Ghana’s presidential elections – a parade of mediocrities
Wofa Kwaku Danso wrote a few days ago: “No man is perfect for the job of President, and there is no preparation for it. Not in America and not in Ghana.” Wofa Kwaku Danso is right but only partly so. No man is perfect for the job of president in Ghana but only in so far as no man is really perfect for any job. No matter how good a person is for a job, there can be someone, in principle, who would be better for that job. But that person may either not come forward or be willing to take the job. As for preparation for the job of president, that can, indeed, be possible. All those who enter politics and spend much of their lives in that line of trade are, by so doing, cutting their teeth for the big post. An incumbent president can also groom someone to be president teaching him or her all the wily tricks of the job. Whether that person becomes a good president or not will be quite a different matter.
But there is another, deeper, sense in which Wofa Kwaku Danso is right. Even if a person can prepare to become president, the very best leaders are born rather than made. Such people have the genes to lead others. This is true of all endeavours in life. The very best sportsmen, writers, painters, money-makers, etc are born. Tiger Woods is not the world’s best golfer because he trains hardest but because he has that little extra something that nature has endowed him with more than she has doled out to other golf players. Such people are randomly distributed among the populations of the world but their one defining factor is that they are scarce.
So it is with leadership. Looking at the past leaders we have had since independence, only Nkrumah and Rawlings seem to come near to the designation of ‘natural born leaders’. This doesn’t mean they used that quality always to the best. Both were extremely charismatic and had forceful personalities. The likes of Busia and Danquah were not naturally gifted leaders. They just happened to be people on the scene – highly educated at a time when there were only a few of their kind and they felt they had to take up the mantle of leadership. Their true leadership qualities were put to the test with the arrival of Nkrumah who quickly saw through their weaknesses and smartly outmanoeuvred them. Ankrah, Afrifa, Acheampong and Akuffo were all very weak and poor leaders who were put there by others for want of someone better. Limann realised his own inadequacies as a leader but found himself thrust into the position. He is, perhaps, the weakest leader we have ever had. After almost eight years of Kufuor’s leadership, we don’t even have to wait for history to pass a poor verdict on him.
No, our country has not been blessed with great leaders and it looks like that trend is going to continue no matter who wins in December. What is the material the good people of Ghana are being offered?
The man exudes a certain amount of distrust. Perhaps he is not that if you know him personally. But many voters in Ghana will not know him personally and the only impression they will get of him is that given by his public persona. He has a certain roguish look about him (former cigarette and wee smoker, sweet talking womanizer, spoilt, privileged and arrogant son of a former ceremonial president perhaps with some other less than pristine activities of his past we may not as yet be aware of). Even if the rumours about him are all not true (and most have not been proven to be so), it is a certain predisposition of character that must have given rise to them. And don’t they say there is no smoke without fire? Of course, his die-hard supporters will tell you what a wonderful man he is as they blow up his virtues beyond recognition. Why should you believe them when they are seeing things through such tinted glasses?
Actually, some rogues have been known to become great leaders, and, indeed, a certain amount of that stuff may be needed to succeed in the cut-throat world of business and politics. Such successful rogues may turn out to do great things for society – and themselves. The problem with Akufo-Addo is that, he doesn’t appear to be that kind of a benign rogue. His performances in his previous public roles have been very ordinary and carry absolutely no distinction. As a practising lawyer, he was good but that is all. Rogues who become great exhibit streaks of greatness early in life. Not he. He is now trying to seek greatness at the age of 62! At that age, Nkrumah had already done all the things for which he remains immortal. Even Rawlings, before he hits 62, has already done all the things for which he will be favourably remembered or forever hated. Granted, some people do make it rather late in life. But there is absolutely nothing which indicates that, as president, Akufo-Addo will, just suddenly and so late in life, become a great man who leads us to the Promised Land. The man, simply, has no natural leadership qualities. You can see that from a long way off.
The polls put him ahead but there is still enough time left for him to fluff it. Even so, I have this nasty feeling in my stomach that he may just scrape through even if he doesn’t fiddle with the tally. When a party is richer and better organised than its competitors and exploits all the material benefits of incumbency, it can win the presidency even with a pig as candidate. After all, Bush and Kufuor did win presidencies. Ghanaians may be forced to accept Akufo-Addo, warts and all.
Mister Atta Mills’ biggest problem, as everybody knows, is still the fact that he will forever remain tainted with Rawlings. No matter how much he struggles to convince us that he will be his own man, he will not succeed in walking away from the shadow of Rawlings - not in the perception of Ghanaians. As his vice, was he his own man or did he also fall victim to that fawning obsequiousness some of our countrymen have for Rawlings? Even if he may have meant well, Rawlings still raises strong feelings among Ghanaians – one of utmost adoration or morbid hatred. This divisive legacy is going to follow Atta Mills and it will not work to his favour.
Beneath the veneer of his beguiling gap-toothed smile, the good professor must be wondering what he has gotten himself into. He cannot withdraw now but must see his personal struggle against his political adversaries and his own health to the bitter end. It is likely to destroy him before he knows it.
He is a dour uncharismatic figure who looks sickly and older than his years and certainly does not have the same spring in his step that he had the first time around in top political office. This ageing disadvantage is one he shares with Akufo-Addo. Both of them would have been retirees by now had they been civil servants.
They say Atta Mills is a technocrat but political leadership requires more than the deft touch of the technocrat. Is he up to the task? In fact, he looks like a washout no matter what his supporters tell you. We must start drafting his political obituary. After December, not even that indefatigable warrior will have the stomach for yet another fight.
Can Nduom (I can never seem to pronounce his name correctly despite all the tutoring I’ve received from my Fante friends) be our next messiah – a reincarnation of Nkrumah with all the advantages of looking at things from hindsight? The CPP today is not the CPP of old and even if Nduom was a Young Pioneer, he is no Nkrumah. His kente cloth, white handkerchief and high forehead would never match those of ‘the handsome man from Nzema’ who, anyway, never wore glasses. Ghana is not likely to have another Nkrumah for a long time. He was still a kid (12 or 13) when Nkrumah was overthrown. All he remembers are the faint memories of the Young Pioneer marches. He would do much better to forge new policies and an image tuned to a modern Ghana than harping on a glorious past. A great many of today’s voters were not born when that past was.
He will do anything to be in power – including supping with the enemy. As the new kid on the block, he may, perhaps, be better than Akufo-Addo or Atta Mills because he benefits from the doubt of his newness. But he is in the peloton – far away from the leading pack with little time left for him to make up the difference.
The other candidates are all just also runs. None of them stands a real chance of winning. In fact, none can even make it to a position where they will hold the balance of power.
What kind of a leader do Ghanaians want?
1. We need a leader with a strong personality who will be able to work with the people around him but still have adequate control over them so that he can bring them to order, within the powers available to him, when they trespass.
2. We need a leader who will be able to choose ministers and advisors who will be up to the jobs they are assigned. Even if selection to a post is in response to some political expediency, the bottom line must still be appropriateness to the post assigned. This means there will be no place for sycophants and praise singers.
3. We need a leader who will listen to his advisors but still have the courage to reject improper advice and the wisdom to choose the right ones. It is true that it is the party machinery, rather than the individual heading it, that is responsible for party policy. But the leader is still important in that he is the final arbiter who will choose among the plethora of suggestions and see to their proper implementation. He should be smart enough to quickly get into the nitty-gritty of any new situation and make a decision and see beyond the narrow concerns of his advisors.
4. Ghanaians need a leader with a vision but not just any kind. It must be the appropriate ones that can be fulfilled. Nkrumah was one such visionary leader but it appears some of his visions were beyond the reach of his countrymen. What good is that to us? A great leader is one who gets his visions right.
5. We need a leader who can cut through the tribal morass of our country and TRULY, very truly, unite us all. This will require more than the usual pork barrel politicking. It is only Nkrumah who came nearest to achieving that vital national asset even if he used some patapaa in doing so. We should expect our next leader to go beyond Nkrumah’s achievement.
6. Above all, Ghana needs a truly selfless leader – one who, almost like Jesus, is ready to forego personal wealth so that he can lay down his life a little for the people. As occupant of the highest office of the land, he will not be destitute but he and his family cannot become excessively wealthy AS A RESULT OF HIS OCCUPANCY OF THE POST.
Any person who fulfils these conditions will be good for us even if that person smoked wee in his youth or is arrogant, has a love child on the side, or shines his forehead like Nkrumah’s. But none of the candidates who are now desperately selling themselves to us fits the bill. That is why I call them all mediocrities even if that can seem unfair and a bit cruel. After all, is one not a professor, two have doctorate degrees and another a successful businessman and lawyer? Even the mere fact that they made it so far - chosen to represent their parties in keenly fought primaries – puts them a shade above their fellow men. Yes, all these, but when it comes to true leadership and our country deserving THE VERY BEST, none of them is good enough. As things stand now, we shall, perforce, be choosing one of them to lead us since we cannot be without a president. That is why I am finding it difficult to run away from this nagging feeling that, come December, our motherland will be short-changed – yet again. God save us from the barbarians.