Ghana's Rawlings family shakes politics

2012-12-03 09:35

Accra - Ghana's ex-first lady has failed to get her name on the ballot for this week's presidential polls, but has still managed to roil politics and spark endless guessing over her husband Jerry Rawlings' intentions.

Nana Konadu Rawlings has undoubtedly shown ambition in her own right, initially challenging late president John Atta Mills in a 2011 ruling party primary - which she badly lost - before bolting for an upstart party.

But her campaign has also led to speculation over whether Jerry Rawlings, the former coup leader turned president and national icon, is seeking to restore what some see as his waning influence by a variety of means.

Many analysts think Konadu Rawlings would have had little chance of winning Friday's presidential election, but could possibly have taken enough votes to act as something of a kingmaker.

The Rawlings "are blinded by power. They cannot think that they can't be popular after 19 years," newspaper editor and pollster Ben Ephson alleged.

Nana Konadu Rawlings' quest to be Ghana's next leader was imperilled since it began last year, when her attempt to pry the ruling party's nomination from a sitting president found almost no support.

The women's rights activist then began flirting with a split from the National Democratic Congress, helping set up the new National Democratic Party - the similar name was not seen as a coincidence, but rather a dig at the NDC that had shunned her.

Proper revolution

The 63-year-old was nominated by the new party to run for president in December 7 polls, apparently with her husband's support, though he also signalled backing for incumbent President John Dramani Mahama.

Her name has been barred from appearing on the presidential ballot for procedural reasons, but the NDP has sought to reverse the decision in court, so far unsuccessfully.

The degree to which Konadu Rawlings and her husband co-ordinate their political moves is unclear.

Rawlings, a towering figure in the West African nation of 20 million people who is built like a rugby player with a menacing stare, has often seemed to play many sides at once.

Rawlings, 65, left office in 2000 after serving two elected terms. He then saw the country led by the rival New Patriotic Party (NPP) until 2008, when his former deputy Mills was elected on behalf of the NDC.

He is widely reported to have been frustrated by Mills' presidency, in part because the top brass of the NDC - a party he founded - were not always willing to go along with his plans.

Rawlings however appeared to tilt back to the NDC after Mills died in July.

When Mahama was nominated as the party flagbearer in August, Rawlings was there, and similarly stood next to the president at an October 4 rally where the party launched its manifesto.

Nine days later, Rawlings was alongside his wife at an event in Ghana's second city of Kumasi, endorsing her for president, while calling for a "proper revolution in the NDC."

A 'cleaning up' needed

"A cleaning up will have to take place so that we can join hands again," he told the crowd at the new party's convention.

The Rawlings party -- started only this year and which has no presence in parliament - claims it joined the race to win, but analysts are sceptical.

"Their intention is to get the NDC back into the opposition," said Isaac Owusu-Mensah, a political science lecturer at the University of Ghana.

At best, he argued, the NDP could have dampened Mahama's vote, helped the opposition to victory and forced the ruling party to remake itself, perhaps with a greater Rawlings family influence.

The NDP party spoksperson denied suggestions that Konadu Rawlings' campaign was aimed at torpedoing Mahama.

"What we are seeking to do is to split the stronghold of the NDC and the stronghold of the NPP to make us more powerful," Hilarius Abiwu said.

The stakes in this tight election are perhaps among the highest ever for Ghana. The country, already a major cocoa producer, has recently become a significant oil producer and how energy revenues are managed will be crucial to the nation's future.

The pollster Ephson however said Ghanaians are unlikely to give that job to a family that first took power in a 1979 military coup and has been at or near the centre of the nation's politics ever since.

"There's a Ghanaian disdain for dynastic politics of any kind."