Opinions Sun, 23 Feb 2014

Should the NPP be perturbed by the Akan tag?

With the mishandling of the Paul Afoko vetting, the NDC have lost no opportunity to brand the NPP an ‘Akan’ party. The latest person to drive this home is Yaw Boateng Gyan, their national organiser. There are, however, two types of accusations that are being levelled that ought to be differentiated even though people have tended to use them interchangeably. Is the NDC saying that the NPP is Akan-dominated or that they are tribalistic (presumably to the disadvantage of non-Akans)? There is a great deal of difference between being ‘Akan-dominated’ and being tribalistic.

If the charge is that the NPP is tribalistic in favour of Akans, it should imply that they promote Akan values and beliefs to the disadvantage of other tribes; and that they seek the interest and welfare of the Akan tribal group to the exclusion of others. Has this been the experience of Ghanaians with the NPP? In the party’s record in government or during their campaigns and press conferences, they have never brought up an Akan issue. Some point to the reference by Nana Akufo Addo to ‘yen Akanfuo’ when stiffening up supporters, who were ‘brutalised’ during the Atiwa bye-elections, as testament of NPP’s tribalistic tendencies. If that is the yardstick, then others have said even worse.

In the lead up to the 2012 elections, President Mahama appealed to Northerners to vote for him because he was one of them. He went on further to say that: if the NPP were after their votes, they should rather make Dr Bawumia their flagbearer. He ventured even further to state that Northerners were tired of being vice-Presidents and that it was their turn to rule Ghana. What is more of a tribalistic statement than this? Can anyone imagine the uproar if Nana Addo had appeared at Kyebi to make this statement? Yet Ghanaian political commentators saw nothing wrong in this.

If a party is tribalistic, as some charge, there should be some underlying reason for this. There should first be a sinister Akan agenda to be harnessed for advantage. I am yet to hear anyone explicitly make this claim. So if there is no such agenda why would a national party consciously decide to be tribalistic? Is it to win more votes in Akan areas? Election records, however, show that Akan votes are healthily competed for between the NDC and the NPP. Would it therefore not be absurd for anyone also to suggest that Akans have rejected the NPP because they are seeking to advance Akan causes? Of course we all know that this is just vile propaganda and it is false.

It is understandable though that the NPP is sensitive to the accusation, more so, when some of their party members are equating Akan-domination to tribalism. They would do well to make the distinction clear. Some also are concerned that this perception might be affecting the party’s share of votes in non-Akan dominated regions. What is the real evidence for this?

From research into what determines voter intentions in Ghana (e.g. Lindberg & Morrison, 2005; and Bossuroy, 2011), tribal cleavage is not a predominant factor except in the Volta and Ashanti Regions. In the Volta Region, the evidence shows that majority view the NPP as an ‘Akan party’ and in the Ashanti region, the reverse is also true, with majority viewing the NDC as an ‘Ewe party’. These two regions apart, voter intentions are determined by the interplay of other socio-economic cleavages such as the high-salaried against the low-salaried, the urban dweller against the rural dweller and the highly educated against the least educated. Thus if the NPP is minded to dispel this false accusation, most of their work has to be done in the Volta Region.

The tribalism tag aside, the NPP cannot apologise for or be worried by the charge that it is Akan-dominated. It will be like apologising for Ghana being Akan-dominated. The very tribal makeup of the country makes it natural that any democratic nationwide organisation, where membership is selected on a ‘one man one vote’ standard, will have more Akan membership than any other tribal groupings. The 55% Akan membership of Parliament offers proof of this. The percentage would have even been higher had the Electoral Commission stuck to the constitutional provisions of demarcating constituencies such that they are equal in population sizes. Will it be reasonable to tag Parliament as ‘Akan-dominated’? It is factual but can we also extend that to say Parliament is tribalistic in favour of Akans? No.

According to the 2010 Census, the Akan tribal grouping (which is by the way not homogenous) forms 47.5% of Ghana’s population. Akans are in the majority in five regions – Central Region (81.7%); Western Region (78.2%); Ashanti Region (74.2%); Brong Ahafo Region (58.9%) and Eastern Region (51.1%). If you examine the 2012 electoral records, these five regions between them contributed 56% of the total votes at stake nationally. If you consider that the Greater Accra Region also has nearly 40% Akan population, it can be inferred that no one can win elections in Ghana without attracting significant Akan votes.

One of the reasons that Yaw Boateng Gyan and others like him have given for tagging the NPP as an Akan party is that no non-Akan can occupy a position amongst the party’s top Executives. This is palpably false. Historically, in this 4th Republic, the NPP have had three non-Akan party chairmen who are Mr Ala Adjettey, Mr Odoi-Sykes and Mr Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey. The composition of the current national executive further exposes this lie. The party Chairman is Obetsebi-Lamptey; the General Secretary is Kwadwo Owusu-Afriyie; the National Organiser is Moctar Bamba; the treasurer is Esther Dzifa Ofori; the Nasara Coordinator is Abubakar Sulemana; the women’s organiser is Atiko Djaba; and until late 2012, the Youth Organiser was Anthony Karbo. Is this an Akan-dominated executive?

The second reason also given is that a non-Akan has never been a presidential candidate for the party. This evidence is based on the twice or so when the flagbearer aspirants included non-Akans who were not elected. The NPP has held presidential primaries on five occasions in the 4th Republic. Non-Akan candidates have contested on only two occasions out of these five (i.e. in 1998 and 2007). The delegates cannot be faulted if people from other tribes (not that this should be the only consideration) have not contested.

This picture is not any different in the NDC. In its history, the NDC have held competitive presidential primaries on only three occasions – in 2002, 2006 and 2011. It was only during the 2006 presidential primary that a non-Akan contested in the person of Alhaji Mahama Iddrisu. In 2002 the flagbearer position was contested between Prof. Atta Mills and Dr Kwesi Botchway; in 2006, it was between Prof. Atta Mills, Dr Spio-Garbrah, Mr. Eddie Annan and Alhaji Mahama Iddrisu. Then during the FONKAR-GAMES of 2011, it was between Prof. Mills and Mrs Rawlings. The Akan dominance in flagbearership elections is present too in the NDC.

The only times that the NDC have fielded non-Akan candidates were when the individuals were imposed, either through the personal preference of the founder or by circumstances, rather than as a result of any democratic enterprise. President Rawlings never contested anyone for his two terms. On his exit, he imposed Prof. Mills on the party in 1998 during the Swedru declaration. President Mahama only succeeded in becoming the flagbearer when President Mills’ death left the NDC with little time to organise a competitive presidential primary. So when the NDC attacks the NPP for not ever fielding an Akan flagbearer, are they prescribing that the NPP ignore democratic principles to impose a non-Akan flagbearer?

With the foregoing, the NPP should not be overly worried by the charge of being an Akan party, in as much as it is false. If there is any electoral cost, it is in the Volta Region, which anyway, has never overwhelmingly endorsed the Danquah-Busia tradition in any elections held since independence. This does not mean that they do not have to work hard to change hearts and minds in that region.

What should be realised is that for any modern political party to grow, it requires a constituency that is aligned with some of the cleavages in society. This is how political parties build their base of core supporters from where to expand. In the UK, the Labour party relies on the working class and organised labour for its core support. Likewise, the Conservatives rely on business owners and the aristocratic classes. Regionally, whilst the labour party is stronger in the north of England and Scotland, the Conservatives are stronger in the stockbroker belt of Surrey and the Home Counties. But both parties alternate in power because they roll out policies that are national in character. At one time or the other, depending on prevailing national sentiments, each is capable of ascending to power.

In our own Ghanaian situation, it is not accidental that the NDC and the NPP have emerged as the two dominant parties in the 4th Republic. They both have core support from where they have expanded to include other socio-economic groups. Thus the NPP core support is to be found in the Ashanti region whilst the core NDC support is to be found in the Volta region. If this is bad, then both parties stand equally accused of being tribal parties. What is important though is the national agenda being pursued by both parties.

Thus instead of timidity, the NPP should be robust in exposing the lies that lay behind the accusation of being tribalistic with factual evidence. It should not see an ‘Akan’ tag as negative, if all it means is that majority of its support comes from Akan regions of Ghana. This also makes it true that the NDC draws majority of its support from non-Akans. The only thing the NPP cannot compromise on is their adherence to democratic principles. Also to assure and welcome non-Akan support they have to see fairness and transparency as currencies of value. They should embark on some education to show the difference between ‘Akan-domination’, which a reflection of the tribal makeup of Ghana, and tribalism, which is of course to be condemned in uncertain terms wherever it rears its head.

According to Prof Mike Ocquaye, during a lecture he delivered last year, the NPP is a party that believes in mentoring the young into leadership positions. He illustrated this by how Prof Busia mentored President Kufuor. A lasting way of dealing with the perception of tribalism is for the NPP to formalise this mentoring programme. Through this they can encourage and mentor more non-Akans to aspire to leadership positions. At the end of the day, though, for the sake of Ghana, it is hoped that competence will be the determining factor for electing those they project for national leadership instead of exclusively tribal considerations.

From where I am sitting though, I do not see Akan domination as a liability for the NPP. It is a strength that ought to be used positively to recruit other social groups. What matters is how they demonstrate that the party’s policies have every Ghanaian’s welfare at the centre. Human beings are selfish and eventually nothing else matters besides electing a government that can demonstrate competence in dealing with the nation’s problems. This should be the NPP’s preoccupation rather than some baseless propagandist tag. As our democracy grows people will come to realise that tribal allegiances should not be the bases for electing a government.

Dr Yaw Ohemeng


1. Lindberg, S I and Morrison, M K C (2005), ‘Exploring voter alignments in Africa: core and swing voters in Ghana’, Journal of Modern African Studies, 43, 4 (2005), pp. 1–22. Cambridge University Press

2. Bossuroy, T (2011), Ethnicity and Election Outcomes in Ghana, Institut de recherché pour le developpement, Dauphine Universite Paris, April 2011
Columnist: Ohemeng, Yaw