Since he was sworn-in, President Mills has been holed up at the Castle for weeks – hardly venturing out. Then suddenly, he decides to embark on his first regional tour and where does he go first? The Central Region, his home region.
A few hours before going to the region, he cancelled a scheduled trip to the oil rig at Cape Three Points (which should be one of the most important economic installations in the country). No explanations were offered so I am presuming that he was too busy preparing for his the trip to Cape Coast to bother. Or perhaps, getting acquainted with what goes on at the rig is not much of a priority. After all, it’s just oil! Who cares?
In Cape Coast, the chiefs of the Central Region held a durbar in the president’s honour and conferred a special title on him. All this was done in the name of the chiefs and people of the region, including those who didn’t even vote for him. They congratulated him for having “braved the storms of life” – including the rude electoral shock delivered by the region in 2004 – to become the president of the Republic.
As they conferred the title of “okunyin” (or great warrior) on the president, the chiefs asked him to do well to solve almost all of their problems – which include a petty grievance over the decision by the Kufuor administration to build a stadium with a capacity of a mere 15,000 in Cape Coast. President Mills promptly promised to look into that. He also expressed his deep appreciation to the people for voting for him in the last election and even confessed that there was a time he felt neglected by his own people.
It was a beautiful ceremony which should have warmed the president’s heart a great deal. But the whole spectacle also left with a bitter aftertaste.
What happened in Cape Coast over the weekend was a full demonstration of the provincial small-mindedness of the Ghanaian. Too many Ghanaians are afflicted by the pesky habit of thinking first about which part of the country they come from before realising that their tribes do not provide them with passports – or roads and schools and hospitals. Too often, people forget that they are Ghanaians first. It’s nauseating (and scary) to hear or see people so passionately proclaim the superiority of their tribes whiles putting down other ethnic groupings. It is a national malaise that needs urgent treatment. President Mills’ homecoming parade and coronation cannot be part of the prescription.
The NDC campaigned in the Central Region by telling the people there that “adze wo fie a, oye” which loosely translates that “it’s good to have a good thing at home”… Essentially, the NDC campaign teams told the people (usually not on public platforms) that they will be better off if the head of state happens to be from their part of the country. The NPP used similar tactics. I heard their vice presidential candidate telling his tribesmen in the north that “if your mother is in the kitchen you’d never go hungry” – which essentially means that when one of your is in charge, you will get almost everything you want.
It’s hard to tell whether (or how) such campaign messages influenced people’s voting choices in December. The NPP lost miserably in Bawumia’s home region and the NDC only barely managed to carry the Central Region.
Mills victory in the Central Region was key to his victory. We may never be able to accurately determine whether or not the people there voted along tribal lines. But what happened on Saturday seems to suggest that they did and the unspoken message to non-Fantes who watched was that it pays to have one of your own as president of the republic. The event seems to have been organised provide a platform for the chiefs (and the people) of the Central Region to lay a special ‘claim’ to the president and tell him that if he has gotten what he wanted, he should live up to his side of the bargain.
In an election, every vote counts. But I think the votes from the Volta Region helped Mills more than the votes from his home region. The Volta voters overwhelmingly backed Mills and the NDC whiles those in the Central Region were dithering. If there is any appreciation to be offered, it should first have gone to Volta – not Central. Even the voters in the three northern regions seem quite unwavering in their support for the NDC – and Mills. So they should have come before Central. But the president chose Central for his first regional tour because they are ‘his people’ and he felt obliged. And that is wrong. By simply playing along as his people waved the tribal card in what might appear on the surface to be a harmless gesture of a group glorifying its kin, the president gave his ethnic group a carte blanche to lay a special claim to him. This does not auger well for the onerous task of using more than 40 tribes (some weak, some strong) as the basic blocks for building a strong, united nation.
I’d rather that the ceremony we saw over the weekend had taken place in Ho or in Tamale. It would have made a greater impact and caused less of a worry – if any at all. The president has to find a way to tell the people of the Central Region that they will not have any more special access to him than any of the people from the other regions will. He should let them know that “adze wo fie a, oye” was one of those empty statements that are made by politicians to only win votes and that he will be as good to them as he will be to all the other tribes… And I am speaking as a Fante with roots in Elmina. Does that make me a bad Fante? Cool! I’d rather be a bad Fante and a good Ghanaian.
If they feel that “they have arrived” because one of their kin is at the helm of the nation, someone should quickly tell them that they are mistaken. As the latest “great warrior” in town, the president should be the one telling them. If, for any reason, he cannot muster the necessary candour to tell ‘his people’ what they must hear, the least we expect of him is to stop playing along as they indulge themselves in needless tribal aggrandisement.