Politics of identity which simply means politics that emphasizes or implies the supremacy or the centrality of particular identity such as race, nationality, ethnicity/tribe, religion, social background or social class has been one of the biggest contributory factors that undoubtedly has stymied Africa’s development and led to brutal and destructive civil wars in several countries. From Liberia to Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Sudan and Sierra Leaon, identity politics epitomised especially by ethnic and religious bigotry as well as deliberate political strategy to distract from the main socio-economic issues and win political favours has wreaked incalculable havoc to national development and the harmony of the citizens in the past decades. For some divine interventions, Ghana in its post-colonial existence and history spanning almost seven decades has been spared of this ignominy in spite of the widespread and deliberate use of identity politics especially in the fourth republican constitutional dispensation. However, the recent pronouncements of some presidential candidates and key party or public officials although isolated are raising eyebrows of a potential upsurge of religious emotions that may disturb this peaceful co-existence between the various identity groups in Ghana. While I analysed this problem regarding the NDC in my article in the media last year titled: “Bawumia versus Mahama: NDC Doomed with Negative Religious Propaganda”, the latest of such emotionally charged messages although widely condemned across the political divide emanated from the flagbearer of the Movement for Change (M4C) and failed presidential candidate aspirant of the ruling NPP, John Kwadwo Alan Kyeremanten. Addressing a congregation during Easter celebrations, Mr. Kyerematen was quoted by Myjoyonline on April 2024 to have stated that: “So, as a predominately Christian nation and as Christians, it is our responsibility to ensure we elect a Christian leader who is also a Christlike leader”. While this is not the first time the M4C leader has made this religiously charged messages, the condemnations across the political divide especially in the NPP, his former party, was swift with leading members attributing Alan’s behaviour to political desperation and vindictiveness to ensure that Bawumia and the ruling NPP lose the December 2024 elections. The religious diatribe also symbolises the crisis within the camp of Alan and his M4C in an election where strong party structures, unlimited financial means and attractive messages are going to make the difference. Alan seems challenged in all these fronts, so the easiest way is to resort to the strategy of stirring-up people’s emotions on their identities and hope that his political objectives can be achieved after December 7 general elections.

While I discussed the earlier attempts by various NDC communicators led by my good friend Samuel Nartey George to dabble in the stormy waters of religious politics late last year with negative propaganda against Bawumia, it is important to maintain the moral consistency in this discourse by highlighting similar political strategies now being adopted by Bawumia himself in the Muslim communities even if it is subtle and indirect. As public intellectuals, we have a sacred duty to be morally consistent in the public sphere in helping members of the society to rightfully see through and interpret messages from politicians that may be harmful to their wellbeing.  

Bawumia at the Suhum Ayekotse Central Mosque

Just as Alan and the NDC, the resort to the dangerous, backward and anachronistic realm of identity politics as a strategy was employed by the flagbearer of the NPP, Dr Mahamudu Bawumia recently at an IFTAR event at the Suhum Ayekotse Central Mosque in the Eastern Region. According to Starrfmonline, while acknowledging the indispensable efforts of Christians in ensuring that he emerged the flagbearer of the NPP and a first Muslim to achieve that in a party whose members are predominantly Christians, a complementary strong support from the Muslim communities will guarantee his victory in the December 2024 elections. According to him, this victory will enable him bring Islamic prayer and Quran to the Jubilee House.

Bawumia, Alan Using Religion to Distract

The use of religion as a campaign message recently by both Alan and Bawumia validates the description of religion as the opiate of the masses by Karl Marx. This strategy is deliberately adopted by politicians when they have woefully failed to deliver on their promises of fulfilling the basic social and economic entitlements of the ordinary citizens. For instance, one would have expected Bawumia to explain the status of the construction of the 16 model Senior High Schools (SHS) he promised the Muslim communities of Ghana in the lead-up to the 2020 general elections. To the best of my knowledge, not a single SHS has been built so far in any Muslim community despite the repeated emphasis and re-affirmation of that promise after the 2020 elections. Now since these promises have not been kept with seven months to the general elections, in Bawumia’s strategic thinking, it does not make political sense to re-emphasize or discuss the recent appeal by Muslim leaders to the political parties to consider the construction of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET)  schools in all Zongo/Muslim communities across the nation’s sixteen administrative regions, among other demands contained in a 14-point proposal. Therefore, the only remaining viable political strategy to get the Muslim communities’ attention and distract them from the earlier promises of the 16 model schools is to use the message of “sending Quran and Islamic prayers into the seat of government.” Who says there is no Quran at the seat of government as we speak now? And who says there are no Muslims in the Jubilee House who offer Muslim prayers on daily basis? In any case, what is the benefit of the president or any public official holding the Quaran or any other religious book or symbol for his/her swearing in ceremony when lies, political dishonesty, pretence, corruption and deliberate denial of people’s social and economic entitlements are not only holding sway but are being entrenched in our politics and governance, generations after generations? It is undeniable that, various government officials swear with their religious symbols only to assume office and commit the most unspeakable economic and political crimes against their own people. If this is not hypocritical and betrayal of the principles and values of those religions, I don’t know what it is.

In the case of Alan, the simple question is: What was his Christian-like policies or behaviours when he superintended the Ministry of Trade and Industry for many years? For being one of the longest trade ministers of Ghana, one would have expected that by now Ghana would have been an industrial power and therefore using that message of achievement at the Trade Ministry would have convinced even his own mother party NPP to given him the nod to represent them in the 2024 elections as a presidential candidate.  

Cheddar’s Message of Hope

If they want to remain relevant and reduce the cynicism about all politicians now and in the long-term, the mainstream and older generation of politicians especially those that I consider as politicians with vestiges of colonial mentality should copy the easy going, plain-speaking and unifying messages of hope for the youth from the younger ones, especially the new Show Boy in town, Nana Kwame Bediako, popularly known as Freedom Jacob Caesar or Cheddar. While I am still carefully studying to understand his real intentions and motives in coming out to offer himself for leadership, I am excited by his courage and uncompromising position in demanding full respect for the economic rights of ordinary Ghanaian especially the unemployed youth from our various educational institutions. He seems focused on his messages of transformation and hope for the young people of this country and has no room for messages of religious bigotry and self-centeredness. Cheddar’s plan for technical and entrepreneurial education, dredging of water bodies for economic and social benefits and ensuring good values for our natural resources for the benefit of all, are the ones that have caught my attention.  His proposed transformational long-term plan of dredging of Ghana’s water bodies such as rivers and lakes and eventually connecting them to the sea have been dismissed by various people as a fantasy. However, as someone with strong passion for the preservation and protection of Ghana’s environment, I believe that, dredging of Ghana’s water bodies, some of which have already dried-up is not only possible but also an absolute imperative if life, especially in the Savanna zones of the country is to be sustained in the coming few years. Despite the usual Ghanaian cynicism to the proposal, this dredging, apart from transportation has various other positive advantages including irrigation or agriculture, tourism, fresh water fishing, fresh drinking water, greening and even healthy air for breathing. Farmers, fishermen and ordinary people in the northern regions will attest to the importance of the sustenance and expansion of the country’s rivers and lakes to their lives and livelihood and the challenges they face especially during dry seasons when most of these waterbodies dried-up or reduce in sizes. Thus, instead of the cynicism, dredging of our water bodies should be part of a long-term strategic policy of every government of Ghana and that kind of thinking is what is called visionary leadership. This is what differentiates Nkrumah from the rest of Ghanaian leaders.

Abdul Hakim Ahmed, PhD, Political Science
Lecturer, Political Science, University of Education,
Winneba. E-mail: ahahmed@uew.edu.gh