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Opinions of Thursday, 29 October 2015

Columnist: Dr Kwesi Amponsah

Is our Presidency safe?

Opinion Opinion

The spate of road accidents in Ghana continues to dominate discussions in the country and it now appears to be ideal in daily media reportage.As much as this menace is detestable to many Ghanaians, it seems attempts to address the issue may be far from over, especially as records of road accidents over the years have consistently featured the highest office of this country, the Presidency.
Interestingly, the safety of the presidential convoy in Ghana has been threatened on several occasions not by terrorist attacks but by fatal road accidents that have claimed the lives of security personnel, journalists and presidential staffers who usually travel around the country with the President. On some occasions, the life of the first family have even been exposed to “near death” due to such accidents. The persistent involvement of the presidential convoy in road accidents calls for a review of the security of the President from a safety perspective.

Facts about presidential accidents in Ghana
The dossier about presidential accidents in Ghana shows that every President in the Fourth Republic has been involved in some fatal accident of some sort. On Sunday, October 29, 2000, the presidential convoy of former President Jerry John Rawlings was involved in a fatal accident on the Tema Motorway.

The said accident claimed the lives of four bodyguards of the President and the first family were reported to have been treated of minor injuries at the 37 Military Hospital. On November 14, 2007, the presidential convoy of former President John Agyekum Kufuor was also involved in an accident at the Opeibea intersection in Accra in which the President’s driver and the driver of another vehicle that was also affected in the incident sustained various degrees of injuries.

In 2009, it was again reported that the presidential convoy of the late President John Evans Atta Mills was also involved in an accident on the Sandema-Chuchuliga road in the Upper East Region with one soldier who was part of the President’s security detail losing his life.

The obvious question that may arise from this is that, “is working for the President of Ghana that risky and life threatening?” Other fatal accidents include that of the late Former Vice-President Aliu Mahama and other reports of near misses of the presidential convoy.

In recent times, the air waves and various media houses have been awash with reports about the death of a journalist who was part of a presidential press corps travelling back from the Volta Region after covering some activities of President John Dramani Mahama in the region.

As if that is not enough, some journalists were also involved in another accident in the Western Region on Monday, October 12, 2015 upon returning from covering the inauguration of a new community day senior high school by the President, John Dramani Mahama.

The preponderance of these accidents of the presidential convoy calls for some attention about the nature of the President’s travel by road.

High speeding by presidential convoy: The paradox of security and safety
The first and notable characteristic of the nature of travel of the President is the speed at which the convoy moves. There are indeed studies and instances that support the need for the presidential convoy to move at such top speeds with the obvious reason of ensuring the security of the President although there may be other factors such as time.

But eliminating all other factors including time, by ensuring the presidential convoy takes into consideration the time of departure and arrival from one venue to another, the issue of security remains prominent on the list of excuses to drive the President and his entourage at very high speed limits.

The record or better still high risk exposure of the presidential convoy to road accidents due to the speed at which the convoy moves flaws the argument of over speeding of the presidential convoy.

A critical risk assessment of the presidential convoy reveals that the security of the President is not as threatened as the safety of the President and his entourage. The likelihood of a Ghanaian President being attacked in a convoy though possible is very low considering the trend of presidential exposure to threats. Rather, road accidents have consistently proven the hypothesis that this country may lose a President in a road accident if no measure is taken to avert the situation of high speeding of the convoy.

In fact, security is embedded in the holistic framework of safety, hence, pursuing the security of the convoy at the expense of safety is misplaced and unsatisfactory. Safety is a complete state of wellbeing physically, mentally, economically, socially and emotionally. A concentration on the physical safety of the President is, therefore, a limited approach to ensuring the efficient and effective functioning of the office.

Mentally, the President has to be prepared and not disturbed in the execution of responsibilities considering the fact that the schedule of the President is usually heavily packed and demanding.

Rushing the President through traffic can help the President to be “secured” and probably meet his appointments on time but on another hand, presents a more risky likelihood of death to the President, members of the convoy or the citizenry due to movements at top speed; as made evident in the dossier of presidential accidents in Ghana.

Besides, it is obvious that the effectiveness and efficiency in the work output of any individual is likely to be affected by the occurrence of an accident or even near miss. There is, therefore, the need to ensure that the President and his staffers are in a sound psychological state in the delivery of their duties.
Socially, the movement of the President at top speeds has over the period built a distance and “get out of my way” relationship between the President and the populace. Comparing the movement of incumbent Presidents through communities during campaign periods to when they have to serve the electorate, there is a sharp distinction of the social touch the President has with the citizens during these separate periods.

During electioneering, incumbent Presidents drive slowly through thick crowds that are more difficult to control and monitor in order to portray themselves as accessible and sociable.

They do this thinking less about security because of the overarching interest of getting closer to the “grassroots”. These actions of Presidents in these periods have barely been viewed under the security lenses.
So why is it that the tenure of the President can’t be characterised by modest movements, especially when they now have the trust and support of the citizenry? Are the citizens in a post-electioneering period more threatening than they were in a pre-electioneering period?

Can we conclusively say that a sitting President is more secured in pre-electioneering periods in the midst of thick crowds than when they are in office and carrying out their official duties?

These questions place the security argument for highly speeding the presidential convoy in a very porous context and gives credence to the fact that the emphasis should generally be on safety rather than skewed on security.

If this proposal of modest movement of the presidential convoy, especially through populated cities is to be taken into consideration, there lies a subtle benefit of renewed confidence of the populace in their President psychologically, especially when the President’s movement past these citizens demonstrates a character of mutual consideration.

Economically, the increasing death and injury of journalists, members of national security, and presidential staffers introduce costs that have to be usually settled from contingent funds. Economically, the lives of active people are lost through these accidents and some are incapacitated through accidents caused by the presidential convoy. The argument can, therefore, not hold that “speed ensures security”.

The economic cost of increasing accidents involving the presidential convoy, not to talk about the cost of repair or replacement of damaged vehicles, means that there is an urgent need to revise the speed limits of the presidential convoy.
In a developing economy such as Ghana, there is the need for such strategic measures that reduce cost and rather ensure efficiency in the economy, particularly in an era where the world is seeking for sustainable development.

A more appropriate solution may be to move at reasonable speed limits that allows drivers of the President and any accompanying entourage enough time to avert any likely accident. From the evidence above, there is every justification for the discussion and actions of this country and the Office of the President to consider revising the speed limits of the presidential convoy. This appears to be the surest way of ensuring the security and safety of our Presidents and their staffers.

There should be some level of conscientiousness in the organisation of the itinerary of the President. By this, we mean there is the need for proper and practical time management of the President’s activities.

This should not only include the starting time for various presidential appointments but also, the duration of such appointments, the time to commute from one location to another and specific times for such appointments to end.

This prudent management of the President’s time may consider some plus or minus five minutes to cater for any unexpected incidents but should be last resorts in the implementation of any activity of the President. Such judicious management of the President’s itinerary can contribute to greater efficiency in the Presidency of this country.

Furthermore, the work schedule of the President can be re-organised in such a manner that meetings that are collocated in areas that are closer are fixed on same days and meetings at distant places scheduled on separate days. This will reduce the need to rush through traffic to meetings and occasions.

The coordination of the President’s schedules in this manner will reduce the occurrence of further accidents which has the potential of creating a much safer and secured environment around our President.

We believe a consideration of these facts and recommendations will help redirect our focus to safety as an occupational ideal for the highest office of this country.