Ghana: Will VP Bawumia be the NPP’s first Muslim flag bearer?

By Kent Mensah

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Posted on July 7, 2023 08:31

Ghana’s Vice-President Mahamudu Bawumia is sworn in at the Independence square in Accra © Ghana’s Vice-President and presidential hopeful Mahamudu Bawumia (REUTERS/Luc Gnago)
Ghana’s Vice-President and presidential hopeful Mahamudu Bawumia (REUTERS/Luc Gnago)

The charismatic vice-president is a favourite in the ruling party primary, which could take him to the presidency in 2024.

On the morning of 16 June, Ghana’s Vice-President Mahamudu Bawumia made the long-expected declaration to contest as flag bearer of the governing New Patriotic Party (NPP) in next year’s general election, after filing his nomination forms.

“I am offering myself, in all humility, to contest in the primaries of this phenomenal party, the great New Patriotic Party, to become our flag bearer and presidential candidate for election 2024, and, Insha Allah [God willing], the president of the Republic of Ghana,” Bawumia said in an emotionally charged speech before a mammoth crowd of NPP supporters.

“I believe this is the first step to our victory in 2024,” the vice president added.

The 59-year-old economist wants to make history as the first vice-president to go two full terms with a president then transit immediately to becoming the leader of the West African country.

After 16 years in active politics, Bawumia – a former deputy governor of the central bank – could go down in history as the first Muslim to lead the Akan-dominated party.

The NPP, whose stronghold is in the Akan-dominated Ashanti Region has been led by non-Muslims and Akan-speaking candidates since its formation. However, the dynamics seem to have changed with Bawumia becoming the first non-Akan aspirant of the NPP, and demonstrating a formidable candidature.

The contenders

Bawumia is in the presidential race with nine others who all come from Akan-speaking regions.

His main contenders are a former minister of trade and industry, Alan Kyerematen, who hails from the NPP’s Ashanti Region stronghold, and the vociferous member of parliament (MP) for Assin Central, Kennedy Agyapong.

The others are a former minister of justice and attorney general who is an MP in the Western Region, Joe Ghartey, a former MP in the Ashanti Region, Francis Addai-Nimoh, the immediate past minister of food and agriculture, Owusu Afriyie Akoto,and a former minister of energy, Boakye Agyarko – both from the Ashanti Region.

Also from the Ashanti Region are a former general secretary of the NPP and presidential spokesperson, Kwabena Agyei Agyepong, a former minister of state and MP for Offinso North, Dr Kofi Konadu Apraku, and an energy expert, Ernest Kwadwo Poku.

In spite of the uphill task ahead for Bawumia, popular Ghanaian pollster Ben Ephson is placing his bet on him.

“The vice-president is in a pole position to win the race,” Ephson tells The Africa Report. “He is in the lead to possibly win the NPP presidential race because he has carried himself well and sacrificed for the party.”

There’s no doubt that if he wins the NPP polls, Muslims who used to vote for the NDC will now support the NPP – Ben Ephson

No political party in Ghana has ever won three consecutive terms under the Fourth Republic, but the Simon Fraser University-trained economist, whose campaign mantra is – “It is possible” – believes he has the magic wand to break the jinx.

“It is possible to break the eight [for a party to go beyond two consecutive terms], in order to continue with the transformational policies we have started. It is possible,” Bawumia told the teeming gathering at the party headquarters after filing.

He believes the fact he learned the ropes as a four-time running-mate and a two-term vice-president makes him “the most experienced presidential aspirant” and adds: “I know the ground better.”

Religion and politics

Although a devoted Muslim, the father of four has won himself support from the Christian communities. Bawumia practically worships with Christians on major occasions including Easter and Christmas.

He wines and dines with the clergy to promote religious coexistence in the West African country. Besides the grand mufti of Ghana, Osmanu Nuhu Sharubutu, his other spiritual father and close confidante is a retired Catholic priest, Rev Father Andrew Campbell.

Ephson sees that as a major weapon for Bawumia over the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) flag bearer for the 2024 elections, John Mahama.

“It’s a plus for Bawumia for the Christian community to openly welcome him,” the pollster told The Africa Report. “There’s no doubt that if he wins the NPP polls, Muslims who used to vote for the NDC will now support the NPP. This can help the NPP to break the eight.”

However, Jonathan Asante Okyere, a political scientist of the University of Cape Coast, argues that experience is not on the side of the former central banker. He tips Kyerematen, the former trade minister, or NPP firebrand Agyapong, to come out tops. Kyerematen, a founding member of the NPP, has been eyeing the top position since 2008 but lost all three previous internal contests to incumbent Nana Akufo-Addo.

“In terms of political experience Bawumia cannot be superior to Alan [Kyerematen] or Agyapong. This campaign is not about a media charade,” Okyere tells The Africa Report. But he adds that Bawumia’s elite backing could give him the edge.

Hero of the courts

Bawumia was the star boy of the NPP in 2012, when the party lost the election and challenged the results in the Supreme Court. He was the lead witness of the party throughout the election petition hearing that lasted for close to six months. The 2016 national campaign of the centre-right and liberal conservative party centred around his personality as he played an instrumental role, with his data-backed public lectures, in the lead-up to the polls that brought the party to power.

Naturally people love him. The others are playing catch-up – Samuel Adu-Gyamfi

Political watchers have also touted him as the most active vice-president Ghana has ever had under the current dispensation. He has been the driving force behind the government’s digitalisation programmes since 2017.

“It’s no secret within the NPP that Bawumia’s bid represents the growth of the party. The masses are behind him,” Akbar Yussif Rohullah Khomeini, a campaign team member of the vice-president, tells The Africa Report. “There is nobody in this race who is more experienced and has given his all to the party than Bawumia.”

Strong support base

Bawumia has strong backing from the establishment, and the open endorsement of the party’s Ashanti regional chairman Bernard Antwi Boasiako (Chairman Wontumi) and the majority leader, Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu. Most of the government appointees, MPs and party executives have declared their support for the economist.

“I am for Bawumia because he can lead the NPP to break the eight,” Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, a lawmaker and the communications and digitalisation minister, said when Bawumia took his campaign to her constituency. “He’s competent and has done a lot for the party.”

The Muslim-dominated north – where Bawumia hails from – is not his headache because he is assured of massive default votes from the delegates there. His late father Mumuni Bawumia (a former minister and chairman of the council of state) and another political stalwart, SD Dombo, founded and led the Northern People’s Party, one of the antecedents of today’s NPP. The elephantine party has increased its parliamentary seats in the north since Bawumia became a running-mate and subsequently a vice-president.

The delegates in the north will want to reward their illustrious son for his hard work, knowing that if he succeeds as the NPP’s presidential candidate and subsequently wins the general election in 2024, Bawumia will become the third president the north has produced in Ghana’s political history. The first was Dr Hilla Limann, who assumed office on 24 September 1979 and was deposed in a coup by JJ Rawlings on 31 December 1981. The second was John Mahama of the NDC.

For some, though, it’s not religion or geography that makes them put their stake on Bawumia:

“It’s obvious that Bawumia has a grip on the race due to his transcendent personality. Naturally, people love him. The others are playing catch-up,” Samuel Adu-Gyamfi, a professor of history and political studies at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology tells The Africa Report.

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