Feature Article of Monday, 24 September 2012

Columnist: Tawiah-Benjamin, Kwesi

President Mahama’s Greatest Asset is His Lack of The Messiah Complex

I stand by what I wrote in 2008 about John Dramani Mahama. I had borrowed Ace British journalist Andrew Rawnsley’s words to describe the Ghanaian politician–as a fine political statement encased in a gleaming carapace of liberal elitism. He was then a vice presidential candidate to ex-President John Mills. Elections were due, and as usual, I had written to assess the chances of the candidates. Mahama was well loved, even by those who love to hate him. I had also supported that prognosis with the wide appeal he enjoys as a fine fellow who would make a good neighbour any day. A not too scientific radio survey had voted him the best minister when he headed the communication ministry under JJ Rawlings. Heck, he has a beautiful face, too. I was all praise for the personable politician. “John Mahama beyond the Halo”, the headline to the article had read.

Today, he is president of the republic. He did not intend to write that part of history, but history seems to have been fair to him. True, the idea of a John Mahama presidency sat well with many, but time seemed to have gone into labour too soon–propelling a fourth John to the Ghanaian presidency. If he wasn’t praying before becoming president, former American president Abraham Lincoln recommends that this is the time John Mahama should be praying. And he must pray very hard, for the waters are murky, and mostly dirty, especially in our brand of politics. But prayer alone will not win the December elections. Neither would good manifestos nor free SHS education; the electorate will this time aim to humanise and personalise the electoral process, so that too much rhetoric and raw money will not be important. Maturity and composure will decide who wins the polls.

One more thing: Ghanaians seem to have had too many messianic messages from political and economic messiahs who just proved no saviours at all. As our politics matures, those intangible yet crucial factors that determine outcomes of great elections in great democracies, may well engage the thinking of the electorate in the Savannah. The Messiah complex hardly wins. People are not too gullible to believe that just because a fine guy made millions building a successful business, he could produce a million things every four years. Folks want the guy that looks like the guy next door. You see yourself in him, yet you know he’s got something else that gives you reason to believe that he can fix something. The Messiah complex is what may cost Republican Mitt Romney the American presidency. Nana Addo is not exactly our version of Romney but he is not Obama either.
John Mahama doesn’t have the Messiah complex. He may not attend your baby’s dedication ceremony if you sent him an invitation, but you know you could send the invitation, and you know he would read it. That is the difference between him and Nana Addo. Nana is not arrogant. He has never been. Those close to him testify of a playful human being who is warm and also kind. But somehow, something about him (not his doing at all) affords him an arrogant portion of human importance that at once sets him apart from any form of ordinariness. And he doesn’t seem to have helped to quell that notion (not that he is unaware of it) by often stating his positions on issues quite hubristically. For instance, what is the point in honouring an invitation to appear on flagship HardTalk on BBC and declining to answer a question because he owes that explanation to Ghanaians alone? So, perhaps, it was in journalistic order that celebrated host Stephen Sucker told him (not asked) that he doesn’t connect with the ordinary Ghanaian. Like Mitt Romney, Nana still needs some humanising–different from spin.

Sure, President John Mahama has his flaws, a lot of flaws, perhaps. Well, maybe John needs the messiah complex after all. He would have to re-craft the Better Ghana Agenda, and also be bold enough to rechristen it. That is one. Two, he must be quick to part from what Nigerians call the ‘fine boy, fine boy’ attitude and dare to speak the language of peace in a way a little harder than his predecessor. Fine labels do not win elections. Third, if he is bent on honouring John Atta Mills, he should appoint a national integrity commissioner for Ghana, as the city of Ottawa has done (I have a fine gentleman in mind). If he can afford it, he should get one for each region. CHRAG is faceless and too slow. We need a face to effectively fight corruption. Fourth, John Mahama should get a new liver–the kind that presidents need to take those hard decisions. Fifth, he should remember the prayer routine Abraham Lincoln prescribed for presidents.

Understandably, the stakes are high in the December elections. There would be no surprise winners, only surprise losers. It is Nana Addo’s third try. And to be fair, Nana Addo would not be a bad president. The NDC knows this. Ghanaians know this. The international community knows him as the only formidable alternative. Beyond our idea of what he is or what he is not, Nana doesn’t seem to have many palpable faults. Churchill won his wars drinking. And a broken clock is right twice everyday. If he succeeds in getting close to basic humanity, it will not be difficult to imagine a president who wore the same black shoes for a year. There is a reason why Tony Blair wore the same shoes for ten years to the Prime Minister’s Question Time.

Kwesi Tawiah-Benjamin lives in Ottawa, Canada.