Ghana: Changing dynamics of politics in West Africa

The choice of Prof. Jane Opoku-Agyeman, a former minister of education and vice chancellor as the running mate of former…

The choice of Prof. Jane Opoku-Agyeman, a former minister of education and vice chancellor as the running mate of former Ghanaian President John Mahama, the presidential candidate of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) in the December general elections in Ghana, is a clear signal that Ghana is changing the narrative that women are largely marginalized from the political sphere in Africa due to discriminatory laws, practices, attitudes and gender stereotypes and low levels of education.On Monday July 6, the National Executive Committee of the NDC approved Prof. Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang, as the running mate of Mr. John Dramani Mahama, their flagbearer for the December 7, 2020 general elections.

Mr. Sammy Gyamfi, the National Communication Officer of the NDC, made the announcement after former President Mahama had consulted the NEC on the choice of a running mate in accordance with Article 43 of the NDC’s Constitution and Article 60(2) of Ghana’s 1992 Constitution.

“The party has always been ready for the December elections, but the nomination of Professor Opoku-Agyemang gives us a further boost,” he said, adding that the gender balancing action of the NDC’s ticket would make more people to come on board to give the opposition party a resounding victory at the polls.

“By this ticket, all women will come on board. They have one of their own in Professor Opoku-Agyemang and I believe that they will cease to see themselves as enemies, but partners,” Gyamfi told the Ghanaian Times in an interview after announcing the nomination of Prof Opoku-Agymang.

Speaking on his choice, the former president described Prof. Jane Opoku-Agyemang as a phenomenal person committed to the causes of women and students.

“Naana is a great person, distinguished, empathetic, principled and committed to promoting women and student causes.

“I have for a very long time held the view that women must take their seat at the highest level of decision making,” Mahama was quoted as saying by local media reports at a recent ceremony in Accra to unveil his 26-member Campaign Team for the December polls.

He described her as “God-fearing, a distinguished scholar, a conscientious public servant and a role model.”

Mahama praised the National Executives of the NDC for their unanimous endorsement of the first female to head a public university – the University of Cape Coast (2008-2013) and Education Minister during his tenure as President.

In her acceptance speech, Prof Opoku-Agyemang described her nomination to partner Mr. Mahama as running mate in the December 7 presidential election as victory for inclusive and participatory democracy.

In a statement after her endorsement by the NDC, she said that her nomination was an honour that has enhanced Ghana’s credentials and recognitions of the towering role women had played over the ages.

“I am humbled by the overwhelming endorsement my nomination has received from the Founder of the NDC, HE Jerry John Rawlings; the Council of Elders, the National Executive Committee and the rank and file of our party, as well as the public.

“I have worked with HE John Dramani Mahama closely and I know he is a man of vision, a leader you can trust, a public servant of integrity and a courageous leader who makes the right decisions in the national interest at all times,” she said.

Prof. Opoku-Agyemang pledged to diligently apply herself and dedicate “all the energy and intellect I can muster to ensure a resounding victory for the NDC and for our country, Ghana”.

Born in Cape Coast, Prof. Opoku-Agyemang, attended the Anglican Girls’ School in Koforidua and the Aburi Presby Girls’ School, proceeded to the Wesley Girls’ High School in Cape Coast from 1964 to 1971 and completed a B.Ed.(Hons) degree in English and French at the University of Cape Coast in 1977. She obtained her master’s and doctorate degrees from the York University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 1980 and 1986, respectively.

Prof. Opoku-Agyemang chaired more than 20 boards and committees, among them those of the Graphic Communications Group Limited, the Council of the University College of Education, Winneba, and the Academic Committee of the Ghana Council for Tertiary Education. She is a recipient of the Ghana Women of Excellence Award and a member of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences, the University Teachers Association of Ghana, the English Studies Association, the African Studies Association, USA, the African Literature Association, USA, and the International Fulbright Scholars Association.

The nomination of Prof. Opoku-Agyemang by the NDC has received the endorsement of the African Centre for Women in Politics (ACWP), which described her appointment as ‘a fulfillment that has been long-awaited by women in Ghana, in Africa and the world at large”. In a press statement, the group explained that, her appointment indicates the great progress women in general are making to become part of the decision making process for the country.

“Women must be recognized as partners in development, giving cognizance of the roles they play and not only suitable as kitchen or bedroom “tools”. More women should be given such challenging opportunities to see and measure how far we can travel as a country, after 63 years of independence.

The statement, signed by the Executive Director of ACWP, Alimatu Issahak, also said that her appointment “will further deepen the confidence of women across the country, especially in developing their competencies so as not to be left out on the decision-making table.”

“Obviously, the journey of Prof. Nana Jane Opoku-Agyemang did not just start today; it is borne out of dent of hard work, persistence, and commitment. Her achievements are unparalleled and will be chronicled throughout the coming days. This serves as a form of encouragement to all ambitious young females that their ambitions will be fulfilled one day if they work hard enough.”

They have therefore thrown their full support behind her to ensure that this great stride for women becomes a reality.

“The argument many gender activists, including ACWP have always made is that, political opportunities should be accessible to competent women just as men. By taking such an important decision, we are assured that this will further deepen the democratic credentials of the country and the NDC’s name will go down memory lane as the first major political party in the Republic of Ghana to create such opportunity for a woman to be invited to such an enviable office.

“On this note, we want to officially congratulate Prof. Naana Jane Opoku Agyemang for this high recognition and urge her to stay strong, focused and shred negativity. Roar and soar higher by eschewing unreasonable comments. Be Bold and fearless in serving and defending our beloved country forever,” the group said.

But in its reaction to the announcement of Prof Opoku-Agyemang as the running mate of Mahama, the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) said that her choice by the opposition was an indication that the former president “does not take Ghanaian electorates seriously”.

The Communications Director of the NPP, Yaw Buaben Asamoa, told a press conference that she was not the best person for the job.

Mr. Asamoa claimed among others that teachers were the hardest hit when she was at the helm of affairs at the Education Ministry.

He said apart from their transportation allowances not being paid, “Naana Opoku-Agyemang also introduced the practice of teachers working for two years without being paid and being restricted to being paid only three months back pay, no matter how long they had worked”. 

“This inhumane treatment meted out to Ghanaian teachers at the time was the brainchild of Prof. Naana Opoku Agyemang, the then Minister for Education. The cold hearted manner in which teachers were treated by Naana Opoku Agyemang cannot easily be forgotten,” Mr Asamoa added.

He also claimed that Prof-Opoku-Agyemang will not have the support of women because she signed a petition to have three persons jailed for threatening former Chief Justice, Georgina Theodora Woode and other justices of the Supreme Court released.

“We can only conclude that the choice of Prof Jane Naana Opoku-Agyeman by Mr. John Dramani Mahama is a clear indication that he does not take the Ghanaian electorate seriously.

“But then as our own Vice President Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia, has famously said, it does not matter who the running mate is, if the main man himself is indecisive and incompetent, we still have a problem. It is our view that after having looked so long and wide, the NDC still has a problem,” Mr. Asamoa said.

In a quick reaction, the opposition NDC described the claims by the NPP on the four-year tenure of Prof. Opoku-Agyeman as Minister of Education, as “blatant falsehoods” and motivated by misogyny and chauvinism.

Addressing the sixth edition of the NDC’s weekly briefings on Wednesday, July 8, 2020, the National Communications Officer of the Party, Mr. Sammy Gyamfi, said that the party had taken note of the desperate fabrications being peddled by the NPP about the sterling record of Prof Opoku Agyemang at the ministry.

“She has unblemished integrity and can be trusted to restore the honour and dignity the office of Vice President has lost in the last three and half years when elected,” he said.

For instance, the claim that Prof. Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang cancelled Teacher Trainee Allowance was false and that the decision to replace Teacher Trainee allowance with student loan was a cabinet decision and not a ministerial decision.

On the issue of Prof, Opoku-Agyeman not being an economist and cannot lead the government’s Economic Management Team (EMT), he noted that it was laughable because the office of Vice President is not about economy, but the ability to lead and solve the hydra-headed problems confronting the nation.

Perhaps, what is important is for Ghanaians to focus on the track record of Prof. Opoku-Agyeman and the records of former President Mahama and his programmes for his second shot at the seat of power and go ahead and make history as the first West African country to champion the policy of gender inclusiveness in politics by producing the first female vice president in the December polls.