Friday, 27 July 2012

The Commander-in-Chief passes in Harness: Reflections on the Mills Presidency

 Ring the alarum-bell!—Blow, wind! Come, wrack! At least we’ll die with harness on our back.
                                                                                   -   Macbeth Act 5, Scene 5, Page 3

The former  Commander-in-Chief at work 
In medieval Ghana history the imagery will be one in which the Ɔhene(loosely translated as king/chief) fully clad in his very potent  batakari kese(smock) festooned surfeitly with magical powers emitting and inducing sɛbɛ(amulets) leading the charge of the Adonten(the main fighting force of the Akan military infrastructure; Aboagye,2010,p.219) in an important frontline maneuver  is mortally wounded. The Ankobeahene(head of the king’s own special guard division), Gyasehene( head of the king’s administrative division) and the Kyidomhene(head of the rearguard divison) confer in the  heat of battle in a fortified lush green forest redoubt under the blazing African sun as the Ɔhene gasps, moans and then transitions. In the defense of his kingdom, the Ɔman, the Ɔhene has died in harness; in active combat. The next most important task will be committing the distinguished remains to Asaase Yaa(Mother Earth) all the while reflecting on his stewardship and preparing the ground for his successor. Odupon atutu(the mighty tree has fallen): the wail will rise from the battlefield and reach the most cloistered recesses of the kingdom on whose behalf the Ɔhene has fallen.

The modern state is pivoted on the tips of bayonets and certainly begat it. That is why the Commander- in- Chief of the Ghana Armed Forces is received every morning at the portals of the seat of government by a police contingent bearing bayoneted guns for a rite that reinforces this reality. In the event of war the president of the Republic of Ghana will be called upon to provide the central strategic directions for ensuring that not an inch of this territory(air, land and water) is ceded. Post 1948 the launching of projectiles as the foremost mark of state policy has receded. But another war-like contention has attended the policy function of the Commander- in-Chief: development.

In the daily motions of confronting this question the Republic of Ghana lost its foremost personality in this contest President John Evans Fiifi Atta Mills on the 24th of July, 2012. The occurrence is history making in the same way that Pres. Mills became part of the presidency in Ghana’s Fourth Republic. Veep Arkaah was jettisoned by Jerry Rawlings(the first time in the Fourth Republic) as he gunned for a second term in 1996 after a very public and ignominious spat: in came Mills the genial, overly self effacing academic who had morphed into a bureaucrat and then a politician. Twelve long years later Mills was to return as president(the first time a veep had achieved this in Ghana’s constitutional history) after a nail biting election which the New Patriotic Party(NPP) had worked hard to lose.

The National Democratic Congress(NDC) 2008 campaign(which Mills led aided by Rawlings) was pitched in moral terms pivoted tactically around the genteel, taciturn, almost lily white angelic character of  then candidate Mills. For an NPP administration which seemed out of sorts(in its second term), languid and inordinately focused on who was to replace Pres. Kufuor this strategy seemed to resonate with the Ghanaian electorate. The NPP had of course not helped its cause with seventeen candidates galloping at full throttle for its presidential candidate race, the building of a presidential mansion which seemed ill-timed and an ill advised display of pomposity, grandiosity(Kufuor’s self decoration was a classic example), good living and wealth. In that event Mills' broad policy orientation as a president came to be shaped by this moralizing, “I care for you”, caring father and his children tendency. Ghana’s economic universe was to become the foremost palette upon which this tendency was to be boldly sketched. For the sake of his “children” President Mills decided to reduce the price of petrol(which was a campaign promise). This decision was however rescinded in the light undoubtedly of the turbulence and uncertainty of the global petroleum industry. This turnaround however would seem to have dented or at least raised questions about the commitment of his administration to a pro-poor, pro-people economic agenda. To his credit other pro-poor, pro-people policies were pursued by his administration especially the youth employment, school feeding (which the NPP had started), free school uniform and school infrastructure( putting up buildings aimed at making schools under trees history) programmes. In the main however and in spite of Ghana’s oil sector emerging as a key part of the economy the Mills economy was marked tellingly by a management focus. The usual targets were macroeconomic indices: inflation, debt financing, interest rates and exchange rate stability among others. One of the key corollaries of all this was that the Mills economy struggled immensely with job creation(the figures are still a matter of deep contestation) and thus has sputtered over cost of living and standard of living questions. Matters have not been helped by a cedi inching precariously towards a free fall and an overall wretched global economy. In a sense then deeper questions regarding the restructuring of Ghana’s economy (away from its primary commodity focus) have been shunted to his successors (NDC or NPP).

In other crucial policy areas such as foreign affairs, urban planning (slums are mushrooming and festering) and architecture, transportation(especially commuter transport across the Republic), sanitation, housing(the STX deal and the heaven high promises attending it and the fiasco it has turned out to be is particularly sobering),  the welfare of children, women, the physically-,mentally- challenged and senior citizens one struggles to find a Mills master stroke. Probably it is all about the limitation of the presidential system for a developing polity expressed in the tenure underlying it: how much can a president achieve in four years or at the upper limit eight years? This reality should provide lessons for future presidents in the very crucial art and science of prioritizing without which drift can set in disguised by the daily routine of policy formation which creates a false sense of being on the ball.  

One enduring feature of the Mills presidency was its very open and forceful ecclesiastical bent. This was less so in the Kufuor presidency and the Rawlings one. The former Commander-in-Chief was reportedly a friend of T.B. Joshua, a popular Nigerian evangelist. President Mills regularly presided over what has become known as National Prayer Sessions which involved key personalities of the presidency and bureaucracy. His public discourses were also profusely peppered by allusions to the Judeo-Christain God and his unrequited benevolence. This bent was even to have policy consequences (albeit one off) where the pouring of libation was banned at national events in a Republic that has historically played up its African heritage. On a very personal and philosophical level one need not fault Pres. Mills. It is not difficult to contemplate however the effect of this very sacerdotal public display on the popular consciousness: this side of heaven prayer and the invocation of God is the answer to every problem. One would have wished he acted decisively on charlatan pastors and priests and championed the need to define the parameters of the setting up and operation of churches.

There also was this schizophrenia that marked the Mills presidency and tended to have a jarring, discomfiting effect. Some of his appointees of ministerial ranking became infamous for a pattern of indecorous remarks passing off as communication for government. Historians of the Ghanaian presidency in the Fourth Republic will be cerebrally hard-pressed matching the cultivated affability and gentle persona of the president and the free rein diatribes of some of his ministers. Probably lost on watchers of the Ghanaian presidency is this: it takes a man of steel and some notable cunning to cavort with Jerry Rawlings and bubble to the top of a party that has a very macho DNA. And on Jerry Rawlings one wonders why Pres. Mills’ penchant for peace did not allow him to patch up with his former boss in what has become a very public parting of ways. Now this parting has been stretched to eternity and may yet reflect the complexities, contradictions, strengths and weakness of a seemingly simple man from Otuam in the Central Region of Ghana who became president of our Republic.                                  

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