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Opinions of Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Columnist: Ato Kwamena Dadzie/Daily Dispatch

THE OUTSIDER: Prof. Mills delivers a “master stroke”

At long last, Prof. John Atta Mills has made up his mind. He’s chosen the youthful (and very good looking) John Mahama as his running mate. And he did so much against the wishes of a once powerful woman. Just a week before Prof. Mills made the big decision, Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings (being the wife of the founder, owner and CEO of the NDC), tried to give him a few (unwanted) pointers. She indicated in an interview that she wouldn’t like a Mahama-Mills ticket. She wanted Prof. Mills to choose her long-time friend Betty Mould-Iddrisu.

Mrs. Mould-Iddrisu, I think, would make a fine veep (and even president) because she’s smart, driven, very compassionate and err.... beautiful. Nana Konadu also says she has conducted some research which indicated that Mrs. Mould-Iddrisu was more of a crowd-puller (in other words she had more of an ability to pull in the floating voters) than John Mahama. She also questioned John Mahama’s competence in that interview. To cap it all, Mrs. Rawlings warned that Atta Mills will not be allowed to do what he liked – unlike in 2004 when, according to her, he was treated with kid gloves.

I thought those words only reinforced the perception that Atta Mills was “not his own man” – to use the popular expression. I felt Nana Konadu’s words put Prof. Mills in a very tight corner. In the last piece I wrote about this issue, I said Atta Mills would have to choose a candidate other than John or Betty. I argued then that if he chose John, he would suffer a fall out with the Rawlings and if he chose Betty, he would be confirming that there isn’t much he can do without some prodding from the Rawlings. I really wanted Betty to be on the ticket – but not if Mills was forced to bring her on board.

As it turned out, Prof. Mills doesn’t really care about falling out with the man who introduced him to politics. And that’s very good to know. Despite, Mrs. Rawlings warnings, Prof. Mills has gone ahead to choose John Mahama and he has, to some extent, indicated to the Ghanaian voter that he’s got two very firm ones down there... if you know what I mean.

Prof. Mills opponents have suggested that Nana Konadu’s ranting over the running mate issue was stage managed just for the purpose of showing the world that the NDC candidate is a man of his own who doesn’t take crap from any one – not even from his benefactors. It’s hard to tell whether the thing was stage-managed. What I know is that Nana Konadu genuinely wanted Betty. And let’s face it: Betty would have been a good running mate too. The problem was that Nana Konadu spoke about it and made it seem like Prof. Mills was being ordered about.

Ultimately, the decision was Mills’ and he made it. His choice just happens to go against the wishes of Mr and Mrs. Rawlings. And I’m very happy that Prof. Mills has called the bluff of the Rawlingses. By this singular gesture – stage-managed or not – Prof. Mills has sent out a strong signal that he knows what he wants and that he know that he’s better off without the Rawlingses breathing down his neck.

In that controversial interview, Nana Konadu was asked whether she would campaign for Prof. Mills if he refused to choose Mrs. Mould-Iddrisu as his running mate. “I am not sure,” was her response. Well, now that the Prof. Mills has decided, I am sure Mrs. Rawlings uncertainties will have been deepened. May her uncertainty keep her off the Mills-Mahama campaign platforms. Mrs. Rawlings and her husband, simply put, are bad news for Prof. Mills. They campaigned actively with Prof. Mills for two elections – and he lost them both. How about trying something different? Like not campaigning for him at all. Maybe, just maybe, he could win without them following him at every turn and showing him what to do and what not to do.

Even their ‘aide’ for the past two decades or so, Victor Smith, realises that the Rawlings will not add much to what Prof. Mills and John Mahama have to offer. That’s why he started shifting allegiances a while ago. The story is told that Mr. Smith advised a Nigerian man who wanted to make a donation to Rawlings to think twice and give the money rather to Prof. Mills or to the NDC as a party. The Rawlingses got wind of this and decided to show Mr. Smith where power lies. When the confusion over who should be Mills’ running mate flared up, Mr. Smith chose to go against the wishes of his master. He wanted Mills to choose Mahama. And that also piqued his bosses. So angry was the former president that he chose to dismiss Mr. Smith with as much ignominy as possible. First, he terminated Mr. Smith with a cheap text message (the damn thing costs just about three pesewas) and to added insult to injury, he asked Mr. Smith to draft his own termination letter.

I do not pity Mr. Smith. Pity is the last thing he needs. I am very happy for him that at long last, he’s broken the hold of the Rawlingses on his life. He has seen the light and has finally come to realise (like most Ghanaians did almost ten years ago) that Rawlings is history. In that text message, Mr. Rawlings accused Victor Smith of “blind loyalty” but wished him well in his political career “hopefully in Professor Mills’ office.” It was a desperate text message from a desperate man who might be feeling that he’s losing his grip on his party.

The good news, though, is that even though the Rawlingses might feel that things are falling apart around them, Prof. Mills is setting himself up for victory. John Mahama is a fantastic choice. He’s such a fine gentleman and, as I’ve said previously, he’s one of the few politicians in this country with bipartisan appeal. There are very few people like him in this country. And with his selection, Prof. Mills has effectively killed two birds with one stone: he’s shown that he is nobody’s poodle and he’s also invited the floaters to vote for him. The race is indeed heating up and I’m damn glad the Rawlingses are being sidelined. Choosing Mahama, might end up being truly what Victor Smith describes as Prof. Mills’ “master stroke”. With the singular decision, he’s pulling a lot of floating voters and he’s also telling the over-bearing Rawlingses to back-off. A couple of weeks ago, I wanted him to play it safe but I’m glad he took the risk. Good job, Prof. Now, I think, the contest is getting more interesting.