“Just take a deep breath and exhale slowly,” said a veteran politician in the wake of a presidential defeat. “Forget about the finger-pointing, and start figuring out the way to a future that makes us relevant not just to our traditional constituency but to independents and independent-thinking” NPP and NDC sympathisers.
While it may help deal with a ‘defeat’ that is shocking and was more than avoidable, it risks creating new cracks for a party that can certainly look forward to a Happier 2012 than this New Year.
My bottom-line message for hyperventilating Kukrudites sorting through the wreckage of their declared defeat at the polls is this: the New Patriotic Party should quickly move away from group or individual blame game and focus its attention on re-examining, and causing to reform, systems and structures that paved the way for the sword of office to be snatched away from the Elephant’s jaws of victory and fumbled over to the National Democratic Congress. Regardless of what might have gone on in the past, especially during the presidential primaries, no leading member of the NPP, from President Kufuor through ambitious ones like Alan Kyerematen and Dan Botwe, to constituency chairmen like Nhyiaeso’s Jokad, would have wished defeat on the party they love. After all, there is even better protection and comfort in being perceived ‘opposition’ within a ruling party than being in opposition with your party.
However, when full direct, effective communications are compromised, rumours and presumptions have their own peculiar way of manufacturing their own realities from facts conjured from the fertile but destructive imaginations from characters afflicted with the classic Pull Him Down syndrome of the Ghanaian cultural environment. This is the danger that the NPP faces as it continues to lick its wounds by using scapegoats as a soothing balm.
Within some very serious circles of the party, John Agyekum Kufuor has been accused of doing Nana Addo in. An abominable thought about a man, who sacrificed over 30 years of his political life to the Danquah-Busia tradition before being duly elected President of the Republic. Mr Kufuor is a very pained man. Pained by the fact that he could not hand over power to a deserving successor from his own party, Akufo-Addo. Pained by the fact that his decision to back Mr Kyerematen in the primaries, (which he admits was influenced by jaundiced counsel from some of his trusted advisors), has allowed his contribution to the 2008 campaign to be reviewed (after the facts) with suspicion.
On the other hand, some are saying that “the campaign team was made up of JAK’s enemies and thus no one wanted him to be involved.” They have conveniently ignored the intimate and strategic roles played by Kufuor loyalists such as Edward Boateng, Alan Kyerematen, Oboshie Sai Coffie, Albert Kan Dapaah and Kwadwo Mpiani in the campaign.
Instead, names such as Yaw Osafo-Maafo, Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey, Kof Apraku and Dan Botwe are cited. First of all, the four men were part of the campaign because they had shown their value in previous campaigns. Dr Apraku may have had difficulties in winning his own constituency by a comfortable margin in 2004, but he was twice a presidential aspirant and had presidential campaign experience from the time of the late Prof Adu Boahen. Jake and Dan may not have done it for themselves in the December 2007 primaries, but they very well did it for JAK in 2000 and 2004. Yaw is one of the most effective political communicators the nation has, who also contested during the 2007 primaries. All four men worked their socks off in 2008.
For those who say the President was left out of the campaign, should cross-check the regular weekly meetings Dr Apraku and, almost daily meetings, others in the campaign had with Kwadwo Mpiani, President Kufuor’s Chief of Staff.
After 8 years in office, facing the electorate in a year that global food and oil prices reached unprecedented heights, this was a year certainly for opposition politics: just refer to high cost of living. Especially, facing an opposition that was ruthlessly sharp in connecting with the vulnerabilities of the poor masses and was not afraid to climb on the ladder of tribalism to occupy a new presidential palace the investment on which it convinced Ghanaians it would rather have seen gone into a poultry farm, the incumbent NPP had its work cut out.
It is always easier after a defeat to say the NPP was not attacking hard enough, not responding to attacks, nuanced responses to difficult questions, etc. Now, people are wondering why the NPP did not make Prof Mills health an issue or whip up Akan sentiments. Some are even angry that the President did not use the coercive powers of the state to call a state of emergency in the Volta Region or Tain. I believe posterity would judge the NPP, Akufo-Addo and Kufuor favourably for not allowing the threat of defeat to compromise long-held principles. It was rather the NDC (then an opposition party) which issued threats of ‘victory or violence’. The NPP has every reason to be proud of its record of performance both in office and in the polls.
In rounding-up terms, even if one discounts the oddities of the Volta Voter Virus, Nana Akufo-Addo won the endorsement of fifty percent of Ghanaian voters. The NPP is very strong in the legislature, with an exciting leadership that include the experience of Kyei-Mensah and the energy of Ambrose Derry. For those stuck in the low gear of the blame game, the cheers from the thousands of party rank and file that greeted the arrivals and speeches of Chairman Peter Mac Manu, Nana Akufo-Addo and J A Kufuor, at Saturday’s Thanksgiving Service at the Trade Fair Centre, said it all: the grassroots want the blame game to stop and campaign 2012 to begin now.
If there is any particular character to be blamed for the virus-afflicted verdict that has Prof Mills as President, then that character must be Miss Assumption. The looseness of coordination of efforts, in a campaign that was felt necessary to accommodate all 16 presidential aspirants, led to many assumptions that things were being taken care of. The assumption that once a parliamentary candidate had been chosen all is well at the constituency saw gaping wounds being left to the flies of discontent to feed on. The assumption that opinion poll popularity would lead to actual votes being cast saw the opposition closing in. The assumption that the security system would prevent the Volta Voting Virus from happening contributed to the NPP being at the losing end of one of the closest presidential contests in contemporary global politics.
The NPP 2008 campaign actually started in earnest in July, after the Kasoa rally. Before that, Akufo-Addo had to form a team that could combine the twin requisites of reconciliation and campaign efficacy. The campaign had a committee in charge of Security. Its job was to liaise with the necessary organs of state to ensure that what happened in some nine constituencies in the Volta Region - the alleged assault, intimidation and multiple voting - would be under control. An Identifiable Group Committee was set up, to among other things, listen to the concerns of groups such as fishermen, commercial drivers, teachers, etc., and see how government or the campaign message could address them, without needing to go for a run-off to apologise. An Electoral Affairs Committee was set up to not only recruit and train polling agents, but also to prevent the use of an anticipated Ways & Means strategy from the other side and to ensure that the integrity of electoral officers were not compromised. So what went wrong? Let’s learn lessons without apportioning blame.
I believe some of the fundamental answers may be found by taking a reconstructive look at the party’s constitution. The focus must be on how party officers and candidates are nominated. How to ensure logistics and money deployed to party branches do in fact get there. How the party branches can be revitalised to serve more than mere election machines. How the party can begin mapping out plans for a new grassroots movement that will give them a path back to power.
Signs are that the next two years would be economically difficult. Akufo-Addo sounded the alarm bells when he held a press conference on the effects of the global financial crisis on Ghana, which his opponents thought was too pompous (too known). The party must begin putting the Mills government on its toes. No sleep for the populists. Now is their chance to care for the populace.
The December 2008 debacle should not be seen as a repudiation of the NPP. We should rather see it as a period of deep reflection for the average Ghanaian. The country now has four years to assess the gap between populism and performance; between propaganda and delivering an agenda; between NPP and NDC and between Akufo-Addo and Mills.
We shall all be pro-active witnesses on how the Mills government focuses on the concerns of average Ghanaians, many of whom we now know as floating voters. The NDC, after making all the cheap but effective noises in opposition must now show they have compelling answers for the problems they identified as uppermost in the lives of the Ghanaian people. Winning or losing election is not so much about individuals but by building efficient and reliable structures and systems. For example, a monitoring system that would guarantee that money allocated from the centre gets to the intended recipient.
The NPP has not the luxury to engage in infighting. Their first responsibility is not to advance the egos of any inner group or individual, it is to the people whose interest politicians seek to advance - the people.
In the words of an Australian opposition leader, “and that really means we have an obligation to, in the, you know, gladiatorial nature of politics in this country to do what we can to ensure that we are in government as soon as possible, given that we are in opposition everywhere. And that in government, we are actually able to produce the best possible role… results, for the people that we are seeking to serve. Calm down -- and start building a bigger tent.” The author is the Executive Director of the Danquah Institute, and a campaign strategist for Akufo-Addo’s 2008 bid.