Francisca Oteng Mensah and Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu
Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie was right. After losing election last year, the former General Secretary of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) said, ?There are two things to fear in this world ? ghosts and delegates.? Not all of us believe in spirits. And not all of us will agree that ghosts exist. But the shock waves that shook some NPP parliamentary hopefuls last weekend will leave them with the eternal fear of delegates or ?deadlygates? as some people will prefer to call them.
Very prominent and seemingly invincible incumbent MPs, including two presidential candidate aspirants, Subin Constituency?s Isaac Osei and Mampong Constituency?s Addai Nimoh, came tumbling onto the hard floor of defeat. A lot of the defeated sitting MPs who granted media interviews said they were shocked. And for some, it will take the rest of their lives to recover.
Before the primaries, many eyes were on some accomplished professionals who had announced their interest in becoming lawmakers. One such person is George Andah, a distinguished marketer and member of the most influential pressure group in Ghana today, OccupyGhana. George Andah contested and was elected the NPP parliamentary candidate for Awutu Senya West Constituency in the Central Region. If the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) does not change its candidate for that constituency, then Mr. Andah will be battling it out with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Hanna Tetteh, in 2016.
Another name many looked foward to was the former host of Joy FM?s Super Morning Show, Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, who had the nod to represent the NPP in the Ofoase Ayerebi Constituency of the Eastern Region. Kojo?s political future looks bright beyond parliament. After Bawumiah?s generation, he stands a good chance of leading his party. He stands tall among his contemporaries. This means he has the chance of heading this nation. But what the political prophet from Bongo must be quick to add is that much will depend on how he conducts himself. I have sat in the same studio with Kojo Oppong Nkrumah to decry corruption among politicians. He has, in the past, been very critical of incompetent and clueless lawmakers. So much is expected of him now that he is wearing a political suit. And he must not disappoint if he is seeing what I am seeing.
After the voting on Saturday, social media were buzzing with congratulatory messages to Kojo Oppong Nkrumah. Even the party?s flagbearer, Nana Akufo-Addo congratulated him and welcomed him ?on board? via Twitter. But his reign as the most discussed personality after the election was short-lived when news broke that a 22-year old lady had defeated an incumbent MP for Kwabre East. The second year law student of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Francisca Maame Serwaa Oteng, beat Kofi Frimpong, a man old enough to be her father. There are three factors that make Francisca?s victory significant.
The first is the fact that she is a woman. If a man achieves a peerless feat, it is normal. If a woman does so, she is either a witch or she got it through sexual favours. That was what Maxwel Kofi Jumah told Patricia Appiah Agyei when she announced her intention to challenge him for the Asokwa seat in the 2012 elections. In Francisca?s case, they said her rich father paid delegates to vote for her.
The second factor that made Francisca?s victory steal headlines is her age. If she wins the election next year, she will become the youngest MP ever in Ghana?s parliament. The Apostle Paul teaches us the young ones in 1Timothy 4:12 not to allow anyone to look down on us because we are young. Job 32:9 of the Holy Bible also says, ?It is not only the old who are wise, not only the aged who understand what is right.? But in our part of the world, they say a child can break the shell of a snail, and not that of a tortoise. A child is supposed to be seen but not be heard, our elders say. A child cannot call an adult a liar. This means the adult is always right. If an adult farts in public, the child must accept responsibility. This is how we have been brought up. So a girl beating her father?s age mate in a contest is big news.
The third reason Francisca?s victory at the primaries is significant is her Constituency ? Kwabre East in Ashanti Region. She?s representing a constituency that makes her victory in the 2016 elections more predictable than the annual flooding of Accra. There are always three categories of people who contest parliamentary primaries in Ghana. The first group is those who win parliamentary primaries and battle for their parliamentary seats in the general elections.
The second group is those who win the primaries and start preparing for parliament. For such candidates, there?s no way anyone on a different party ticket can beat them in the main elections. They are those who contest in their parties? strongholds.
The third group is those who win parliamentary primaries and know that there?s no way they will get to parliament on the tickets of their parties. Most NPP parliamentary candidates in the Volta Region and NDC parliamentary candidates in Ashanti are in this category. For instance, if a sheep contests against a man on the ticket of the NDC in the Ketu South Constituency, it is likely to win. If this same sheep contests against a noble man in Bantama Constituency on the ticket of the NPP, it is likely to win.
For this reason, Francisca Oteng victory is more secure than Satan?s place in hell because her constituency is a stronghold of the opposition NPP. But it doesn?t seem the dust which her victory has generated will settle soon. The two schools of thoughts on Francisca?s victory will never reach a consensus.
For some, the mere fact that a 22-year old lady is going to parliament is great achievement worthy of celebration. It means youth empowerment. It means women empowerment, they say.
Students of the other school of thought, like the corporate communications practitioner and blogger, Kwame Gyan, do not see any reason for celebration. ?Are we celebrating her because she is going to be entering Parliament as the youngest ever and with the weakest qualification, i.e. SSCE certificate?? he wrote.
For me, it is wrong to condemn Francisca?s victory and her attempt to enter parliament because of her age and lack of experience. It will also be wrong to celebrate her just because of her youthfulness and gender.
What is important is that we look at her as a distinct individual, judge her by the content of her character and assess how she got to where she is today. Did she win by merit or it was purely based on the depth of her father?s pocket is being alleged?
The Speaker of Parliament, Edward Doe Adjaho, recently said politics and the ability to win elections now depends on one?s ability to buy votes. ?We have monetized politics, all of us. If you don?t pay they won?t vote for you,? the former MP said.
For this reason we have to ask the critical questions: If Francisca?s father were a night watchman like mine, would she win this election? There may be more experienced and qualified youth in her constituency but delegates are like witches. You don?t get them into your camp with empty hands. The route to the top is as important as getting to the top.
Francisca Oteng?s own words seem to lend credence to the notion by some people that her victory was engineered by money. In some of the interviews she granted after her victory, she said she had built a party office for the NPP. She also campaigned with the message that she would donate three months of her annual salary as MP to the party.
?I have constructed a party office and handed over documents to the party office. I will also build a training centre, scholarship schemes in Kwabre East,? she is told Kwami Sefa-Kayi of Peace FM.
On the issue of her age, it is not prudent to pass quick judgement. There are some 20-year olds who are more mature in their thinking than some 50-year olds. In fact, in our part of the world we tend to worship mediocrity and empty heads on account of age and so-called experience while stifling the rise of young geniuses. Francisca might be brighter and more useful in the house of parliament than some older MPs.
I am not in anyway downplaying experience. Experience is important and anyone rising to occupy a public office must be well prepared, at least have some personal achievement before going out. Our elders say a masquerade does not perform to an outside audience until he performs well at the home base. Even Apostle Paul who told Timothy not to allow himself to be looked down upon because of his youthfulness also provided important criteria for aspiring to leadership position in the church.
In 1Timothy 3:1-5, he says: ?Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God?s church?).?
But sometimes beneath what we mistake for experience lies disastrous mediocrity. Motivational Speaker and author Caroline McHugh says not all people who tell you about their years of experience at something are actually experienced: ?You know the people that say to you they have fifteen years? experience when they mean one year fifteen times? They literally repeat themselves year after year??
Is Francisca one of those smart and brainy ladies who can contribute meaningfully to a serious debate on the floor of parliament? Or she is merely going to be one of those who pride themselves in empty records without anything to show? She ought to be reminded that how fast one does something will be forgotten. What will forever be remembered is how well they do it. So how early one gets into parliament may not matter, but how meaningful they contribute to building the nation is what we should concern ourselves with.
Currently, the youngest person to have gone to parliament is Dominic Nitiwul, the Deputy Minority Leader. In my opinion, he has not disappointed those who celebrated his youthful entrance into Ghana?s legislature. Dominic Nitiwul and another young MP, Efutu Constituency?s Alexander Afenyo Markins, have been some of the most vocal and influential members of the minority side on national policy in recent times.
On the other hand, we have someone who can be described as a Robert Mugabe of our Parliament but who, in my view, is very disappointing of late. The Minority Leader in Parliament and MP for Suame, Osei Kyei Mensah-Bonsu, was one of my favourite politicians. He is a very intelligent man and his critical scrutiny of bills and issues in parliament and outside the house was phenomenal. For reasons best known to him and, perhaps, the ageless Old Man above, he seems to have lost his tongue and influence, especially matters of corruption and the bad governance we are facing. The only time we heard about him very loudly was when his seat was threatened.
When his critics said he should step down, he likened that view to keeping Bernard Don Bortey on the field of play while sidelining Lionel Messi.
When Osei Kyei Mensah Bonsu became an MP, Francisca Oteng, was a toddler. Hopefully, they will sit in the same parliament. But age, they say, is just a number. Only time will tell if the daughter of one of the richest business men in Ghana will prove her critics wrong or she will end up with nothing to show apart from being described as the youngest person ever to enter parliament.
All eyes are watching.
She is the author of her fate.
We are only keen observers ? pessimists and optimists.
But posterity remains the truest judge.