Suppression of Ghana’s New Force Is Backfiring

As is the case for the United States and many other nations, 2024 is a presidential election year in Ghana, a nation whose 1992 constitution is in large part based on the British and U.S. constitution models, notably in guaranteeing fundamental human rights and freedoms.

But Ghanaians, many of whom are eager for new leadership for a nation that ought to be an African prosperity and human rights leader, are bewildered by the actions by Ghanaian officials to suppress an emerging political bloc intent on changing Ghana’s future for the better.

Ever since Ghana, under the new constitution, switched to a multi-party democracy, power has alternated between the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC).

For the past three elections, the campaign for President was a race between the NPP’s Nano Akufo-Addo and the NDC’s John Mahama, with Mahama winning in 2012 and Akufo-Addo in 2016 and 2020. In both 2012 and 2020, the losing candidate sought to have the results overturned in the Ghanaian Supreme Court, but to no avail.

Mahama will again be the NDC nominee, but 80-year-old Akufo-Addo is term limited. After a hotly contested battle, current vice president Mahamudu Bawumia emerged as the NPP nominee.

Shortly after the first round of voting in the NPP selection process, third-place finisher Alan Kyeremanten resigned from the party and announced he was running as the candidate of his newly formed Movement for Change. 

Calling himself a “transformational” leader, Kyeremanten, a former Ambassador to the United States, says his movement will be led and powered by the youth of Ghana. But his ties to the “old regime” have left many Ghanaians distrustful of his “conversion.”

Then something happened that caught the attention of voters. Last November, 13 months before the election, huge billboards began to appear across Ghana with the cryptic silhouette of a man announcing, “The New Force; A New Ghana; A New Nation.” This was followed by a short video in which media influencer Shallie Abbiusi announced the emergence of the New Force.

From the moment those billboards began to appear, the Akufo-Addo government, and notably vice president Bawumia, with little pushback from the other presidential candidates, began a campaign to suppress the New Force.

And for “good” reason – the shadowy announcement had people talking about this “New Force” all over the country. Abbiusi’s video had gone viral with over a million views in its first 24 hours, as people speculated on who was the man behind the mask – and on whether this New Force could be just what they had been looking for.

GhanaWeb reported that some viewed the billboard campaign as offering “a symbol of hope, a fresh contender distinct from” the NPP and NDC. Semafor Africa in early December quoted an Accra-based graphic designer who said, “It is obvious it is Cheddar [Ghanaian entrepreneur Nana Kwame Bediako], the stature of the individual looks exactly like him.”

But the video got Shallie Abbiusi in a heap of trouble and led to her being deported. That unpleasant story has been just one of many assaults on the New Force and its leader.

Abbiusi, a former Miss Belgium, left her career as a biomedical lab technician to work in reality TV while continuing to participate in beauty contests on multiple continents. She also worked as a correspondent and reporter for CNN, the BBC, and Al Jazeera, interviewing high-profile personalities including Oprah, Beyonce, and Barack Obama.

Abbiusi’s YouTube channel Shallie’s World, which posted videos of her travels, lifestyle, beauty tips, and social causes, grew to10 million subscribers and over a billion views. She became enamored with Ghana during her travels and decided her “second home country” would be her new base of operations.

In her new job with Ghana-based entertainment channel GH One TV she met Cheddar at a charity fundraiser. After he shared his vision with her, she agreed to cut the infomercial which proved there was a hunger across Ghana for the message Cheddar would soon be bringing.

Then she got a phone call from the National Intelligence Bureau for what she thought would be a routine check on her resident permit. As she had been traveling in and out of Ghana for years using her legitimate permit, she hardly expected what came next.

Abbiusi was arrested and thrown into a Ghanaian jail with shared toilets and no showers. She was forced to strip naked and wear a prison outfit. In this smelly, mosquito-plagued cell, she learned of the abuses Ghana was imposing on others wrongfully jailed, including a Vietnamese woman held for weeks without a hearing.

The government searched her apartment without informing her lawyer and without a warrant, then hauled her into court, still without any opportunity to speak with her attorney. A judge ordered her to remain in custody four more days with no visitors and no clean clothes.

Shallie soon learned that the government’s real purpose was to identify Cheddar as the New Force leader, but she kept quiet. State media libeled her as a fraudster – part of their effort to discredit the New Force by discrediting their spokesperson.

When Abbiusi’s parents arrived in tears, calling for her release and accusing the government of kidnapping her, noted human rights attorney Francis Xavier Soussou took her case. She was granted bail, and the court dropped the trumped-up charge that she had made false declarations to obtain her residency permit as a student at Ghana Christian University College.

She thought the nightmare was over – but how wrong she was. Instead of being free, Abbiusi was rearrested, her resident permit revoked, and after another night in the filthy prison, she was deported the next day. The court refused an injunction sought by her attorneys to give her time to appeal.

Ghana had wiped its hands of this “troublesome” immigrant who had dared to join a movement and support a still-unknown candidate who was challenging the Ghanaian establishment. In her words, the government had treated her like a dog.

Soussou was livid at her mistreatment, accusing the immigration service of plotting to deport her all along. “What kind of international disgrace is this,” he asked. “Are we living in a democracy or are we living in a jungle?”

But the government’s attacks on the New Force had only begun. The military stepped in to force cancellation of a January 8 event dubbed “The Convention” as which the New Force candidate was to be revealed, claiming that an “unforeseen State Event” would be using the venue. 

The bold move shocked the New Africa Foundation, which had brought prominent speakers from across the continent. One speaker, Kenyan law professor P. L. O. Lumumba said, “We came to Ghana to share a message of hope that Africa needs at this time.”  But, he added, this is not “an occasion for lamentation but for redoubling our efforts.” 

NDC politician Dr. Clement Apaak minced no words in stating, “Such misuse of state power by this failed Akufo-Addo/Bawumia government doesn’t augur well for our democracy and must be condemned. Doesn’t the 1992 constitution guarantee freedom of speech and association?”

Since the brutal cancellation of the pan-African event, the NPP’s fortunes have fallen fast. Recent polling by GH One TV showed Bawumia running a very distant third, with the New Force nearly tied with front-runner John Mahama and the NDC.

Abbiusi, still in exile, says that “Ghana is portrayed as free and peaceful, but it is all a front. There is no respect for the law by a ruling party that takes away the entire legal system just to maintain power.” 

But in Ghana, the times they are a changing.

“If in less than two-and-a-half months after the start of our campaign,” said Cheddar, “we have almost gotten half of the nation talking about the New Force, then you can imagine what we can do with the rest of the time we have.”

Clearly, the NPP, too, saw this coming, and tried in vain to shut it down before its power was swept away by this rising new tide. 

[Image By Rei-artur, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons]

 The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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