Electorate in a queue to cast their vote
Electorate in a queue to cast their vote

God, politics and running for President

Followed the 1992 election very closely and have many fond memories from all the campaigns. The last election Ghana had before the 1992 one, I was only five-years-old. You can, therefore, imagine my excitement that year.


Let me share with you one of my favourite memorable incidents that election season. I am sure as I narrate it, those of you who also followed the election closely will remember it.

In the lead-up to the election, there was a lot of conversation about the type of leader Ghana needed to help usher in the new era of multiparty democracy after previous failed attempts. One of the characteristics emerging as critical was the idea of a “God-fearing” leader.

The call, as I understood it, appeared to argue that a “God-fearing” leader could be counted upon to do the right things to move the country’s development needle forward. The conversation though created the impression of a monolithic religious society.

Soon all the candidates, except for one, if my memory serves me right began to tout their “God-fearing credentials.” This one candidate though, who did not join in the frenzy, during a campaign stump speech uttered the words “I don’t fear God, I don’t have to fear God…” He then went on to explain how he viewed his relationship with God. To him, it was comparable to what exists between a loving parent and a child. Viewed in the way he described it, in his estimation, a child did not need to fear a loving parent. 

I recall the newspaper headlines the next morning, as well as the many conversations in the public square. The arguments were heated. The questions were many. The theologians chimed in to help us understand what it meant to be “God-fearing.” 

In any event, that candidate went on to win the election and served two terms in office. Please note that I am in no way suggesting candidates in this year’s election should emulate that 1992 utterance. The political dynamics thirty-two years ago are very different from what the candidates face today.

I am no theologian and neither do I subscribe to how this candidate construed the concept of being “God-fearing.”  I cannot pass judgement on whether the candidate was right or wrong in his conceptualisation of God. One thing is clear though – in Ghana’s political arena, God is always an active participant. 

Electorate and God

The late Professor John S Mbiti, once remarked that “the African is notoriously religious.” He did not mean it as a critique, but rather as an expression of his intrigue of the African whose every action had a spiritual or religious connotation to it. I believe his description of the African in general applies to the Ghanaian. The centrality of religion or the concept of a higher being, whatever faith they subscribe to, is very integral in their everyday lives and that includes politics. 

Our politicians and candidates running for office know their electorate very well. As a result, they have devised ways to respond to them every election season. The evidence you need abounds – a) references to God as the one who installs leaders; b) God-themed campaign slogans and songs; c) regular visits to places of worship; d) active courting and building of relationships with religious leaders; e) public profession of one’s faith; to mention just a few. My favourite is the religious expression candidates and their supporters give to their position on a ballot during party and general elections.

Implications for the 2024 Election

God, politics and running for President is truly an institutionalised feature of our politics. I think it will be very difficult today for any candidate running for office in Ghana not to wear their religious credentials publicly. I, therefore, do not expect this year’s election to be any different from the past. Besides, politics reflects the idiosyncrasies of any society.  

It would be odd on my part to say we must wipe out all forms of identity politics. It will also be politically naïve to make such a suggestion, especially when I live in a country where social identity is an inextricable part of its politics. 

While identity politics may serve short-term political needs, it is not a sustainable long-term political strategy. At some point, voters will demand more than just their social identity as a motivation to vote. 

In addition, identity politics does have implications for the cohesiveness of a society. In Ghana, we often say that we eschew tribal bigotry and affirm that it has no place in our politics. I hope we will extend the same revulsion to any further extensions of social identity into our politics.  

NB: The writer is the Executive Director of Democracy Project, a political think tank.

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