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CHANGING THE POLITICAL LANDSCAPE OF AFRICA — How far can women go? As Jane OPOKU-AGYEMANG emerges running mate to Ghana’s presidential aspirant – Mahama

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  • ’There is no country in the world where girls and women have equal opportunities to boys and men. ‘’Take a stand for a world where # She is Equal. – GLOBAL CITIZENS
  • Men are naturally selfish: This is not to say that we should behave badly to those we love, but that we should care less about anyone or anything draining or needlessly time-consuming. This attitude goes against almost every woman’s instinct. I’ve noticed that men, like my husband, are much less likely to worry about how their actions will impact others, while women are often preoccupied with how others will judge them. — Alexandra Reinwarth
  • It is an honour to have been selected for the Ibrahim Prize for African Leadership. By choice, I have led a life of service and sacrifice on behalf of the Liberian people, and I will remain forever grateful to them for the privilege to serve. — President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Johnson

How well can African women go on the political turf even with the global campaign for gender equality and political relevance championed by the United Nations through the UN Women and associations with similar objectives? Will men and the society allow women ascend the political thrones on a platter of gold? How long will it take international statutes and regulations to work in Africa? Is it possible to witness reversal of roles such that women would ask men to dance at political rallies while women take over the drivers’ seat?  Will the current wind blowing in Ghana move into other African nations so women would be granted better bargaining powers? Time will tell.

Former President John Dramani Mahama has chosen a woman as Vice-Presidential candidate for the upcoming Ghanaian presidential election slated for December 7, 2020. The candidate is Ghana’s, former Minister for Education, Professor Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang who has a track record in educational administration and political governance.  The duo will run on the ticket of the National Democratic Congress (NDC)

Mahama’s choice is viewed as a strategic initiative designed to smoothen his path back to Ghana’s presidency in his bid to reclaim the top seat he once occupied before being dislodged by the incumbent.  Mahama, in his announcement described Jane Naana Opoku-Agyemang as a “distinguished scholar, a conscientious public servant and a role model. Opoku-Agyemang served as Ghana’s education minister between 2013 and 2017 under Mahama’s presidency. She has also served in various other positions both locally and internationally, traits Mahama is confident will help him clinch back the presidency. Mahama will come up against the incumbent President Nana Akufo-Addo who defeated him in the last election. The December vote will mark the third time that the two leaders have gone head to head against each other for the presidency. Akufo-Addo defeated Mahama in the 2016 election with 53.8 percent of the vote, cementing the West African nation’s reputation as a leading democracy in the region.

 ACCEPTANCE SPEECH: In her acceptance speech Prof. Opoku-Agyemang said: “It is with deep honour and a high sense of gratitude that I convey my acceptance of the nomination by John Dramani Mahama, flagbearer and leader of the great National Democratic Congress (NDC) to be his running mate for the December 7th General Election”. “I am humbled by the overwhelming endorsement my nomination has received from the founder of the NDC, Jerry John Rawlings, the Council of Elders, the National Executive Committee and the rank and file of our party, as well as the public”. She said this historic nomination was not a personal achievement but victory for inclusive and participatory democracy, which enhanced the credentials of the country and recognised the towering role women had played over the ages to achieve the progress the nation had made.

Whoever thinks deeply would appreciate the contributions of women to development on a global dimension. This writer has had occasions to reflect deeply on how hard women work, shouldering the greatest burden of keeping the home and seeing to the welfare of their families. Before other members of the family wake up in the mornings, women are up early to strategize on management of the home and ensure that all is well. Most men wake up later, only to manage their own affairs, leave home for work in a hurry, leaving children as responsibilities of the wives.  For professional women, the task is harder because they must factor in their employment in planning for the day.

PHYSICAL AND EMOTIONAL ISSUES: Physical and emotional pressure take their toll on the professional woman, who must, in addition to her matrimonial functions accommodate extended family members at the risk of being branded an enemy by relations of her husband.  In Africa, women combine the roles of wives, mothers, sisters, and in-laws that are balanced delicately with keeping a home and nurturing the young ones. A few decades past, the often touted assertion was that: ‘’successful children belong to the father; while unsuccessful offspring are for mothers!  Reversing this awkward belief is a huge task because of cultural beliefs. And I am not being necessarily sentimental or judgmental. The thought of what women go through in labour rooms alone, is enough to melt a heart of steel and provoke compassion and understanding. We men most probably don’t experience half of that mental and psychological torture — and occurrences that women go through thinking about the home, children, work, and their spouses.

MEDIA FOCUS: Agence de Presse Africaine (APA) sums up reactions in Ghana’s media in a publication stating that there is a remarkable focus on this development. The Graphic reports that the flagbearer of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), former President John Dramani Mahama, has selected Professor Jane Naana Opoku-Agyemang as his running mate for the 2020 presidential elections. The National Communication Officer of the NDC, Mr Sammy Gyamfi announced that Prof Opoku-Agyeman had been selected as running mate for the NDC ticket after a meeting between the flagbearer and the National Executive Committee (NEC) at the NDC Headquarters on Monday, July 6, in Accra. He told journalists that Prof Opoku-Agyeman received a unanimous endorsement from the NEC and the Council of Elders of the party. “I can tell you that, the running mate of His Excellency John Dramani Mahama for the 2020 General Election is Professor Jane Naana Agyemang. That choice has been approved unanimously by the Council,” Mr. Gyamfi said. The newspaper says that Prof. Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang has described her nomination to partner Mr. John Dramani Mahama as running mate in the December 7 presidential election as victory for inclusive and participatory democracy.

Prof. Opoku-Agyemang said in a statement that her nomination had enhanced Ghana’s credentials and recognized the towering role women had played over the ages. “I am humbled by the overwhelming endorsement my nomination has received from the Founder of the NDC, H.E. Jerry John Rawlings; the Council of Elders, the National Executive Committee and the rank and file of our party, as well as the public,” she said. She pledged to draw from the inspiration of all those who had come before her. “I have worked with HE John Dramani  Mahama closely and I know he is a man of vision, a leader you can trust, a public servant of integrity and a courageous leader who makes the right decisions in the national interest at all times,” she added.

PROFILE:  Agyemang was until October 1, 2012, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Coast, the first woman to have held the position of Vice-Chancellor in Ghana. At the University of Cape Coast she was Head of the Department of English, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Dean of the Board of Graduate Studies, and Founding Dean of the School of Graduate Studies and Research. Prof. Opoku-Agyemang, a former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Coast, was born in Cape Coast and attended the Anglican Girls’ School in Koforidua and the Aburi Presby Girls’ School.

She proceeded to the Wesley Girls’ High School in Cape Coast from 1964 to 1971. She completed a B.Ed.(Hons) degree in English and French at the University of Cape Coast in 1977 and obtained her master’s and doctorate degrees from the York University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 1980 and 1986, respectively. Prof. Opoku-Agyemang has chaired more than 20 boards and committees, among them the those of the Graphic Communications Group Limited, the Council of the University College of Education, Winneba, and the Academic Committee of the Ghana Council for Tertiary Education. She is a recipient of the Ghana Women of Excellence Award.

 Professor Opoku-Agyemang holds a BA (Hons) in French and English, a Diploma in Education from the University of Cape Coast; A Diploma in Advanced Studies in French from the University of Dakar; an MA and Ph.D. in Literature from York University, Toronto, Canada.  She is the recipient of many inter/national awards:

  • Officer of the Order of the Volta- the highest award Ghana bestows on her citizens (for Academic Distinction);
  • Ghana Women of Excellence Award (Category: Education);
  • Doctor of Letters (DLitt) University of Cape Coast;
  • Doctor of Humane Letters  (DLitt) HonorisCausa,Grand Valley State University, Michigan, USA;
  • Doctor of Humane Letters, (DLitt) HonorisCausa, Winston Salem State University, North Carolina, USA;
  • Doctor of Laws (LLD) HonorisCausa, University of the West Indies;
  • Global Leadership Award, University of South Florida, USA;
  • Twice recognized for Outstanding Performance in Advancing International Education, School for International Training, Vermont, USA.

She is a member of many inter/national boards and committees including the Executive Board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); Editorial Board, The Harriet Tubman Series on the African Diaspora (Africa World Press Inc. USA); Africa Initiative, Canada; Adam Matthew Digital, UK. She has many publications on Women in Literature, Oral Literature in Africa, and Issues in the African Diaspora. Professor Opoku-Agyemang has been twice a Fulbright scholar and is currently a member of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences. She is very happy with three adult children: Kweku, Kwabena and Maame Adwoa.

A BBC Report of February 2019 titled: Where are Nigerian Women lamented that: ”Nigeria has one of the lowest rates of female participation in parliament, according to the UN. Women hold only 5.29% of seats in Nigeria’s state assemblies, despite women making up half of the electorate. Experts suggest that women could be deterred from entering politics by a patriarchal society and a lack of transparency in the candidate selection process.”

IT IS POSSIBLE BECAUSE IT IS ALREADY HAPPENING IN AFRICA – THE POOREST CONTINENT:  “Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became president of Liberia when it was completely destroyed by Civil War and led a process of reconciliation that focused on building a nation and its democratic institutions. Throughout her two terms in office, she worked tirelessly on behalf of the people of Liberia. Such a journey cannot be without some shortcomings and, today, Liberia continues to face many challenges. Nevertheless, during her twelve years in office, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf laid the foundations on which Liberia can now build.” – Salim Ahmed Salim – Chair, Prize Committee

REWARD FOR SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER: An interesting revelation in the course of compiling this account on Mo Ibrahim who champions good causes unknown to humanity. For instance, BBC reports indicate that: ‘’Veteran peace campaigner Archbishop Desmond Tutu was awarded US$1m (£620,000) by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation for “speaking truth to power”. The London-based Foundation called the cleric “one of Africa’s great voices for justice, freedom, democracy and responsible, responsive government”. He won the Nobel Peace Prize – and 10m Swedish Krona (£935,000) – in 1984 for his campaign against apartheid. Archbishop Tutu, the South African cleric was outspoken on international affairs’’

ABOUT THE INITIATOR/FINANCIER/FOUNDER & CHAIR, MO IBRAHIM FOUNDATION:  — A PHILANTHROPIC DEED WORTH EMULATING – Sudan-born, Dr Mo Ibrahim is the Founder and Chair of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation which he established in 2006 to support good governance and exceptional leadership on the African continent. Dr Ibrahim has a distinguished business career. In 1989 he founded Mobile Systems International (MSI), a world leading cellular consulting and software provider and in 1998, Celtel International, one of Africa’s leading mobile telephone companies which pioneered mobile services in Africa. Dr Ibrahim is also Founding Chairman of Satya Capital Limited, a private equity fund focused on Africa.

 THE ROLE MODEL IN AFRICA EXCERPTS FROM PRESIDENT ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF”S ACCEPTANCE SPEECH:

It is an honour to have been selected for the Ibrahim Prize for African Leadership. By choice, I have led a life of service and sacrifice on behalf of the Liberian people, and I will remain forever grateful to them for the privilege to serve. As the first woman to receive the award,  it is my hope that women and girls across Africa will be inspired to reach for their true  to navigate the challenges, breakthrough barriers, and to pursue their dreams. Where there is a first, there comes a second, and a third, and a fourth. I am thankful that the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, in granting me this honour, has sought to emphasise the consolidation of Liberia as a democratic state under my two terms in office. Indeed, my most proud accomplishment is that after 30 years of conflict, the power in Liberia now rests where it should – with the people, grounded in rule of law, and in strong institutions. And I note with pride that Liberia was the only country on the continent to improve in every category and sub-category of the Ibrahim Index of African Governance – a testament to all those who served in my government.

MO IBRAHIM – COMMENDABLE ACTIONS: The Mo Ibrahim Foundation continues to be a transformative force on the continent. They have changed the conversation about leadership. This is a discussion that I will continue to carry forward in my post-presidency years. When I accepted the Mo Ibraheem Prize African Leadership back in April 2018, in Kigali, Rwanda, I stated as the first woman to receive this award, it is my hope that women and girls across Africa will be inspired to break through barriers and push back on the frontiers of life’s possibilities.

 GENDER EQUALITY AS A GLOBAL AGENDA – ALSO DEPENDENT ON ERADICATING POVERTY: The first elected female head of government was Sirimavo Bandaranaike, who in 1960 became prime minister of Sri Lanka, the South Asian country then known as Ceylon. In Africa, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf followed suit. In 2015, Mauritius had its first elected female president, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, who was elected through a parliamentary vote. Joyce Banda of Malawi got into office of president following the death of the sitting president. She was in office for two years and never won the election that would have thrown her up to be an elected president. As at 2018, there were only 20 women holding the office of Head of State or Head of Government, which represents only 6,3% of the total number of international leaders. It is very glaring that no matter how loud all those international statutes are mouthed, men will not yield the grounds for the female gender in politics to rule. It seems a very tall order given the political configuration of this age, and particularly cultural and religious barriers in the developing world. But t is good to know that these formidable barriers could crumble within a few decades.

IN NIGERIA:  The closest women got to sniffing paramount political power in Nigeria was when Chief Obafemi Awolowo picked Mrs. Oyibo Odinamadu as his running mate for the 1983 Presidential election. She probably might have succeeded Awolowo after the statutory 8 years had the pair won. Even at that, there was no assurance that men, on the excuse of democratic ideals would have shoved Odinamadu aside.

Anyone who has gone through publications authored by GLOBAL CITIZENS, the organization that facilitated the recent concert for a united world against COVID-19 would certainly be impressed by what the body is doing. Young people who have taken it upon themselves to educate the world on various issues. Take for instance their cliché on the development of the female gender. ‘’There is no country in the world where girls and women have equal opportunities to boys and men. ‘’Take a stand for a world where # She is Equal. The statistics provided by the organization is worth going through:

  • 130 million girls are not in school, and a girl is married as a child bride every two seconds.
  • 214 million women and teen girls have no control over one of the biggest decisions of their lives: if and when to safely have children.
  • Big businesses spend trillions of dollars on suppliers every year, yet just 1% goes to businesses owned by women.

Here’s What We Can Do   

  • In 1995, world leaders promised to achieve equality for girls and women — from getting every girl in school to ending child marriage. Call on them to deliver.
  • Tell world leaders that women will never achieve true equality without the choice of if and when to have children.
  • Demand that big business supports female entrepreneurs.(Global Citizens)

GENDER EQUALITY & POVERTY: There is correlation between gender equality and The United Nations is definitely conscious of the negative impact of poverty on its agenda for the welfare of the global community, as well as the promotion of peace and international understanding. It is most probably for this reason that the SGDs agenda on: ‘’Ending poverty and hunger for all persons with disabilities (Goals 1 and 2) occupy those prime spaces on the agenda terminating in 2030. Poverty is real. The United Nations has taken a good step by including gender equality as Goal No 5 in the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by heads of governments in New-York in 2015 at the end of the Millennium Development Goals. The UN Women is the principal agency of the United Nations that is supervising this agenda. Goal 5: sub-titled: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. The The targets are as follows:

  • End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere
  • Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation
  • Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation
  • Recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate
  • Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making in political, economic and public life
  • Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rightsas agreed in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences
  • Undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with national laws
  • Enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women
  • Adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels.

HOW TO MAKE IT HAPPEN: We require huge advocacy/sensitization campaigns for women and girls to create more than a passing interest in the campaign for gender equality. The campaign must permeate the grassroots and could be taught in institutions of learning to infuse confidence in young ones. Parents must be encouraged to teach gender equality practiced in a way that would be adapted to our culture that makes husbands the heads of family units; for this plan to succeed. Our society hasn’t advanced to a stage whereby the wife would call the husband to say: ‘’John or Joseph – It’s your turn to be in the kitchen tonight’’. The equality that will encourage the female gender to compete for leadership positions with men at places of work, in politics, and wherever policies are formulated and implemented without being regarded as inferior human beings.  If we adopt the principle of the best hands manage the public and private sectors, we will move towards our anticipated goals. Therefore, some element of strategic communication is required. Communication that promotes knowledge widely beyond mouthing: ‘’Gender Equality’’

THE MAIN DRIVERS: According to President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, the main drivers of Africa’s strong performance in gender equality are ‘’women’s political empowerment and gender parity in education. However, there are still areas lagging behind, such as representation of women in the political space, gender equality in the workspace and the establishment of laws to tackle violence against women. Achieving gender equality requires women to be agents of change, makers of peace and drivers of progress, and to this end, African countries still have a long way to go.’’ From the foregoing, it could be inferred that:  It would occur only if women decide to come out of their shells and stop begging for concessions that might take an eternity to come. International Statues and Conventions are inferior to the Constitutions of countries. It will be their turn if only women refuse to be the cheer-leaders, singing and dancing all over as men strategize.  Hillary Clinton never begged or waited for concessions. She got the nomination by running for the presidential contest after a very tasking campaign which she won, throwing her hat into the ring to confront President Donald Trump