AFRICANGLOBE – Overseas, Ghana’s stock could hardly be higher. Its many admirers point to its record of organising free elections, resolving conflict and sound economic management. So onlookers are happy about the challenges at the heart of the governing National Democratic Congress (NDC). Ghanaians seem more sanguine, some suggesting it adds some much-needed excitement to local politics.
The battle is over nominating the party’s presidential candidate for the 2012 elections, due at its congress in Sunyani on 8 July. For the first time since the return to constitutional rule in 1992, a sitting President, John Evans Atta Mills (AC Vol 51 No 21), is being challenged by one (and perhaps two) members of his own party.
The main challenger is Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings, wife of Jerry John Rawlings. He was the military leader who then served two terms as a civilian president in 1993–2001 and handed over the party leadership to Atta Mills. Nana Rawlings is the founder and leader of the 31st December Women’s Movement, effectively the women’s wing of the NDC, which claims to have a million dues-paying members of voting age and could be one of the party’s biggest electoral assets.
The Sunyani congress will take place amid unprecedented acrimony; some in the main opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) believe (or hope) the NDC will split. Its main factions are Get Atta Mills Elected (GAME) 2012 and the Friends of Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings (FONKAR). Also ready to stand is Ekwow Spio-Garbrah, a former Education and Communications Minister and Ambassador to Washington. He is a friend of Nana Rawlings who came a distant second to Mills in 2007 and is widely believed to be aiming to split the pro-Mills vote.
Former President Jerry Rawlings attended the swearing-in of President John Atta Mills. Now he is backing his wife to depose Mills as the ruling party’s candidate in the next election.
Few believe that Nana Rawlings can win and even if she does, she will have to sustain FONKAR (or a brand-new party) without GAME’s benefit of incumbency and access to state funds. She bases her leadership bid on fairly narrow support in Greater Accra, Volta and Ashanti, three of the most populous regions which will contribute a substantial chunk of the delegates, along with some of her husband’s remaining support bases in the north, especially urban areas such as Tamale.
Since Mills assumed office in 2009, the Rawlings camp has been calling for justice for the people of Dagbon in the Northern Region, where the killers of a traditional ruler in March 2002 have still not been prosecuted.
Former Attorney General and Justice Minister Betty Mould-Iddrisu was taken to task during the parliamentary ministerial vetting process for referring on the campaign trail to ‘kangaroo courts’. By the time she had been reshuffled to the Education Ministry, NDC colleagues were openly criticising her failure to secure the conviction of any ministers suspected of corruption during the NPP’s eight years in power.
NDC insiders believe FONKAR’s real purpose is not the Rawlings family’s campaign for probity, accountability and justice – for which Rawlings claims to have been fighting since 1979 – but the loss of its grip over the NDC party machine.
Yet the disparity in resources is striking. The launch of the FONKAR campaign on 4 May was well attended and the crowd was brought to its feet by Jerry Rawlings’s promise to make another of his ‘boom’ speeches on 4 June, the anniversary of his 1979 coup d’état. Yet the launch on the following day of the Mills campaign caused gridlock in the capital, as thousands of party supporters marched through Accra to its offices.
FONKAR’s main grievance is that Mills has brought back the very people it believes lost the NDC the election in December 2000, starting eight years in opposition. Jerry Rawlings has described these people as ‘traitors’; followers of the opposition NPP flagbearer, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, are merely ‘enemies’.
One NDC insider tells us that the greatest resentment is aroused by the unofficial, largely unelected kitchen cabinet around Mills. Ato Ahwoi is the de facto prime minister; former security chiefs Captain (Retired) Kojo Tsikata and Kofi Totobi Quakyi are trusted advisors; and Kofi Nyidevu Awoonor, another close advisor to Mills, is Chairman of the Council of State. Recent days have seen the semi-official rehabilitation of Augustus Obuadum ‘Goosie’ Tanoh in party circles. His defection from the NDC in 1998 – ironically, in protest at Rawlings naming Mills as his successor – led to the formation of the National Reform Party.
Goosie won only about 1% of the vote when he stood for the presidency in 2000 but his defection exposed the NDC’s divisions. Most of those in Mills’s kitchen cabinet, and Mills himself, come from the Nkrumahist tradition to which Rawlings has always been opposed. Other FONKAR leaders, such as NDC elders Cecilia Johnson, Hanny Sherry Ayittey and JH Owusu Acheampong, were until this week regarded as Nana Rawlings-loyalists.
The NDC’s internal quarrels make it difficult to predict the result of the Sunyani congress. Yet party executives from nine of Ghana’s ten regions have declared their support for Mills. Many believe FONKAR’s accusation that the Mills team has bought up local party leaders, by-passing the ‘foot soldiers’ (party cadres, local assembly members and party organisers) who formed the bedrock of the NDC’s electoral victories in 1992 and 1996, when Jerry Rawlings was its flagbearer.
The confusion in the NDC’s top ranks echoes that at the party congress in 2005, when Rawlings backed Mills, Johnson Asiedu Nketiah and Kwabena Adjei to eject his former Foreign Affairs and Justice Minister, Obed Asamoah, from the chair. A casualty of this internal coup was the party’s then General Secretary, Nii Armah Josiah Aryeh, who was expelled after he was recorded accepting money from his NPP counterpart, Stephen Ayesu Ntim. Last week, he was a main speaker at the launch of Nana Rawlings’s campaign, along with Sekou Nkrumah, son of Ghana’s Founding Father, Kwame Nkrumah. In 2008, Sekou abandoned his father’s Convention People’s Party and joined the NDC but he has since fallen out with Mills. Others who were expected to endorse Nana Rawlings’s campaign because of close personal ties, such as former Deputy Defence Minister J. Tony Aidoo, have so far been noticeably silent. Mills gave Aidoo a top government post soon after taking office in January 2009.
Leading sources in both of the main parties believe the Rawlings’s confrontational strategy will backfire, and that Nana Rawlings will be persuaded by her friends and supporters to pull out of the Sunyani contest at the last minute. This, the sources say, will partly restore the former First Family’s heroic status among the party faithful. Die-hard NDC supporters from Akufo-Addo’s Eastern Region say they may vote for him rather than Mills for parochial reasons if it comes to another straight fight between the two men. Yet they dismiss suggestions that the NDC will split. Despite all the bitter accusations, they believe the factions will come together to hold on to power.
Akufo-Addo’s NPP camp looks on contentedly, following its own successful primaries to choose parliamentary candidates for the whole country. Party officials say that results in only two of the 230 seats are being challenged; in 2007, disputes between parliamentary aspirants and sitting members of parliament were commonplace. By halving the fees charged to women contesting party positions, the NPP has produced a new group of would-be female first-timers. They have already made an impact, including Frances Essiam, lawyer Ursula Owusu, former Kumasi Mayor Patricia Appiah Agyei and Adwoa Safo, who is expected to hold one of the safest seats in Accra next year.