A piece of good news that heralded the New Year in the West African sub region was the successful transition of power in Ghana on January 7. It was a sign that democracy is taking root in our region in spite of the latter day antics of Yahya Jammeh of Gambia; it was a sign that the voice of the people can resonate and make a difference; it was also a sign that John Mahama, the out-going President put a system in place that allowed some transparency and level playing field.
Whatever we may say, the willingness to subject one’s desire to the will of the people and the humility and grace to accept the direction of the pendulum swing must never be under estimated. Those who say that our former President Jonathan had no choice but to concede power need only to look at Gambia today to know that all incumbents have a choice—for good or ill, for stability or instability.
From afar, I always thought the Ghanaian former President was a decent human being—cerebral but humble—and the gracious way he conceded power confirmed my assumptions. Ghana under him had stature and integrity as he tried to put a lid on corruption. The Ghana I visited under him was relatively well run and was less chaotic compared to Nigeria.
Unfortunately, the economy faltered under his watch and he paid the price for it. I am amazed that many leaders the world over, even today, still fail to realise that the only way you can continue to maintain the goodwill of your people is if the economy of your country is heading in the right direction.
You can fight corruption all you want; you can have a great foreign policy; you can be humble and compassionate; but if the lives of your people are worse off under you economically than they were before you, then you can kiss power goodbye—unless you can hold on to it by force like Mugabe. Blaming your predecessor wears thin after a while because it will not put food on the table or pay school fees. Self interest unfortunately, is the first interest of most human beings everywhere.
The Ghanaian people must have their reasons for choosing Nana Akufo-Addo as their new President. But the choice of a septuagenarian to lead a developing country in this digital age might not be a particularly wise one. Being old has its advantages no doubt. There is the wisdom borne out of experience; there is the acquired reputation and useful contacts built up over the years nationally and internationally that can provide an edge to a new administration; there is knowledge borne out of being part of history that can provide a clear direction for governance.
And of course, there is the respect all Africans have for elders. But can all these counter the flip side because he will have his baggage; a lot of it. First, he will lack energy to perform on many fronts and I don’t mean that as a pun. A friend of mine who retired from government a few years ago told me he knew it was time to go when he started sleeping at meetings and conferences. Before then, his attention span had become very short and he needed to be reminded of a lot of things.
He was, at that time, only in his early 60s! Most people over 70 have health challenges. Nana Addo most likely will have his. He will therefore find the long hours and attention to detail needed to perform his duties at an optimal level extremely difficult. Then he would be a rare specie if he was open minded and not set in his ways as people in his age group often are. Many septuagenarians tend to deride the modern ways of doing things—though not without reasons.
The need to return to old values must therefore be balanced by the more compelling need to move on with the digital age. Just as the comfort and stability of having familiar faces around you must be balanced by the need to inject new ideas as well as youthful energy into governance. The need to be careful and avoid mistakes must be balanced by the need to be seen to be active, vibrant and inspiring.
In this, he can learn a lesson either from another septuagenarian, Donald Trump, who has picked almost all his key staff and has his economic direction almost clearly spelt out well before his inauguration or from his next door neighbour another septuagenarian, Muhammadu Buhari who took almost a year after winning the election to form a cabinet. As at today, certain key positions are still occupied by appointees of the last administration. Another lesson he needs to learn is how to avoid voodoo economists who do more damage than good.
Ghana is lucky on the issue of security. It does not to the best of my knowledge, have the likes of Boko Haram, Fulani herdsmen and Niger-Delta Militants to contend with. Yet the new President must not take things for granted. Most of terrorism and economic sabotage can be a spin off from perceived injustice, marginalisation and the need to have grievances addressed.
He should try to be firm but fair. He must try to belong to everybody and nobody in the real sense and run an inclusive government. No section of the country should be allowed to become lawless simply because he is from that section. The trouble with being a septuagenarian is that he has to trust people to do jobs that he is no longer capable of doing.
He has to be careful of those he hands over the reins of governance to otherwise his administration can be hijacked. The accusation of plagiarism that almost marred the essence of his inauguration speech is an indication of how somebody’s incompetence can affect an administration. It has happened so often to his neighbour here.
Finally, he must realise that there is a limit to the blame game. The electioneering season is over. He has been elected to clear whatever mess his predecessor has left behind. He has to take charge and accept the responsibilities of office. Trading blames might win him sympathy and understanding in the short term but will ultimately erode his goodwill.
At the end of the day, the acid test is whether his country and the people in it, are better off under him. It is almost always about the economy or stomach infra structure to put it more crudely. I wish him a successful tenure. The count-down to the next election has started.