me how I did it. They wanted to have babies, but they were afraid of what the public would say.
I told them that they cannot abandon their motherhood simply because they are politicians. I said why not you when our male counterparts are making babies. I had a baby and when he was one year old, his father decided to give a birthday present, Prado Land Cruiser. For me, it was nothing. If the father of my child decides to give me an airplane so be it. He is a private Medical Doctor. Where I have reached in life, I believe I even deserve more than a Prado Land Cruiser.