2020 elections: How Bawumia turned northern Ghana into battleground

BY: Dr. Ekow Acquah
Vice President Dr Mahamudu Bawumia
Vice President Dr Mahamudu Bawumia

The Vice-President Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia has become so priceless to the New Patriotic (NPP) and the Presidency of Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo due to the significant impact he has made in the north for the NPP since his emergence aside his competence as a technocrat.

Selected as a rookie politician in 2008 to partner Nana Akufo-Addo, the young economist was expected to deliver the northern and zongo votes to compliment Nana Akufo-Addo's strong popularity in the south. In his first attempt, he did his best under the circumstance, and the NPP narrowly lost the elections in the run off after leading the first round.

From a political novice without any experience in political campaigning, Dr. Bawumia, has, since his emergence, meticulously weaved his way through the northern political conundrum for the NPP.

In a region noted for its unalloyed loyalty to the National Democratic Congress (NDC) in the 4th Republic, largely due to the Rawlings factor, it was always going to require something special to tilt the heavily balanced scale in favour of the NPP and that special thing, without a doubt, has been Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia.

From a commendable beginning in 2008 to a considerable improvement in 2012, Bawumia has now become the rock and the decisive factor in northern politics.

After John Mahama unsurprisingly benefitted from significant northern loyalty, his nomination as the NDC candidate in 2012 due to the death of former President Prof John Evans Atta Mills, 2016 was a real showdown between then President Mahama and running mate Bawumia.

The 2016 elections

Prior to the 2016 elections, former President Mahama's popularity in the north waned and it was largely due to how Bawumia was said to have established and maintained a very good relationship with northern elders and the people, and how he vigorously campaigned throughout the northern regions to, not only expose the hardships and lack of development initiatives in the north under the presidency of Mahama, but also to interact with them, understand their needs and offer them hope.

The 2016 elections, therefore, saw a significant turning point in northern politics in favour of the NPP, and the biggest contributing factor was the hardworking Bawumia, who led the NPP's northern campaign by adopting an energy-sapping and close-contact campaign and succeeded in hurting the then ruling NDC and its candidate John Mahama badly.

Infact, government sources have attributed the One Village One Dam (1V 1D) policy to Dr. Bawumia, who proposed the policy after seeing at first hand, during his close-contact tours, how farmers in the north struggled during the dry season.

It was therefore, not a surprise that Bawumia led the NPP to remarkably sweep through the north in 2016.

Statistics in all the three northern regions were indeed commensurate with the efforts the NPP running mate put in.

In the 2016 Presidential election of the then Northern Region, the NPP got 41.5 per cent an improvement from the 39.11 per cent the party got in 2012.

There were similar significant improvements in numbers in the Upper East and West Regions respectively.

The statistics were even more impressive in the 2016 parliamentary elections in the northern region with the NPP winning 13 seats - an improvement of four seats, while the NDC lost grounds by losing two of the 20 seats they won in 2012.

In the Upper East, the NPP won three seats in 2016 - an improvement of one more seat from 2012 but the NPP stunned the NDC in the Upper West Region in 2016 by moving from zero seats in 2012 to five seats.

The 2016 results signal changed the narrative of northern politics and signaled an emerging NPP strength with Bawumia factor.

2020 polls

As the nation prepared for the 2020 polls, the big question which lingered on many minds was whether Vice- President Bawumia could, once again make a strong impact and deliver the north for the NPP in 2020.

With the 2020 elections being President Akufo-Addo's last on the ballot, many also saw the performance of the NPP in the north as a referendum on Dr. Bawumia's strength up north and his might to potentially succeed his boss as the NPP's Presidential candidate in 2024 and possibly win the next election to become the President of the country.

Indeed, the Vice-President worked so hard, crisscrossing the entire country in addition to the northern parts of the country.

On the evidence of Dr. Bawumia's campaign strategy, which saw him devote so much time and attention to the north since campaign intensified in September, it was quite clear delivering the north again for the NPP was his main target in the just ended 2020 elections.

I closely monitored the Vice-President's campaign tour and I was amazed at how he extensively toured all the six regions to spread the government's message and achievements.

Despite limitations brought about by the Coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Bawumia was able to device strategies to still get in touch with chiefs, opinion leaders and members of northern communities in the regions through his innovative durbars.

His durbars were so effective that at a point, his main political rival, the NDC candidate, Mr John Mahama had to adopt a similar strategy.

One remarkable feature of Dr Bawumia's 2020 campaign was that despite being the Vice-President and having the luxury of using a chopper to fly to difficult places in the north, as former President Mahama did when he was in office, Dr. Bawumia preferred to drive long hours through the desert and bumpy roads to meet his people and that showed the man's commitment to what he was doing.

And I have been privy to lots of appreciative comments from northern village folks who commended Dr. Bawumia for visiting the most deprived parts of the north to interact with the people and listen to their concerns.

Bawumias legacy

From various news reports and publications, I have studied on Dr. Bawumia's 2016 and 2020 campaign tours, one revelation is that many of the places he visited in 2020 as Vice -President to commission or inspect projects, were places he did not just go because of votes.

They were places he visited previously as a running mate to listen to their concerns, and they have trusted him as a man of honour who delivers what he promised.

For example, the Chief of Gbakoni, a village in the Bunkpurgu Constituency commended Dr. Bawumia for being a trustworthy politician because he visited the village in 2016 as running mate and they complained about their water and roads, which the Vice-President ensured it was fulfilled.

The Chief, therefore, saw his 2020 visit to campaign as genuine by an honest man.

Again, the Chief of Binduri publicly commended the Vice President for his regular visits and maintaining a very good relationship with the community.

These were the characteristic of the Bawumia campaign in all the northern regions.

The Chiefs, the Imams, the Pastors, opinion leaders and the people have trust in him because he had maintained a very great relationship with them from his time as a running mate and throughout the last four years as Vice-President.

Following the creation of two more regions (North East and Savannah) out of the Northern region, many expected new voting dynamics for the north but before the new regions were created, the NPP was on the ascendancy in the north, while the NDC were losing ground in both the Presidential and parliamentary votes from 2012 as earlier indicated.

Whether the NPP's ascendancy would remain in the Northern Region in particular, traditionally a stronghold of the NDC, or whether the NDC would fight back, remained a big question. Analysts also looked forward to how the voting pattern in Savannah, the home region of former President Mahama, and North East, the home region of Vice- President Bawumia would be in subsequent elections.

In the end, Vice President Bawumia has proven that he is a formidable force in the north and the new star of northern and Ghanaian politics.

The NPP won nine seats in the Northern Region, thus sharing the 18 parliamentary seats equally with the NDC.

In the Savannah Region, traditionally a stronghold for the NDC, the NPP won three seats while the NDC won four seats. The North East Region had the NPP winning four seats with the NDC winning three.

When one combines all the three regions; Northern, Savannah and North East, as it was in 2016 (Northern Region) then, the NPP now has a majority of 16 seats, while the NDC has 15 seats.

This is a remarkable feat, considering the fact that the NPP had only four seats in the northern region (including what is now Savannah Region and North East Region) in 2008.

It is worth noting that in the Presidential election, the NPP again improved significantly by winning the North East Region. It closed the gap in the Savannah Region. Interestingly, the NDC narrowly won the Northern region with a 66,587 difference between the NPP and the NDC in the north.

When one combines the NPP's Presidential votes in the Northern Region and the two newly created regions, it gives the NPP a remarkable tally of 613,311 votes, while the NDC had 733,100 representing a significant improvement on votes from 2016.

NPP and post 2020

Dr. Bawumia has delivered the northern votes and seats for the NPP again in 2020. It is a monumental achievement which has saved the party and that which would never be forgotten in the NPP fraternity.

The immediate benefit has been contributing significantly to winning the 2020 elections and a thin majority in parliament. But its political effect within the party will transcend 2020.

How the NPP handles Dr. Bawumia will largely determine the political fortunes of the party in the next elections and beyond. They have a big opportunity to erode an age-long perception about the party exploiting the north or deepen that perception.

The implications are obvious for the NPP and they know exactly what to do if they don't want to go back into oblivion.