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Opinions of Thursday, 7 October 2004

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

The Burden Of The Presidency

Kofi Akosah-Sarpong in Ottawa, Canada, following the impending presidential and parliamentary elections in Ghana, explores why anybody would like to be president in Ghana considering the fact that Ghanaian presidents often find themselves under severe physical and mental strains -- whether these stem from assassination attempts, juju-marabou influences and attacks, civil strives, coup attempts, or sicknesses.

John Kuffour, Edward Mahama, John Atta Mills, Dan Lartey, Dani Ofori Atta, Kwesi Botwei, Mahama Aliu, Muhammad Mumuni, and many Ghanaians aspire to be president of their country despite the harm involved. In both civil democratic multiparty campaigns to be president, as is happening now between John Kuffour, Atta Mills and others, and military junta leaders such as Generals Emmanuel Kotoka and Kutu Acheampong, Ghanaian presidents or heads of state not only face constant scrutiny, but also death threats, and at times assassination attempts. Ghana?s first president Kwame Nkrumah escaped two assassination attempts in his almost 15-year rule. Jerry Rawlings experienced death threats during a good part of his second military regime and was reported to have slept in various places to avoid being killed.

As if that weren't burden enough, a Ghanaian president's decisions in civil strife and peace may help decide other people's lives, and in some cases, a society's future. The long-running civil strife in the northern part of Ghana and the assassinated Ya Na, the late Yakubu Andani II, have seen long-running curfews imposed in this areas, and the ensuing criticisms by the opposition political parties to the effect that President Kuffour and his top men are behind it put both the president and the nation in a dilemma, despite the apparent politicization of the matter. Added to the above, any mishap to any of the leading opposition political party figures is quickly tied to the president and his men. The fatal suspicious car accident of the running-mate of the main opposition National Democratic Party (NDC) leader (Prof. John Atta Mills), Alhaji Mohammed Mumuni, was quickly read into by some NDC supporters and some superstitious Ghanaians as a plot by President Kuffour and his men to undermine the momentum of the NDC three months into the general elections by eliminating Mumuni. Nii Armah Kweifio-Okai, writing in the ghanaweb.com, said, ?One immutable fact facing the NDC after the Mumuni accident is that Alhaji Mumuni would no longer be able to effectively perform his duties as the running mate to Prof Mills.? Under intense pressure and stress, President Kuffour announced, through his Internal Affairs Minister, Hackman Owusu-Agyemang, that ?The government has, with immediate effect given police protection to presidential candidates and the running mates of all recognized political parties.?

Still, as Ghana?s democratic dispensation deepens, presidential candidates have to jostle every four years to land one of the nation's most prestigious -- and most stressful and physically demanding ? position, President of the Republic of Ghana. It?s the ultimate job and there is no way of getting relief; its four years of pressure and problems, especially in a country which region is the poorest in the world and coup scare a clear and present danger. As one can see from mainly Kuffour and Mills faces in their campaigns outings, life on the campaign trail can be a tough test physically -- and good preparation for the challenging life of a president.

Either for immense political enticement to portray themselves as eternally fit and strong, physically and mentally, or in a country which culture normally makes leaders appear immortal or infallible or god-like, Ghanaian presidents have to project high degree of health and fitness. Like elsewhere in the world an illness means the entire system is in trouble -- the circle around the president, the media, and most importantly the Ghanaian public.

"An illness to the president is not just a personal matter. It is a devastating public crisis," noted Jerrold Post, a political psychologist and professor at America?s George Washington University. Despite having Ghana?s top health care team to address everyday health concerns and emergency situations, from the first president Kwame Nkrumah (played tennis and yoga practitioner), to Prime Minister Kofi Busia (played tennis) to President Hilla Liman to two-time President Jerry Rawlings (who projected high energy, youthfulness, and strength, and did some athletics), Ghana?s presidents or heads of state (here the military junta leaders such as Gen. Akwesi Afrifa to Gen. Ankrah to Gen. Kutu Acheampong to Gen. F.W.K. Akuffo to Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings) have not been publicly seen to take off their state duties and go on holidays as other heads of state, prime ministers or presidents elsewhere in the world do. Rawlings collapsed on state duty, due to exhaustion and fatigue, and was forced by his medical team to rest a bit. President Kuffour changed that, demonstrating the mortality of a president, by publicly announcing his vacationing for some weeks for rest and ease pressures from his national duties a bit.

Aside from the civilian presidents, most of Ghana?s military junta leaders have been afraid to travel outside Ghana for fear of being overthrown. Gen. Acheampong, who traveled only once (briefly to Togo) throughout his almost six years in power, was said to be afraid of flying. Facing coup threats and invasions, Rawlings travelled less as military head of state (two times) and more as civilian president (two times) throughout his almost 20 years in power. Among the civilian presidents a periodic long trip abroad may be annoying, but crisscrossing the country and world on a weekly and sometimes daily basis, as President Kuffour did when mediating the Guinea Bissau crisis, can be grueling, especially during election times. In an exhausting cross-country travel, when Mumuni was announced as having being involved in an accident, presidential candidate Prof. Mills has to cut short his electioneering campaigns in the far Brong Ahafo region and quickly come down to Accra to see his running-mate.

Despite President Kuffour saying his rapid travels abroad are for economic investments that are expected to create jobs and programs that affects hundreds of millions of lives, he has come under sharp criticisms for waste and risking his life in case of accident and its implications for the state.

Ghanaian presidents or prime ministers have physical strains. President Jerry Rawlings, for instance, caught virus while helping to clean a gutter at the Nima slum and is said to be responsible for butt of fever and his collapse when on state duty. Prime Minister Kofi Busia had a eye problem and has to travel to London, U.K for medical treatment (Gen. Acheampong overthrow Busia during this trip abroad and has to stay in exile for most part of his life). President Kuffour was rumoured to have got cancer but quickly said it is not true. The political situations aside, just the day-to-day demands of being president or head of state, are astonishing. The president could never turn it off. Ghanaians used to wonder where Nkrumah and Rawlings get their energy from to drive their presidencies. The assassination attempts against Nkrumah and the spectre of death threats against Rawlings showed that Ghanaian presidents face near constant, sometimes all too real threats on their lives.

The severe, sustained stress, and the reality of being overthrown with the slightest mistake that will force them to live in exile can end the life of Ghanaian presidents/prime ministers quicker, despite the fact that they have received the best medical care. Nkrumah faced tremendous stress while president and dealt with it through yoga exercise, prayers and fasting but even this could not compensate for what he went through during his later years in exile in Guinea. Nkrumah after being overthrown in 1966 by Gen. Emmanuel Kotoka with the help of America?s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) exiled in Conakry, Guinea and died in Bucharest, Romania at 63. Busia was overthrown in 1972 and died in exile in London, U.K at 55. Liman, overthrown by Rawlings in 1981, died in Ghana at 64. Most Ghanaian military junta heads of state were either executed or killed in coup attempts. Generals Acheampong and Akuffo were overthrown and executed by firing squad. Gen. Kotoka was killed in the course of a coup attempt. Rawlings is currently the only Ghanaian ex-president or ex-head of state living.

Experts explains that a convinced degree of stress can make people "more alert, more focused" during a crisis, "but the data on sustained stress shows a decrease in functioning over time, even though a person may believe he is at the height of his powers." In the long run, experts say, "stress tends to bring out not the best in people,? as we saw in Nkrumah, the early years of Acheampong and Rawlings ?but magnifies the flaws that are already there."

Nkrumah and Liman, for example, suffered from severe depression after their overthrow. Oftentimes, the presidency's many demands can impair a president's mental health. Liman was said to have been disoriented from sustained deadly squabbling of his party, People?s National Party (PNP), bigwigs, which put his administration in disarray and led to his overthrow in 1981. As the internal deadly bickering of his administration crisis unfolded, several leading PNP insiders said President Liman withdrawal to himself and rumors of heavy drinking of alcohol and coffee and smoking. Liman showed paranoid tendencies, especially when his political mentor, Alhaji Moro Igala, was believed to have been poisoned to death in the ensuing in-house party strife, that put terrible strains on him and his decision-making, leading to his under-rating security reports that there are plots by Rawlings and his cohorts to overthrow his regime.

Like most West African presidents, Ghanaian presidents faces constant juju-marabou influences and attacks from not only some cabinet ministers and party bigwigs but also from some members of the public who may attempt to get favour from the president. Ghanaian presidents are also the subject of prophecies and other native spiritual interpretations, visions, dreams and fortune-telling in a culture that is not only highly superstitious but gullible and can be irrational. In a story that demonstrates how the Ghanaian culture interprets negatively or positively the country?s presidents or heads of states, the Accra-based Ghanaian Chronicle reported that ?Mr. Moses Growther, a prophet has stated that the former President, Flt. Lt. (rtd.) Jerry John Rawlings was a man sent by God to punish us Ghanaians for our iniquities and disobedience to Him, hence the serious economic suffering visited on the nation. According to him, Ghanaians became indolent, after inheriting a curse from the leadership of the first President of Ghana, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah that any government who toed the line of his ideological principle would worsen the nation's economic situation.?

To counter the ?dark? influences of the culture, Ghanaian presidents or heads of state are known not only to consult juju-marabou mediums and other spiritualists but also sometimes fall under the grip of these mediums which have consequences for the country. As the later part of Acheampong?s rule became confusing in the face of economic disarray, campaigns for civil rule, rule of law, freedom, human rights and democracy he became paranoid and sank deeper and deeper into juju-marabou mediums, foreign necromancers, and other spiritual mediums. Tantalizing tales of juju-marabou dabblings have made the rounds in the Ghanaian presidency about Nkrumah and Rawlings. Presidents Akuffo Addo, John Kuffour, and Prime Minister Kofi Busia have been known to deal with troubles of their offices which emanates from within the culture with prayers and contemplations. Liman, a heavy thinker, was variously viewed as an atheist. Despite these burdens which Ghanaian presidents go through those with the fortitude still dream and aspire to be president of Ghana as the 12-year old democratic dispensation gathers steam and the development process get entrenched.


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