In the beginning was a mask. Or, more precisely, a strange character with a camouflaged face, featured for weeks on gigantic billboards plastered all over Ghana promising “change”, “a new nation” and “leadership for the next generation”. .

In this English-speaking West African state which must vote in December for its next president, the poster campaign has fueled speculation among the general public and the media. A curiosity that did not die when the masked man revealed his identity and his ambitions at the beginning of January. It must be said that Nana Kwame Bediako, a rich entrepreneur now a presidential candidate, stands out in the political landscape.

“I came to you to save you,” he proclaimed, declaring himself under the colors of a movement called New Force. The mask, an object with powerful symbolism in Africa, means that we must “focus on the message” rather than on the messenger, he clarified.

This 43-year-old real estate developer, nicknamed “Cheddar” – like cheese, whose name, in slang, can take the meaning of “money” – intends to shake up the traditional political game in a country renowned as one of the democracies the most stable in the region. Since the advent of multi-party politics in the former Gold Coast in 1992, the battle for the highest office has been a duel between two major parties, the New Patriotic Party (NPP), currently in power, and the National Democratic Congress (NDC). ), in opposition.

“A voice from above”

But the serious economic crisis the country is going through, defaulting on its debt and facing double-digit inflation, could make the competition tougher. After two terms, the outgoing president, Nana Akufo-Addo, is not running for re-election. It is his vice-president, Mahamudu Bawumia, inducted candidate, who will have to defend the record of the head of state after having been one of the main architects of the economic measures of recent years. Opposite, the NDC, which failed in the last two presidential elections, nominated former President John Dramani Mahama, predecessor of Mr. Akufo-Addo, as its candidate.

“The NPP and NDC have been around for about four decades and one would have expected more change in terms of human and social development,” scathed former masked candidate Nana Kwame Bediako in a mid-air radio interview. December, promising to work to bring out thousands of entrepreneurs in Ghana. He himself repeats over and over again that he is not a “politician” – “It was a voice from above that told me to run for president” – and that he has just a completely different universe, that of business.

His first financial successes, he likes to say, date back to his years in London when, as a student, he sold scrap metal on the streets of the British capital. Today he chairs the Kwarleyz group, specializing in luxury real estate. Some of his eccentricities have already earned him national headlines, such as in 2022 when he brought two tigers from Dubai and installed them in an enclosure at his home. An initiative intended to “stimulate tourism”, he defended while his neighbors were worried about the proximity of the felines.

This atypical profile with a still very vague electoral program seems to arouse a certain excitement within the political establishment. Thus, Mr. Bediako had planned to reveal himself on January 7 during a large gathering organized in Accra, the Ghanaian capital, on Independence Square. But the authorities canceled it at the very last moment by dispatching soldiers to the site, citing the holding of another “unforeseen” public event at the same place.

A “budding demagogue”

Several foreign personalities were invited to this gathering such as Peter Obi, the third man in the Nigerian presidential election in February 2023, or Julius Malema, populist leader of the South African Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, who was supposed to speak from a distance. Participations in the form of a political manifesto. “The speakers were chosen because they talk about serious topics while enjoying celebrity status among young people who use social media and are interested in public affairs, but not necessarily politics,” explains Bright Simons , vice-president of the Ghanaian think tank Imani.

According to analysts, Mr. Bediako’s chances appear slim against historic parties with solid activist and financial networks. But the commotion caused by the troublemaker echoes the emergence, in recent years, of other outsiders on the continent. The Labor Party Peter Obi in Nigeria, but also the singer and opponent Bobi Wine in Uganda or even Ousmane Sonko, number one adversary of Senegalese President Macky Sall, were able to attract the favor of part of the youth of their countries by surfing on his disillusionment with the political class.

According to the new Ghanaian candidate, the government is now doing everything to restrain him. An interview planned on the public television channel GTV, in mid-January, would have been canceled at the last minute “on orders from above”, he accused on X (formerly Twitter). However, no one is yet able to predict to what extent Nana Kwame Bediako will be able to convert the media excitement he arouses into real electoral capital. On social networks as in the country’s media, enthusiastic comments face questions about the origin of his fortune and mockery of his speeches with messianic overtones.

But is he really aiming for the highest office? “For this budding demagogue, it is not necessarily a question of being satisfied with the next elections,” says Bright Simons. He will continue to accumulate audience and relevance, so that even if he fails to achieve the desired political impact, the energy and expenditure he has expended will still be useful to his enterprise . »