Gborse Nicholas Mawunyah

The Fourth Republic has seen both ruling parties, NPP and NDC, accuse each other of promoting what they call, ‘family and friends government’. It was one of the most serious allegations the then Opposition Party –NPP raised against the Rawlings One and Two governments of the NDC.

At the time, the allegation was that Mr Rawlings had surrounded himself mostly with his tribesmen, some Northern loyalists and some military colleagues.  So when there was a peaceful political transition in the year 2001, many political watchers were keen to see if the Kuffour-led NPP was going to deviate from the ‘culture’ of ‘family and friends government’ that it had vociferously accused its predecessor government of.

But alas! The accusation raged on as the government was accused of promoting cronyism and political patronage by appointing not only political friends, but blood relations as well. His first Minister for Defence was his blood brother, Dr Kwame Addo Kuffour, a very accomplished professional, but whose appointment especially to the very sensitive position of Defence Minister was criticized as people accused him of not possessing any background in defence or security.

Since then, the so called culture of ‘family and friends’ government has continued, and all governments after President Kuffour’s have been accused of doing it. What is interesting about this accusation is that whereas the accusation itself has remained constant, the accusers change their stance depending on the side of the aisle they belong at a given point in time.

But is there such a thing as ‘family and friends government’? Or are we being utopian by assuming that ruling parties will appoint so called nice people, politically neutrals and non-aligned people into positions of trust after elections have been won by ordinary loyal party members and dedicated party financiers and campaigners?

To answer this question, it is important to look at the nature of politics itself. Politics is an aggregation and projection of interests. And in promoting these interests, politicians cultivate relationships; they develop friendships and build loyalties. As time goes on, they tend to trust these cohorts to defend and project not only their interests, but their beliefs and ideologies as well. It is mostly this special class of friends who go round the country campaigning for their preferred candidate.

They are the ones who either contribute financially to the campaign or raise funds for the campaign. They sponsor campaign materials and paraphernalia; they provide vehicles for the campaign and sometimes pay the now huge filing fees for the candidate. By the nature of our politics, major party candidates spend quite sometime in the trenches building capacity, cultivating relationships and canvassing for approval and support from party members, family and friends, old school mates, church or mosque members and professional groups.

Every major political party Presidential aspirant has classmates or social club members. Others even belong in special interest groups, lodges, movements and sects. In these groups, such candidates, like everyone else tend to build friendships sometimes spanning decades so much that loyalty and trust become their catch words.

Secondly, it is important to recognize the fact that political leadership be it a junta, monarchy, or Democracy, thrives on loyalty and trust. All political leaders can sacrifice some things but not loyalty and trust. They are the lifeblood of the regime. As such, in doing political appointments, every politician wittingly or unwittingly makes a choice between loyalty and competence.

And in most cases, loyalty thrives over competence. This is in no way suggestive of the fact that those who get appointed are not competent. In most cases, they are; the only difference is that it is often not the first consideration for the appointing authority. So in the spirit of this loyalty and trust, appointing authorities get to appoint friends (some of whom they know for ages), class mates, family members and lodge members many of whom are also competent in their own right. 

Meanwhile, politicians are considerate of so many dynamics in their appointments. Interestingly, they are not obliged by the constitution of the Republic to disclose to us those dynamics. Contrary to what we the public think, politicians do a lot of calculations and permutations when doing their appointments. These calculations revolve around internal party dynamics, the future interest and aspiration of the leader, belief in the leader’s vision and the history of the potential appointees. Simply put, appointing authorities are mindful of political sabotage, political sell out, internal party cliques and personal ambitions of the appointees.

They want people who believe in the vision and can drive it. They want people who can make them leave legacies in the footprint of history. They want appointees who can be reined in, carry out directives and marching orders loyally. Accordingly, such appointing authorities lean on the caution of loyalty and trust when appointing people into their government, but without necessarily sidestepping competence. It is only that on the scale of factors for consideration, loyalty and trust rank higher. In recent times, we are beginning to see similar patterns even in our churches where Founders are grooming their children to succeed them. These ‘anointed’ children may not necessarily be the most competent or qualified for the position; it is only that the Founders are being guided by the two key words- loyalty and trust.  

On the basis of this dynamics, it will be utopian for the public to assume that after major political leaders spend years nurturing ambitions, cultivating friendships, canvassing for votes and eventually winning with the invaluable support of a dedicated cadre of friends, blood relations, business partners, professional fellows, church members and classmates, they will overlook them in appointment by appointing politically neutral but competent technocrats whose ambitions, interests and beliefs they cannot vouch for.  Yes, our Constitution under the Directive Principles of State Policy encourages the State in Article 35 (6) (b) ‘to achieve reasonable regional and gender balance in recruitment and appointment to public offices,’ but in fulfilling this requirement (even though some argue it is not justiciable), appointing authorities are first and foremost guided by the loyalty and trust of the potential appointees.

It is only that sometimes, some of these ‘loyal and trusted’ appointees are not necessarily the PhD, Masters or First Degree holders in Law, Medicine, Political Science, History, or Business Administration. They may not have worked for twenty years or more in multi-lateral organizations, financial sector or international bodies. They may not possess enviable CVs or be the ‘darling boys and girls’ of the media. Some may not be authorities on any field of endeavour nor accomplished professionals.

Some may just be Middle School Certificate holders, or GCE ‘O’ or ‘A’ holders. Others may not even hold any form of educational credentials.  But they are the ones who stayed loyal, dedicated and committed to the cause sometimes at the peril of their business, marriage or life; and so, as politics is also a game of rewards, appointing authorities feel loyally bound and indebted to such apparatchiks. This is no way dismissive of the political appointee’s commitment to providing the country with competent and quality governance.  They only need appointees who can loyally drive the vision of the party and government.

Thus, although the age old argument of ‘family and friends government’ will continue into the future, the public should in no way expect that appointing authorities will ever appoint ‘politically neutral’, ‘politically correct’ nice technocrats into government as long as politics remains a game of mobilization and aggregation of interests. Even where that becomes the consideration, then it is also the case that such an individual is amenable to the beliefs and ideologies of the appointing authority but covertly. 

If that were not the case, party folks will not be seen agitating against the appointment of some appointees whom they consider outsiders who are not known in the party or who were not in the trenches with them or contributed overtly to the cause of the party’s success. In conclusion, when it comes to political appointment be it in Ghana, Westminster, the United States of America or Saudi Arabia, loyalty and trust thrive over ‘competence.’


The writer, Gborse Nicholas Mawunyah, is a writer and conference speaker on topical issues in education, political-history, school leadership and innovations. Contact him via: