NewsWest AfricaGhana: President John Mahama wants serious debates


Posted on Monday, 01 October 2012 11:10

Ghana: President John Mahama wants serious debates

By Patrick Smith in Accra

President John Dramani Mahama of Ghana/Photo©STEVE ABABIOAgainst a backdrop of angry political rhetoric, President Mahama insists that the state must ensure election security, help to improve agricultural production and develop institutions with the authority to investigate corruption.


Pedalling furiously and revelling in the thrill, a youthful John Mahama piloted a bicycle without brakes down a hill towards a busy traffic junction in Accra in the 1960s. It was only when his companions screamed "Dramani, slow down," Mahama recalls in his just published memoir, that he made the split-second decision to turn the bike at speed into a side street. He flew over the handlebars and landed in a hedge but escaped with a few cuts and bruises.

Mahama laughed when I suggested that a political career could be likened to riding a bicycle downhill without brakes.

Making split-second decisions does not trouble him, he assured me. Yet Mahama comes across as a considered politician with clear goals for the government of which he took charge on 24 July. Forty days later, in a speech at Accra's conference centre, he set out an ambitious programme.

Although he speaks solemnly about building on the legacy of tolerance and social reform left by his predecessor John Atta Mills, Mahama has quickly established his own agenda. Conscious of criticism that his National Democratic Congress (NDC) is anti-business, Mahama insists that the private sector would lead Ghana's transition to a fully fledged middle-income country.

I don't think about sharks. I just swim.

Last year the World Bank said Ghana's recalibrated national income meant it had graduated from a least developed country (LDC) to lower middle-income status. Mahama will chair the newly launched Private Sector Advisory Council and has pledged it will respond speedily to complaints from business of bureaucratic obstacles. He has also set up a unit in the presidency to monitor public-service delivery. He has called on civil society groups to work with government to propose ways to improve services.

"Make no mistake – the way we do business in government must change," Mahama told Ghanaians in his 4 September speech, which set out a busy schedule ahead of elections on 7 December. The campaign is intensifying with clear differences emerging between Mahama's platform and the policies of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and its presidential candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo.

Alongside his business initiatives, Mahama explains that he still wants a strong developmental role for the state. That is anathema to Akufo-Addo and the NPP. On the NPP's flagship policy calling for free secondary education for all, Mahama questions the party's figures and the practicality of its immediate implementation.

Between Mahama's practised conciliatory posture and Akufo-Addo's skills as a seasoned courtroom advocate, the campaign offers Ghanaians a choice of political style as well as policy substance. Much will depend on the campaigns. The most reliable statistic to emerge from local opinion surveys is that about 25% of Ghanaians are yet to decide on which candidate to support in December.

The Africa Report: You have said your predecessor President John Atta Mills embodied qualities that Ghana's politics sadly lack – civility, humility, honesty and peace. Do the voters agree with you?

John Dramani Mahama: Those qualities were why President Mills was elected. Since he entered politics in 1997, he showed patience, tolerance and openly supported peace. Unfortunately, he was quite vilified in his period in office, but Ghanaians admired the tolerance of not responding to the personal insults thrown at him.

Wasn't it crass hypocrisy for people to vilify President Mills and then say he's a great statesman after he died?

No, I wouldn't accuse any Ghanaian of being hypocritical. We were united in our grief at the passing of President Mills. Even people who vilified him suddenly...


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