The announcement of Professor Jane Naana Opoku-Agyemang as the vice presidential candidate of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) has evoked some exciting commentary, many of them uninformed and sexist. It is my considered view that, to elevate the quality of our political discourse, our political actors, including politicians, journalists, and commentators need to engage in the kind of measured, qualitative, and educated analysis devoid of political coloration and misguided sentiments. In this piece, I attempt to make that kind of argument using the case of Professor Opoku-Agyemang as an example.

Recently I noted elsewhere that, purely on the basis of qualification, experience, and professional preparation, Professor Opoku-Agyemang is one of the most qualified people to ever be considered for the position of vice president or president of Ghana. Politics or misogyny should not change this fact! I make this point with a thoughtful consideration of the CV’s of all the vice presidential nominees since 1992. With a tall list of academic and professional forays and accomplishments, Prof. Opoku-Agyemang brings integrity and substance to the position, most notably leadership and managerial experience.

In justifying my assertion, let me invoke some observations made by NPP General Secretary, John Boadu, and Ghana’s Majority Leader, Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu. John Boadu notes: "What track record can the NDC's appointed running mate boast of? With all her years as an academician, what major achievement can you credit to her all these years?” Similarly, Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu retorts: “She speaks good English but is it good enough to satisfy the ticket? Let’s assume that John [Mahama] becomes the President and the next day he is no longer, is this woman capable of being described as the President of the republic?

I will return to the sexist posture of their comments later, but both political actors appear to hint at the competence of Prof. Opoku-Agyemang. The misguided impression is created that Prof. Opoku-Agyemang can only speak “good English,” and there’s also some implicit bias against academicians—i.e. the work of academicians happens and stays in the classroom; academicians cannot be critical thinkers; they cannot be managers and leaders; they cannot grind and lead; and they have no iota of diplomacy in and about them.  To be sure, this is not the first time an academician has come close to the echelons of political power. If Ghana’s own Professor Atta Mills is a not a good example, we can turn to Egypt, Latvia, the U.S., etc.

One way to respond to the questions posed by the two gentlemen will be to put similar questions to them:

1.          What major achievements did either man have before assuming their current roles?

2.         What major achievements can we credit to all the vice presidential nominees that have preceded Professor Opoku-Agyemang?

3.         Comparatively, who among the vice presidential nominees since, say, 1992 was better prepared to assume the role of vice president?

What better preparation or track record can a candidate seeking the highest political office in Ghana have than being Chief Executive Officer (i.e. Vice Chancellor (VC)) of a large public university with its disparate units, people, and constituencies? To be clear, the Vice Chancellor is primarily a leader and manager, two of the cardinal factors needed to steer the business of government.  More so, can a candidate be more capable than an individual who has managed a student population of over 74, 000 students, many business and academic units, and a group of faculty of high intellectual repute?

The position of VC requires tact, diplomacy, planning and coordination, industry, communication and interpersonal skills, vision, critical research capacity, economic, fundraising, and budgeting acumen, and complex leadership skills, among a wide expanse of experiences needed to run large corporations. Unless, of course, one believes that the role of a manager is only unique to non-academic institutions, we should appreciate the work that goes into running large public universities along with the invisible labor that comes with it. By the way, no one is born a vice president; individuals get prepared for it.

Prof. Opoku-Agyemang is an academic and professional of international repute and standing who has risen through the academic ranks from lecturer to full professor within an astonishingly shorter timeframe than many of her contemporaries. Politically, although she is relatively new to the kind of national politics we are accustomed to, she has smartly navigated her own path at the lower and upper levels of university politics: she was warden of Adehye Hall; head of department of English; Dean of Faculty of Arts; Dean of the School of Graduate Studies and Research; and, of course, the first female Vice Chancellor of UCC. Add Minister of Education to the mix.

Her breadth of leadership and administration stretches to board memberships. She served on boards such as the Graphic Communications Group Limited (as chair), the College of Physicians and Surgeons (as Eminent Citizen), the Harriet Tubman Series on the African Diaspora, The Africa Initiative in Canada, and the Centre for Democratic Governance (CDD).

Furthermore, she stands tall globally in terms of education and women empowerment. Among a tall list, she currently serves as Ghana’s representative to the Executive Board of the United Nation’s Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); she is President and Africa Board Chair of the Forum for African Women Educationalists; and the Chancellor for the Women’s University in Africa.

For her work, she has received a lot of recognition. Not counting several international honorary doctorate degrees, Prof. Agyemang has accolades such as the Global Leadership Award, Outstanding Contribution to Education Award by the Africa Education Leadership Awards, Outstanding Performance in Advancing International Education, Order of the Volta Award for Academic Distinction, the Ghana Women of Excellence Award, and a Citation of Honor by the National Union of Ghana Students Women’s Caucus.

I submit that it is this vitae of activities, along with her tenure as Minister of Education of Ghana, that should be subjected to vigorous and rigorous interrogation and critique. We cannot judge her by a different measuring stick than we did the likes of Dr. Bawumia, Mr.  Nkensen Arkaah, and Alhaji Aliu Mahama. More so, we cannot judge her differently because she is a woman. The primary questions that should engage our analysis should be: “Have her current accomplishments prepared her enough to act in the absence or support the agenda of a president?” “Considering her tenure as Minister of Education or Vice Chancellor, what are the major accomplishments or missing links that point to her leadership, policy-making, and managerial skills?” The Constitution of Ghana provides little clarity on the substantive roles of the vice president, but there’s a hint of generality and versatility—sort of a jack of all trades.

It is unfortunate that arguments about Prof. Opoku-Agyemang’s supposed failures as Minister of Education have been largely pedestrian, hyperbolic, and factually inaccurate. For example, the largely hyped cancellation of the book and research allowance for senior members of tertiary institutions is without concrete basis as the policy was never cancelled—in fact, in 2016 when the NDC lost power, the payment of those allowances was approved. Of course, I personally never supported the discontinuation of the teacher and nurses’ trainee allowances by the NDC government, and that’s a legitimate area of interrogation.

Frankly, the more I listen to the commentary surrounding Prof. Opoku-Agyemang’s nomination, the more I get the sense that she’s simply a threat to the patriarchal status quo and the careers of life-long politicians who rose to political stardom on the backd of no qualitative accomplishments. To start with, the fact that Prof. Opoku-Agyemang is a woman who has blazed the trail and broken the invisible and artificial barriers in a society of male-dominated political and economic systems, is an uncomfortable reality for many. Things are having too fast for women! It is no wonder that some of the commentary appears to ignore her legitimate career achievements and rather invokes deeply ingrained societal misogynistic attitudes towards women.

Mind you, I am not naïve, and I understand the political strategy of running down a political threat and opponent; however, there should be a better way to approach this case in point. I believe there are legitimate points of critique about Prof. Opoku-Agyemang’s record thast should fuel the debate. However, presently, it appears as though some people are trying to find non-existent dirt in the wrong places.

At one point, it was about Prof. Opoku-her no-contribution to the struggle for agency for women and at another juncture it was her appearance and even inability to succeed because she’s a woman. In fact, the fallacious arguments about her tenure at the Ministry of Education has been overblown to the point of boredom.

Let’s admit it; her entry into mainstream politics has been good news for Ghana and an inspiration to many women across the country. I have shared her images and story to my daughter, and I hope she gets inspired by them.  Ultimately, I would want to see our political discourse infused with substance and quality.

In the same way I was excited about the likes of George Andah and Zanetor Rawlings going to parliament, I am also inspired by Prof. Opoku-Agyemang’s candidature, not because she’s a woman who is proving how the complex glass ceiling can be shattered, but because the totality of her work stands tall.


Godwin Agboka is an associate professor at the University of Houston-Downtown

DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.

DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.