The 9th Delegates Congress of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), which took place at the Trade Fair Centre in Accra last Saturday October 17 2018 yielded two sets of results, one intended, the other unintended. The intended one was the election of party officers and the unintended one, the acclamation for John Dramani Mahama as the Party’s Presidential Candidate for Election 2020. In filing a story, a reporter may grapple with objectivity and comment, but not with accuracy.
The acclamation came about, this way: During the introductions, Party Founder Jerry Rawlings was acknowledged first. This was met with polite and restrained response – almost embarrassingly bland for a man who once attracted such massive outpouring of adulation at the mere mention of his name.
The second person to be acknowledged was former President John Dramani Mahama, and if seeing is believing, then hearing too is believing! The congress erupted into one tsunami chorus of acclamation, drowning out completely what was accorded the Founder.
The thunderous applause was as deafening as it was unequivocal: JM is the peoples’ choice and the Founder and others were being told to take note. The Founder did not help matters with his cryptic homily asking the Congress to “Listen to your inner self” as opposed to JM’s well-crafted message touching on many relevant issues of contemporary interest as well as a sharp critique of the NPP government. Strangely, the Founder had no interest in critiquing the NPP. Endorsement for JM also came from an unlikely source: The CPP women’s organizer after her party’s solidarity message broke in to song, the CPP anthem, and ended with the words that “there is victory for us, in the name of John Mahama”. She received an ovation for that.
A week before the Congress President Mahama had been on tour of constituencies in the Ashanti Region from November 11 to 15 2018 – the first leg of his outreach in the region to interact with delegates towards the presidential primaries.
The tour kicked off from his Kumasi base camp on the morning of November 12 and ended on the night of Thursday November 15 2018.
Denkyira constituencies in the northern part of Central Region kicked it off, swinging back into Ashanti Region with a stop in Obuasi (West and Central), then to Akrofuom with New Edubiase ending that day.
The second day saw an early rise to Bosome-Freho, Asante Akyem South, Asante Akyem Central, Asante Akyem North, Kumawu, Ejisu and finally to Subin.
The third day begun with a stop in Asante Mampong, the second city of the Ashanti Kingdom, followed by Nsuta, Agona, Kwabre East, Efiduasi, Juaben, with Subin ending the day.
Day 4 kicked off from Tepa (Ahafo Ano North), onwards to Ahafo Ano South East, to Ahafo Ano South and then to Atwima Nwanbiyagya North, Atwima Mponua East, Atwima Nwanbiagya South and finally Kwadaso – a total of twenty-seven constituencies in four days.
As the team travelled from one venue to the other, people would line up the roadsides making gestures with arm movements inviting Mahama to “come back” and “we have missed you” – of course in Twi. Town after town had the same kind of message, as if rehearsed by them all. On arrival at a venue – and the venues would vary from open spaces as in parks, to church buildings to hotel conference rooms – JM would be rushed upon by teeming well-wishers all trying to make physical contact to shake hands – a nightmare for his security handlers. On numerous occasions, he had to remain in his car for a while due to the ensuing melee of enthusiastic supporters pressing forward to mob him!
On alighting from the car, he is met by a tsunami acclamation of roars and a symphony of vuvuzelas, whistles and thumping music from his 2016 campaign and new ones composed to reflect current realities. When the euphoria has been brought under control, the “amane3” would start with the NDC anthem composed by the late Jewel Acker to a rapturous massed choral accompaniment.
In uncomplicated language, he would set forth his message, which is to solicit the delegates’ support in the presidential primaries. He would then use the occasion to hint at a number of party matters like reorganization and resourcing of branches; policy issues on the economy and education; matters of concern to the local community like artisanal mining in the galamsey areas, fertilizers in cocoa areas – all these issues being met with wild cheers of approval. The atmosphere, light-hearted with a fairground feel and much fun, showing political campaigning at its most engaging. Mass political engagement cannot be devoid of drama and the John Mahama roadshow provides a stage for that. The visibility and exuberance of the drama rubs off on the NDC as an unexpected bonus gingering and invigorating rank and file members. Where possible, courtesy calls were made on traditional rulers and Zongo chiefs yielding their unique benefits.
As a reporter embedded with the campaign team, the accurate picture emerging is that the former President has unassailable support, not just from delegates who would be selecting the presidential candidate for the NDC, but from ordinary people who throng venues of his meetings with the delegates and taking over with their cries for his return. They come carrying lanterns, and stones to search for him and hand over to him their expiation for the “sin” of 2016. Intended or not, the NDC is the beneficiary as the team leaves in its wake optimism, confidence and reinvigoration – elements, without which the party cannot go into 2020 with any chance of upsetting the NPP. In projecting Mahama, the NDC is equally projected with the branding. Flags fluttering, banners aloft, it is the NDC as a party that is being burnished. Lining the roads in town after town the cheering patches of people urge on the Mahama train. In this traditionally NPP heartland, Mahama must be striking the right chords for this gravity-defying friendly body-language towards the NDC to be so clearly manifested. Areas that were no-go in 2016 now offer warm embracing “awa awa atoo”!
In being objective and providing fair and acceptable comment, one aspect of this Ashanti Region trip is the 100% public pledge for John Mahama. The 100% may be figurative, but what they are saying is that John Mahama can rely on their votes to be elected Presidential Candidate. With the openness and enthusiasm that these pledges were made, their sincerity cannot be doubted. And if their sincerity cannot be doubted, then all the other aspiring candidates lined up against him in the race stand no chance – at least in the Ashanti Region. It is inconceivable that any of the others can garner that type of mass appeal and support. Only a week later at the Congress in Accra, the Ashanti Region pledges were given a party-wide endorsement by the almost 9000 delegates assembled, even though the presidential primaries are still weeks away. The Ashanti Region’s punishing schedule would begin with an 8am call time and a 9-10pm wrap. This first stage took a rest for the congress, and the second stage would take off at month ending, to visit the remaining constituencies. The Region, has 47.
Rounding up this story, a startling observation, not related to the politics of the trip cannot be left out. It is the overflowing capacity of cathedral space in the region and perhaps the rest of the country. Most of the encounters were held in rented church premises, all big enough to accommodate the large numbers of people attending. Ghanaian churches – of all denominations have invested in real estate, big time, and it is worthy of note that some of them are open enough to permit political activities on their premises…!