A Muslim Can Be President - Kufuor

Former President John Agyekum Kufuor has expressed intense befuddlement over alleged claims by Deputy Finance Minister Fifi Kwetey that no Muslim can ever be President of Ghana. Mr. Kufuor told The Globe in an exclusive interview at his Airport residence in Accra on Friday evening that “I don’t know how it could get into anybody’s mind to say that a Muslim could not be the President of Ghana. It’s a democracy; it’s a secular nation which practices freedom of religion, perhaps we may even have a president who is not religious at all. ” Mr. Kufuor who served two consecutive four-year terms as President was sharing, exclusively with The Globe, his opinions about the recent furore on the possibility of a Muslim ever becoming the president of Ghana amongst other things. The issue became topical recently following a Wikileaks exposé that quoted Mr. Kwetey as asserting firmly that religion plays an important part in Ghanaian politics and that there was no way a Muslim could ever be voted into office as President in a country that is largely Christian. He was quoted by the leaked US Diplomatic cables as having said that “Concerning Vice President [Aliu] Mahama's Muslim faith, religion is an important factor in Ghanaian politics and many Christian Ghanaians would never vote for a Muslim presidential candidate. ” The cables also claim Mr. Kwetey said that “While most Ghanaians would not admit this openly, a Muslim could not be elected President of Ghana”, he was quoted as declaring boldly to some foreign diplomats. No Muslim has in the annals of Ghana ever been President. Though former President Dr Hilla Limann was from the Muslim-populated Northern zone of the country, specifically Gwollu near Tumu in the Upper West region, he was never a Muslim. Besides former President Rawlings who chose purely Southern Christian running mates for the 1992 and 1996 elections, all other presidential candidates since the 2000 elections have chosen running mates who were either purely Northern Muslims or Northern Christians to balance the religious divide and to also, principally attract votes from that part of the country which is Muslim-dominated. The trend continued in 2004. Former President Kufuor maintained his partner Aliu Mahama while then candidate Mills chose, then MP for Kumbungu Alhaji Mohammed Mumuni; a Muslim as his running mate. NPP’s Nana Akufo-Addo also opted for a Muslim, Dr. Mahamud Bawumia as his running mate for the 2008 elections, ostensibly, to amongst other things, strategically sway more northern and Muslim voters into the NPP. This trend, though seen by some as a healthy development has also generated some resentment amongst some political pundits who believe that if a Muslim is good enough to become the vice president, why not the president? Fifi Kwetey’s alleged comments therefore stirred an instantaneous condemnation from a cross section of Ghanaians who accused him of discriminating against Muslims. Former President Kufuor expressed shock at Mr Kwetey’s alleged assertion to the diplomats and The Globe that he was utterly astounded that somebody could condescend to thinking that a Muslim could never become the president of Ghana. According to him, religion has no role to play in the choice of who becomes the president of Ghana because the nation is governed by a secular constitution. “…Presidency by constitution is the preserve of citizens. Fortunately our Constitution is a secular constitution. It also prescribes freedom of religion. I’m a Christian, I am a citizen; I became president not because I am a Christian but because I am a citizen of Ghana and my fellow citizens elected me. If tomorrow, (incidentally my vice president was a Muslim) a party should throw up a Muslim as its candidate and he is a Muslim that the people of Ghana would accept, what stops him from becoming the president of Ghana? ...perhaps we may even have a president who is not religious at all.” Mr Kwetey himself has denied the allegation, explaining that he was misquoted. In a statement released on September 13, the deputy Finance Minister indicated that his comments were meant to bring to the fore what he called the deceit and sidelining of Muslims and people of Northern decent from the political limelight, by the NPP through regional and religious tokenism.