Like it or hate it, you have to accept it: debate is on and campaigning for who will lead the New Patriotic Party into the 2008 general elections, who will be the flagbearer bidding for presidency on the NPP ticket, is already far advanced.
The race is on and picking up pace: already it has gathered enough steam as to be unstoppable, and now The Statesman believes it is time the ruling party woke up to this reality and took positive action towards making the race as smooth as possible, and bringing it to an early and positive close.
The contest must be managed, it must be controlled; it must be clean and fair. It must also be constructive and not destructive to party efforts: there is no point in internal wranglings becoming so fierce as to damage the party's chance of external success, because ultimately everyone within the NPP wants their party to hold on to power in 2008. Who within it takes the presidential hotspot is a secondary matter but only primary to the extent of the person's ability and advantage over the others to cross the 50+ line.
Ultimately, everyone wants their party to be stronger and not weaker than it is now. But while opposition parties may derive the bulk of their strength from the incidental weaknesses or problems of a ruling party, a ruling party depends more on its own performance check list. It is with this in mind that the priority for the NPP must be to focus on governance. But the race is on and the reality must be faced.
So, above all, the race for the presidential nomination must be guided and guarded by the principles and directives of the party.
In particular, The Statesman believes that all talk of regional or tribal claims needs to be immediately laid aside. The question of who leads the party into the next elections, who will lead our country on from there, should not be reduced to the simple and unchangeable issue of someone's ethnic origin. Those who have been trying to narrow the race to an ethnic merry-go-round, talking about the “turn” of different groups, concerned about an imbalance or dominance of any one ethnicity, ought to be strongly discouraged. Such talk is unhelpful, and such considerations cloud comparisons of other criteria which should really determine who the party picks to lead it into battle.
Put simply, the NPP is looking for someone who can win in 2008. Whether that person is a he or a she, whether they are Ashanti, Akyem, Fante, Ga or Dagbani, should be neither here nor there – because the leadership of a country cannot be based on a principle of rotating ethnicity, but must rather be chosen based on qualification, dedication and credibility.
When the time comes, the NPP must, either by consensus based on democratic principle, or by a straightforward vote, choose Kufuor's successor. They must decide who, out of what is expected to be a long list of pretenders, has what it takes to build on the agenda of accelerated development in freedom set down and carried through by the Kufuor administration.
The NPP must recognise that it is the only party which offers a credible platform for the people of Ghana to move forward: the achievements of the last five years have been considerable, but it is now imperative that the party is able to stay in power and consolidate and add to these gains. Ghana may be making advances – it is certainly one of the success stories of Africa – but the retention of a competent and experienced government is essential if this progress is to continue.
The NPP must stay in power, and now it has no option but to get it right. The race for flagbearer should not be about the person who has the deepest pockets and most resources to whip up support amongst the small but essential caucus of NPP delegates; it should not be unduly influenced by the candidate who can shake the most hands, grease the most throats, schmooze and sweet-talk his way through that small but crucial coterie of party officials.
Instead, it must be about quality and ability to perform. It must be about relentless service and selfless sacrifices for the UP tradition. It must be about pedigree. The party must seek to present a person clued on the modern challenges and opportunities of the world. The party must present to the nation a person whose intellectual symphony and patriotic heart beat in rhythm with the masses. A person who can lead from the front, the sides and the back. A person whose voice can defend what his party believes in and at the same time make persuasive nonsense of the banality and vacancy in the ideologies of the opposition.
The Statesman knows several pretenders have been well off the mark since 2001, building their war chests and strengthening their networks in anticipation of the vacancy for the 2008 elections.
Whilst we admire the zealous commitment, untiring enthusiasm and motivation they have shown towards their own self promotion, the party has shown time and again – in Adu Boahen, in Kufuor, and most recently in Mac Manu – that what is required above all else in a successful leader is a proven performance, service record and connectivity with those you seek to serve. And these virtues are often priceless.
Indeed, it was often said with the Domo leaders that leadership worked on a “first come, first serve” basis – the longer you have been involved, the more likely you are to lead. If you stick around and serve your time, prove your commitment and wait your turn, eventually you will find yourself at the front of the queue for leadership.
The principle works to some extent: those who have demonstrated a long standing consistency and continuity, an unflinching loyalty to the party over many years, are indeed those in a position to take that party forward now. However, the criterion is itself deeper and wider than sheer longetivity, for the NPP requires more in a leader than simply someone who has been in it for a long time. Thus, to even qualify to be in the queue, the two basic prerequisites are loyalty and ability. It is only when you join that queue of meritocrats that the kingmakers (delegates) look at the 'aristocrats' on the list – ie those who lay longer claim of sacrifice and exemplary dedication to membership of that hallowed family called Danquah-Busia. It is not elitist – it is fundamentally meritocratic.
It requires someone who has demonstrated their leadership initiative, who has shown principle and flair, shown themselves able as well as dedicated to do the job.
The question of who will lead the party into the coming elections will undoubtedly be divisive and undoubtedly cause some ruffles within the party ranks, some friction to emerge. But, this must be managed and it can start by the ground rules being carefully laid before the candidates and with maximum clarity.
We shall also ask the party to get to work on coming out with the date of opening up nominations. This should help bring predictability to the campaign schedules. The potential contenders deserve this; the party and the nation, too. It is in the party's interest, and the country's interest, for this to happen sooner rather than later: the time has come to start making these tough decisions now, and then to refocus the party on winning in 2008.