My daughter returned from school and started bombarding me with questions about first ladyship.
She wanted to know how one becomes a First Lady, what the official role is, whether they are paid etc.
Not having much answers to the questions, I pleaded for time, did some research and came out with some findings.
Mrs Lordina Mahama and Mrs Rebecca Akufo-Addo
The term First Lady originated from the United States of America (USA) and generally refers to the wife of the President. Over the years, the media adopted it for wives of Presidents and this has been fanned by how these women have carried themselves and made an impact on society.
The first documented reference to a First Lady belongs to Martha Washington, and that was over 40 years after her death.
What is significant about the title is that it is never mentioned in the American Constitution and, therefore, not officially recognised.
In Africa and Ghana in particular, we have embraced the concept and seem to have overtaken the Americans by deepening the role of a first lady.
In Ghana, first ladyship was largely a ceremonial thing from the era of the first President, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, until the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) era when it became a force to reckon with. The wife of former President Flt Lt J.J. Rawlings, Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings, took the title to a different level with her 31st December Womens Movement which spearheaded women’s empowerment and other projects.
The wife of former President John Agyekum Kufuor, Mrs Theresa Kufuor, did some philanthropic work with her Mother and Child Foundation, the wife of former President John Evans Atta Mills, Mrs Naadu Mills, provided Bibles to students but maintained a lower profile, while the wife of former President John Dramani Mahama, Mrs Lordina Mahama, raised the bar further with philanthropy and going round the country donating medical equipment.
Currently, the wife of President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, Mrs Rebecca Akufo-Addo, is doing her bit. Notable among her achievements is the establishment of the Mother and Baby Unit at the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital to help reduce the incidence of preventable maternal mortality in the country.
In recent times, the term Second Lady seems to be creeping into our political life. This seems to be coming on the back of the remarkable role played by the wife of the Vice-President, Mrs Samira Bawumia, during the 2016 electioneering. Reports say the First Lady and the Second Lady have been given vehicles and offices to enhance their work. This is commendable as long as it facilitates work which benefits our society.
Throughout history, especially in African countries, the wives of Presidents and heads of state have been perceived to wield so much power to the extent of influencing decisions that their husbands take in governance. For instance, there were rumours that Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings had a say in ministerial appointments. Suzanne Mubarak and Stella Obasanjo were credited with similar powers.
After the National Democratic Congress (NDC) lost the election to the New Patriotic Party (NPP) in 2016, part of the blame for the loss was laid at the doorstep of Mrs Mahama; to the extent that there were claims that she did not release funds to party executives to do effective campaigning.
As we move along the path of giving resources to the office of the First Lady and Second Lady, and by so doing institutionalising the offices, the critical questions should be: Must First and Second Ladies remain in the background or must they be on the political platform? I am asking this because our constitution does not make room for such positions.
While we think about this, let us also think about how much political influence we want them to wield. Also, why is it that before becoming First Ladies, wives who were not known for philanthropy suddenly become philanthropists, but as soon as their husbands leave office, their spirit of philanthropy dies? And must the taxpayer sponsor the two offices?
The title First Lady has come to stay as an institution in our political life; but we need to have some standard procedures and policies to prevent excesses. That will protect our First and Second Ladies so that they don’t go the way of the Ceausescus of Romania or Simone Gbagbo should the unexpected happen.
Moving forward, what happens if we woke up one day and had a female President? What happens to her spouse? Are we going to have a First Gentleman with the same security details and facilities?