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Opinions of Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.

Should The Sparks Start Flying Now?

By Michael J.K. Bokor, Ph.D.

E-mail: mjbokor@ilstu.edu

Part One

The first major salvo at President Mills’ manner of tackling government business has already been fired by none other but the former President and founder of the NDC, Flt.-Lt. Rawlings. Speaking to a group of NDC activists at his Ridge Residence, the former President declared that the party would not accept any “poverty of inaction” from President Mills. What a loaded charge, all too soon!

This declaration was reportedly in reaction to President Mills’ directive to MCEs and DCEs appointed by Kufuor to remain at post until further notice. The former President questioned the rationale behind this directive, wondering whether it was because the NDC didn’t have capable hands to perform those functions upon assuming office or because President Mills was not setting his priorities right. To me, the latter reason appears to be the one behind that query. Alarm already!!

He was said to be particularly unhappy that those NPP functionaries being asked to remain at post were continuing to use their political clout to harass NDC activists as if it is the NPP and not the NDC that is now in power. This situation must not be tolerated, according to the sentiments attributed to the former President, because it is the NDC that must rule the country at all levels.

This concern from Rawlings is genuine, to any imaginable extent, and must not be treated with disdain even though it portends a serious dilemma. It encapsulates the passion of NDC functionaries, most of whom had suffered untold intimidation under Kufuor’s NPP administration. The import is clear: Now that the tide has turned in favor of the NDC, why shouldn’t President Mills get rid of those NPP functionaries to make way for the NDC to control affairs throughout the country?

The genuineness of this complaint notwithstanding, I think that it forebodes something unpleasant that must be raised and discussed at several levels to assuage doubts or suspicions about the tasks facing President Mills and his government and how they should be tackled. This discussion should be done within the context of the President as an individual and his administration as a collective.

As an individual, President Mills has a daunting task to perform and must be encouraged to maintain his composure and grip on affairs. Having served under Rawlings, it is clear that the bond that has been established between both is thick and largely productive. Such a bond is what has portrayed President Mills to his political opponents as “an apron string” of Rawlings. The print media that have been hostile to him have even gone to the extent of caricaturizing him as a “poodle,” which went a long way to affect his chances in previous elections. I will return to this issue later. But for now, let me say that Rawlings’ admonition spells something that President Mills cannot afford to sidestep. It is a strong foretaste of the cloud of criticism that is already forming and drifting to hang over his head.

I can see in Rawlings’ open admonition and the critical comments so far raised by some people about the membership of President Mills’ Transition Team that a cell of “parallel administration” is already threatening to rear its ugly head; and if it is not nipped in the bud but allowed to develop, the NDC will definitely have itself to blame.

I remember very well the threat that Rawlings’ presence posed to the Kufuor administration as he took it on single-handedly and almost always overshadowed it in the eyes of the public. His critical and disparaging comments about Kufuor (as a person) and the NPP (as the party then in government) created very uncomfortable moments for the Kufuor government. He was too hot for them to handle, as he was to the Hilla Liman government too. We all know what Kufuor did in an attempt to silence Rawlings, one of which was to strip him of all his constitutionally mandated privileges. He did not relent in his bitter criticism and lived his life without batting an eyelid over that draconian measure, which won him some public sympathy and gingered him up for what he did in the electioneering campaigns.

If that posture helped the NDC’s cause under Kufuor, it doesn’t mean that it must be retained now in an NDC-dominated atmosphere. Two powerful but conflicting voices of the party in power are now being heard on how government business should be done at the local level; and it’s not a good omen. This threat of a “parallel administration” that I foresee must not be allowed to register itself on the minds of the public. As Ola Rotimi, the late Nigerian writer, tells us: “Two rams cannot drink (water) from the same bucket; they will lock horns.” I don’t want President Mills and Rawlings to do so. It is, however, good for Rawlings (or any other sympathizer of the NDC’s cause) to alert President Mills’ government to any perceived or real shortcomings; but there should be better and more functional ways to do so than what happened the other day. At least, there are opportunities for hob-nobbing that can do a better job in turning things positively around for the NDC administration than an open declaration of a near loss of confidence in President Mills’ manner of handling the transitional process at the local level. I hope someone is listening.

Once it was President Mills who received the mandate of Ghanaians to rule them for the next four years, let’s give him the chance. If anybody in the NDC has anything to offer him, he/she should use the appropriate mechanism to do so. That is why it is advisable for all the party’s bigwigs to submit their political authority to President Mills’s. Hooking themselves to that spoke in the umbrella will strengthen his grips on power for him to use it effectively to fulfill the promises that were made to the electorate.

As a political party in government after being buffeted for eight years by the NPP’s politics of intimidation and victimization, the NDC functionaries should be the last to do anything that could erode public confidence in the leadership. It is politically suicidal to begin pushing anybody around now, especially at a time that everything is in transition.

From another angle, the admonition will affect Vice President John Mahama too. At least, from hindsight, we can tell that events preceding his choice as the Running Mate for President Mills in the elections showed that he was not favored by the Rawlingses and those in their camp. It was rumoured at the time that the Vice President didn’t want to be pushed around by the Rawlingses. In other words, he did not want to be at the beck and call of any so-called voice of authority in the political sense. Now in government, the first effort at pushing him and the President around is being made by Rawlings. How will he take it without impairing working relationships?

Granted that Rawlings’ manner or method of issuing the admonition is part of an arsenal of strategies for “proactiveness” through open criticism of President Mills from forces within the NDC, it may have its good sides; but, generally, it will also have very negative long-term effects as far as governance is concerned. First, it will tell the public that President Mills is dormant and needs prompting from the “Almighty” Rawlings to do the “appropriate thing.”

Furthermore, it will tell the public that President Mills doesn’t understand the enormity of the tasks facing his administration or that unless poked in the ribs, he cannot act. And if he goes ahead to fire these MCEs and DCEs, will it not portray him as a conveyor belt for Rawlings’ promptings? Any impression of this sort will not help him and his administration.

Criticism from within is good, especially if it aims at alerting President Mills to things happening on his blind side that he must adjust to; but if the immediate method for issuing the criticism is what Rawlings has opted for, then, the criticism will lose its value. It will rather do more harm than any good for the government at this early stage of its existence and portray a bad side of President Mills to the political opponents who are sitting at the flanks and eagerly waiting for any demonstration of weakness to tell the electorate: “Ah, huh! We told you so but you didn’t listen to us! Now, have you seen how President Mills is being manipulated to do his ‘Master’s’ bidding?”

Rawlings has to know that every leader has his or her own ways of effecting change and that the approach being used by the new NDC administration might be in consonance with the Social Democratic agenda and the Atta Mills government’s avowed determination to present a better posture to the world than the “buga-buga” approach that he (Rawlings) used in ruling Ghana. This “buga-buga” leadership style is heavily criticized for its negative impact on the NDC itself and the constitutional democratic dispensation of the Fourth Republic that began in 1992. The reality today is that the days of “buga-buga” did not create a good name for the NDC and should not be brought back; otherwise, the NDC will quickly lose face and public support. I have a funny feeling that Ghanaians will be more willing to sympathize with (and to support) a new NDC government that makes genuine mistakes and accounts for them than they would do if the military-influenced brutal approaches of Rawlings are reintroduced into the conduct of government.

No matter what the NDC achieved under Rawlings, it still has to do more under a new dispensation to be able to move into the future with hope. That is why the NDC functionaries must understand that each leader has peculiar worldviews and different approaches to tackling the tasks of governance. The party must present a united front as it exercises the mandate given it by the electorate. It means that all those whose postures and utterances will clash with the new image of the party must recede to the background and adopt better ways of making their sentiments known. After all, firing the MCEs and DCEs from office can be done without intensifying the animosity between the two political camps or destabilizing local government machinery during this transition. I will continue my discussion in the next segment.