General News of Sunday, 5 January 2014
Health Insurance technocrat, finance expert, and politician, Sylvester A. Mensah has warned that political parties in Ghana must learn to “define clear succession plans and term limits at all levels of leadership” or face what he calls a “generation crisis.”
Mr. Mensah described generation crisis in this context as some strain that may exist between the old and new ‘generations’ in any political architecture resulting from a scramble for space for inclusion in political leadership and decision-making, irrespective of whether the party is in government or government-in-waiting.
He elaborated that this crisis worsens when the younger generation rightly or wrongly perceives that the ‘old’ is occupying their space and time and denying them their historical place in political decision-making.
Mr Mensah therefore prescribed that any political party anywhere in the world serious about winning or maintaining power must take the issue of succession planning and defined term limits for all levels of decision-making seriously.
According to him, “any dominant political party that fails to define clear succession plans and term limits at all levels of leadership and experiences the prerogative to exercise the mandate of the people to govern, while it continues membership drive, is setting itself up to be plagued with a multitude of challenges in the future.”
Mr. Mensah, who is also the Chief Executive of the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA), made the comments in his memoirs launched over the weekend as part of his 50th birthday and in contribution to the knowledge bank and reading resources of the country. The book, ‘In the Shadows of Politics: Reflections from My Mirror,’ chronicles the 50 year life story of Sylvester Mensah and his life in politics, detailing in a gripping yet interesting manner the eventful chronology and adventures of the author.
Mr. Mensah, also a former MP for La Dadekotopon in Accra, was of the opinion that depending on the respective roles and contribution of various layers and levels of leadership to political victory relative to others, “each layer (generation) tends to develop a feeling that its time and term is due, generating bad blood and internal unrest which begins covertly, pushing sooner than later to open disagreements and disenchantment about what may seem rather insignificant on the surface.”
The author diagnosed that “under such circumstances, the feeling of entitlement becomes aggressively pervasive to the point of endangering internal cohesion and party unity.” According to him, this is even worsened by long periods in government or opposition, “generating acrimonious competition between and among the various layers of leaders.” Mr. Mensah therefore suggests that a ‘generation crisis’ could emerge as a natural consequence of the failure to delineate term limits and what he termed “incremental substitution into the organization to maintain a healthy blend of relevant old and new models in the interest of the collective.”
Sylvester Mensah observed that ‘generation crisis” is a systemic challenge that cannot be “wished away by a do-nothing strategy.” He proposes that one of the antidotes to this crisis is mentorship. He controversially states that the balance between the need to learn to wait for one’s turn on one hand and the strategic exiting on the other is an emotive and egoistic challenge that is daunting and presents a conundrum.
Though the author failed to give any contemporary instances in Ghana’s political system where the “crisis” appears to be manifesting, it is not difficult for one to imagine the circumstances which saw the formation of the Reform Party by disenchanted young intellectuals within the NDC with legitimate hopes and ambition of leading the party, and arguably how that led to the loss of the governing NDC in that election.
The NPP has not escaped this canker either. At the 2007 National Delegates’ Congress of the party held at the University of Ghana, where 17 candidates contested the party’s flag-bearer ship, if the older generation among the contestants had understood the principle of exiting honourably, the party debatably would not have lost the 2008 polls.
Without mentioning this specific example, Sylvester Mensah submitted that “political parties can no longer afford to subtly cast away inner-party democracy by employing a combination of hectoring, followed by indecent cajoling, wrapped neatly into what appears to be a successful internal democracy, ….” because the consequences may be lethal.
Another example of lack of an exit plan for the older generation plagued the People’s National Convention (PNC) under the leadership of the respected Dr Edward Mahama who was the party’s flagbearer from 1996 till he lost the spot to a younger Hassan Ayariga in 2012.
The 153-page autobiography, characteristic of memoirs, explains the background of the author, how his father, Lovelace P.C. Mensah, a Convention People’s Party politician, diplomat and Dr Kwame Nkrumah’s confidante, contributed in pushing the anti-imperialist agenda especially in DR Congo, where Nkrumah’s ally Patrice Lumumba was under house arrest and eventually brutally eliminated.
An engaging part of the book is how Lovelace Mensah teamed up with Nkrumah to attempt a rescue plan for house-incarcerated Lumumba. The author narrates that, “Papa (father) returned to Leopoldville and began executing his mission with zeal. As he had done several times before, he got to Patrice Lumumba’s residence, went through all the necessary security checks, and finally arrived in the secured location where Patrice was being held.
“According to Papa, he had wrapped the two-page handwritten letter (from Nkrumah to Patrice containing rescue plan etc) in rubber and hidden it in a secure part of his body. After briefing Patrice about the plan, he carefully took out the letter from President Nkrumah and handed it over for him to read.”
The author said the risky rescue mission got to perilous levels. “Apparently, they had pushed their luck too far; the security on guard was more professional and alert than they had imagined,” the author surmised. Author Mensah went ahead to relate the blood cuddling experiences of the two under the watch of the security men and what happened to Nkrumah’s letter.
Many people from various sectors of life attended the launch. It qualifies as the biggest book launch event in recent time, bringing together over four hundred participants and raking in through auction over GHC250,000 in cash and cheques with over GHC100,000 in pledges. There were people from academia, the clergy, business, and traditional leaders, politicians from all sides of the divide and the media as well as the author’s family members.
Many ministers of state graced the occasion, which was followed by a 50th birthday dinner for the author. The event was significant as Professor Esi Sutherland Addy reviewed the book while Professor Kwamena Ahwoi who wrote the forward to the book, performed the formal launch.