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Opinions of Saturday, 16 March 2013

Columnist: Ata, Kofi

Is President Mahama “Odum or Wawa”?

By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK

Many readers would be surprised by the title of this article as it could be misinterpreted as His Excellency, President Mahama being referred to as a mere tree. Far from it, instead, I am simply posing a question on this week’s development at the Presidency. In the last few days, decisions from the Presidency have baffled many and subjected the Presidency and the President to ridicule and probably become a laughing stock. It is the confusion emanating from the Presidency that I seek to question and analyse in this brief article.

In my early childhood in rural Ghana living with my grandmother, I heard her use the term, “you are either Odum or Wawa and not Oduwa”. She used the expression whenever she gave us (my younger sister and I) the opportunity to make a choice from two options she would present to us and one or both of us preferred a bit of both. In other words, we could only have one and not both.

This week, decisions from the presidency have reminded me of my childhood experience with my grandmother when she told us that we could not be “Oduwa”. It appears the President is attempting to be “Oduwa”. I am referring to the wholesale reshuffle of regional ministers who were sworn into office just weeks ago and the apparent renaming of the seat of government from Flagstaff House to Jubilee Flagstaff House. Are these signs of indecision, weakness or confusion?

Though, I do not share the assertion that the President is indecisive or weak for the decision to reshuffle his regional ministers just weeks in office, it gives the impression that the Presidency is making decisions on the hoof. Indeed, the opposite could be the case because the decision though bizarre could mean that the President is prepared to take tough and unpopular decisions and face the consequences. That is not a sign of indecision or weakness. On the other hand, it could also be true that the President is bereft of ideas or just practising trial and error.

The ‘foreign legion’ ministerial reassignment would have been innovative had the President made them in his first or original appointments. Though it would not have been the first time regional ministers were not “natives” of their respective regions (the late Lt-Col Baidoo from Breman Asikuma in Central Regional as Asante Regional Commissioner and Lt-Col Minyila from Northern Region as Eastern Regional Commissioner under the Kutu Acheampong regime in the 1970s), this would have been the first time all regions would have had a minister not being a son or daughter of the region s/he is assigned to. In my view the reshuffle was more of an afterthought rather than indecision, weakness or trial and error on the part of the President.

The principle behind the decision is solid and must be encouraged. That is, any Ghanaian qualified to be a minister should be able to serve in any role and any part of the country. The main qualifications should be meeting the constitutional requirements and having the requisite experience, skills and expertise to be effective and deliver what is expected of the position. The ethnicity or where the individual originates from in Ghana should be immaterial to ministerial and other national appointments.

The decision as any other has its advantages as well as disadvantages. It could be good, particularly for regions with long standing chieftaincy disputes and ethnic conflicts where politicians from the region are heavily involved by taking sides in the disputes. It’s not only the three Northern regions but such disputes are all over Ghana, even if others do not lead to clashes resulting in loss of lives and wanton destruction of properties. For example, since the minister is not from the region, it is assumed that s/he does not belong to any of the warring or opposing factions so s/he could be fair to all parties in finding lasting solutions. However, that could be too simplistic for various reasons. First, as the minister belongs to a political party that may be supporting or sympathetic to one side, s/he is tainted by association in the eyes of other factions. Again, the minister would be briefed by civil servants and other politicians who may have interests in the conflict and therefore could be biased and influence the minister’s views on the conflict and how best to deal with it.

The disadvantages include the risk of ministers been regarded as outsiders imposed on the people and who may not necessarily have the region’s best interests at heart. Such an environment of suspicion and mistrust could pose challenges for ministers and render them ineffective. For example, Mr E K T Addo who has now been reshuffled from Central to Western Region knows his original region very well. He is from the region, educated in the region (graduated from Cape Coast University and was a Teaching Assistant there) and served as the Regional Organising Assistant of the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution (CDRs) under the PNDC regime. He remained very active in the region and was very instrumental in NDC wining the region in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. His knowledge and experience of the region would have been a great asset to him. There is also the risk of the ministers being outside their regions of origin and still having influence there and potentially undermining the substantive minister.

I suspect the President acted as he did to forestall any difficulties from some regions that were not happy with his original appointments or the nominated deputies. Whatever the rationale behind the decision, I hope the affected ministers take up the new challenges and turn them into opportunities that should be grasped with open arms to their advantage.

The second talk of the week is the now unsuccessful attempt by the Presidency to secretly give a double barrel name to the presidential edifice. Without any official announcement, the Executive Secretary to the President issued official statements on official letterheads bearing Jubilee Flagstaff House as the Office of the President. Then, the Minister for Information grants an interview to Peace FM and confirms that the edifice has been renamed Jubilee Flagstaff House, only to be denied subsequently that the Jubilee Flagstaff House was a topographical error. Give me a break. Was Dr Raymond Atuguba, the Executive Secretary asleep when he signed those Press Releases?

I thought President Mahama and the Presidency would have learnt lessons from the communication lapses and confusion that bedevilled the late Mills administration when presidential staff and various ministers gave different explanations on the same subject. Despite the fact that there is no longer a Director of Communication and a Presidential Spokesperson at the Presidency but only Minister for Information to communicate official government business to the public, Ghanaians are still being told different stories. The first was the relationship between the President and US Gay Activist and now this confusion in less than two months.

What does President Mahama really stands for? Is he trying to lead by consensus or is he attempting to satisfy all and sundry?

Mr President, democracy is about consensus. However, leadership and management are not matters of consensus. Perhaps, that could be your mistake and the reason behind this confusion. Among others, leadership is about the ability to take difficult and sometimes unpopular but right decisions. That will sometimes require a leader to overrule his leadership team and vice versa. Good leadership also means satisfying the majority in the long term even if that means annoying the majority in the short term.

First, the President reshuffled his regional ministers to avoid criticisms from some regions over his appointments and deputy nominations as an afterthought. Then, under the cover of darkness, he changed the name of the seat of government by joining the two disputed names to satisfy both Nkrumahist and the Danquah-Busia tradition or the Kufuor regime that built the edifice. What a jeopardy or comedy?

Mr President, a good servant cannot serve two masters and be loyal to both at the same time. It appears that is what you are trying to achieve with your decisions by doing your best to please all. That is not feasible and in fact, in the end you will satisfy none. In the final analysis, you will probably annoy both sides. Be prepared to step on toes as a leader, otherwise, you fail abysmally.

I really do not understand the fuss about Jubilee or Flagstaff House. Why can’t the edifice be given a Ghanaian name instead of English names? Though the word Jubilee has its significance from Ghana’s 50th independence anniversary, couldn’t our leaders have searched for a befitting Ghanaian word that would have had the same significance? The name Flagstaff did not originate from Nkrumah but he inherited it from the colonial administration. Indeed, it was not the seat of the colonial government but the headquarters of the colonial military. Nkrumah who decided to use it as his office and residence, when he was appointed Head of Government Business (Prime Minister) by the Governor, Sir Charles Arden-Clarke after the 1951 elections since the colonial governor occupied the Castle and decided to stay put after independence. Why do Ghanaians want to maintain a name from the colonial masters? Is it just for nostalgia, Nkrumah occupied it or what?

To end the childish antagonism between NDC and NPP over the name for the Presidential edifice, why not organise a national completion by school children to find an appropriate Ghanaian word as a befitting name?

Mr President, the name Jubilee Flagstaff House is unacceptable to NDC and NPP as well as probably, millions of your citizens. You should have learnt from my grandmother and coined a single but new word for the edifice, such as “Jubflag House” instead of Jubilee Flagstaff House. Sadly, as my grand insisted on us being one or the other and not both, Jubflag House would still be unacceptable. My advice is, Mr President, you should either be “Odum or Wawa” with your decisions and not both because “Oduwa” as my grand explained, stands for nothing and means nothing. Whilst most know “Odum” as hard and “Wawa” as soft, no one knows what is “Oduwa”. So, Mr President, are you Odum or Wawa?

Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK