Although Ghana’s 4th Republic has registered the largest number of political parties, two, the National Democratic Congress and the New Patriotic Party remain hugely popular having won four and three respectively of the seven General elections so far held under this Republic. They are hugely popular that although the 1992 Constitution of the Republic recognizes the country as being multi-party, experientially, it does appear at least for now that only the two have a true and realistic chance of winning general elections and forming governments. Does that make Ghana theoretically multi-party state but practically a two-party state?
The National Democratic Congress [NDC] formed in 1992 after the ban on party politics was lifted has undergone quite a lot in its trajectory. In the 4th Republic, the NDC has experienced the highest number of breakaways: National Reform Party in 2000, the Democratic Freedom Party in 2008 and the National Democratic Party in 2012.
These breakaways notwithstanding, the Party weathered these storms and remains largely robust and organized thanks to a large extent to the charisma, influence, personality and leadership of its founder and source of ideological orientation and belief – Flt Lt J.J Rawlings. The influence of John Rawlings at least between the periods of 1992 and 2008 was large and unchallenged that the party was synonymous with his name and persona. Those of us who grew up at the countryside knew how popular Rawlings was than the NDC, the party he and others founded. Rawlings’ popularity was such that he could qualify as the first-ever successful independent presidential candidate of the Republic. Many people who voted for the NDC or joined it during this period did so because of the influence and charisma of Flt Lt J.J. Rawlings.
Being such a revered and loved leader, he was the ‘poster boy’ and the face of the Party whether in the year 2000 when he was leaving power or the years 2004 and 2008 when the Party made frantic efforts to recapture power from the New Patriotic Party. Party reorganization, strategy, leadership, mobilization and campaign revolved around him. He campaigned tooth and nail to see the Party return to power. As his views carried weight and influence, he was instrumental in raising and grooming Prof. John Mills as his anointed successor and eventual winner of the elections in 2008 thanks to his relentless and breathtaking campaigns across the length and breadth of the country.
Fast forward, the NDC for the third time in this Republic had in the year 2008 secured political power to prosecute its ‘Better Ghana Agenda’ and Rawlings was expected to wield such a huge influence on his beloved and former Vice President, Prof. John Mills. But hell broke loose, and disagreements began to emerge between the Party Founder and the President on one hand and between Flt Lt J.J. Rawlings and the leadership of the Party on another hand. Whereas some of the conflicts bothered on policy decisions, there were those that concerned party organization and direction. Things came to a head when Mr Rawlings was heard on many a platform either castigating his party and government or expressing openly his disagreement with certain decisions of the Party. As was to be expected, this incurred the wrath of some top guns of the Party and they also began to openly attack him and sometimes his family on political platforms or in the media. Later, some young party members/ junior members of government whom Rawlings himself described as ‘babies with sharp teeth’ also joined the fray in standing up to Rawlings. This major disagreements or if you like conflicts characterized the third and fourth NDC-led governments.
So going into the 2012 elections, it was almost obvious that the Founder of the Party was for the first time in the Party’s history not going to be active on the campaign platforms as he had indicated it on many occasions and as his wife had also formed her own Political Party after losing heavily to Prof. John Evans Attah Mills, the incumbent President and Leader of the Party.
Against this backdrop, the NDC needed to take its destiny into its own hands by going into the 2012 campaign first without its Founder, crowd puller, mobilizer and source of inspiration par excellence; and second, without its original Presidential candidate, President and Party Leader, the late Prof. John Evans Attah Mills. Instead, led by its Vice President turned President and Flag bearer, Mr John Dramani Mahama, the Party went into the 2012 elections with full force, energy, enthusiasm and a spark as it was abundantly clear that it could no longer count on the charisma, influence and leadership of its Founder. Accordingly, some rank and file of the Party who otherwise would not have been instrumental in the campaign were all involved in it this time round. They mobilized, strategized, organized and executed the campaign. For the first time in the history of the Party, the Party went into a general election without its Founder, but had won it, although the results of the elections would eventually end up at the apex Court of the land for adjudication, itself a novelty in the country.
Meanwhile, these events had taught the NDC’s rank and file one important leadership and political lesson – don’t build your Party or organization around a single powerful individual regardless of his/her influence or charisma. Like the New Patriotic Party which does not enjoy the overbearing influence of any single individual, the NDC now needed to count on the unity of the rank and file, and the strength of its National leadership as well as the influence of its new leader, Mr John Dramani Mahama to regroup, rebuild, reorganize, and sustain itself. The Party thus invested into institutional renewal and development instead of continuing with its culture of coalescing around a single influential leader.
So although the Party recorded its worst performance in the 2016 General elections having lost surprisingly to its arch rival, the New Patriotic Party in both the Presidential and the Parliamentary ballots, the Party has remained formidable, robust, organized, mobilized and energized comparable to its political competitor, the NPP in all fronts. It has outlived the influence and charisma of single individuals although the Founder remains relevant in the scheme of things of the Party because of his rich experience and connection to Cadres and ordinary party folks who still respect and value his views on party and national issues. With these developments, the Party can now survive into the future with or without its Founder and others who laid claim to its formation and growth.
What this teaches us is that conflict is not always a bad thing. Some source of conflict is good for organizations and Political Parties. The robustness of the NDC today is a product of the conflict between its Founder and the Party Leadership. The outcome of Rawlings’ conflict with his Party means that he can leave a strong Party legacy for the next generation. He can leave a Political Party that can outlive him. To appreciate this better, one ought to take a look at the Convention People’s Party of 1951 when Ghana had her first general election, and 1954 and 1956 when the CPP won two other elections. But after the coup in 1966, the Party which used to be West Africa’s most mass-based party had lost some steam. This point is further illustrated by the National Congress of British West Africa [NCBWA], the first inter-territorial organization in British West Africa (not a Political Party) built around the personality of Joseph Casely Hayford of the Gold Coast. The death of Casely Hayford marked the collapse of this Congress. Evidence abounds in Africa and here in Ghana that Political Parties that are built around powerful individuals tend to struggle after the demise of the powerful leader. Some die a natural death or become dismembered or weakened with no realistic chance of ever capturing political power to execute their ideology or manifesto. As things stand, the NDC has become mainstreamed and might never suffer the fate of some of those Political Parties which die prematurely when their Founders are no more. Thus, the political duopoly and the defacto two party-state in Ghana will linger for a very long time to come especially if the other smaller parties do not put their acts together.
In conclusion, contrary to the popular view that considers Rawlings’ concerns with his Party as arsenals aimed at destroying the Party he himself had founded (although some others lay claim to the birth of the party), the strength of the Party today is a confirmation that those criticisms and clashes with the Party were blessings in disguise for both Mr Rawlings and the Party. Both the NDC and Mr Rawlings have, through their conflicts, serendipitously succeeded in rebuilding a more organized Party that can transcend both the Founder and some who lead it today as the Party now has collective ownership with mass appeal like the NPP whose history goes back to the Danquah-Busia-Dombo era. Like a major Political Party worth its sort, the NDC is able to attract middle class people, and very competent professionals and technocrats in addition to ordinary Ghanaians. This is good for Ghana as it helps to deepen not only the Democratic culture in the country, but more importantly, it contributes towards developing a stronger party system in Ghana.
By Nicholas Mawunyah Gborse
The writer, Gborse Nicholas Mawunyah, is a writer and conference speaker on topical issues in education, political-history, school leadership and innovations.