On October 9, 2016, a voice rang, clear and loud like an ancient church bell, in the wilderness of Ghana’s political opposition:
“We need a leader who is sensitive to the needs of his people. We need a leader who is going to move Ghana forward. I’m inspired by our leader, I’m inspired by his integrity, and I’m inspired by his honesty. I’m inspired by his incorruptibility, I’m inspired by his courage, I’m inspired by his tenacity. Let’s rise for change.”
That voice belonged to Samira Bawumia, the wife of the New Patriotic Party (NPP’s) vice presidential candidate, who had become a favourite speaker at NPP rallies in 2016.
During the rally to crown the NPP manifesto outdooring in 2016, female speakers, including Mrs Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, the Member of Parliament (MP) for Ablekuma West; the then Women Organiser of the NPP, Ms Otiko Djaba; the wife of the NPP presidential candidate, Mrs Rebecca Akufo-Addo dazzled the crowd.
That day, the NPP sold its Free Senior High School policy, the One Constituency, $1 million; One village, One dam; and the One District, One Factory among other policies that dazed the NDC and left the then ruling party’s communication team clueless about counter-campaign promises.
In the midst of the sea of red, white and blue flags, the speeches were sometimes sentimental, particularly when Mrs Akufo-Addo said she knew her husband would do exactly what he promised.
“I know my husband and he would do all he said or promised,” the significant half of the NPP presidential candidate said in Ga.
To drum home their message of change, many in the thick crowd carried bells, which they rang with the mantra, “The time is up” a slogan picked from a Tigo advert in the heat of the country’s energy crisis. The NPP turned it into a slogan ostensibly to tell President John Dramani Mahama that his time was up.
By December 10, 2016, Mahama’s time was up.
The man, who broke the jinx of the Johns and became the first Ghanaian without the first name John to occupy the Office of the President since 1992, immediately got to work.
He froze the procurement of new cars. To put the icing on the directive, we were told he was even using his personal old Mercedez Benz. How nice, a president who understood austerity.
The president’s hype men would spin that gesture, often taking a jab at former President Mahama who, against better judgement, asked to be given the official bungalow he was occupying as part of his benefits.
The problem with propaganda is that after the crafty advertising is done, people want to see the performance of the advertised actor himself, not the work of gifted praise-singers.
That is exactly where President Akufo-Addo has left us scratching our heads.
Sleeping on the job
The months that followed made it obvious that the president’s attempt at austerity was more about populism than protecting the public purpose. In all, 110 ministers and their deputies formed the government of the country that was receiving economic balms from the World Bank. That number would jump to more than 120 later when the regional ministers of the newly created regions were appointed.
The justification was that there was so much work and that the end would justify the numbers. Time obviously hasn’t vindicated the president.
After cutting down his elephant-sized administration in his second term, one would have thought the president would keep his appointees on their toes. Instead, he has provided them with a mattress and pillow, often deflecting public criticism of their performance.
In other jurisdictions where citizens are taken seriously by their leaders, the likes of the Health Minister, Kwaku Agyemang Manu, and the Senior Presidential Advisor, Yaw Osafo-Maafo, will not even allow the shadows of the Jubilee House to fall on them.
Mr Agyeman-Manu supervised the procurement of Sputnik-V vaccines, which was later found to be fraught with procurement breaches. No apologies came from him. He rather took time off time to cool off. The former Senior Minister’s sin was the role he played in the procurement of a service that was disallowed and surcharged by the Auditor-General. The fallout of this was the tossing of Auditor-General, Daniel Domelevo, out of office.
With all their deficiencies as leaders, under Rawlings, Kufuor, and even Mills, ministers went to bed with an eye open, hoping not to be surprised in reshuffles.
Today, the man who told us in 2016 that “God did not put us on this rich land to be poor. It is bad leadership that makes us poor,” appears to have lost his zest for inspiring leadership.
Kumi preko, #Fixthecountry and e-levy
Our president prides himself in activism. Ghanaians remember him for being a forerunner in the Kumi Preko (kill me now) protests that hit the Rawlings administration when it introduced the value-added tax (VAT).
It worked. Temporarily, the Rawlings government suspended the implementation of the tax meant to replace the sales tax.
But it came at a cost—at least two people died.
Ironically, when #Fixthecountry demanded accountability from the champion ‘Atta’ of protests, almost everything was done to gag them but for a Supreme Court intervention.
With hindsight, one would have thought that the man who led demonstrations that resulted in the death of his compatriots would prioritise broad consultations when introducing a new tax. To his credit, the pugilists we discovered in parliament should make up for the shortfall of boxing champions. Now we know where to find boxers and wrestlers for our national teams.
The hardships of 1995—including the rising cost of living, cut-throat fuel price and youth unemployment—are worse today.
Ghanaians are not on the street in protest against the e-levy, but it is shocking the public anger against this tax is lost on the president and his team.
Instead of learning from the past, the President and his men are trying hard to bully their way through parliament with a shoe-string majority, if any at all.
If, in 2016, any soothsayer had told me that the Mahama administration’s worst ranking on the Corruption Perception Index would be Akufo-Addo’s best, I would have told him or her to throw his or her cowries away and become the eyes of bats during the day.
But, alas, the president’s actions since 2017 portray a man who is more interested in keeping his party’s image intact than pushing his chief legal advisor, the Attorney-General, to deal decisively with corrupt appointees.
We sang choruses against the corrupt deals under the Mahama administration. In 2016, we had a choice. A choice between an obviously corrupt administration and a man sold to us as a saint.
But comparing the two today, Mahama would qualify for sainthood when we are marking the scripts of effort to deal with corruption.
At least, that administration initiated the prosecution of Abuga Pele, a former National Coordinator of the Ghana Youth Employment and Entrepreneurial Development Agency (GYEEDA) and Alhassan Imoro, a former National Service Secretariat Executive Director on allegations of corruption. These were Mahama’s appointees.
Abuga Pele was jailed, and the case against Mr. Imoro is still travelling through the legal mill.
How has his administration dealt with his appointees? What has happened to those who supervised the disappearance of excavators seized from illegal miners and tricycles belonging to the Northern Development Authority?
The President’s worst record in the fight against corruption came in sacking Daniel Domelevo, who is considered the most effective Auditor-General in the Fourth Republic and, perhaps, in the history of Ghana. No matter how hard President Akufo-Addo tries to explain it away, it’s still a blot on the president’s already questionable credentials.
Luxurious jet vs no accountability
It is shocking that the man who campaigned against wastage in past administrations now flies in luxurious private jets and finds it convenient to hide behind national security to refuse to account to the people. While the president travels in rented jets, some presidents in West Africa travel in Ghana’s presidential jet.
No one is demanding the President’s itinerary. But his ministers have been ducking the questions of transparency and accountability so much that one begins to wonder if we’re not dealing with a mistaken identity.
Interestingly, the president as a member of parliament had in the past dug holes into the proposal for a new presidential jet. Then, as the MP for Abuakwa, Nana Akufo-Addo expressed horror at the thought of Rawlings buying a presidential jet in 1998 at a time the economy was on its knees and Ghanaians were struggling to keep their head above the tide.
So, what exactly has changed? Are we better off today? Are we able to afford fuel cheaper than before? Is our healthcare system more sophisticated?
Indeed, our elders were right when they said a chameleon can only change its colour but not its skin.
You can reach the writer via email at [email protected] You can follow him on twitter @thekekeli