Ghana?s vice president has come under increasing criticism for allegedly playing the ?ethnic card? in his ongoing campaign to become the presidential candidate for the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP). Alhaji Aliu Mahama was reportedly quoted as saying the ruling party would lose next year?s elections if he is not nominated to lead the party after President John Kufuor leaves office. Some political observers condemned the vice president for what they described as his unguarded statement, which they contend could potentially undermine the country?s unity.

Vladimir Antwi-Danso is a lecturer in International Relations at the University of Ghana, Legon. He tells reporter Peter Clottey that the vice president?s message has been misconstrued.

?Personally, I think his message has been misunderstood. He has said not on one occasion, but on several occasions that the NPP party has been wrongly perceived as ethnically based, that is to say an Ashanti party. And that they should look at him and see that, he is not an Ashanti, and yet he is in the party. So he was calling on his fellow ethnic groups from the north and from the south to look up to him and vote for him because it?s not an Akan party as perceived,? Antwi-Danso noted.

He said it was unfortunate ethnic sentiments are read into statements of politicians, which Antwi-Danso said do not help the country?s unity.

?In actual fact, politics of Ghana has been affected by ethnicity and the tribal card. There were instances where people wanted a tribe to vote in a certain way, that?s so bad. Secondly, we have ourselves introduced canker into the body politics where when you have a president from the south, we always want to look for a vice president from the north and vice versa. So for me there is a bad canker, which we have introduced to the body politic, but then using it is equally bad,? he said.

Antwi-Danso said the vice president?s statement received mixed reaction from the general public.

?In actual fact because the political terrain which is a little rugged and rough, many more people read different meanings into it, and the phone-in calls begun to have their own assessment. It is the order of the day in Ghana where people give their own meanings and draw their own contours with every speech made by any other personality. But personally I think it is bad if we always want to find the ethnic card always behind every speech,? Antwi-Danso pointed out.

He urged political leaders not to play the ethnic card.

?The ethnic card is the most dangerous thing to appeal to. You create a situation where you are appealing to a clientele vote for you because you come from them. So, when there is a national problem or a national crisis, you would see that people from various ethnic groups begin to remove their loyalty to the state and then they move this loyalty to the tribe or the clan or to a certain religious group,? he said.

He said the genesis of recent worldwide upheavals have always been associated with ethnicity.

?In fact most of the post-Cold War civil unrests and all that we have had, especially, since 1991 are based on ethnicity. So I have always advised that people should not play the ethnic card, and our leadership should set the example. The leadership must do what Nkrumah (Ghana?s first President) did in the past where the tribe did not matter, what was known was Ghana; where you attended school, which social organization you belong to. These are the issues we need to tackle instead of putting the tribe ahead of the nation,? he emphasized.