Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Tribalism in politics: NPP needs to wipe the slate clean


  1. I would refer to myself as a Ghanaian whenever I am asked what my nationality is; regardless of where in the world I am. It is my national identity. All Ghanaians belong to different tribes and have different cultural values. The only thing that brings all these tribes and cultures together is the national identity as Ghanaians. Since we all identify ourselves as Ghanaians, one will naturally assume that we will relate to each other as Ghanaians and run the affairs of the country as Ghanaians. However, it is sad to observe and say that such is not the case; particularly in the politics of Ghana. I will not attempt to compare political parties in this short opinion except focus on the main differences in the way things are done in the NPP and maybe draw examples from the main political parties.

"National" to "New"

  1. The founders of the New Patriotic Party (as it is called now) had agreed on naming the party National Patriotic Party. However, at a press conference to outdoor the party, the interim chairman, Mr B J da Rocha announced the name of the party as the "New Patriotic Party" and dropped the "National" to the surprise of all of those who were present at the earlier meeting at which "National" was adopted. He later explained that many of the parties that had been formed in Ghana, following the lifting of the ban on party politics had "National" in them and he thought the NPP should sound different. (See http://www.npp-ghana.org/index.php?categoryid=8).
  2. I never thought deeply about the above paragraph until very recently when I read an article about the history of the NPP. Was the reason behind dropping "National" for "New" given in good faith? I would rather have a political party with the word "National" in its name because then I would feel the party serves the interest of everyone who identifies as a Ghanaian national. But then with the word "New" substituting "National", I question whether the NPP has a national interest. The article I read summarized the history of the NPP as follows: tension between two parties – one dominated by Asantes and the other dominated by Akyems – finally led to a united political party. To avoid further tensions, both sides agreed to select a leader not from one of the dominating tribes i.e. Asante or Akyem. Busia, a Bono, was picked and eventually led this newly formed party to victory. Therefore, with the NPP deriving its foundations from the Progress Party and the Danquah/Busia Tradition, it is safe to say that the NPP is a large Asante-Akyem base. (Read the entire article here http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=163697).

Asante – Akyem Rivalry

  1. You may ask why any of this tribal classification is relevant. Fast forward to 1992 when the NPP was formed, the word "National" is substituted for the word "New". I fail to see what is new about the NPP. The NPP is still dominated by Asantes and Akyems, seventeen years since the formation of the NPP. There is nothing new in that is there? Tribalism has never been so palpable in the party until now. Many will disagree with me on the last statement. Nonetheless, those who disagree are only living in denial and it will be in the party's interest to deal with this issue before it escalates. Ultimately, it will be in the interest of Ghana and its young democracy.
  2. The party through its presidential candidate, Mr. J.A. Kufuor (an Asante), won the 2000 elections in a run-off. For a party founded to reflect the strong principles of the Progress Party, one would assume they would have upheld the agreement not to have a leader from either dominating tribes until all tribes within the party were equally represented. There is the argument that, Mr. Kufuor deserved to be the presidential candidate as he was duly qualified. I strongly believed that Nana Addo (an Akyem) also deserved to be the presidential candidate as he was also duly qualified. He played a significant role in the formation of the NPP; contributed to the party financially and intellectual; appeared on television shows such as Talking Point to defend the position of the NPP whilst the NPP was in opposition; and participated in demonstrations such as "Kumi Preko" whilst the NPP was in opposition. I was under the blind impression that he would secure the presidential candidacy of the NPP for the 2008 election without strong opposition.
  3. However, the beauty of the democracy existent within the NPP proved me wrong. Or at least I thought it did. Nana Addo's strongest opponent was Alan Kyerematen (an Asante). Comparing the two men from an objective point of view, taking into account who had made significant contributions to the party since its formation and who will serve as a better leader, I had no doubt in my mind that Nana Addo was the better man. Amongst the contestants for presidential candidacy were other duly qualified members who had contributed significantly to the NPP as Nana Addo had. For instance, Jake Obetsebi Lamptey (a Ga) had contributed significantly to the formation of the party and whilst the party was in opposition. However, he was overlooked when it came to selecting a presidential candidate because he was not Asante or Akyem.
  4. Given the contributions by these men, you would have expected Mr. Kufuor to have rendered his support to either of them or any of the other contestants who had contributed to the party from its formation through the time when the party was in opposition. On the contrary, Mr. Kufuor threw his support behind his fellow Asante man, Alan Kyeremanten. He immediately won the support of the Asante arm of the party resurrecting the supposedly buried tribalism within the party. Nana Addo lost the election in a run-off. Since then, there have been calls for him to remain as the presidential candidate. Others argue that he had his chance and he lost it. The latter comes from the Asante arm of the party. As much as I would like to see Nana Addo run as the presidential candidate in 2012, I am afraid such tribalism in politics is eating up the party.
  5. Many people refer to the NDC as an "Ewe" party primarily because majority of the votes the NDC receives comes from the Volta Region. It is their strongest hold amongst the other regions. However, the composition of the NDC party is very diverse. In fact, almost all tribes are represented within the NDC. In any event, it is arguable that "Fantes" are a majority within the NDC. The NDC can therefore hold itself out as a party with a national interest at heart. Similarly, the CPP has a diverse membership.

"Patriotic" in NPP

  1. The NPP may argue that the word "Patriotic" in the name of its party demonstrates its national interest. A patriot is a proud supporter or defender of his or her own country and its way of life. Is this what the NPP is about? I argue that the NPP is a proud supporter or defender of the Asante and Akyem tribes and its way of life and not Ghana as a nation. The NPP's motto is "Development in Freedom". How is there freedom when members of other tribes are not able to compete fairly for presidential candidacy? Some members argue that the running mate is always from the northern part of Ghana; so given that, the party reflects representation across the entire country. That argument only supports how the NPP takes for granted the other tribes in the country. In order not to appear tribally biased, they select a northerner as a running mate in every election year. Why can't a northerner be a presidential candidate?

Final Thoughts

  1. In fact, if the NPP wants to portray itself as a Ghanaian party or an all inclusive tribe party, then the presidential ticket for the 2012 election should have someone from the northern part of Ghana as a presidential candidate and either someone from the Central Region, Western Region, Brong Ahafo Region or Greater Accra as a running mate. Alternatively, if the NPP wants to play the game of politics, it can concentrate on southern Ghana to win the election. In that case, the presidential ticket should have someone from the Central Region with the running mate from Brong Ahafo Region. This gives the party a fighting chance and at the same time appearing as an all tribes party – a Ghanaian political party and not an Asante-Akyem party. This will limit if not stop members of the NPP joining political parties that appear to be Ghanaian parties.
  2. At the moment, the NPP is neither a national party nor is it a patriotic party and there is nothing new about the party. So as the party takes steps to amend its constitution, it should bear in mind the effect tribalism has in splitting a country and not only a political party. The party seeks to enlarge the Electoral College and limiting the number of contestants for presidential candidacy. Enlarging the Electoral College will not solve the current tribalism problem unless the Electoral College is diverse and fully represents the other tribes in Ghana. Furthermore, putting a cap on the number of contestants for presidential candidacy undermines democracy. Instead, I suggest that the party re-adopt the agreement not to have an Asante-Akyem leader or presidential candidate for some time. This position should be adopted for peace and unity within the party. In the process, it will allow the party to even out and be a more nationally represented party. And hopefully, members of the party will identify themselves as Ghanaians and not by tribes.

Written and Edited by

Kow A. Essuman Esq. LL.M. (Cornell);

Barrister-at-Law of Lincoln's Inn.

All comments, corrections and contributions should be sent to kaessuman@yahoo.com.

This opinion is based on the thoughts and observations of Kow A. Essuman Esq. Any attempt to reproduce all or any part of this article without the express permission of the above named person shall be an infringement of intellectual property laws; following which the author reserves the right to commence an action/suit against any such person (s) or body for breach of copyright and/or any other action/suit the author sees fit.