The popularity of politicians is often determined by the degree of political influence and support they command among their people. Nowadays, this political influence is often referred to as political capital. So what is political capital? It is defined by attributes such as the goodwill, confidence, trust, power and influence that politicians acquire by advancing credible policies and aspiring to causes greater than themselves.
Metaphorically, political capital is a kind of invisible political currency that politicians use to secure electoral victories or to mobilize the people behind more progressive policies. For example, President Barack Obama invested his political capital in pushing through the Affordable Health Care Act, otherwise known as “Obamacare,” against seemingly insurmountable opposition from his adversaries without significant damage to his party.
Clearly, political capital is important for both the long-term and short-term success of any politician. Without political capital, a politician’s chances of winning elections or effectively leading a nation during tough economic times is virtually impossible.
The NPP government has spent significant political capital to push through bold and visionary flagship policies such as the free SHS program, banking reform, tax reductions, national identification program and the war on “galamsey.”
The political fallout has been enormous. While the entire government has taken a hit, no one has been as exclusively targeted as the Vice President, Dr. Bawumia. In recent weeks, Vice President Bawumia’s opponents have deliberately been spreading false information about him regarding the depreciation of the cedi. Their intention is to drain his political capital and degrade his reputation. Of course, as head of the economic management team, some of the constructive criticism of the Vice President is warranted because “the buck stops with him” and the President if/when an economic crisis arises. Nonetheless, most of the criticism coming from the opposition is dishonest. It is meant to discredit the Vice President and undermine his political capital in order to weaken him in advance of the next political contest involving him.
Few can deny that the Vice President is held in very high esteem in Ghana. He has earned a sterling reputation for being knowledgeable, competent, intelligent, hardworking, and highly credible on matters concerning the economy. This kind of reputation is earned by maintaining consistent intellectual engagement and a stellar record of accurate predictions about the direction of Ghana’s economy. Moreover, as the head of the economic management team, the Vice President wields considerable influence in setting policy. For example, he has been leading the effort to computerize operations at the country’s ports, digitalize the addressing system in the country and ensure that a national identification card is provided to every Ghanaian. Thus, the Vice President has built his political capital over the years through the quality of his public engagement and performance.
Not surprisingly and arguably, Vice President Bawumia is the most powerful and influential person ever to occupy the VP position in the history of Ghana. His enviable position is due to a combination of his political capital and his excellent relationship with the President, who has wisely seen fit to entrust the Vice President with many meaningful responsibilities. The transformation of the Vice President from a virtually unknown academic and technocrat to a thoroughly credible and highly influential politician is now having the sort of “eureka” effect on most of the NPP members, who may have been skeptical about his selection as the running mate in 2008. However, for the opposition NDC, the Vice President represents a clear and present danger to their political fortunes.
Why is this? Vice President Bawumia threatens the very foundation of the NDC. Since the advent of the fourth republic, the NDC has characterized the NPP as an Akan dominated party. Their narrative has been that no non-Akan can ever become the face of the NPP. Thus, Dr. Bawumia’s ascendency to the position of possible future Presidential candidate and the substantive responsibilities he has assumed as Vice President challenge that narrative.
Not only is he a northerner, the Vice President has broad appeal arising from his cosmopolitan values, his intelligence, tolerance, temperament, competence and humility. These qualities would make him a formidable candidate if he were ever to run for President. The NDC could no longer rely on its propaganda machinery to attack the NPP as an Akan party and their ability to use the politics of division to galvanize the support of the minority ethnic groups against the NPP would evaporate.
The Vice President’s political capital must be insulated from reckless and irresponsible attacks for short-term political gains. This vital task must be undertaken for national cohesion, stability and progress. Vice President Bawumia represents an opportunity to overcome our out-dated politics of division, tribalism and spurious populism. Ghana needs a unifier with the pedigree of Dr. Bawumia who can build bridges between the diverse groups that exist in the country and harness the energies and resources of all Ghanaians irrespective of their station in life, gender, ethnicity or religion. Moreover, Dr. Bawumia’s politics of intellectual engagement has elevated the political discourse in the country to one based on ideas, where dialogue and creative solutions are valued.
Just as the late Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau represented Canada’s highest aspirations for achieving unity between French and English Canadians at his time in history, Dr. Bawumia represents Ghana’s best hope of bridging the ethnic, religious and economic gaps that exist in the country at this moment in time. It is therefore in our collective national interest to stop the irresponsible and reckless attacks on the Vice President, but to safeguard his unique gift to the country by criticizing him constructively so that he can become a better leader.