Feature Article of Thursday, 8 November 2012
Tuesday 30th October 2012 was another landmark in the development of our democratic process. On this day, in the northern regional capital, Tamale, the sitting president squared off with three other ‘perspirants’ for the right to occupy his seat for the next governing cycle in the IEA Presidential Debate (I). Millions of Ghanaians had the chance to assess the candidates as they were pressed to take off the propaganda veil from the beautiful manifestos.
The alumni of University of Cape Coast (UCC) must have been proud on the day that the presidential debate was moderated by two of their own, Professor Naana Opoku Agyemang, a former Vice chancellor of the university, and Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, the host of Joy FM’s flagship super Morning Show. The Prof wielded the big stick to whip organizers, candidates and sometimes unruly audience into line, and Kojo brought his experience interviewing subject experts on radio to bear on the discussion with great follow-ups. It doesn’t look like the UCC is exploiting the marketing value of the occasion as there is no mention of the event and the role played by their alumni on their website seventy-two hours after the debate.
Beauty they say lies in the eyes of the beholder, but I also discovered that a debate lies in the colour of the party flag. It is easier to convince a London health inspector that grass cutter meat has nothing to do with rats than to get party people to accept that their candidates didn’t fare well in the debate. The only un-contested outcome of the debate is the abysmal performance of the PNC candidate, Hassan Ayariga. In fact, some party people have sought to ridicule candidates of rival parties by placing them squarely in the Ayariga bracket. I do not believe there can be any impartial ranking of candidates’ performance by sampling views from Ghanaians. Many minds have simply been made up, their candidates won before the debate began. Ironically, the only winners in this debate are the small minority of Ghanaians who approached the debate with no winner preconceived. Even among this group, there cannot be unanimity on who won the debate, because different people seek different outcomes in such contest.
For me, it is lamentable that the candidates for such high office do not accord facts and figures, their proper place in such an exercise. This failure makes the debate “avoidable” (apologies to Hassan Ayariga)
Not surprisingly, President Mahama was the best candidate in the numbers department. He provided solid numbers in answering questions on debt financing, education, and the economy. It is a peck of incumbency that he would have access to all the nation’s numbers, but he still had to put them together to make his points. However, the mess with how much it costs us to train doctors in Cuba is yet to be resolved conclusively. But that is the great thing about putting the facts out in figures- we can always interrogate your ideas and hold you to account. The President also failed to give projections when he stated how much they will invest in agriculture. The investment is only justified by the outcome, and it is only proper to give us the expectations underpinning the investment. Again in the area of Agriculture, he seemed to have misunderstood what percentages represent. He attempted to justify the fallen growth rate in agriculture by providing nominal figures that didn’t help us to appreciate the decline, a fact that was pointed out by Dr Sakara. In any case, the President told us not to get worried about the decline, because it is a fishy matter. Perhaps we will adjust by switching from fish to bush meat but unfortunately the other negative contributor he mentioned is forestry, which may suggest that we may have problems with bush meat. , Blaming God for the energy crisis rather than poor strategic planning took some shine out of the eloquence with which he delivered the work in progress to fix the problem.
My biggest problem with the NDC campaign strategy is that they spent too much time scrutinizing NPP’s free SHS promise that they forgot to market their own message. The message that free SHS is impossible is louder than any message they have put out. So great was his focus on free SHS that president Mahama at a point in the debate confessed that he believed in free SHS, while debunking its usefulness.
The NPP’s Nana Akuffo Addo made perhaps the most audacious promises, but he must pay a little more attention to the numbers. On BBC Hard Talk program, he would not mention the number underpinning the free SHS promise because it was an epiphany whose glory can only manifest in Ghana to Ghanaians. Since then he has failed to make the numerical revelation glow as bright as the eloquence with which the promise is delivered. At the debate, he claimed the money for the program will gash out of the oil fields in the western region of Ghana. I’m beginning to suspect that Nana was a reluctant student who was dragged to the Math class kicking and cursing, but that would be quite strange for a graduate of economics. What is even more curious is why an astute lawyer of his caliber will place such low premium on referencing. When the President questioned the source of some of his figures, he said they were caught in the global web called the internet. He failed to tell us the source of his unemployment data that suggested that one –sixth of unemployed people have stopped looking for jobs. With the right figures and proper sources, he would have made the debate between him and Mahama on NHIS and Cuba funding for doctors more exciting. On a couple of occasions he wandered away from the questions seeking solace in the failure story of the NDC government.
To many neutrals, Dr. Abu Sakara won the debate, but he has seen enough spectacular failures of his beloved CPP at the polls to understand that at these debates, he must far out-perform his brilliant viva voce that earned him his PhD if he will make any impact in this year’s election. He was forceful with his ideas and particularly brilliant on agriculture, but on the other hand, he sounded naïve. He has so far proven that he is a fine academic with great theories about the social contract that lack practical foundation. He blamed the frequent changes in democratic governments for slowing down the pace of our development, and attributed Malaysia’s success story to continuity in government. For that reason he wants the NDPC entrenched in our constitution to ensure continuity. He seemed to have forgotten that around the period of Malaysia’s development, Ghana also had one government for almost twenty years but it didn’t reflect in our development. He almost swore that Ghana needed free education but here again, the numbers were missing and the sources of finance taken for granted. He is not a fan of the maxim, “private sector is the engine of growth”, and seemed ready to rebuild state enterprises all over again but said little to convince anybody that they will work this time round. He eloquently expressed what we should have done with regards to energy in the past years, but here again, the figures were locked out of the debate. I would have been impressed with some background research that would explain why we failed, and some ingenious plans to energize our energy supply and distribution system and more importantly how much is required. Such detail will make him a more credible candidate, especially because there is a suspicion that small parties like his, lack the expertise and people to run the country. If Mahama or Nana wins, Dr Sakara will be a great addition to their cabinet with responsibility for agriculture. That will also fill the practical gap for Sakara for the future. If Hassan Ayariga intended to make a case for the youth in our politics, he failed woefully. When it was pointed out to him that he performed terribly at the earlier presidential encounter, he reserved a few choice words for the critics and awarded himself 85 %. I hope the mega flop in Tamale has now convinced him he is not yet ready to be president of Ghana. He simply hasn’t got it, at least not yet. If he still insists that he is good enough, then the problem is bigger than I thought. He has a part to play in Ghana’s development, but not as the president, that would be “avoidable”. At least we know he hates free education with a passion, even though that is not what his party stands for. I am still at a loss why the PNC replaced Dr Edward Mahama with Hassan Ayariga. Change for the sake of it?
On numbers and facts, my personal ratings are as follows: President Mahama: B Nana Akuffo Addo: B- Dr Abu Sakara: B- Hassan Ayariga: NG (Not gradable) These grades don’t flatter our effort to join the true middle income economies, but it will not matter too much. The Ghanaian president is like a parent who cannot fulfill a grandiose promise to his son, so he goes to the neighbor for support. Just take note anytime a western ambassador visits our presidents. You won’t miss the phrase, “we hope you will continue to support our development…”. To dignify this begging process, we call the neighbors development partners. With these performances, we have put the Japanese ambassador, Chinese ambassador, British high commissioner, India high commissioner (how far will we beg?), and the others on notice. We are not sure how much we need, but with the gargantuan nature of the promises we will soon knock on your door, not cup in hand but basin on head, because these promises, they are big ooo.
PS: The IEA must think of limiting the debate to the two biggest parties in parliament. It will give candidates more time to explain their choices and the moderators more opportunity to draw attention to spurious claims. I don’t think the candidates had to stand for all those hours. They should have the liberty to stand or sit to connect with the audience.