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Opinions of Friday, 20 March 2009

Columnist: Ato Kwamena Dadzie

Who rattled the president’s cage?

President Atta Mills is a very angry man. Someone has gotten in his nerves and it is so serious that when he met with the executive of the Ghana Journalists Association he made no attempt to conceal his anger. His voice was shriller than usual (almost to the point of squealing), his head was swinging like a pendulum – as usual – and he was quite hyperactive with his gesticulations.

The President made point of emphasising that he’s the man in charge and he made it clear that he will “apply the law to the letter” to hold (former) public office holders to account and punish those who foment trouble in the country. At the end of his presentation, it was clear that he was very annoyed and he was issuing a stern warning to someone or some people. The question is: who was he speaking to or about? Certainly, it wasn’t the journalists who were seated in front of him. The president was loud in his presentation but his message wasn’t clear enough. It was laden with hidden meanings.

Castle press secretary, Mahama Ayariga, tried to offer some clarification by saying that the president was speaking to the members of the opposition. According to Ayariga, recent pronouncements by the NPP minority in parliament seemed to suggest a certain “resistance” to the authority of the president. He says a sentiment as simple and harmless as “we will advise ourselves” undermines the power of the president. I think it doesn’t. Under Kufuor, Rawlings called for “positive defiance” and warned of an impending “boom”. Then his remarks scared the hell out of Kufuor. They also seemed quite treasonous.

But Kufuor didn’t come out to speak with as much impassioned anger as President Mills did on Tuesday.

In his entire speech to the GJA executive President Mills’ had only one message for the NPP opposition: you have a lot of questions to answer, so prepare for what’s coming.

“Where public officers have to account for their stewardship, I will support any legal measures to make sure that the accounting is properly done,” he said. “If one wants information so as to be able to present it to the people that, in my view, is not harassment.”

This is clearly in reference to the decision by the former chief of staff, Kwadwo Mpiani to pull out of the transitional talks on the grounds that the NDC side had turned the whole process into an “inquisitorial venture”. With the process over, the president seems to be preparing the grounds for the real inquisition, which might just be a few weeks away.

“We have just finished the transition; a report has been sent to me,” he said. “I want to make sure that we study this report and that in doing so one is objective, one is transparent and one is impartial. Once this has been done, the law must take its course. I am not going to witch-hunt anybody.”

Apart from telling the NPP and members of the previous administration to prepare for what’s coming, I get the sense that much of President Mills impassioned outpouring was directed at members of his own party and one man in particular – Jerry Rawlings. Since Mills was sworn in Rawlings has been most outspoken, expression his displeasure with how “slow” the new president has been. At one point, he said even though the NDC had won power, the NPP was still in control. This was after President Mills had very wisely asked District Chief Executives – who had been appointed by Kufuor – to stay in office for a little while until he had settled in. Behaving like a spoilt brat, Rawlings also decided to go around town ‘visiting’ vital installations to assess the state of affairs for himself. He even went to the airport to take photographs in restricted zones, with his aides claiming that he was gathering information – just in case the new president came to him for advice.

On the other hand the leading opposition figures – John Kufuor and Nana Akufo-Addo – seem to have taken a couple of chill pills each. Kufuor has been busy renovating his new offices and trying to keep BMWs which do not belong to him. Nana Addo has just returned from vacation. Neither of them has been behaving like a president or talking like one – at least not publicly. Rawlings has been throwing himself about like an authority figure, needlessly breathing down the neck of the sitting president.

For me, therefore, when President Mills says “there is only one president in this country”, I feel he’s speaking more to Rawlings than anyone else. “The people of Ghana spoke and we accepted the verdict,” he said. “They installed a government in this country. They did not install number one government and number two government.”

I think most members of the NPP (more especially Kufuor and Nana Addo) have resigned themselves to the fact that they are no longer in government and they have been adjusting quite well to life in opposition. Rawlings, however, seems to think that he can use the Mills tenure to plaster his footprints on the governance of the country once again. Rawlings fails to realise that President Mills’ wants (and needs) to be his own man and his seeming slow pace, is not, in his words, a mark of “weakness, timidity or unwillingness or inability to enforce the law.”

As shrewd as he is, I think, President Mills decided to couch his message as if it was directed at the opposition when, indeed, it was aimed at people closer to him. He must be hoping that those concerned will get the message and stop breathing down his neck and leave him to run the country the way he wants.

He says he’d welcome “healthy criticism” (that sounds like music to my ears) but he would not tolerate any overbearing posturing that seem to suggest that this vessel called Ghana has more than one captain. If Rawlings, gets the message (as I expect him to) he will not be happy. As the president said, Rawlings “may not be happy that Atta Mills is the president [being his own man]... but that is the fact.” The vast majority of Ghanaians are living with this fact and wishing that something good comes out of it. Rawlings appears to be one of the few who have not adjusted to this fact and the President Mills is not happy with that. A public demonstration of anger might be completely out of character but he has made his point. He needed to.

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E-mail: ato@atokd.com