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The margin of victory was clear but it was close. It was not a vote for Mahama as an endorsement of NDC. It was a rejection of Akufo-Addo. With all the corruption scandals plaguing the ruling party, their seeming incompetence, the hated small boys who were the face of the party, it should have been easy for any other serious party to kick them out of office. But the NPP couldn’t do that. And they have Akufo-Addo to blame for it. He blew it. He simply blew it!
It was his fault that his party lost, yet again. Every leader must be blamed for losing an election they could have won. But in Akufo-Addo’s case, the blame is even greater. He lost because of who he is. It is now clear that the party could have done better with another candidate.
There is no politician who is loved by everyone. But Akufo-Addo seems to occupy a special category of his own. Never, in the history of our country, has a leading politician been loved by so many and, at the same time, been so loathed by many others. There are some Ghanaians who just hate the very guts of the man – a hatred that borders on abhorrence.
What is that thing in Akufo-Addo that bothers some people so much? Here is a man who is the scion of an illustrious political family. He has, himself, been in Ghanaian politics for long and has accumulated his own merits there. He was a top government member of his party’s eight-year stint in control and knows what goes in there when a group of people are ruling others. Set against his opponents, he has nothing to be ashamed of academically. His party elected him twice to be its candidate at the national level apart from being runner-up to Kufuor on previous occasions.
These are qualities that cannot be lightly dismissed. Yet, there is still that thing hanging around the man’s neck that is worrisome to many people, including even some in his own party who, nevertheless, voted for him out of party loyalty.
The man has no charisma. This is not a quality that is needed to become a good president but it helps a lot in getting you there in the first place. For voters who didn’t really care who won, this was an important factor. And Akufo-Addo lacks this vital characteristic. There is very little in the personality of the man that will charm the uncommitted voter. No wonder he was the butt of many cruel jokes – something that continues even after his painful loss.
The accusations of drug use, arrogance, leaving out his Oxford days from his résumé for allegedly unpalatable reasons, etc. may not be true and just things put out by his detractors who don’t wish him well. But they, nevertheless, leave a sour taste in the perceptions of some people who saw him as having a credibility deficit. The accusations do not have to be true, but their persistent deployment over a long period of time will leave even the best man badly bruised. It may sound unfair but who says politics is about fairness?
The situation for the candidate was worsened by the manner in which his camp handled the accusations. They made what can only be described as half-hearted attempts to ward off these accusations. They advised him to rise above these questions and base his campaign on the “vital issues”. So, he did not address them head on. We now see that it was not the best strategy. What is the use of talking about the “vital issues” when the electorate (or a sizeable proportion of it) is more interested in other things?
The kind of politics we play in Ghana is more about image than substance. In a situation where there was not much to choose between the two leading candidates (no matter what their supporters said) the apparently innocuous (and alleged) infractions of one’s past took on added significance. This must have played a lot on the footloose voters whose numbers are greater than many people thought. Akufo-Addo was, simply, not the most marketable candidate they could have put up.
There is a very unfortunate side to all this. Perhaps Akufo-Addo could have been a better president than Mahama despite all the things said about him. We will never know. We won’t know if his policies would have worked if the NDC doesn’t, now, steal and implement them. And we will never know if all the negative things said about him are really true. It doesn’t matter any longer.
One thing commentators are not stressing enough is how polarised the country has become along ethnic lines. We cannot live in a country where most Akans vote for one of two major political parties and the non-Akans for the other while third parties are getting weaker. We must all swim or sink together as a nation, not as separate tribes.
NPP has a greater duty to bridge this gap. It tried hard this time too, but its failure means it still didn’t get it right. It must identify the reasons why some ethnic groups don’t vote for it and address them squarely. The party cannot continue blaming those ethnic groups for not voting for it. It is the party that must attract those groups, not the other way round.
The NDC also has a role to play. The party has many Akans who wield real power (not token representation) in its ranks but it will still need to improve its electoral performance among the Asantes and Akyems. Mahama’s government must be an inclusive one. Political and top government jobs should be equitably distributed among the country’s ethnic groups subject to individual competence. This should not mean a strict adherence to ethnic proportionality but no tribe should be seen to be unduly over-represented or unfairly left out. Previous imbalances, if any, should be gradually corrected without making people feel they are being witch-hunted out of office. One of the reasons why many people were clinging so tenaciously on to either one of the major candidates was the access to jobs (and contracts) that will open up to them if their man wins.
Above all, the new government should let Ghanaians see that it is fighting corruption among the top echelons of government. It will be easier for the ordinary man to bear his economic hardships when he sees that these hardships are affecting government ministers and their cronies too. Ghanaians hate conspicuous affluence, especially by political appointees, in the midst of their own difficulties.
The Mahama government will have a “probationary” period of four years. It goes fast especially when you are just spending the time enjoying the goodies that come with the office. If NPP, or any other party, does its homework well and chooses a leader most Ghanaians can rally around (not an Akufo-Addo type), it should be ready to boot out a government that is not performing well. The ultimate test of a Western type democracy in an African country is the ability to vote out an incompetent government through the ballot box. We have done that twice. We need to do it more often.
Kofi Amenyo (email@example.com)
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