The governing National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) are fiercely fighting for the hearts and minds of people in the three regions of northern Ghana – the Northern, Upper East and Upper West Regions.
What they actually want are the thumbs of the people on December 7. That will give them power. V-8 power! And after that the description of those regions will remain as they have been since independence in 1957 – the poorest regions of Ghana.
The NDC’s General Secretary, Johnson Asiedu Nketia, has been busy telling people from the north that the NPP doesn’t like them. He told a rally last weekend that the NPP discriminates against some ethnic groups, including people of the North. He told them that the NDC loves them.
Is he entirely wrong? No. The NDC seems to be a more ethnically inclusive political party than the NPP. Ethnocentrism appears to be the NPP’s biggest weakness, but they will never admit it. This is the reason the NDC’s strongest means of clutching on to power is their ability to appeal to the sentiments of minority ethnic groups. Apart from its stronghold in the Volta Region, the NDC enjoys a lot of support in northern Ghana. The NPP also enjoys massive support from the Asante and Akyem dominated areas in Ashanti and the Eastern Regions.
It is, however, necessary to point out that unlike Ashanti and Volta regions, which vote massively for political parties founded or led by members of their ethnic groups, the people of the North do not seem to vote on ethnic lines.
The President of the Third Republic of Ghana, Dr. Hilla Limann, hailed from the north. He was the first person from the north to become President of Ghana. Dr. Hilla Limann was overthrown in December 1981 by Ft. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings and his Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC). When Ghana returned to multi-party democracy in 1992, Mr. Rawlings formed the NDC and led the party to win two elections – 1992 and 1996. He won massively in northern Ghana. If people of the north were so concerned about ethnicity, they would not have backed Rawlings, who overthrew their “brother.”
President Rawlings did not have any vice presidential candidate from the north, but he enjoyed massive support from that part of the country. It was only in 2012 that one of the two major parties had a presidential candidate from the North, and that was President John Mahama of the NDC.
In the Northern Region, where President Mahama hails from, he performed worse than Candidate Prof. John Atta Mills, who led the NDC in 2008. President Mills was a Fante from the South. The NDC lost six (6) more parliamentary seats in the Northern Region in 2012. This was when the party was led by a native of that region.
So while it is true that northern Ghana votes massively for the NDC, historical evidence from previous elections and the performance of President John Mahama in the 2012 elections do not suggest that they vote on ethnic lines like the Volta Region or the Ashanti Region.
People from Northern Ghana get more appointments in an NDC government than they do in an NPP government. And this is not very strange. The constitution provides that “the majority of Ministers of State shall be appointed from among members of Parliament.” The NDC has more MPs from the North than the NPP. Beyond ministerial appointments, however, it appears the NDC is more regionally balanced in its appointments than the NPP.
For these reasons, Johnson Asiedu Nketia, may not be entirely wrong when he says the NDC loves northerners than the NPP. Comments by the NPP’s flag bearer, who referred to party supporters as “we Akans” and Mr. Yaw Osafo Maafo’s leaked tape in which he suggested that Akans were supposed to govern and not people from regions without resources all go to lend credence to the NDC’s claims that the NPP discriminates on the basis of ethnicity.
But while the NDC makes political capital of ethnicity and claims to love northerners, it is important to ask them what their love for the people has been beneficial to them.
That’s why I think Mr. Asiedu Nketia got a perfect response from the NPP’s vice-presidential candidate, Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia. Addressing a rally in the Northern Region last weekend, Dr. Bawumia asked the crowd, “If the NDC say they love northerners, who chopped the SADA money?”
The crowd shouted, “NDC!”
And they were damn right!
When I posted about Asiedu Nketia’s and Dr. Bawumia’s statements on Facebook, a number of friends who are sympathetic to the NDC said the NDC did not spend the SADA money. They said northerners were those who wasted the SADA money, and not the NDC. Again, these people were not entirely wrong, except that they forgot to add that those northerners who spent the SADA money were NDC loyalists.
The implementation of the Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA), was spearheaded by the Office of then Vice President John Dramani Mahama. Vice President Mahama’s senior policy advisor, Dr. Sulley Gariba, was instrumental in the formative days of SADA and played a major role in the policy and its implementation.
The first CEO of SADA, Gilbert Seidu Iddi, who oversaw the messing up of the programme, is a staunch member of the NDC. The NDC appointed him. The NDC government was also in charge of the appointment of board members and the rest of the management team members who started SADA. Most of the service providers of SADA who messed up the programmes were close associates of the NDC. So while it is true that majority of the people were from the North, they were NDC people. They were not independent and competent minds and hands who deserved to be there.
There were great minds, competent and dedicated people like SADA’s current CEO, Charles Abugri, but the NDC government overlooked them and gave the job to its cronies. “So who chopped the SADA money?”
I was in the North last month, and the NDC’s campaign there is dominated by appeals to the ethnic sentiments of the people.
“If for nothing at all, he [John Mahama] is our brother,” one man told me. “ If he goes for only one term, it will be a disgrace to all of us [northerners].”
The Chief of Staff, the Vice President and others who go there to campaign refer to the president as “your brother” when they are talking to the people. Beyond the condemnation of the ethnic politics, we people of Northern Ghana should be asking the NDC what we have to show for having our brother in the Flagstaff House. We should also the NPP and Dr. Bawumia how they will cure our poverty.
The notable thing which President Kufuor’s NPP government did in the North was the building of the Tamale Sports Stadium. President Atta-Mills’ NDC rehabilitated the Tamale Teaching Hospital and did the Fufulso-Damongo-Sawla road. Roads and hospitals have been built across the country so these ones are not anything special.
Since John Mahama became president of the republic four years ago, how many projects and policies has he initiated for Northern Ghana? Nobody is saying that he should discriminate in favour of the north. These are the three poorest regions in the country and should ordinarily be the priority in the allocation of resources for development. But we seem to have been neglected by our “brother.”
The road from Tamale to Bolgatanga has developed very dangerous potholes in recent times. Bolgatanga and Wa still remain the only regional capitals that are not connected by tarred roads.
Roads in any average district capital in the south are better than roads in Bolgatanga, the Upper East Regional Capital. The NDC’s strength is in projects, not policies, but when the President visited the Upper East Region in his Accounting to the People’s Tour, he could hardly find any project to commission in that region. He was compelled to cut the sod again for the construction of the Bolgatanga-Bawku road, something his predecessor President John Evans Atta-Mills had done years ago.
Feeding grants for second cycle schools in the north have not paid for almost one whole academic year but, the heads of the schools are reluctant to openly complain, for the fear of “embarrassing our brother.”
Thousands of jobless youth migrate from the north to the south every year to do jobs that are dehumanizing. Ironically, those who are neglected and excluded from the benefits of our democracy are those who are exploited most during elections. They are prepared to die for the politicians and their political parties. Three senior high school students last week drowned in Daboya in the Northern Region when their canoe capsized. They were returning from an NDC parliamentary campaign launch.
Last year, the Upper East Regional Chairman of the NPP, Adams Mahama, died painfully after suffering acid attacks by members of his own party.
The neglect of northern Ghana’s problems has resulted in illiteracy, unemployment and abject poverty. This has, in turn, created a sense of hopelessness and desperation, which the politicians turn around to exploit.
There is a fierce battle for the north. The question people of the North should be asking the NDC and NPP is simple: If you love us, what do you have to show for it? If you love us, what will you do to get us out of poverty?
Until we begin to demand our fair share of the national cake, we will continue to remain in our poverty and become useful to the politicians only when they realize that our miserable thumbs are useful in giving them access to power, and the opportunity to make them millionaires while we cannot afford a decent meal a day.
Our elders say if you attend a funeral in a distant land and find your mother among the women cooking the food, your stomach is always at peace. In northern Ghana, however, this is not the situation. Let’s be wise.
But let’s not be selfish. Let’s not be inward looking. Let’s look beyond our immediate needs. Let’s assess the policies that will help all of us as a nation. I am a northerner but my father’s children currently live in six out of the ten regions of Ghana. If the National Health Insurance Scheme, for instance, works well, we will all benefit. If a good school is built in Sunyani, the students who go there will include people from the north.
This election is not about northerners and southerners. It is not about who loves us and who hates us. It is about Ghana. It is about our future.
Let’s be wise! And vote with our heads, not our hearts.