What caught my attention about the referenced article on myjoyonline.com on July 17, 2020, was not so much the subject header of the piece (Which I will address later on), but the intrigue for me was rather because of who the writer is. I have always considered Kojo Frempong a good friend since summer of 1997 when we undertook our National Service at Daboase in the Mpohor Wassa East District in the Western Region.
But on the substance of his write-up under the above-captioned piece to myjoyonline.com, I will have to intellectually disagree with my good friend for the many false equivalencies he ostensibly makes between the personalities of Prof. Jane Naana Opoku-Agyeman, the National Democratic Congress Vice Presidential Candidate and His Excellency, Dr Mahamadu Bawumia, the incumbent Vice President of Ghana and perpetual running mate of the New Patriotic Party.
Let me say for starters that I very well acknowledge the full disclosure that Mr Frempong gave at the end that he is a Presidential staffer in this administration. So, I will not even attempt to analyze the reasons behind his opinion piece, that should by now be obvious, so I leave his motive to readers to figure out for themselves. But let me borrow from Kojo Frempong’s own words and issue an abstract apology “this piece may make you uncomfortable … but it will force you to rethink all the unnecessary comparisons made between” Prof. Opoku-Agyeman and Dr Bawumia. Right after reading the introduction, I had hoped as I kept reading through his piece that Mr. Frempong would have taken his ‘own’ advice and not perpetuate this “unnecessary” [his words not mine] and biased debate by his seemingly unnecessary piece. Now let’s get into the more substantive aspects of his “opinion piece.”
While making a case for the unnecessary comparison of the two personalities, Mr. Frempong shot himself in the foot by bogusly attempting to perform what he considered a comparative analysis between the responsibilities that come from running and managing a public university and that of the Republic as a Vice President. I guess it was probably lost on my good friend that, a university by the very nature of its set up, is a micro socio-economic, cultural, and political institution that functions and operates at the highest level of expectation comparable to the management of the State itself. So being a Vice-Chancellor of a university, the size of Cape Vars is by no means a small feat.
Thus, to argue that the near “stakeholder dimensions in-country consideration cannot be matched by the universe of management in a public university”[vo1] is one that can only be made by someone who does not have a clue and or is ill-informed about how universities function and are managed or simply one who for the sake of expediency is attempting to play politics with that comparison just for “shizzle” [as the Americans will say]. I wonder how in one frame my very good friend attempts to pull the ‘objectivity’ wool over the glossed eyes of readers by extolling the individual achievements and accomplishments of the esteemed Professor, but in the very next breath alleges that “she is about to do the hardest job in her life” which easily translates into the hypothesis that the good Professor could or would not be able to rise to the task of the Vice President’s office.
I don’t recall ever a time when I heard or read that Mr. Frempong had been or acted in the capacity of a Vice President, that is primarily why I was astounded as to how he could tell [having not acted in that capacity himself] that it was going to become the “hardest job” that Prof. Opoku-Agyeman was going to perform. I snickered at the subtle and underlying androcentric vibes emanating from the position under the guise of objectivity that friend was pushing. The core logic of his argument lies in his rational view that the role and expectation of the Vice President position are so ‘hard’ for an accomplished woman such as “plain Jane,” but for a fresh-faced Dr Bawumia as at January 1, 2017, it wasn’t.
Definitely not coming from me [the Donald Trump defence], but the word out on the street is that Dr Bawumia has never really occupied that position nor performed that role as expected because if he had, he wouldn’t have been running around town for four years and still be giving campaign promises and lectures when he should have been busy fixing the economy with his so-called “Bawunomics.” Reading through the piece, one cannot escape the strong “in your face” androcentric viewpoints lacing through every facet of the ‘analogical and unbiased claims’ that Mr Frempong sought to make. Ontologically, his views about the Professor seems to be wrapped up in machoistic realities.
Prof. Opoku-Agyeman can’t be trusted to perform the job of a Vice President of the Republic because, according to my good friend, it is ‘damn’ too hard for a woman, especially one as ordinary as ‘Plain Jane.’ I do not want to believe that Mr Frempong assessed Prof. Opoku-Agyeman’s capabilities beyond her looks, but it seems quite obvious that it is exactly what he did. So, what does Mr Frempong do? He arrogates unto himself to make the case that the job is the hardest for a qualified female candidate. What a misogynist view to have about a woman who has broken so many barriers and made it to the very top of the ladder of the largest opposition party in the country.
This view is, however, not surprising as it is couched in the same strain of thought very recently espoused by President Nana Akuffo-Addo at the Women’s Empowerment in Canada. Don’t take my word for it, just read through his piece, and you will find the plethora of structural qualifying adjectives like Dr Bawumia is ‘brilliant,’ ‘public speaker,’ ‘tougher,’ ‘beautiful brain,’ ‘braininess,’ ‘Walewale Adam Smith’, etc. One gets the impression reading through the piece that plain Prof. Opoku-Agyeman must be “dumb” as a rock and that her personal and professional qualifications and achievements both in academia and arena of politics are irrelevant and do not count for nothing.
As a matter of fact, Mr Frempong’s piece sound more like the esteemed Professor cannot hold a candle to the face of Dr. Bawumia. Of cos, how could she? She’s a plain Jane. And what does Mr. Frempong recommend next that the learned Prof. Opoku-Agyeman do? “She must be able to stay focused and not fall apart.” I am like, did Mr. Frempong just say that?? That a strong Ghanaian woman, doubling as a mother that raised three exceptional children and who despite the odds arduously rose through the ranks in a patriarchally structured social environment to the position of a Vice Chancellor’s with oversight for over seventy to a hundred thousand people, and who satisfactorily performed her duty both in that position and in her national assignment as an Education Minister must be able to learn to stay focused? What a bunch of “crocks” [excuse my language]. I would have grudgingly overlooked this attempt at diminishing her capacity and credentials if it had come from the ilk’s of Wontumi and Abronye or more so a foot soldier, but from a well-educated man that I know Mr. Frempong to be, it is disappointing.
I also scoffed at the assumptive claims by Mr. Frempong that Prof. Opoku-Agyeman is neither capable nor is going to be capable of building resourceful relationships nationwide within the next five months with kindred associations that reflect trust and the ability to influence processes through organization. Here again, the patriarchal and androcentric aspects of his thinking are exposed as he belittles the competency of the astute Professor ‘a woman’ to step up to the national task. It could well be an unconscious or subliminal thinking or thought. After all, we are a highly patriarchal society and have been primarily socialized with such absurdities and manners of thinking. Notwithstanding, if I am faced with the option of choosing between a 2016 political novice in the person of Dr. Bawumia and a 2020 confident academician and professional in the person of Prof. Opoku-Agyeman, it won’t take a rocket scientist to determine who gets my vote.
I will, however, for the records state here that it must be a sudden case of selective amnesia when Mr. Frempong brought up the issue of the ‘Montie 3’ as if to show that she [Plain Jane] lacks the intelligence to make good and sound decisions. Perhaps Mr. Frempong has not bothered to know or has deliberately decided to omit a key point that Dr. Bawumia is a member of both the National Security Council and the Police Service Council under whose command innocent bystanders, voters, and worse still a sitting elected Member of Parliament, were beaten, shot at, and grossly abused at the infamous Ayawaso-West bye-election. My question to him is, what did Dr. Bawumia use his influence on the Councils to do and achieve? Crickets?? I honestly don’t believe Dr. Bawumia ever transitioned into his position as the Vice President. That’s why I am quite baffled at the assertion that it would be the hardest job in Prof. Opoku-Agyeman’s life if the current occupier is the benchmark against which that argument is being advanced.
Right out of the gate, I knew that there was going to be a special part dedicated to digitalization. For while I was reading the thoughts of Mr Frempong under this sub-header, I could tell he was all giddy about digital energy and couldn’t wait to execute his coup de grace on the astute Professor. And how could I tell he was all giddy, this is him in his own words, “The Angels upstairs must be having a treat!” And why would they [angels]? Because this is supposedly Dr Bawumia’s forte [funny enough, I thought it was in Bawunomics].
I couldn’t help but sarcastically laughed this off. I was wondering whether it was his attempt at another joke because if it was, then it was a lame one, and I might need to get my two seconds of laugh back. Mr Frempong rhetorically follows up on this dry joke and asked a crass question [in my opinion] “VISION! Who among the two has the capacity to envision what our future should be?” If we are to go by Mr Frempong’s logic, the president himself then does not deserve to be occupying the position he is in, for he should have been considered past his prime and nothing to offer by this very logic.
But he doubles down and follows it with another crass question by asking, “who between the two can make the right difference?” I scoffed at his interpretation of what the right difference means, especially when he juxtaposed that difference into the country’s engagement with the global world system.
Let me emphatically make the point here and for the avoidance of doubt that, for all the noise about Dr. Bawumia’s digitization projects, I am yet to see any significant impact to the development of the country that can in one way or the other match up to what President Kagame is doing just south on the continent and last time I checked President Kagame is still older than Bawumia. It is, therefore, a moot point to subtly make age a pre-requisite and conditional for creativity and innovation.
So, for Mr. Frempong to allude in his piece that somehow and by some stroke of magic Bawumia has propelled us into a sub-South Korea status within the last four years via means of digital technology, is quite akin to selling me that bridge to nowhere in Alaska. It is exceedingly difficult for me to not brand the writer as sexist when in further denigration of [albeit under the guise of objectivity] the personality of Prof. Opoku-Agyeman he makes such outlandish claims that even when Dr. Bawumia “is in the shower and having breakfast, and saying his afternoon prayers” solutions jump at him.
I must confess that I was a bit curious about the shower part, got a few pings in my plain brain cells wondering how my good friend can know that much about the detail about the Vice President. Nonetheless, this is laughable, and no pun intended probably another joke that fell flat. This statement, I will chalk down to an obvious attempt to kiss-ass [the Urban Dictionary has an apt definition]. There is no need to expend my energy on this one, and I will leave it just at that.
And to cap it all up, he demands that “Prof. Jane must show us what her smarts are. And she has five months to do so”. Like really??? What audaciousness? Am I the only one missing out on the joke here or something?? A distinguished professor, should show you what her smarts are? If you can’t acknowledge everything she has achieved in her entire life, both in academia and in public, what can she possibly do to make you see “oh blind man of Galilee?” What else do you want to see that can convince you that she is more than capable for the position for which she has been tapped?
Professor Opoku-Agyemang has taught and worked at the University of Cape Coast, starting in 1986. She has held various academic positions, including Head of the Department of English, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, and Dean of School of Graduate Studies and Research. From 1997, she has held the position of Academic Director of the School for International Training in the History and Cultures of the African Diaspora. From 2008 to 2012, she was the University’s Vice-Chancellor. In March 2007, she was one of five scholars selected to deliver presentations during the 200th Anniversary of the Abolition of Slavery at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City.
In October 2009, she was elected Ghana’s representative to the Executive Board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Between February 2013 and January 2017, she served as the Education Minister of Ghana. Since October 2018, she has been the Chancellor of the Women’s University in Africa, located in Zimbabwe. She has served on many local and international boards and committees such as the Centre for Democratic Governance, (CDD-Ghana), the Editorial Board of The Harriet Tubman Series on the African Diaspora (Africa World Press Inc. USA), the Africa Initiative in Canada, and the College of Physicians and Surgeons as Eminent Citizen (culled from Wikipedia). So, seriously what else do we need to see to know that what her smarts are??
I am all for a clean campaign of political disagreements, one that is largely driven by policies and ideas that can lift this country out of the depressive state in which it has been for the last 63 years post-independence. As a people, we have suffered and deserve better. And we need to sanitize our political and electoral processes in our journey on this experiment called DEMOCRACY. And we must end the cult of personality around which our politics have been built for the entirety of this 4th Constitution under the Republic. Recent events on the international stage, especially in the United States, should serve as a guide for us on the damage that cult politics can do.
Let us who SAY that we are educated engage the masses and push for a politics of ideas and not one based on the cult of personality that is ephemeral. Regardless of whatever our sociopolitical positions and leanings are, let us engage in the agreement and disagreement of ideas. I can now finally ask the question that has been bugging my mind e and which prompted me to write this piece in the first place. What exactly does your header “Plain Jane for Bawumia’s Brain” actually mean? What message was it intended to convey? Does it not come across to you as derogatory and sexist? I will meet you sometime under our famous Cherry Tree to continue this discussion. Until then, adios mi amigo.
July 17, 2020.
The writer is a Social Commentator with interest in the areas of Gender Inequality, Female Empowerment, Social Justice and Development; with a specific focus on the Socio-Cultural and Political Construct of Reality within Feminist and Gendered Spaces in Ghana. His email address is: Mdekased15@hotmail.com