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16.03.2006 General News

Race To Succeed Kufuor: Who's Who

By Statesman
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DR ADDO-KUFUOR VRS PROF MIKE OQUAYE The race to elect the next flag bearer of the ruling party may be some twenty months away, but the campaign is definitely on. That means, for party delegates, kingmakers and praise singers like Appiah Stadium, it is one prolonged cocoa season.

If in doubt, pay excursionary visits to the ministerial offices of any four aspiring candidates on any working day. You are bound to see the same regional or constituency delegates on a manna-falling Accra pilgrimage, going from one aspirant to the other, looking fatter and fatter near the pocket seams as the day draws in.

As promised, The Statesman will be featuring a preliminary assessment of two prospective presidential candidates of the New Patriotic Party at a time, in each edition for the next couple of weeks.

We begin today with the Minister of Defence and the Minister of Energy. Kwame Addo-Kufuor and Mike Oquaye have both unofficially launched their campaigns and who can blame them – the train to '08 took off at full steam as soon as identities of virtually all the new party delegates were known in December. The Defence Minister launched his, some three weeks ago at Kumasi. He is seen as having one of the most formidable campaign machineries in place. Dr Addo-Kufuor has taken his campaign message to about 160 constituencies so far. His strongest support base is in the Ashanti Region; followed by the Central, Western and Volta Regions. He is currently working on the Northern Region.

His campaign manager is his brother George Addo-Kufuor, who is determined not to see the current political influence he commands, diminished after 2008. Dr Addo-Kufuor is blessed with useful family talents. His main strategist is his cousin and veteran PR guru, Frank Apeagyei of Contact Limited fame. Mr Apeagyei's major task is to persuade first the NPP members and next the nation that it is really no big deal for an outgoing President to be succeeded by his uterine brother. A Herculean task no doubt.

Does he have President Kufuor's support? His big brother is notably uneasy but President Kufuor cannot also fail to appreciate that his brother's legitimate ambition should not be frustrated on his expiring presidential account. The majority view so far is that a back-to-back family succession would be too much to sell to the electorate. But, the Defence Minister wants none of that can't-work, won't-work chicken-livered spirit around him. He says now or never. The no-nonsense tenacious achiever is determined to prove his doubters wrong. Mr Apeagyei has begun expertly by softening the ground with a nice spread of media reports and features on the merits of the medical officer-turned-politician. The main strategy, as hinted by this paper last year, will be to put the Defence Minister's record side by side with a list of brothers, sons, wives, etc., who have successfully filled the political shoes of their family members around the world and in some cases even out-performed their predecessors.

Prof Oquaye, 62, has no such headaches, though. He brought a lot of urgency in the race this year when he shunned the one-on-one, small grouping lobbying style which characterised the underground networking before the December national delegates' conference of the NPP.

After receiving the blessing from his home base in the Capital, he launched his unofficial campaign in January in a big way, when he met the entire party delegates of the Central Region in one gathering and spelt out to them in no uncertain terms his desire to rule this country.

Since then he has not stopped touring the country with trucks of corn mills in tow, distributing the Indian-made grinders to constituency executives to help them easily chew on his candidacy.

His campaign message is simple, and strategically customised for his primary targets – NPP delegates: “Party in partnership with government.”

He is promising the “perfect symbiosis”, which puts the party at the centre of everything, with party people feeling the benefits of their efforts.

A forceful debater, his contempt for the National Democratic Congress certainly loses him no party votes. He recently told The Statesman in response to NDC threats that the country would burn if ROPAB was passed, “It's my prayer that violence burns the NDC.”

The personal motto of the lay preacher and political scientist is: Service to God, Service to Man.

He certainly has a lot of work to do to enhance his voter appeal. However some party strategists are tipping him for a Vice Presidential slot. He has even received such an offer from Yaw Osafo-Maafo. The prospect of the faces of the two men on an NPP ticket in 2008 may send shivers down the spine of many, though. A formidable duo, no doubt. But the man who sacrificed his chairmanship bid in 2001 for India wants none of it.

“At my age and with my experience I am not settling for anything less,” has been his response.

Before 2006, the former political science lecturer was hardly on the flag bearer radar; but not for lack of qualification; rather lack of proximity. He returned from a very successful stint in India as Ghana's High Commissioner in the latter part of 2004 to contest and win the Dome-Kwabenya seat for party and personal ambition.

According to sources close to him, he afterwards responded to 'legitimate' pressure from people to throw in his hat as the next NPP presidential candidate for three main reasons. First he has the political intellect; second, he is a loyal founding member of the NPP; third, his ethnic background.

For a party tagged unfairly as Akan-dominated, a Ga man with an unblemished political track record, born and bred at Asamankese, Akyem, must surely be preferred as offering a safe prospect?

But, not so if you are in the Defence Minister's camp. Dr Addo-Kufuor is determined to show that the only criterion worthy of evaluation is competence. And, for a man voted twice as Minister of the Year, if public perception of excellence got one a first class seat on the express train to the Castle, Osu, then his ascension would have been electorally ordained. But, for the highly competent and regarded individual that he certainly is, his prospects are, so far, weighed down by a biological link that he couldn't do anything about even if he tried.

A close friend sought to differentiate between the President and the Defence Minister: “President Kufuor is tall; Addo-Kufuor is not. The President went to Oxford, his younger brother went to Cambridge. The President chose law, his brother medicine.”

The major hurdle for the former President of the Ghana Medical Association is to put a persuasive dent in the perception of dynasty, something his campaign strategist is determined to do with his PR arsenal. They need all the support they can muster.

The MP for Manhyia's campaign message is simple: I am the Action Man. He is being marketed as the man to galvanise the nation into action. If in doubt, visit his Burma Camp office and allow him to take you on a private tour round his own personal Hall of Fame. And if you have thirty minutes to spare (because there's so much to impress you with), he will gladly take you through a pictorial tour of his achievements.

This is the man who with acclaimed distinction combined the two sensitive portfolios of Defence and Interior shortly after the death of Ya Na Yakubu Andani II in 2002.

In that same year, he spent $20 million to modernise and expand the 37 Military Hospital. Kumasi is also ready to acquire its own Armed Forces Base Hospital, to be sited on the Bekwai Road.

On the armed forces specifically, “Dr Addo-Kufuor has shown some unprecedented care and resolve in solving the welfare needs and logistical requirements of the rank and file,” a close observer said.

He is credited for improving relations between civilians and soldiers. His monuments are set in concrete. The Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre; decent barracks for the soldiers; a new magnificent Burma Hall, are just some of the structures that have been constructed under his tenure. To top it all he has secured $9 million grant from the Chinese government to put up a $10 million Defence Ministry Headquarters at Burma Camp. But, Prof Oquaye would not wish to be out-done on the competence level. He came to the Energy Ministry at a very critical period in February 2005. Under his watch, deregulation of the petroleum sector has been carried through so successfully that today the public turn their anger, not at Government, but at commercial transport operators after a 10 percent price increase in fuel. He is also pushing through the power sector reform.

He was Ghana's man in India from 2002 until 2005 when he was sworn in as MP. Like his colleague in China, Prof Oquaye became the embodiment of President Kufuor's economic diplomacy.

Among other things, he negotiated the loan for the Presidential Palace project. In all Ghana gained an unprecedented US$102 million facility from India during this period alone. A facility with a 48% grant element and the interest on the 52% set at 0.5%.

The Kofi-Annan Ghana-India Centre for Excellence in Information Technology is cited as a prime example of his exploits.

In fact, he has confided to close friends that the best thing that happened to him was for President Kufuor to make him High Commissioner to India in 2004, where he picked up a lot of useful contacts, not to mention corn mills. It was a mission for self and country.

He is also seen as one of the financially liquid aspirants around. While some say he's been over-generous with his handouts, the intensity of his campaign in recent weeks has not been lost on his colleague rivals.

He has so far captured the party in the Ga-Dangbe areas, and his growing popularity in constituencies such as Ablekuma South and Odododiodio put him in pole position as the man to beat in Greater Accra. As if the presidency is awarded on a regional rotation system, a growing sentiment is that: this is the time for the Gas.

But his appeal transcends ethnic lines. Through his former law practice, he made a lot of acquaintances in the Central and Volta Regions and is using those old links to establish in-roads there too. He is braving the Eastern Region, an area some may argue is already-overcrowded with ambition, but it is a place his umbilical cord was buried and that he considered his second home. His weakest links currently are Ashanti, Brong and the three northern regions. The two men are seen as among the top seven candidates.