The comic festival of running mates – Prof. Kwesi Yankah writes


Ghana’s Constitution must be faulty, not leaving room for expressions of interest to be vice president; or a popular vote for the position.

In the case of President, there is an application of sorts from interested presidential faces, which is eventually addressed to some 17 million voters of Ghana. On the voting day, ballots are opened, choices are made, and one lucky applicant is chosen by the people and called President.

Our 1992 Constitution has been so generous it says yes to almost all applicants and rejects none, including aspirants whose powdered faces and faded kente cloths are seen on posters every four years. Vice presidential aspirants, to the contrary, are not as lucky because they are not wired to exist. Nobody in their childhood aspired to be vice president or assistant prefect one day! Unlike the presidential aspirant, you are faceless until a winning flagbearer drizzles mercy upon you. You then earn the bragging rights to appear on posters with a new haircut.

That is why school boys and girls have a hard time in social studies recalling names of past vice presidents. This was made worse when the Constitution itself made the Vice President almost jobless, a kind of ‘if you have nothing to do, do it here.’ Of all the vice presidents I have met, Ekow Arkaah was my best example of a jobless Vice. It was as if the Constitution had said, ‘the Vice President shall wear a black bow-tie in an empty office.’

February 1995, my visit to the office of Uncle Ekow Arkaah, the Vice President of Ghana said it all. Listen to my pen those days:

“His office was thread bare, dull panels, cheap carpeting; poor furnishing. When the secretary at last showed me the Vice Pee’s door, I walked towards it, and turned to her again incredulous. I asked if I should go further on. She said no, that was the door. I knocked; the cheap door unlatched, remote controlled, and I walked in. An office unlikely to be that of a vice president; but there he sat, as I announced my mission. From all indications, it did not look like he was all drowned in work. I could possibly have asked for a game of draught (dami), or ludo with Vice President Arkaah that day.”
Other Vice Pees in history have of course been busier, but one thing has been clear: prior to their appointments, they did not openly compete to seek attention. Even if there was lobbying, their names were quietly dropped from nowhere by respective flagbearers. Of Attah Mills, he had just emerged from a race to be Vice Chancellor at University of Ghana in 1996, competing with Ivan Addae-Mensah. When Ivan won the race, Mills was thereafter nominated by Rawlings to be his running mate. When this came to public notice, I remember a sarcastic comment made by my good friend Ebow Daniel, Legon’s iconic Registrar, ‘Atta Mills was destined by God to be Vice Something one day: either Vice Chancellor or Vice President.”

Surprises have been the norm in all running mate nominations. Mahmoud Bawumia was in 2008 discovered on his blind side by Nana Akufo Addo, while he was busy outside politics. Like my good friend Kwesi Amissah-Arthur, he did not mount loud bill boards, dance adowa at funerals, or distribute his CV to media houses before he caught attention.

The situation has changed with climate change, and the running mate position is now an open contest for a popular super star, not a compatible partner. But it has been made worse. One flagbearer’s freedom to choose a running mate has been prescribed like an SHS prospectus. Hands tied behind him, his directive is: ‘make your choice from a particular region, and look nowhere else.’ In response to the fiat, floodgates have opened in the lucky region, and a torrent of running mate material drizzles on rooftops, while areas prohibited from proposing running mates, look on with sealed lips. In the anointed region, one wakes up in the morning and finds their landlord or next-door barber listed in the social media

as a possible running mate; the next day it is their church elder, who has attracted attention at Jubilee House.

Another day, it is an athlete in running shoes who has been flagged as a possible running mate. That is the new democracy at work; the freedom to run amok.

One thing good though has emerged. The stampede has restored cultural order in public places. Chronically moody aspirants have discovered public smiles; elevated shoulders have been humbled. For the sake of the job, they have learned to bow and greet elders, even against medical advice.

When the flagbearer himself arrives for a public function, aspiring running mates stampede to walk abreast with him, or sit beside him to signal how nice the partnership can be. Finally they are ready to lie prostrate before the flagbearer, to add drama to their application to be vice president.
Oh what a festival of running mates!

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