It was Karl Marx who claims that ‘religion is the opiate of the masses.’ However, in deference to the immense contribution of religion to social harmony, empathy and exemplary societal values in Ghana over the years, I would rather rephrase Karl Max’s claim to read: ‘religion has been made the opiate of the masses by members of the ruling class.’ Thus, in my calculation since 1992 when the nation transitioned to the so-called political liberalism, no election period has exhibited a potential for weaponizing religion, specifically Islam and Christianity than the campaign of 2024.
Given the early signals, debate on important ingredients of good governance such as economic and political accountability which have direct connections with reducing poverty and inequality in the society would likely be lost in the smog of negative religious propaganda.
When one observes the public and media arena in these early days of the electoral campaign, it is fair to conclude that the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) was the first to draw the first blood of negative religious propaganda against vice-president Mahamudu Bawumia, the first Muslim flagbearer of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP), by referring to him as a ‘religious prostitute’ who cannot be trusted for the leadership of this country.
Among other accusations, the Ningo-Prampram Member of Parliament (MP), Sam Nartey George who seems to be the arrow head of NDC in the attacks against Bawumia, takes issues with the vice-president’s silence and indifference to wide range of issues on Muslim community’s welfare including the barring of Hijab among female Muslim students, prohibition of fasting in some public secondary schools and more importantly the vice-president’s affirmation of Jesus Christ returning to the world in the end time to save mankind. While I agree with Hon.
Sam George that the vice-president or even president Akufo-Addo himself should have taken leadership responsibilities and intervene on the issues of Hijab and fasting among Muslim students even if for the sake of protecting the human rights and civil liberties of those affected students as is often the case in both the United Kingdom and the United States, the whole strategy of using religion as a campaign tool by either the NDC or the NPP in the forthcoming elections will be doomed to failure.
It is clear to any serious observer of the Ghanaian political processes since 1992 that any government which attempts to cross the eight-year tenure faced daunting incumbency baggage such as failing economy, widespread manifestation of corruption and general loss of public trust, and the Bawumia-Akufo-Addo government is no exception.
This is particularly so when there is glaring evidence that the economy in recent times has faced its severest challenges since 1992 and there seems to be no new and transformational ideas from the incumbent NPP of changing the structure and direction of the economy even if the party is able to cross the eight years in 2024. Therefore, an easier campaign strategy by the opposition will just be to keep on reminding all Ghanaian voters on this failing economy, well-being issues and broken electoral promises than go on the slippery slope of negative religious banter and propaganda that can raise emotions on all sides and doom the NDC’s campaign.
In any case, all Ghanaians, regardless of their religious, ethnic or regional backgrounds face the vagaries of the market and the existing prohibitive promises. The danger NDC faces is that, the party, just like the NPP conveniently relies or was built around certain segments of the Ghanaian population often called electoral ‘world banks’. In the case of the NDC, the Northern and Muslim votes have been indispensable for any electoral victory since 1992.
So, if NDC spokespersons decide to hurl religious propaganda against Bawumia (the first Muslim politician to lead any big political party), experienced and sober NPP political communicators and spokespersons such as Nana Akomea would conveniently use the ‘victim card’ to whip up emotions among Muslim voters and other independent citizens that can prove costly to the chances of the NDC in the 2024 elections.
The NPP in December 2024 elections just needs the Northern and Muslim votes to be evenly divided or even close to 50-50 in favour of NDC to be in a good position to win the elections leveraging their almost unchallenged electoral strength in the middle belt. Moreover, the influential middle class cannot just be deceived or swayed by empty religious propaganda from NDC communicators without any concrete transformational ideas of changing the direction of the economy from their leadership.
In fact, some may even find empty religious propaganda as offensive and disrespect to their intelligence and intellect. Therefore, the best way the NDC spokespersons and commentators can provide the badly needed electoral oxygen and sympathy for vice-president Bawumia and his campaign ‘to cross the eight’ is by singling him out for unfair criticisms and attacks for doing effectively what all Ghanaian politicians have done with the two religions (pretending to be what they are not) since 1992 as a way of attracting votes across the various segments of the voting population.
Abdul Hakim Ahmed, PhD, Political Science
Lecturer, Political Science, University of Education, Winneba.