Feature Article of Sunday, 1 April 2012

Columnist: Henderson, Kobina

Bawumia's True Value?

Reactions are pouring forth both from sympathisers and opponents following the unanimous approval of Nana Addo’s choice of Dr. Mahamadu Bawumia as candidate for Vice President for the New Patriotic Party (NPP). Richard Quashigah, the Propaganda Secretary of the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC), has reportedly stated: "I don’t think that Dr Bawumia is any better economist than a lot of economic gurus that we have in the NDC and so I really do not see the strength of that argument."

I both agree and disagree with the chief spin doctor of the NDC. On point of agreement, I do not doubt that the NDC has economic gurus. They probably do. But many of these are either in hiding, not wanting to have anything to do with their own government; or have been isolated by a President who appears to want to have only sycophants around him. So, on point of disagreement, I’m tempted to ask: who, in reality, was Mr. Quashigah referring to? Do they include the likes of fellow spin doctor Fiifi Kwetey?

In fairness, I have met some brilliant young ministers in the NDC government, including at the finance ministry (not Fiifi Kwetey, of course!). These ones hardly speak and when they do the difference is clear: they talk policy; they don't cover up their inadequacies with empty prattle, lies, and propaganda. Unfortunately, there are not many, certainly not enough, of them in the current NDC government because of the current state of politics in the NDC.

An important mark of leadership, especially of democratic leadership, is the ability to work with the best, even if these do not agree with you on some important issues. On this, you have to give Kufuor some credit for accommodating Nana Addo in his government, even though there was an open secret that the two were fierce rivals who disagreed even at cabinet meetings. I said some credit because you'd be justified to draw attention to the way the former President reportedly relieved Dan Botwe of his role in government for allegedly refusing to defend him on some scandal.

You'd also have to give Nana Addo good credit for the way he has managed his relationship with Kufuor, in spite of the latter's support for another candidate. In fact, obtaining a unanimous decision for his choice of Bawumia demonstrates: (1) a certain level of decisiveness and (2) an ability to play the team game when it matters. Recall that an announcement of the NPP's VP candidate had to be postponed because of lack of consensus on Nana's choice. The guy was firm on his choice, but he knew when to pull back and bring along those who previously opposed his decision. Hate the man. But that's a mark of good leadership.

In contrast, where are Prof. Mills' rivals in the NDC? Not only has Atta Mills failed to deploy the best human capital in the NDC, he has also displayed an abject lack of skill in managing the relationship with Jerry Rawlings. Still, there is something I like about President Mills. He has sought to bring the youth into his government. He deserves commendation for that. Governance is a serious business, however. You can't place national affairs in the hands of a bunch of incompetents in the name of promoting the youth.

Here, you’re free to ask what this loudmouth has achieved for himself. You’d be right to think not much. But that’s why I would turn down an offer like a deputy minister of finance or justice, unless I’m sure I’ve moved sufficiently up the curve to make my contribution decisive and significant. Unfortunately, in certain kinds of ministries, passion alone isn’t enough. It may be OK to learn on the ropes, even distinguish oneself as a neophyte, at the information ministry. Elsewhere, one might be a serious liability.

Fortunately, this country is not lacking in youthful talents even where sophisticated technical skills, knowledge, or experience is required. Here is why Bawumia ticks. He is not the only economic guru in Ghana, probably can't claim to be the best, but he is a young economist with an enviably demonstrable record that puts him among the best. As Vice President, he would not only bring his talents to the job, the important job of presiding over the economic management team by convention, but also inspire other young people towards professional excellence.

Sometimes, we forget the psychological and symbolic aspects of leadership. These can be as important as, sometimes even more important than, managerial capabilities. For example, there is no doubt that Kwesi Botchway, Kwame Pianim, or K.Y. Amoako as Vice President would be a safe pair of hands to steer the economy.

But a younger professional like Keli Gazekpo, Patrick Awuah, or Abena Amoah would be additionally inspirational. Whereas as a young professional, I can look up to Bawumia, I’m not sure I’m sufficiently inspired by Vice President John Mahama, an excellent gentleman no doubt, let alone the likes of NDC’s spin doctor-economists.

Still, I have another point of agreement with Mr. Quashigah. If we’re expecting that a Vice President Bawumia can work any economic magic, we may be waiting to become as terribly disappointed as have many Americans regarding Obama’s presidency.

For one thing, there may be opponents within and outside the NPP for whom a successful Vice President Bawumia may pose a threat to their own future ambitions. Given his age and record, there is no doubt that Bawumia may want to take a shot at the presidency in the future, if he so much as gets close to becoming Vice President. For their own selfish ambitions, they wouldn’t mind at all making sure that Bawumia fails.

For another, and a more important reason, unless there is fundamental change in attitudes and mindsets, which change may be resisted by the beneficiaries of the status quo, we’re unlikely to achieve the transformation we seek. And then there is a limit to what even a Vice President can do in a system in which much of the executive power rests with the President himself.

Having said all that, it’s refreshing to have someone who can inspire a new class of young professionals and entrepreneurs to do things for themselves and get the entire system moving forward.

Kobina Henderson

Email: kobinahenderson@gmail.com