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Feature Article of Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Columnist: Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK

Did Ghana Inaugurate a President, King or a Mafia Boss?

I am sure most readers will be surprised by the title of this article but I am not sure if Monday January 7, 2013 was historic in Ghana or a bit of inauguration confusion. I watched a recording of the investiture of His Excellency, President John Dramani Mahama at the Independence Square and got confused about what happened. In the ninth of post election series, I will consider the format of the presidential inauguration, the blunders and make some suggestions for future events.

It appears Ghana’s State Protocol is either letting the Presidency down or the Presidency is letting itself down when it comes to protocol and the right salutation at important constitutional events. In his State of the Nation address to Parliament in February 2011, the late President, Prof Attah Mills forgot to acknowledge the presence of the Chief Justice and Ex-President John Agyekum Kufuor in the House. That sparked shouts of reminder of the presence of the two important personalities from the Minority in the House to no avail and resulted in the Minority Leader refusing to see the President off as parliamentary custom demanded. Then, last Monday, the newly sworn-in President omitted or forgot to acknowledge the official host of the ceremony, the Speaker of Parliament either by accident or in error.

These omissions are becoming few too many, unacceptable and a national embarrassment. I do not know where to place the blame, whether at the doors of State Protocol, the official Speech Writers or the speech readers themselves. In fact, my understanding is that the swearing of the president is supposed to take place in Parliament and the President is to take his oath before the parliamentarians but for the sake of the public, the ceremony takes place at the Independence Square. It was therefore shocking when the President failed to address directly the Speaker of Parliament in his inaugural address to the House.

The other blunder of the ceremony was when the President made a slight mistake in repeating his Presidential Oath after the Chief Justice. Instead of .... “to protect and defend”, he repeated “to protect”. I am not sure if Ghanaians and the politicians take these ceremonies serious as in other countries. For example, when the US Chief Justice made a slight mistake with the swearing in of Obama in January 2009, Obama felt it important to ask to be sworn in gain at the White House. These are constitutional and national events of importance that should be taken very seriously. Do these omissions and mistakes tell us anything about how serious Ghanaian politicians are or their lack of commitment to the duties of the office they are being sworn into? I hope not.

In the 1980s, senior staff of State Protocol found out in advance who and who would be at events that the Head of State will have to address so that VIPs present would be captured in the salutation appropriately. On the day of the event and on the arrival of the Head of State at the venue, the salutation is rewritten (if necessary) since some of the invited guests sometimes do not turn up. This is to avoid addressing VIPs who are absent from the event and causing embarrassment to them or the host.

One of the most unforgettable blunders of the ceremony included the platform given to the Chairman of the African Union and President of Benin, Dr Yayi Boni. That is not done and even dangerous since one does not know what such a guest might say. Again, Ghana was not inaugurating an African President. His presence and that of other African Leaders present should simply be acknowledged and thanked for taking their precious time to grace the occasion with their presence. It must have been as simple as that.

The second came when the Speaker announced that each visiting Head of State would pay homage to congratulate the newly sworn in President. It was embarrassing to see visiting African Heads of States walking on red carpets to the President to congratulate and embrace him. That was absolutely unnecessary and only the two Ghanaian Ex-Presidents should have done that. These are sovereign heads of states and do not owe allegiance to any other leader and do not know who invented the idea. It was a big embarrassment and should have been avoided. Were the visiting dignitaries consulted in advance before being compelled to undertake such uncalled for public exercise?

One could say, that is what happens in other countries. Yes, I remember the late President embracing the President of Cote d’Ivoire at his investiture but that does not mean Ghana must follow other countries. Bearing in mind the situation under which Alassane Ouattara was sworn into office, he needed that public acknowledgement from other Africa leaders to signify to his people that he was recognised as President by his colleagues. Despite the NPP petition challenging the declaration of Mahama as President at the Supreme Court, he did not require such public acknowledgement by foreign leaders because they had already sent congratulatory messages to him when the result was declared.

At one point it reminded me of either the enthronement of a Monarch or a King where all paramount or sub-chiefs swore allegiance to him and promise to be obedient servants. It also reminded of Mafia movie scenes such as The God Father, where all the bosses of the different families or clans embrace the head of the leading Mafia clan as a sign of their allegiance to him and pledge to obey, protect and respect him and his clan. I asked myself, was Ghana swearing in a King or Mafia Mob Leader? What the hell was that? This part of the programme belittled the visiting Heads of State and whoever dreamt of it should bow his head in shame. Those leaders were not invited to be humiliated. Some may say it was a sign of Pan Africanism and African cooperation. I disagree. That had nothing to do with Pan-Africanism but more of embarrassing our Distinguished Guests.

At another point, I thought the event was the signing of a peace agreement or a conflict resolution ceremony. However, it also occurred to me that it could not have been the signing and witnessing of a peace agreement since Ghana is at peace with herself and her neighbours. Even if it was a peace agreement, the main ‘protagonist’ was absent so how do you sign a peace agreement when the main opposition is not partaking in it?

I was impressed to see the President deliver his first State of the Nation address in Parliament by using teleprompter. It was refreshing and innovative. However, holding an i-Pad to deliver such a national speech was ill-advised. It restricted the President’s natural posture and inhibited his ability to engage with his audience. Was there a plan B had the technology failed in the hot sun as it happened to the biometric verification machines on election day? Would the President have been left with a blank screen to go mute or what? The President may be young with good information technology skills but in my view, reading from an i-pad in your hands at such a ceremony was inappropriate.

My suggestions are that, in the near future, the President’s speech writers should find out in advance the appropriate order of the salutation to avoid these embarrassments to the Presidency, the President and the nation every year. For example, on the day in question, the right order should have been: Mr Speaker, His Excellency, the Vice President, Her Lordhip,The Chief Justice, Ex-Presidents, Your Excellencies visiting Heads of States, heads of government delegations, Ambassadors and High Commissioners, Nananom,....fellow Ghanaians and (distinguished) ladies and gentlemen. Is this too difficult to do?

On January 7 2017 visiting Heads of States attending the Presidential Inauguration should not be publicly embarrassed to congratulate the President and no AU Chairman should give a speech. Even if the UN Secretary General attends, he should not be given a slot to give a speech or asked to walk to the President and congratulate him.

Finally, State Protocol should wake up and smell the cocoa and Speech Writers should also familiarised themselves with the need to observe proper protocol at such events and reflect that in their writing skills. His Excellency, President Mahama should be briefed in advance on the order of the salutation and also advised accordingly on his arrival at the venue on who and who are present that he must address. Regarding the use of i-Pad, I leave that to the President to make his own choice but I will not advise its repetition at a swearing ceremony. The teleprompter should the way forward.

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