One Country, Two Presidencies

Sat, 28 Nov 2009 Source: Oteng, Maxwell

By Maxwell Oteng

Santa Cruz, California, November 25.

Since 2000 when Mr. Rawlings was constitutionally compelled to give up the reins of government, the pendulum of presidential pull seems to be swinging between two competing presidencies. There always seems to be a shadow presidency looming large in the horizon, ready to undermine the legitimacy – so it seems – of the incumbent presidency. In effect, since 2000 Ghana seems to be having two presidents at a time because Mr. Rawlings, who has been the head of state longer than anyone else in our country’s history, has turned his post-presidency life into a hysterically nonstop audition for more turns in the tent of our political circus. I wrote about this phenomenon some time ago: you can read that, if you’re so inclined at the following link:


Mr. Rawlings is a character of many contradictions. In order to understand what makes him tick morally one has to look past the sentimental moral absolutes couched in his pronouncements. For, it is difficult to take seriously the musings of someone who spent nineteen long years of our country’s short history at the helms of state affairs doing very little to un-grease the skids for our economic waste.

As the de facto opposition leader and the loudest voice in the NDC, it was probably understandable for Mr. Rawlings to berate the Kuffour Administration and its policies. After all that is what opposition parties do or are supposed to do organically. However, it is mind-bindingly difficult to understand the constant public beat-down of the Mills Administration by Mr. Rawlings, especially given that Mr. Mills was Mr. Rawlings’ vice president, and also one of the intellectual elite that gave prostituted credibility to the then PNDC. Well, I will leave the task of trying to deconstruct the relationship between Rawlings and Mills to the experts of psychoanalysis. My main concern as a citizen is the wider implication of Mr. Rawlings’ constant public beat-down of Mr. Mills on our polity, especially on Mr. Mills’ ability to govern.

If Mr. Rawlings has not been so public about his apparent disdain for Mr. Mills’ style of governance and team of ministers, one could have easily dismissed his scolding as a party caught in an intra-party flimflam or as part of the organic growth of a political party. To be sure, Mr. Rawlings has the right, just like any law-abiding Ghanaian, to speak his mind however and wherever he chooses. Funnily, in many ways, he loudly expresses the sentiments of most of us about the competency of some of the members of the mill’s Administration. But it is one thing for frustrated people like me to criticize the competency of Mr. Mills’ team – not many people may care about what someone like me say. As the so-called Founder of the NDC and a former president, by choosing to air his party’s dirty laundry in public, Mr. Rawlings has not only fractured our public space but also undermined the authority of Mr. Mills’ presidency and thus his ability to inspire public confidence in his leadership and team. So while Mr. Rawlings’s public hammering of Mr. Mills has become a fixating pull to the potential implosion of the NDC party, its paralyzing effect on Mr. Mills’ authority and ability to govern may well become the slow-motion car crash that no-one can stop craning their necks to watch.

Whether we like it or not, Mr. Mills is our president, at least for the next three years and we must all support him to be successful. For him to be successful he would need to surround himself with competent people; but he also needs all the authority and mystique of the presidency to mobilize our resources, inspire the people and forge optimal responses to our big challenges. That is why we must eschew any attempts that undermine Mr. Mills’ authority and thus paralyze his ability to govern effectively - especially those coming from people whose utterances can quake the political landscape because some people take those utterances as gospel. If Mr. Mills fail, Ghana loses four light years on the development calendar.

I do not question Mr. Rawlings’ motives for saying what he says or for doing what he does. He may be legitimately outraged by politics’ vicious cycle of greed and concupiscence. But he must tone down his harsh rhetoric and show some deference to the office of the presidency by choosing a different medium to offer constructive criticisms to Mr. Mills. Whatever advice Mr. Rawlings wants to offer or concessions he wants to wheedle out of the Mills’ Administration, I am sure Mr. Mills would open his door to Mr. Rawlings if the latter asked for a sit-down with the former. That is what is expected from a former president, especially one that belongs to the same party as the incumbent. Mr. Rawlings has self-anointed himself as a champion of accountability and justice. His ardent supporters hold this view too. He may well be. But if he chooses to continue his public beat-down of Mr. Mills, he may risk being perceived as, in the words of the Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi, “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like” power.

In a similar vein, to help lower the tensions between the two camps, Mr. Mills should unclench his fist and invite Mr. Rawlings for a sit-down to listen to whatever grievances the latter may have. That is what a leader, especially a wise leader does – takes the initiative to squelch potential social tensions before they rear their ugly heads or to accommodate people you may disagree with him.

In the interest of the consolidation of our nascent democratic experiment, Ghana needs at least two viable parties that can compete at the marketplace of ideas to move our country forward. Therefore, it’s imperative that the leadership of the NDC find a way to iron out their intra-party differences, strengthen their internal democracy, and more important smother the unnecessary tensions between their founder, Mr. Rawlings and their current leader, Mr. Mills. My political sympathies don’t lie with the NDC, but as a patriotic Ghanaian, the implosion of the NDC won’t give me any sense of schadenfreude.

Columnist: Oteng, Maxwell