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Opinions of Sunday, 20 June 2010

Columnist: Sidibe, Abdul

War in the NDC: The ball is President Mills’ court

Last week the NDC leadership ended its silence on the attempts by former President Rawlings and his close associate to undermine the Mills administration and cut off from the rank and file of the party. The party’s response to the issues that arouse from the June 4th outburst will be unresolved until the root of the problem is identified and dealt with appropriately. There different facet to the problem. Last week we identified and discussed the most serious of the problems. However, there are issues at the heart of the Mills Presidency that needs to be address before the entire issue is brought to rest.

Whiles the Rawlingses are faulted for sowing seeds of discord within the party, President Mills is also responsible for allowing the troubles within the party to foster and finally become public. As President and leader of the party, the onus is on him to identify the unresolved issue emanating from the last NDC congress and have those concerns taken care of before they escalated. Obviously, the President Mills failed badly in that regard. As a result, his office is being challenged and somehow weakened by those issues.

The President and those close to him have failed to realize that although he is president of the country, he is also the lead of a political party with divergent views, aspirations, and sometimes competing interest. Whiles his attention should rightly be focused on the nation’s problems. He should not have paid such deaf ears to the party and its concerns, for he stood on the party’s shoulders as a candidate to win the election. Any successful President, in a very toxic political environment such as our own, should be capable of meshing both responsibilities and stay above the fray. We saw how Kufour was able to almost kill the deep divisions in his party at the earlier stage of his administration, by letting every party member feel he has a stake in his government’s success. Mills needs to show the same characteristics.

In this regard, the President’s choice of chief of staff was very wrong and miscalculated. A Chief of Staff is not just the President’s personal confidant, but he has the added responsibility of deciding what should be brought to the President’s attention. We were very uncomfortable when the President chose Mr Newman as his chief staff. Our concern then was that he was new to the NDC, and perhaps does not have a firm grasp of the dynamics and power balance within the party. It turn out that we were right when we wrote on Ghanaweb some of the demerits of choosing an outsider chief of staff.

It seems Mr. Newman’s lack of knowledge of the nuances, and party internal dynamics is one of the problems facing the NDC. There is a disconnect between the office of the Presidency, which the chief of staff is responsible for, and the party ranks. If the chief of staff is cut off from the party machine, so will the president. The reason is that he is the point man at the Presidency, and through him can anyone have access to the President. Without a firm understanding and knowledge of internal party activities, he risks making mistakes and wrong moves.

There are good reasons why U.S President Obama chose Rohm Emanuel as his chief of staff. Before becoming the Chief of Staff, Rohm Emanuel was responsible for choosing candidates for the 2006 congressional election and was credited for the Democratic Party’s majority in Congress. As a congressman himself, Rohm understood the party inside out. During the US healthcare debate, he was solely credited for bringing his party and administration together with a common voice and goal. That is what chiefs of staff do for their bosses. It seems Mr. Newman’s lack of internal party link is hurting the Presidency. The chief of staff’s job involves more than just handling correspondence for the President. It also involves maintaining a smooth relationship between the President and all that matters.

A source close to the Castle and NDC headquarters informed us in telephone interview that some of the frustrations with the Mills administration at the party level were because of the lack of access to the presidency by some top party men. “The President was shielded by a few people, some of whom we never knew while in opposition,” the source said. “We worked so hard for the party and now we are treated like boys.” Another source likened the way they are treated by the President’s close associate as “monkey dey work baboon dey chop.”

Politics is not like managing the IRS or teaching at the university. In politics, you do not always choose the people who will be close to you or your government. Sometimes political choices are dictated by the realities on the ground. By not realizing this dynamics and distancing himself from the party, President Mills had given his political foes ample room and ammunition to plot against him, and if he does take serious steps to address these issues it will come back to hunt his re-election bid.

The President should move quickly to change those close to him, including the chief of staff. Political advisors are like general in a war. They should be able to see through the ambition, tactics, and strength of the power players in their party, and be able to advice the president on how and when to deal with them amicably. The fact that they failed to see this obvious dynamics within the party before it escalated was a failure on their part. President Mills needs a party apparatchik close to him. Someone who can relate to the various camps within the party, provide the President with accurate party concerns, and be able to communicate the President’s input back to the party. Prof. Mills have to unite the party behind him. Failure is not an option in this regard. There are pressing issues in the country that needs to be tackled, and the president needs the country behind him as he confronts the nation’s problems. Failure to unite the party will rightly send the signal to the country that the President weak and weakness is not what is needed to face difficult challenges. Showing weakness arms NDC’s opponent and they will use it against the party. The President needs to act, and do so quickly before he gets drowned in his own party’s political waters. If he can’t unite his own party, he cannot unite the country.