Ghana: Ex-President Mahama launches comeback as his allies reorganise opposition

By Jonas Nyabor, Kent Mensah, in Accra

Posted on Tuesday, 31 January 2023 16:06
Ghana's former president John Mahama (photo: @JDMahama)

As former President John Mahama was addressing meetings in Brussels and London last week, his allies in Ghana’s opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) reshuffled some of the party’s key personnel and, according to some activists, sidelined his rivals.

Mahama is in campaign mode, but he has yet to go through the irksome process of contesting the NDC’s presidential primaries.

Party insiders claim that last week’s reshuffles in the NDC will boost its firepower in key regions to take on the ruling party as well as ease Mahama’s path to the presidential nomination ahead of the 2024 elections.

However, not everyone in the party shares that view –  and the top-down way that the party barons imposed the reshuffle rankles with them.

The MP for Tamale South, Haruna Iddrisu (who is also a former trade minister and leading critic of the government), has been replaced with Cassiel Ato Forson, MP for Ajumako-Enyan-Essiam in Central, as leader of the opposition.

Several NDC MPs think this could backfire and that the removal of Chief whip Muntaka Mubarak, MP in the key Asante region, is not a good idea.

The NDC reshuffle has sparked violent protests, including burning of car tyres by supporters of Idrissu and Mubarak.

“[It] appears like a coup within the NDC in Parliament. Are we serious about winning this election in 2024? Why fix something that is not broken,” Ibrahim Tanko, an NDC supporter tells The Africa Report after the news broke.

“We need vocal people who can stand up to the debate and mount pressure on the government in Parliament. Haruna [Idrissu] brought some stability within the party in the chamber and made things difficult for the government. I don’t think Ato Forson has what it takes to lead.”

Tanko may reflect concerns of some 90 opposition MPs who are said to be calling on the NDC’s national headquarters to reverse what they see as an offence against party democracy.

“This is undemocratic,” NDC MP for Bolgatanga East and a former deputy attorney general, Dr Dominic Ayine tells The Africa Report. “There was no consultation … the right thing was to meet over the issue, nominate and elect our leadership in consultation with the party.”

[It] appears like a coup within the NDC in Parliament. Are we serious about winning this election in 2024? Why fix something that is not broken

Ayine tells us he has nothing against the new parliamentary leaders whom he describes as “competent”, but says there are questions surrounding the legitimacy of their appointment.

NDC General Secretary Fifi Kwetey pushed back hard, insisting the decision would not be reversed. Kwetey, a former party propaganda secretary and minister of state, was elected to the General Secretary post in acrimonious party elections in December.

“We have done extensive consultations including former president John Mahama and others,” Kwetey tells The Africa Report. “The leadership decides who leads the party in Parliament and that is what we have done.”

Key election issues

Kwetey says the changes in the NDC’s parliamentary leadership will strengthen its economic team – a key area as jobs, inflation and debt are likely to dominate debates in the run up to the elections.

Ghana is struggling to cut its public debt of some $48bn with inflation hitting a record high of 54.1% in December. It reached a staff-level-agreement with the IMF for a $3bn bailout, but that is contingent on restructuring its domestic and foreign debt obligations.

NDC National Chairman Johnson Asiedu Nketiah said the party must be well versed on economic and financial issues when it takes on the ruling New Patriotic Party in parliament.

“We know the economy is going to be the major battleground … so you better put your best man forward. That is what we have done,” Nketiah told local radio station Asempa FM in Accra.

“We also looked at energy. We needed to settle on Emmanuel Armah Buah, our former minister, to be the deputy minority leader. Kwame Agbodza, our man in infrastructure, should play a key role. That was what informed the changes,” added Nketiah.

After 17 years as NDC General Secretary, Nketiah was elected national chairman in the same troubled party elections that elevated Kwetey. However, pundits and party activists warn that the new appointments – in and out of parliament – could trigger a revolt among the members.

Ben Ephson, a veteran pollster in Accra, isn’t convinced by the reshuffle.

“The reasons are a bit laughable,” Ephson told Accra-based Asaase Radio. “For Asiedu Nketiah to say that [in] 2024, the battle would be fought on the economic front [and] … that is why they chose Ato Forson – it’s like going to fetch water with a basket.”

The matter should be handled carefully before it leads to rebellion

University of Ghana political scientist Ransford Gyampo says the party is trying to reorganise and balance its regional representation.

“The Speaker of parliament [Albin Bagbin of the NDC] is a northerner, Haruna Iddrisu, Muntaka and the chairman of the Council of Elders of the NDC are northerners and their [probable] presidential candidate [John Mahama] is also a northerner,” Gyampo told the state-owned Daily Graphic.

“But the Akan areas that account for about 60% of the electorate in Ghana do not have that kind of representation,” said Gyampo. “So if they decided to go for a Central Region man, Ato Forson, to be minority leader and Kofi Buah to represent the Western Region, that is good.”

Even so, it’s more about personal power than election strategy, according to Ephson.

“I think that it’s just an attempt by John Mahama and Asiedu Nketiah to control the [parliamentary] caucus,” says Ephson. “Asiedu Nketiah’s reason for the reshuffling doesn’t wash. He just wants to have control. That’s all.”

Koku Anyidoho, a former deputy general secretary of the NDC, who has worked directly under Asiedu Nketiah agrees with Ephson. “The chairman is up to something. I know him very well. There is no need to rush these changes. He is just creating confusion,” he says.

Rasheed Draman, the executive director of the African Centre for Parliamentary Affairs (ACEPA) warns that the NDC is courting serious risks.

“The matter should be handled carefully before it leads to rebellion. Consultation is crucial in taking such a key decision,” he tells The Africa Report.

Make or break situation

Next month, the NDC’s new leadership team will be tested when they have to organise presidential primaries for the 2024 elections.

Former president Mahama is planning a comeback, but faces opposition from former finance minister Dr. Kwabena Duffuor and former Kumasi mayor Kojo Bonsu.

Although Mahama’s popularity and influence in the party gives him an edge over the two, some factions want a new face after the party’s losses in the 2016 and 2020 elections.

Reclaiming Volta

In those elections, the NDC lost support from its stronghold in the Volta region, known as the party’s ‘World Bank’ because of its historically high voter base.

After winning 91.4% of votes in the Volta Region in 2012, its vote share fell to 87.7% and 84.8% in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections respectively.

“What has happened in the Volta region has been a concern, but I believe NDC will rally the voters and the region will be very willing to do everything it can for us to win power,” Kwetey said.

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