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Opinions of Thursday, 13 December 2018

Columnist: Kwame Abrefah

Ghana: The curious case of Mahama’s ‘me alone and me again’ politics

John Mahama John Mahama

The former president of Ghana, John Mahama, has started his campaign to become president of Ghana for the second time. If he is successful, he will be the first person to have won the presidency on two separate occasions, after having suffered a humiliating defeat in his bid for a second term in office. Mr. Mahama is so wealthy that nobody in his party can stop his likely victory in his party's presidential primary next month. This will set up a re-run of the 2016 election with his main political opponent, Nana Akufo-Addo, the current president of the country.

When he announced his decision to ran for president the third time, Mr. Mahama said he owes a “duty to God and my country to take our great party back into government, to right the wrongs of the past and to put an end to the cries of the people under the current dispensation.” This statement implies that he has reached deep into his conscience and has decided to correct the “wrongs of the past”. President Mahama has not, however, specified what past wrongs he is seeking to correct. Does he want to correct the mistakes he made when he was president, or does he want another term in office to settle political scores? Does he want to come back to appease his ego after suffering a humiliating defeat in 2016? This article examines Mr. Mahama's motivations through the lens of Reverend Father Richard Rohr's famous book Falling Upward. Readers can make their own judgments about President Mahama's decision and whether that decision is born of selfishness, arrogance, vindictiveness, egotism or patriotism.

Mr. Mahama is on a quest for redemption to correct “past wrongs,” as he put it. But what is unclear is whose past wrongs he seeks to correct. Some people have suggested that he wants a second chance to correct his own mistakes in order to redeem the multitude of corruption scandals that tainted his administration. Others believe that he wants to use the presidency to settle political scores with his opponents. Either way, Mr. Mahama would be more credible if he were to specify the “past wrongs” he wants to correct– and how he seeks to correct them — as part of his campaign. Mr. Mahama would also enhance his credibility if he were to ask the Ghanaian people for their forgiveness for his own mistakes and, by the same token, forgive those who he thinks have wronged him. A quest for redemption, if it is genuine, implies the seeking of forgiveness. Perhaps President Mahama's quest is not for redemption after all, but rather a pretext for regaining power.

To appreciate Mr. Mahama's decision to run for president again, it is important to ask this question: Did he make public policy decisions for personal gain or was he trying to do what he thought was right at the time of making these decisions and inadvertently end up hurting Ghanaians? If the latter is the case, he must accept that even if his intentions were good, sometimes the complexities and practicalities of governance can have unintended outcomes.

On the other hand, if President Mahama made policy decisions purely for his selfish gain at the expense of Ghanaians, he can still redeem his honour and conscience without having to become president again. There is a right path to redemption. Mr. Mahama must identify and own his wrongdoings, apologize to Ghanaians and atone for his mistakes.

Now that President Mahama's 2020 campaign is in full gear, it is imperative to ask whether this decision serves himself or the national interest. Analysed from the perspective of Father Rohr's work, Mahama's decision is problematic because it is likely egocentric and ego-driven.

Richard Rohr is a Franciscan priest and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation. He is an author and a teacher. The message of his book Falling Upward is straightforward: life has two different halves. The first half is concerned with the success and enhancement of ego and its mind-set: ambition, competition, looking after oneself, one's family and group interest. The second half seems to be about undoing much of what has been accomplished in the first half in order to get at the deeper heart of human life. In the second half, “one has less and less need or interest in…making again those old rash judgments, holding on to old hurts, or feeling any need to punish other people. Your superiority complexes have gradually departed in all directions. You do not fight these things anymore; they have just shown themselves too many times to be useless, ego based, counterproductive, and often entirely wrong.”

Father Rohr goes on to suggest that countries whose leaders exhibit the characteristics and values of the first half of life tend to be engulfed in chaos, corruption and poverty. On the other hand, countries whose leaders have the qualities of the second half of life tend to be peaceful and democratic. Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and many others are examples of leaders who transition to the second half of life.

Now, considering Father Rohr's insights, is President Mahama's bid to be president again inspired by a first or second half of life mindset? It almost certainly exemplifies a first half of life mindset because it projects arrogance, selfishness, competition, judgment, vindictiveness and a sense of entitlement. By all accounts, President Mahama is a wealthy man and much of his wealth was acquired during his long public life. Therefore, he will likely secure the nomination of his party due to his unmatched resources, which will scuttle the presidential ambitions of his fellow party men such as Mr. Spio Garbrah, Goosie Tannoh, Alban Bagbin and others. Furthermore, with his financial muscle, he will also likely mount a credible and serious challenge to the ruling party in the 2020 election, thereby threatening Vice President Bawumia's presidential dreams too.

This state of play calls into question what a win for President Mahama, as either the presidential nominee of his party or president of Ghana, might mean. How much change beyond “redeeming” himself will it be? While it might be a political rebirth for President Mahama, will it benefit Ghana? This politics of redemption, of me again and “me alone”could prove antithetical to meaningful change, whether Mr. Mahama wins or loses the elections. A win for Mr. Mahama could embolden him to limit the political space and stifle the ability of new generation of leadership to flourish. It will also potentially deprive the country of the service of great minds like Vice President Bawumia who, apart from proving his competency and work ethic, has the unique ability to unite and bridge the religious divide in the country.

In conclusion, President Mahama's “me alone” politics does not bode well for Ghana's democracy. It may very well be legal for him to stand again, but is it ethical and does it serve the national interest? Ghanaians will have to make that determination for better or for worse come 2020.

Kwame Abrefah writes from Edmonton, Canada