The 9TH NDC Congress, the highest decision-making body of the Party convened on 17 November in the midst of the biggest crisis the Party has ever faced. Two years ago, amidst widespread accusations of arrogance, corruption, self-indulgence and incompetence and after an insulting campaign, many NDC members refused to vote for their Party. The sitting president and a third of NDC’s Parliamentarians were defeated. In two years, the Party must again contest presidential and parliamentary elections.
NDC leaders are praising themselves for their achievements: it was the largest Congress the NDC has ever held. It did not collapse into chaos or violence. All agenda items were addressed – although voting and counting took far longer than anticipated. There was no blatant vote-buying or vote stealing – though worrying stories are surfacing. A successful change of leadership took place – although the new leadership looks very much like the old. Party leadership gave a rousing endorsement to JDM as 2020 flagbearer inviting him to give an unscheduled speech at the end of the Congress to the soundtrack of his personal 2020 campaign song.
These are actually only small achievements. It is like students setting their own “mock” examination questions, designing their own marking scheme and awarding themselves Grade “A” passes. It doesn’t tell you how you will perform in your WAEC examinations. Instead of this “comfortable lead” self-delusion, we must ask how Congress has dealt with NDC’s political challenges:
1. Has it resolved elite warfare over control of the NDC national bureaucracy?
2. Has it enabled internal Party unity and prevented another grassroots voter’s rebellion?
3. Has it put the Party on course, to attract enough independent and new voters to win in 2020 or at least do better than 2016?
The NDC national bureaucracy has been controlled by cliques or camps of appointed officials since its founding. These are not political or ideological like ACDR or Reform Movement. These are patronage gangs that use state power to accumulate resources and use these resources to stifle the grassroots and concentrate power at the top of the Party. The cliques ensure that the higher positions in the Party are increasingly filled not from the Party grassroots but from State Owned Enterprise technocrats with no commitment to the grassroots or the national democratic struggles NDC was formed to fight.
Clique membership is always changing. There are no permanent positions. The original controllers were bureaucrats President Rawlings brought along from the PNDC (The JJR Group). As Rawlings was leaving office many of those big men reorganised around Vice President John Evans Atta-Mills (the so-called “greedy bastards”). When President John Evans Atta-Mills (JEAM) passed away many of the younger people that the JEAM clique brought into government and Party (“babies with sharp teeth”) shifted their allegiance to President John Dramani Mahama (The JDM Group). Infighting amongst these cliques has paralysed Party leadership since 2000 and fully collapsed it in the last 24 months.
Early this year a section of the JEAM group became a junior partner to the JDM Group in the “Committee of Mahama’s Election Two” or “COMET”. This alliance was the most powerful player at Congress. COMET boasts that JDM “controlled” 65% of the delegates. A large part of the satisfaction Party spokespersons express with Congress is that it looks like the question of “where power lies” has been resolved. But how long will this situation last? Clearly what we have is an alliance of convenience to protect the overall bureaucratic domination of the Party.
The JDM-JEAM alliance partners are actually as hostile to each other as they both are to the JJR faction. The alliance will come under tremendous stress as each clique jockeys to assert influence over the new NEC. The alliance will almost certainly collapse within a few months of the presidential primaries which must take place not later than March 2019. If victorious, JDM will no longer need JEAM Group and will move to collapse its influence before the 2020 elections. The JEAM group are presumably preparing to fight back in this scenario. If JDM loses, his group will become a liability. To stay “relevant”, the JEAM group would quickly reposition itself. In that case, the JDM Group, which is actually the least capable and has the shallowest roots in the Party, will collapse.
Further, the Rawlings camp will not go away just because it was a minority at Congress. It has a much stronger grassroots base than JEAM and JDM factions put together. It will remain influential for years to come though no longer decisive. At best the 2018 Congress has only bought the Party leadership a few month’s stability.
The fundamental but “silent” division in the NDC is between the millions of “grassroots” (branch level operators) and the nine thousand Constituency and higher-level officials that, (for example), attend Congress. The marginalisation of branches by higher officials and complete lack of commitment to social democracy has made NDC look very much like NPP. On some issues (e.g. “Free SHS”) NDC leadership’s position has been less popular than NPP’s with its own members. Grassroots members believe higher organs are corrupt, elitist, and selfish. Over many years grassroots hostility to the Party elite has grown steadily. Between 2012 and 2016 it exploded leading to the 2016 election boycott and humiliating electoral defeat.
Party leadership has made no effort to address this problem. After initial finger-pointing (“jockey” versus “horse, “Founder” versus “Flagbearer”, “Chairman versus General Secretary” etc) the cliques decided that any discussion of these fundamental Party problems threatened their collective control (which for them is the same as the collapse of the Party!). They tried to calm Party members’ anger by offering a “Fact Finding Committee” chaired by Kwesi Botchway.
Then when the report was submitted, they hid it “to protect the Party”. They jumped onto Kojo Bonsu’s “Unity Walks” to give the semblance of unity around “leading members” of the Bureaucracy. They presented the re-registration exercise as a “reorganisation” programme and quickly dragged the Party through Congress build-up (branch elections, Constituency Conferences, Regional Conferences, and Youth and Women’s Congresses) without any accountability to members. So before Congress the leadership – grassroots divide remained as strong as ever.
Congress did not debate the Party’s internal divisions or how to win back supporters that (for example) boycotted the 2016 elections. Congress did not discuss Party funding strategies leaving the Party fully dependent upon elite patronage. By omission, Congress affirmed elite impunity. Congress actually celebrated those whose disrespect for ordinary members sent the Party to Opposition 24 months ago.
Led as it is and preoccupied as it is with a JDM second term, it will be very difficult for the new NEC to heal the Party’s major wounds. That Congress agreed to ignore this issue does not mean it will go away. While it has legal backing, it has no real clout. Congress represents less than 4% of even the Primaries electoral college. NDC could face an even bigger voter rebellion in 2020. In terms of Party unity too, Congress was another wasted opportunity.
The JDM-JEAM alliance achieved impunity largely by focusing the Party’s hungry elite narrowly on the 2020 elections (and the patronage that would flow to it from a victory). The Congress theme was “Together we win 2020!” (one of the most bankrupt and inward-looking Congress themes of all times!). Congress bubbled with confidence but did it, in fact, strengthen the NDC chances of victory in 2020 or is this more “comfortable lead” self-delusion. To win power or even perform well in 2020 the NDC must overcome the credibility gap that the JDM administration bequeathed it. Ghanaians rejected NDC leadership as incompetent, corrupt, nepotistic, self-indulgent and arrogant.
Congress was the best chance for demonstrating to the World that despite past mistakes NDC actually has the vision, the discipline, the processes, the accountability and the LEADERSHIP to take Ghana forward. What did we see? Apart from several well-deserved attacks on the scandal-ridden Akufo-Addo administration, Congress did not offer or debate national vision, development policy alternatives, or governance. Congress did not apologise for or even address NDC’s mistakes or offer a plan to correct them. None of the key speeches (Chairman, General Secretary, former Presidents, Minority Leader, JDM’s extra valedictorian) offered any political agenda or analysis of social alliances needed to strengthen NDC’s hand. It was all “Eye zu! Eye za!”.
Congress was “Yentie Obiaa” all over again. It is as if the delegates seriously believed that the failings of the NPP leave Ghanaian voters no option but to come crawling back on their hands and knees to NDC and beg it hat-in-hand to take over Flagstaff House again! Worse, it is as if NDC is already preparing to punish “wayward” voters by making them swallow the same expired goods that they rejected so decisively in 2016! NDC delegates seemed to be living in their own fantasy world.
How can they so underestimate the opponent that finished them less than 24 months ago at a time when NDC had incumbency advantage? How can they forget that they account for less than 0.01% of the presidential electorate? Can they not see the very real danger of another split in the Party or an external challenge from the political Left once Primaries are out of the way? Can they not see NPP literally licking its lips waiting for NDC to put JDM forward again, so they can tie him up in prosecutorial knots for the next 2 years? What exotic tobacco are they smoking? For most voters - even those who were willing to give NDC the benefit of the doubt - Congress demonstrated clearly that the Party is still not ready to lead the country.
The 9th Congress has merely added to the scrap-heap of wasted opportunities that the NDC has accumulated since 2016. The future of NDC and social democracy is now very uncertain. The only real hope for NDC is that a serious candidate becomes “Party Leader” at the Primaries and can get people thinking again. Fortunately, this is still possible despite Congress’ endorsement of JDM.
A candidate with the right message and machinery to deliver it to the 290,000 odd branch leaders most of whom are completely disillusioned with the Party bureaucracy may yet carry the day. There is still everything to play for and the other candidates (declared or waiting in the wings) must step up their game.