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Opinions of Thursday, 26 September 2013

Columnist: Akyeampong, Joseph

Who.s the Greatest Leader in Ghana's History?

As an avid follower of Ghana’s politics, an article dated August 11, 2011, published by one of the country’s leading online news portals, recently caught my attention. It cited former President Rawlings tooting of being the “best” President in Ghana’s political history because he empowered Ghanaians through strengthening the judiciary and making the people feel that they owned the political atmosphere by holding on to power for a seemingly long period. Fascinated by the story, I was inspired to write this article. As a disclaimer, my object is not to lambast any of Ghana’s past leaders, but to provide a critical assessment of the quality of leadership our nation has experienced under their stewardship since independence. I also seek to make readers understand what the qualities of a great leader are, and which of our country’s leaders has embodied those qualities.

First, a quick summary of the terms of Ghana’s 12 political leaders since independence: Dr. Kwame Nkrumah (President, 1960 – 1966); Lt. Gen. Joseph Ankrah (Head of State, 1966 – 1969); Lt. Gen. Akwasi Amankwaa Afrifa (Head of State, 1969 – 1969; President, 1969 – 1970); Dr. Kofi Busia (Prime Minister, 1969 – 1972); Edward Akuffo Addo (President, 1970 – 1972); Gen. Ignatius Kutu Acheampong (Head of State, 1972 – 1975); Lt. Gen Fredrick William Kwasi Akuffo (Head of State, 1978 – 1979); Dr. Hilla Limann (President, 1979 – 1981); Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings (Head of State, 1979 – 1979; Head of State, 1981 – 1992; President, 1992 – 2000); John Agyekum Kufuor (President, 2000 – 2008); John Evans Atta Mills (President, 2009 – 2012); John Dramani Mahama (President, 2012 – Present)

Freedom, Justice, Probity and Accountability are inalienable rights or powers or fundamental principles of Ghanaian citizens as enshrined in our beloved nation’s constitution, and can neither be sold nor delivered to any Ghanaian citizen at any price. Albeit it could be seized and only so by force; it can be reclaimed in due time through the exercise of political will by the people. Therefore, contrary to what Flt. Lt. Rawlings claims, Ghanaians for the most part exercised their own political will and empowered themselves. Per the way he led, he did not completely embody the principles of Freedom and Justice, and a majority of Ghanaians will tell you they were fed up with living under the shades of a democracy characterized partly by unjust rule and underdevelopment. So his holding on to power for that long was not seen as a way of empowerment. His popularity if we were to do a survey will point to his charisma and not the powers he claims he sought to empower Ghanaians with. Yes, some progress has been made in the judiciary, but what’s there to show for bringing the best out of the people?

One thing that many Ghanaians (me inclusive) as well as foreigners assert Flt. Lt. Rawlings should be credited for is allowing a smooth transition of power to the opposition, thereby deepening Ghana’s democracy. Nevertheless, we should also understand that he only did the right thing, which is morally good and worth acknowledging, but not significant enough for him to be recognized as Ghana’s best President ever. His accomplishments as President, let alone his posture and remarks within the context of true leadership are a far cry from recognition as the best leader in the annals of Ghana’s political history. It is inarguable that transition of political power from one leader to another is not only a necessary ingredient for deepening democracy and ensuring political stability, but also good riddance from that leader (especially if such a leader is power drunk). Let us refer to the Arab Spring as a case in point. Hypothetically speaking, had Rawlings decided to hold on to power any longer, my prediction is that he would have incurred the wrath of the people and invited his own demise just like some of the dictators in the Arab world have.

It seems the hunger and thirst for honor is contagious among our most recent leaders. Former President Kufour, in his last term, was bitterly criticized for honoring himself by instituting a national award, the Grand Order of the Star and Eagles of Ghana Award, for Presidents of the Republic of Ghana to honour occupiers of the highest national office. This award has since been scrapped. The Late Prof Mills in 2010 produced a 39 page report of his government’s 50 top achievements in two years, filled with deception – one of them being the creation of 1 million 6 hundred thousand jobs in under one year. Such developments are worrying and paint the picture of how our recent crop of leaders crave recognition and self-exaltation, and will do and say whatever it takes to get it. No wonder “the lizard that jumped from high iroko tree to the ground said he would praise himself if no one else did.” I’ll give some thoughts on four qualities that set great leaders apart; important qualities which, besides President Nkrumah, our most recent Presidents score poorly against.

(1) Great leaders fight for a good cause. They fight for justice, fairness, equality, opportunity, hope etc. Their actions lead to the following end results: liberation from hardship, hope, and change. If these results are not sustainable, then the efforts put into them were not good enough or were not shaped/directed the right way.

(2) Great leaders do not boast (or praise themselves). They are revered by the people for their achievements. Their legacy lives on for generations to come. For those of us who are Christians (and I believe Muslims alike), our faith admonishes us not to boast (1 Corinthians 3:21; 1 Corinthians 5:6; Jeremiah 9:23).

(3) Great leaders ‘do not walk alone.’ They work with a team of visionaries (proponents and opponents), who work selflessly toward a common good for the nation. They work for the people, with the people and by the people. They respect each other and work toward that common good. If a leader does not show respect for his subordinates or members of his team and vice versa, then they are all destined to fail.

(4) Great leaders are generational thinkers. They create lasting socio-economic opportunity for their people and open doors for them to succeed. As such their present actions do not affect the ability of future generations to succeed.

For a very long time now, Ghana has placed second to none in the Sub Saharan region for having created and enjoying political stability (democracy, peace and freedom of speech). While I value political stability, since without it there can be no economic development, what is more important is the concomitant development it should bring about; that is the piece that continues to be missing in the puzzle for Ghana. I, therefore, seek to create awareness for our leaders and the entire nation that we do ourselves no good in showering praise on ourselves for the little we have accomplished when we have even greater problems to solve. It shouldn’t be about who the best is and who the worst is. It should be about SOLUTIONS – period. After 56 years of independence, Ghana still struggles with solving its fundamental problems like provision of universal basic and tertiary education, access to regular supply of energy, a good transportation system, and creation a of strong manufacturing economy (via industrialization) but to mention a few.

In my opinion, none of the leaders we have elected in recent times including Rawlings, Kufour, Mills, and Mahama (and their team of ministers) have demonstrated the kind of leadership needed to overcome these fundamental problems. They seem to attempt solving the problems but the political and bureaucratic nature of many of their actions devoid us of continuity and sustainable growth. I’ll try to explain this using an extract from a speech Dr. Mensah Otabil gave during the 25th Anniversary of ICGC on Africa’s underdevelopment problem, the lack of Generational Thinking. He said it is like a race team running a relay race. Each person must run their race well and pass on the baton to next and so on to assure victory. That is, however, not the case with our African governments. In Africa, including our dear Ghana, a government in power does not run its race well and so fails to pass the baton on successfully. As such, the successive government has to go back and pick up the baton and try to finish the previous government’s race, losing time that would otherwise have been useful for advancing work or bringing about new developments. This has been the nature of our politics and the reason why our basic problems continue to go unresolved.

Of the 12 leaders I have listed, let us now discuss the quality of their leadership by fast forwarding from Nkrumah to our last four Presidents (since that is when our over-hyped democracy was birthed). For their 21 years of combined work experience as Presidents, the development achieved for Ghana by our four ‘Johns’ does not compare to Nkrumah’s 6 years in terms of impact. For evidence, just benchmark the major projects undertaken by each of them with Nkrumah’s. Many of Nkrumah’s projects continue to touch major parts of our lives more significantly 50+ years down the road. In contrast, the tenures of our ‘Johns’ have been replete with more political rhetoric and “gargantuan” financial misappropriations, and less by sustainable development – creating large wounds that inflict pain on the nation and stifle rapid growth. This is not to say their accomplishments are not worthy of praise, however little. That’s the magic word; it’s “little,” hence not good enough. They could have done (or could do) more for the betterment of Ghana. By facts and popular opinion, Nkrumah still remains the greatest leader in Ghana’s history.

For those of you who argue that economic conditions favored Nkrumah (which is not really true), I present to you a second yardstick for evaluating their performances against the Asian Tigers (nations including Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan). As we are all aware, these nations who were less developed or on roughly economic par with Ghana some 50 years ago, have outpaced us by focusing on their fundamental problems. The world economy doesn’t err on the side of any particular country, does it? Just ponder over this question for a minute: “Few gave tiny Singapore much chance of survival when it was granted independence in 1965. How is it, then, that today the former British colonial trading post is a thriving Asian metropolis with not only the world's number one airline, best airport, and busiest port of trade, but also the world's fourth highest per capita real income?” That is the story told of how Singapore grew from being a third to a first world country (Source: From Third World to First: The Singapore Story: 1965-2000 by Lee Kuan Yew).

We have simply been outpaced in terms of development and we cannot be excited about our sluggish progress. ‘Slow but sure’ doesn’t work in this competitive world. It should cause us to pause, reflect and realize that something is wrong, figure out what it is and right it. One of the greatest scientist and change agents of who ever lived, Albert Einstein provides a cue for how to approach real life problems, which is: “If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” Yet, as a nation, we seem to spend our productive hours of the day talking and dabbling in unnecessary political discourse and inferiority complex that yields no fruits. To buttress my lamentation, in recent times other thought leaders including Justice Dotsei (Supreme Court) and Dr. Benjamin Kunbuor (Majority Leader in Parliament) have made similar observations, citing politicians’ focus on unproductive issues and the nation’s lack of critical thinkers, respectively.

It goes without saying that our two major political parties, the NDC and NPP, are doing the nation a disservice by constantly repelling each other’s efforts on important issues of national development. To overcome this, Ghana needs to create or adopt a political system, like in Malaysia, where the general rule is that the government always wins. They have established a “system of coalitions also known as buying off the opposition,” which allows both ruling party and opposition to work together to create conditions that spur economic growth and “gives the business community the continuity it thrives on.”

Let me conclude with one of my favorite quotes credited to Brutus in the epic novel Julius Caesar, which reads: “There is a tide in the affairs of men; Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries; On such a full sea are we now afloat; and We must take the current when it serves or lose our ventures.” The import, from my viewpoint as far as Ghana is concerned, is this: Ghana is the only country we have, and our tide is our resources (humans and materials) and we need to strive to see the good in them and take advantage by developing the human talent and adding value to our raw materials. If not, we shall lose them, and wallow in underdevelopment. To this end, we need change leaders who are “doers” not “talkers and money launderers” to address our problems as a nation. It’s time to part ways with the talking and act. All Ghanaians must work hard and selflessly for a better Ghana. We ought to pray for a leader who will lead our efforts toward solving our most important problems rightly. Such a leader will go down in history as one of the greatest leaders of our dear nation after Nkrumah. God Bless Our Homeland Ghana, And Make Our Nation Great And Strong!