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John Dramani Mahama - A Journalist's Portrait

John Mahama03.08

Wed, 22 Apr 2009 Source: GNA

A GNA Feature by Nathaniel Glover-Meni

Accra, April 20, GNA - Like many Ghanaians, this Writer thought he knew Vice President John Dramani Mahama quite well. He later discovered that he was wrong.

The savoir-faire and ebullient Politician John that Ghanaians are accustomed to on television is surprisingly not the flat character that the news media cuts of him. The media often portray Vice President Mahama as a person with one prevailing trait; that of a "nice" politician.

Yes, he is a nice person. But he is also a round figure with an engaging mien, which is as vast as the ocean.

Nonetheless, unlike the deep-sea, which can sometimes be rough and unwieldy, Vice President Mahama has demonstrated so far that he would be a steady pair of hands, a trusted head, and a Vice President with humanized heart. Vice President Mahama, in essence, is a person with many traits and characteristics; he is multi-dimensional. One of the many traits of the Vice President is a propensity to use his heart. He is someone who can feel the pain of others. Hitherto, this Writer thought he was someone, who engaged in overgenerous pity, as typical of most Ghanaian politicians. He is the reverse. The ability to identify with and be sensitive to the needs of the disadvantaged is a value most Ghanaian politicians lacked. They are good at describing problems, but invariably are wobbly in finding answers to them. Ghanaians are used to politicians patronizing them in coarse terms, without long term solutions to long standing problems. Of course this depicts a certain level of dearth in political leadership.

The unequivocal point, however, is that to solve problems of the average Ghanaian, politicians must make an effort to feel their pain and have the impulse to measure the hassle and bustle they go through each day in their torturous lives.

This is what Vice President Mahama has demonstrated over the last three months; that he can identify with, or in other words, empathize with the woes of the people.

To empathize is to have a feeling of compassion and kind heartedness. One could only genuinely attend to the woes of a people when one felt touched by their plight. The Vice President seems to have such a heart. He does not merely sympathize. He has shown that he can make drooping hearts cheer.

A few illustrations would distil this fact. An example is how he handled the tomato glut problem in the North. While on a visit to Bolgatanga, word reached him that the tomato price in the area had dropped considerably from GH¢120 cedis per crate of 40 kilograms to as low as GH¢20 per crate, yet the farmers were not able to get traders to purchase their produce.

Most of these farmers, as it turned out, had taken bank loans to undertake their venture. Things came to a head when three of them reportedly committed suicide.

Vice President Mahama met with a section of the affected farmers at Navorongo and later inspected their farms to have a feel of what their problem entailed. A typical Ghanaian politician would have stopped there or used the platform to make some high sounding promises which are never implemented anyway.

Away from the media glare, the Vice President got a Tema-based company to intervene and succeeded in bringing smiles to the distraught farmers.

Similarly, Vice President Mahama is working hard to transform the shea industry in the North. When he first broached the idea of revamping the shea industry to make it a big money grosser like cocoa, this Writer thought it was just another political ruse but he was wrong. Indeed, Vice President Mahama has demonstrated that the people in position constituted avenues that ordinary folks could unload their burdens. Equally, they must demonstrate that they have the presence of mind to pay attention to the needs of the marginalized. This is what Vice President Mahama is attempting to achieve using the shea industry. The shea sector, which has been in the lull for the past nine years, has suddenly been jolted. Mind you, the global shea industry is projected to generate some 500 million dollars in the next five years and thus could become a veritable source of reducing poverty among the many hard working women, who depend on this wild crop for their succour. Through the Vice President's efforts, the Produce Buying Company (PBC) has signed an agreement with a Brazilian company for the installation of two plants in the Northern Regions for the processing of shea nuts into butter. Per PBC's own acknowledgement, it was as a result of the Vice President's leadership that the deal came about. As it turned out, the Vice President was not talking for an eager media to churn out some good news about him when he spoke about the need to revamp the shea industry at a programme in Bolgatanga. It was not the "pork-barrel political talk" Ghanaians are used to.

By this feat, the Vice President has proved that he won't be part of the desultory governance we are used to in Ghana. Mr Dan Botwe, Member of Parliament for Okere, had also been enunciating such ideas.

As one can gather from the examples cited above, having a heart is crucial, not only because such heart filled politicians are much better, but they also tend to love humanity and seek its greater good. God resides in peoples' heart and radiates his love through that vent. Political leaders, who employ the heart, therefore, tend to elucidate the love of God and, therefore, are better placed to use their position to turn the peoples' sorrows into bliss.

The Vice President uses his mind equally well. While the heart helps him to feel, it is the mind that provides the step that ought to be taken in getting what the heart wants. For instance, challenged by the unremitting destitution in the Northern Regions and the contiguous areas in the Volta and Brong Ahafo Regions, Vice President Mahama has been working quite hard at bringing some economic respite to these people, the majority of whom are women.

The pride and joy of his dealings has been the government's creation of the Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA), billed as perhaps the most aggressive effort ever by any government in Ghana to close the development gaps between the Southern and Northern parts of Ghana. SADA would have a number of development tiers; the principal ones being transforming the agriculture sector and providing the requisite infrastructure to support it.

The Vice President is the lead light of SADA. He is not only buoyed by his heart; the statistics on poverty in the selected areas are dire and require critical thinking to reverse the blot.

If government becomes successful in implementing the SADA, it would not only have corrected past policy failures with regard to the development of the Northern parts of the country, it would also be a far reaching policy that addresses failures with regard to development of a sustainable shea, cereals and tomato industry in Ghana. Alongside other development oriented personalities such as Dr Sulley Gariba; Dr Charles Jebuni; Mr Emmanuel Bombade; the late Cardinal Dery and a few others, Vice President Mahama would be remembered as the Vice President who effectively used his tenure to grapple fully with impoverishment of the areas in question.

In terms of the use of his hands, one can describe Vice President Mahama as a consummate worker. For him, work is another labour of love. However, it is the result of the work that matters and it is the hope of this Writer is that whatever policies he is engaged in would have a far-flung effect, especially on citizens living in those places. These people are often neglected in the national development strategies, although they needed such interventions most. Many of such people now feel jaded about the ways things have gone. All in all, one cannot be an effective leader if one did not suffer anguish. One cannot be a good leader if one were not sensitive to the morass that confronted the people. Unbelievable though, many political leaders tend to behave like automatons, with little or no demonstrable sensitivity to the plight of the people.

For now, Vice President Mahama has sufficiently shown that he cares; so far. His actions indicate that leadership should not be about the benefits that accrued to one as a potentate, but how one used the position occupied to transform people's lives. However, for him to continue along this "narrow" path, he must not, as they say, lose his innocence. He must continue to radiate the cadence that he is known for.

On the other had if he should lose his virtuousness, then he would have gone the familiar way many a politician have trodden. It is the prayer of this Writer that he would be an exception, which, for the moment, he has proved he would be. Mr Glover-Meni is the GNA Correspondent, who covers Vice President Mahama.

Columnist: GNA