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Opinions of Friday, 13 February 2009

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

The testing of John Atta-Mills

By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong

The withdrawal of the nomination of Moses Asaga as Minister of Water Resources, Works and Housing-designate by President John Evans Atta Mills once again raises the issue of whether the president can be easily ridden over or not.

Asaga had disobeyed presidential order not to make any payments after the January 2, 2008 run-off presidential elections by authorizing the payment of over US$20 million for ex-presidents and ex-ministers. Perhaps touting the general view that Atta-Mills is easy to ride on, Asaga, a Member Parliament, is held to have approved the payment without resort to parliamentary finance and economic committee procedures, of which he chairs, or the presidential transition team.

By withdrawing Asaga’s nomination and halting any future payments, Atta-Mills is richly responding to the long-held view that he is either a yes-man or not-his-own-man or easy to ride on. In Asaga, Atta-Mills, therefore, sends strong message that his presidency will work on democratic respect, principles, and trust. Prior to Atta-Mills showing his steely side, Goosie Tanoh, a former presidential candidate of the now-dead National Reform Party that split from the now ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC), had said that despite the national image that Atta-Mills is fragile, he shouldn’t be “underestimated.”

Ever since Income Tax Commissioner, Dr. John Evans Atta-Mills, was picked up by then President Jerry Rawlings to be his Vice President, the speculations have been that Rawlings, an autocrat and megalomaniac, wanted to work with somebody malleable. Rawlings was said to have seen in Atta-Mills such character.

In Rawlings-speak, Atta-Mills is “humble,” which means, according to some critics, Atta-Mills is a yes-man and despite being an academic was seen as intellectually and spiritually weak. Atta-Mills was seen as a shape contrast to the late Vice President Ekow Nkenseh Arkaah under Rawlings, who resisted Rawlings’ autocracy and as a result was subjected to long harassment by Rawlings.

As the 2008 general elections hit homestretch and the presidential candidates came under intense scrutiny, many events cast the shadow that Atta-Mills was seen as not-his-own-man. Rawlings took control of the campaign and Atta-Mills was practically sidelined. The reference was to the fact that Rawlings and his wife, Nana Konadu Agyeman, will rule Ghana using Atta-Mills as a front.

Such view was also cast within the fact that Atta-Mills has images of the late Prime Minister Dr. Kofi Busia and the late President Dr. Hilla Liman. Both Busia and Limann were seen as politically dreary and easily manipulable. While Liman wasn’t able to contain the intense wrangling within his administration that made him appear inefficient, weak, and under the brutal grip of his political mentor, Alhaji Imoro Igala, Busia was seen as fragile and malleable, unable to control his very ambitious cabinet, some of whom thought they would be better prime minister than him.

The Asaga episode is part of democracy loving Ghanaians wishing to see Atta-Mills skillfully dance through the thorny developing democratic terrain by showing teeth where appropriate and putting at bay forces of disrespect and undemocracy. But part of Atta-Mills showing democratic principles and dexterity rests with containing the restless Rawlings, who appears to be breathing right over the Atta-Mills’ presidency. Added to this is for Ghanaian democrats to put Atta-Mills and his NDC, which democratic roots are shallow, on firm democratic alert.