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Opinions Sun, 18 Oct 2015

Mahama on ‘Conflict Zone’

The moment Tim Sebastian, host of television programme ‘Conflict Zone’, introduced Ghana’s John Mahama in a characteristic manner; I knew that our eloquent President was in for a bloodbath.

In Sebastian’s words, Mahama has been “lauded by the West for maintaining a stable democracy in an otherwise volatile region, but when you look at the facts, is that reputation really justified?”

Many ingredients made the encounter exciting; solid background research, pointed questions, with the interviewer always maintaining control of the interview and never appearing overawed by the President whom he frequently interrupted.

For starters, there were no light-hearted initial comments. Tim Sebastian launched straight into the position of African leaders on the vexed question of human rights and prosecution at the International Criminal Court (ICC). As it turns out, African leaders have given themselves immunity from prosecution at the ICC on account of “their feeling targeted”. By barring the court from prosecuting sitting Presidents and senior government officials, Tim Sebastian accused African leaders of “putting themselves above the law.”

My impression is that the President waffled in his answer to this question. His attempt to use the Kenyan example — where the court was seeking to prosecute a sitting Kenyan President (Kenyatta) elected by the Kenyan people — as a distinct case in point was barely successful. The President tried to draw a distinction between the general position of the African Union and the specific case of Kenya by saying the Kenyan people had voted in their leaders who in an incumbent position, ought to be spared the ICC’s prosecution. Was the point about being elected then that one could get away with crimes against humanity allegedly committed before assumption of office?

African Union positions same as Ghana’s?

And so we had the situation where on one hand, the President was speaking against the ICC by pointing out how African leaders felt targeted and on the other hand, he appeared to lend credence to the work of the ICC by citing the conviction of Charles Taylor as an example of leaders being brought to justice. In addition, he mentioned Ghana being a signatory to the Rome Convention. In effect, therefore, it was not really clear to me whether Ghana was seeking to create a country position distinct from the AU position which our President felt cornered to explain.

So what could President Mahama have done differently? For starters, if it was his intention to defend the African Union position, then he ought to have gone on the full offensive right from the start and built a coherent case against the manner in which the ICC has conducted itself and selectively targeted African leaders. He could also have explained forcefully why and how African leaders could complain about targeting when in fact, as pointed out, “all the cases sent to the International Criminal Court were either self-referred or referred by the Security Council with African support.” Thirdly, he could have courted a little bit of good controversy by calling out Western leaders, guilty of similar crimes, but whom the ICC had conveniently turned a blind eye to. Finally, he could, if that indeed was the case, have affirmed the support of African leaders for human rights, but proposed an alternate route of African-based initiatives to bring such alleged criminals to justice.

Investor confidence

On the matter of the economy and alleged widespread corruption, Tim Sebastian exhibited some good solid research on the local Ghanaian context including citing local authorities to counter points made by President Mahama. A typical example was the issue of investor confidence in the Ghanaian economy. Without citing his sources, the interviewer said it was dropping. President Mahama countered that “investor confidence is high”. Tim then countered again by quoting the Association of Ghana Industries according to whom “investor confidence dropped from 98 points in the last quarter of 2014 to 85 points in the first quarter of 2015.”

The fact of Ghana’s economy being heavily dependent on the export of primary products and the government’s efforts to change the basis of the economy were also being beautifully articulated by President Mahama ... Before he could finish however, Tim whacked him again with a quotation from Ghana’s Centre for Policy Analysis that “We Ghanaians are giving too many excuses and blaming our problems on the negative impact of external forces. Investors don’t trust the way we are managing the economy.” The President, however, held his ground and completed his explanation including making the point that changing the basis of the economy was not a feat achievable in his two and half years in office.

Corruption

Reports by the Auditor-General exposing wicked acts of corruption in the public sector as an annual ritual are a matter of common folklore. I was, however, not aware of the example cited by Tim Sebastian when he talked about “Your own Auditor General reporting that 1.7M dollars earmarked to bring power to local communities had been spent on 38 luxury cars.”

Again, like his answer to the human rights question, the President was not categorical in his answer. On the one hand, he sought to justify the purchases of the vehicles as part of an Exim Bank project. And then when he was taken on further, he subsequently moved into the territory of these decisions having been taken before he came into office. That notwithstanding, he was fully supportive of full prosecutions where anyone had been found culpable, he stated. In effect, was the President justifying the decision to purchase the cars or was he saying there was something wrong with the purchase of the cars?

But of course, even before his Excellency could land on the matter of punishing corrupt officials, Tim was at his neck again; “Despite the Chief Justice setting up a public tribunal two years ago to try public officials for misappropriating money, not a single case has been heard.” At this point, President Mahama cited the implementation of financial control software (GIFMIS), ongoing prosecutions under GYEEDA and over 100 officials of the National Service Scheme facing charges for payroll fraud. Amidst it all was the damning verdict of the Institute for Economic Affairs that was thrown in that “a culture of impunity to embezzle funds has taken root.”

Overall, President Mahama maintained a calm composure throughout, albeit appearing mildly irritated at the suggestion that three-year-old Ghanaian children were engaged in forced labour. This, he dismissed with some heavy duty words – “social acculturation.” Certainly, this was one exciting exchange with never a dull moment.

Columnist: Sodzi-Tettey, Sodzi