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Opinions Wed, 16 Dec 2020

2020 Elections: The remarkable story of how Bawumia has turned the North into a battleground

If Vice President Dr Mahamudu Bawumia has become so priceless to the NPP and the Presidency of Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, it is, aside from his competence as a technocrat, also due to the significant impact he has made in the north for the NPP since his emergence.

Selected as a rookie politician in 2008 to partner Nana Akufo-Addo, the young economist was expected to deliver the northern and Zongo votes to compliment Nana Akufo-Addo's strong popularity in the south. In his first attempt, he did his best under the circumstance, and the NPP narrowly lost the elections in the runoff after leading the first round.

From a political novice without any experience in political campaigning, Dr Bawumia, has, since his emergence, meticulously weaved his way through the northern political conundrum for the NPP.

In a region noted for its unalloyed loyalty to the NDC in the 4th Republic, largely due to the Rawlings factor, it was always going to require something special to tilt the heavily balanced scale in favour of the NPP.

That special thing, without a doubt, has been Dr Mahamudu Bawumia.

From a commendable beginning in 2008 to a considerable improvement in 2012, Bawumia has now become the rock and the decisive factor in northern politics.

After John Mahama unsurprisingly benefitted from significant northern loyalty after his fortuitous nomination as the NDC candidate in 2012 due to the death of John Evans Atta Mills, 2016 was a real showdown between then President Mahama and running mate Bawumia.

THE 2016 ELECTIONS

Prior to the 2016 elections, former President Mahama's popularity in the north had waned and it was largely due to how Bawumia was said to have established and maintained a very good relationship with northern elders and the people, and how he vigorously campaigned throughout the northern regions to, not only expose the hardships and lack of development initiatives in the north under the presidency of Mahama but also to interact with them, understand their needs and offer them hope.

The 2016 elections saw a significant turning point in norther politics in favour of the NPP, and the biggest contributing factor was the hardworking Bawumia, who led the NPP's northern campaign by adopting an energy-sapping and close-contact campaign and succeeded in hurting the then ruling NDC and Mahama badly.

In fact, government sources have attributed the One Village One Dam policy to Dr Bawumia, who proposed the policy after seeing at first hand, during his close-contact tours, how farmers in the north struggled during the dry season.

It was, therefore, not a surprise that Bawumia led the NPP to remarkably sweep through the north in 2016. Statistics in all the three northern regions were indeed commensurate with the efforts the NPP running mate put in.

In the 2016 Presidential election of the then Northern Region, the NPP got 41.5%, an improvement from the 39.11% the party got in 2012.

There were similar significant improvements in numbers in the Upper East and West Regions Regions respectively in 2016.

The statistics were even more impressive in the 2016 parliamentary elections. In the northern region, the NPP won 13 seats - an improvement of 4 seats, while the NDC lost grounds by losing 2 of the 20 seats they won in 2012.

In the Upper East, the NPP won 3 seats in 2016 - an improvement of one more seat from 2012. The NPP stunned the NDC in the Upper West Region in 2016 by moving from 0 seats in 2012 to 5 seats.

The 2016 results signalled changed the narrative of northern politics and signalled an emerging NPP strength with Bawumia spearheading.

ELECTIONS 2020 IN THE NORTH

As the nation prepared for the 2020 polls, the big question which lingered on many minds was whether Vice President Bawumia could, once again make a strong impact and deliver the north for the NPP in 2020.

With the 2020 elections being Nana Addo's last on the ballot if he won, many also saw the performance of the NPP in the north as a referendum on Dr Bawumia's strength up north and his might to potentially succeed his boss as the NPP's Presidential candidate in 2024 and possibly President of the country.

Indeed, the Vice President worked so hard, crisscrossing the entire country in addition to the northern parts of the country.

On the evidence of Dr Bawumia's campaign strategy, which saw him devote so much time and attention to the north since campaign intensified in September, it was quiet clear delivering the north again for the NPP was his main target in the just ended 2020 elections.

I closely monitored the Vice President's campaign tour and I was amazed at how he extensively toured all the six regions to spread the government's message and achievements.

Despite limitations brought about by the Coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Bawumia was able to device strategies to still get in touch with chiefs, opinion leaders and members of northern communities in the regions through his innovative durbars.

I noticed his durbars were so effective that at a point, his main political rival, the NDC candidate, John Mahama had to adopt it.

One remarkable feature of Dr Bawumia's 2020 campaign was that despite being the Vice President and having the luxury of using a chopper to fly to difficult places in the north, as former President Mahama did when he was in office, Dr Bawumia preferred to drive long hours through the desert and bumpy roads to meet his people.

While on a research duty in the north, I met Dr Bawumia's campaign team three times so late in the night at places I did not expect to see him. That showed the man's commitment to what he was doing.

As a member of his team said, 'that is how he also feels the pains the people go through and that is how he can appreciate their needs better."

And I have been privy to lots of appreciative comments from northern village folks who commended Dr. Bawumia for visiting the most deprived parts of the north to interact with the people and listen to their concerns.

From various news reports and publications I have studied on Dr Bawumia's 2016 and 2020 campaign tours, one revelation is that many of the places he visited in 2020 as Vice President to commission or inspect projects, were places he did not just go because of votes. They were places he visited previously as a running mate to listen to their concerns, and they have trusted him as a man of honour who delivers what he promises.

For example, the Chief of Gbakoni, a village in the Bunkpurgu Constituency commended Dr Bawumia for being a trustworthy politician because he visited the village in 2016 as running and they complained about their water and roads, which the Vice President has fulfilled. The Chief, therefore, saw his 2020 visit to campaign as genuine by an honest man.

Again, the Chief of Binduri publicly commended the Vice President for his regular visits and maintaining a very good relationship with the community.

These were the characteristic of the Bawumia campaign in all the northern regions. The Chiefs, the Imams, the Pastors, opinion leaders and the people have trust in him because he has maintained a very great relationship with them from his time as a running mate and throughout the last four years as Vice President.

Following the creation of two more regions (North East and Savannah) out of the northern region, many expected new voting dynamics for the north. Indeed before the new regions were created, the NPP was on the ascendancy in the north, while the NDC were losing ground in both the Presidential and parliamentary votes from 2012 as earlier indicated.

Whether the NPP's ascendancy would remain in the Northern Region in particular, traditionally a stronghold of the NDC, or whether the NDC would fight back, remained a big question. Analysts also looked forward to how the voting pattern in Savannah, the home region of former President Mahama, and North East, the home region of Vice President Bawumia would be.

In the end, Vice President Bawumia proved that he is a formidable force in the north and the new star of northern and Ghanaian politics.

The NPP won 9 seats in the Northern Region, thus sharing the 18 parliamentary seats equally with the NDC. In the Savannah Region, traditionally a strong zone for the NDC, the NPP won 3 seats while the NDC won 4 seats and in the North East Region, the NPP won 4 seats while the NDC won 3.

If you combine all the three regions; Northern, Savannah and North East, as it was in 2016 (Northern Region) the NPP now has a majority of 16 seats, while the NDC now has 15 seats.

This is a remarkable feat, considering the fact that the NPP had only 4 seats in the northern region (including what is now Savannah Region and North-East Region) in 2008.

In the Presidential vote, the NPP also improved significantly. The NPP won the North East Region and closed the gap in the Savannah Region. Interestingly, the NDC narrowly won the northern region presidential and the gap was very close, and significantly down to just 66,587. Yes, 66,587 difference between the NPP and the NDC in the north.

If you combine the NPP's Presidential votes in the northern region and the two newly created regions, it gives the NPP a remarkable tally of 613,311 votes, while the NDC had 733,100

which shows a significant improvement on votes from 2016.

THE BAWUMIA FACTOR!!

As I have pointed out repeatedly, the biggest contributing factor to the ascendancy of the NPP in the north and the party's incredible 2020 performance in the north is Dr Mahamudu Bawumia.

His good relationship with the people and the amazing efforts he put in his previous campaigns and the 2020 campaign in the north were so decisive.

Without the Bawumia factor, the dynamics could have been completely different and the NPP could have been reeling in opposition and certainly would have ended up with a distant minority in parliament had the north also followed the shocking nationwide parliamentary voting pattern.

As I have already pointed out, Bawumia is trustworthy, hardworking, respectful and greatly admired; both in the north and down south. Speak to many people in the country and you will arrive at same conclusion.

Many things worked for Bawumia going into the 2020 campaign. He wielded the moral authority to speak because, in the past, he spoke against the neglect of the north by the Mahama administration, as well as Mahama's mismanagement and general lack of development in many deprived parts of the country.

With the Akufo-Addo government delivering pro-poor social interventions and spreading badly-needed infrastructure projects in many corners of the north, Bawumia is seen by the northern people as the one who truly cares about them and the one who facilitates their protection and welfare better.

Even as a Vice President, he is often spoken in more complimentary terms in bringing development to the people of the north than Mahama, who was President.

In 2020, Bawumia delivered effective communication to the people of the north and broke down the issues to the understanding of everyone. For example, Mahama's infamous SADA programme continues to irk many people in the north, and Dr. Bawumia brilliantly kept reminding the people how Mahama's regime misused what should have been a gateway of opportunities for the people.

An effective running mate or Vice President is one who is able to deliver votes for his candidate through his own special means, and that is what Dr. Bawumia has done for Akufo-Addo and the NPP since his emergence, with the most decisive and most important being the just ended elections.

Winning the trust and confidence of your people is a process which requires time, and it is influenced by many factors such as honesty, humility and hard work. Bawumia has displayed all.

The Vice President has really won the trust of the north because he has been honest and humble to his people.

Of course, he has also worked so hard!

Bawumia's insightful decision to spend the last 10 days of the campaign in the Northern and North East Regions was really a masterclass decision. That was at a time former President Mahama was also manoeuvring in the north, and the presence of Bawumia neutralised any potential threat by the ex-President.

THE NPP & POST 2020

Dr. Bawumia has delivered the northern votes and seats for the NPP again in 2020. It is a monumental achievement which has saved the party from disgrace, and that which must never be forgotten in the NPP fraternity.

The immediate benefit has been contributing significantly to winning the 2020 elections and a thin majority in parliament. But its political effect within the party will transcend 2020.

The young economist, who emerged as a rookie politician in 2008, has metamorphosed into an erudite politician who is revered and admired alike across the country.

He has not only become the rock and biggest voice in northern politics, but he has also become the brightest star among Ghanaian politicians.

In all these, the happiest man should be President Akufo-Addo; for bringing Bawumia on board and sticking with him four unprecedented times, after losing twice in 2008 and 2012.

Indeed one of the greatest legacies of President Akufo-Addo for the NPP and Ghanaian politics is Dr Mahamudu Bawumia.

How the NPP handles Dr Bawumia will largely determine the political fortunes of the party in the next elections and beyond. They have a big opportunity to erode an age-long perception about the party exploiting the north, or deepen that perception, which will spell doom for the party forever.

Fortunately, the implications are obvious for the NPP and they know exactly what to do if they don't want to go back into oblivion.
Columnist: By Dr Ekow Acquah
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