Ghana’s masked man says presidential bid is no gimmick

Anonymous contender reveals himself as maverick businessman Nana Kwame Bediako

After weeks of intense speculation about the identity of the anonymous presidential contender whose masked image appeared on billboards across Ghana, the mystery candidate finally revealed himself.

But Nana Kwame Bediako, a freewheeling businessman who previously hit the headlines for importing a pair of tiger cubs, insisted his man-in-the-mask act that garnered headlines around the world was anything but a gimmick.

“I feel like I’m following the vision of people like Kwame Nkrumah,” Bediako said, referring to Ghana’s liberation hero, a pan-African icon. “They didn’t have a political party at the beginning, they just had a movement,” the 43-year-old said in his first unmasked interview with foreign media.

Bediako’s emergence highlights an openness in Ghana, one of Africa’s most stable democracies, to look beyond the two main parties that have held sway for decades. “Ghanaian politics is in a sad state,” said Valerie Labi, who heads an emobility start-up in Accra, the capital. “The people have lost trust and the political class are out of touch. The man in the mask is just the beginning.”


Without the disguise, Bediako is a familiar face to Ghanaians. He is best known for parlaying his scrap metal and nightclub business into a mini property empire. He also had a brush with the authorities in 2022 after bringing the two tigers from Dubai. When they grew too big to be kept at his home, he built a zoo in Accra to accommodate them.

Bediako said he launched his presidential bid behind a mask because of the object’s power in African history to scare and confuse an enemy. “If there’s a man wearing a mask, you have to wait for me to unveil and find out I’m going to challenge you,” he said of his tactics. “We were controlling the media space without buying media space,” he said of his campaign, named The New Force.

We have all these resources and yet we can’t make billions out of it. We rather have to go out and borrow billions, and then somebody [else] will pay millions to extract trillions

—  Nana Kwame Bediako on Ghana's natural resources

Bediako said he revealed his identity earlier than intended after a political convention he tried to hold this month in Accra’s Independence Square was broken up. Authorities said the space had been booked for another event.

His candidacy mirrors the disruption to traditional politics by a range of mavericks, from former president Donald Trump in the US to Javier Milei, the surprise winner of the recent presidential election in Argentina. In Africa, Bobi Wine, a Ugandan rapper; Peter Obi, a third-party candidate who shook up last year’s Nigerian election; and George Weah, a former footballer who became one-term president of Liberia, have all challenged the status quo.

Bediako compared himself with Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who became Ukraine’s president after starring in a TV comedy, although the Ghanaian claimed to have more strings to his bow. “I’m not a comedian – I’m an entrepreneur, I’m a visionary, I’m a philanthropist. When I can combine those things that gives me the credibility to add value to society,” he said.

Analysts said the businessman-turned-political-hopeful, whose campaign slogan is “leadership for the next generation”, was cashing in on disenchantment with the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP), which is nearing the end of two terms and must face the electorate in December.

Under Nana Akufo-Addo, the party promised free high-school education, factory jobs and an end to corruption. Instead the government has been mired in scandals of its own and is widely regarded to have mismanaged the economy, leading Ghana to default on its $55 billion debt in late 2022.

Since the end of military rule in 1993, power in Ghana has regularly changed between the two parties, the NPP and the rival National Democratic Congress. But Bediako, who also goes by the name “Cheddar” – which means money in hip-hop slang – said Ghana suffered from similar problems to the continent’s other flawed democracies.

In Africa, he said, politicians bribed the public at election time through small handouts, but expected to cash in when they took power. “It’s like the people owe them. We have a corrupt democratic blueprint,” he said.

We know him [Bediako], but he’s something like a joke. I don’t think he’s going to be president.”

—  A waiter in the capital

His aim was to break the mould of entrenched economic policies, which sees Ghana ship raw materials including cocoa, manganese and oil with minimal benefit to its population.

“We have all these resources and yet we can’t make billions out of it. We rather have to go out and borrow billions, and then somebody [else] will pay millions to extract trillions,” he said, adding that foreign investors should have to put money into the country, as they do in Dubai and other successful economies.

Despite the buzz around Bediako, analysts said he would struggle to take on the main parties, which were better financed and organised. Former president John Mahama, the opposition leader who lost the 2016 election, is expected to make a strong challenge for the presidency.

Daniel, a waiter working at a mall in the capital, said he had been following the story of the masked man, but also viewed it as a stunt. “We know him [Bediako], but he’s something like a joke,” he said. “I don’t think he’s going to be president.”

Still, Bediako’s foray into politics does appear to have rattled the authorities, who as well as blocking the Accra convention also deported his Belgian spokeswoman, the former beauty queen Shalimar Abbiusi.

For the man behind the mask, this was proof that the establishment was running scared. “They’ve lost emotional control because of all the attention we’re getting,” he said.

– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2024

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