On Farewells & Forgiveness…

December 22, 2016
Source: Esther A.Armah |thebftonline |Ghana
On Farewells & Forgiveness…

African Presidents.

One bids farewell. One talks forgiveness. One rescinds his concession.

Ghana’s current President John Dramani Mahama announced he would embark on a farewell tour, as incoming Nana Akufo-Addo called on a nation to forgive. Meanwhile neighbouring Gambia’s President changed his mind and refused to concede power after losing that nation’s recent election.  

Each of these acts deserve scrutiny.

A farewell tour by an outgoing Ghanaian president? Farewell to whom? A tour of where? What influences such a decision? Who’s paying for this tour? Is this unprecedented in Ghana’s young democratic history?

It is worth exploring these questions.

News reports say President Mahama’s plan is to bow out of regional politics and set his sights on more lucrative international stages. The outgoing president was speaking at the close of the 50th session of ECOWAS in Abuja, Nigeria. Might political expediency be a reason for a tour as opposed to a simple goodbye and thank you?

The bigger question for me is who is paying for this tour? If the outgoing President’s farewell tour is being paid for by the people – unconfirmed reports suggest it is - that is a problem. Especially because throughout this year we have heard tales of atrocious conditions due to lack of resources in health institutions,, unpaid psychiatrists, imploding mental health institutions. Institutions break as individuals build. A peoples’ future suffers as a president’s future is secured.

As a Ghanaian president bids farewell and embarks on his – now delayed – tour, there’s Gambia‘s president conducting his ‘no, thank you – I no longer concede’ tour.  Election lost, concession call made, the Gambian people celebrated. The news was global. The sun had set on the reign of an unimpeded 22 years of power by one man.

Except.  It hadn’t.

Some African nations’ heads of state headed to Gambia to persuade the now-no-longer-conceding President Yahya Jammeh to stand by the Gambian people’s voice of political change.  His refusal is a reminder of power’s addictive and destructive force.

Power. That thing that seduces, entices and is addictive. It corrupts absolutely when wielded without accountability.

We are a Continent that has contended with individual men holding the office of power for years. All power corrupts. And absolute power corrupts absolutely. No nation is best served by one person holding unaccountable power for decades. That circumstance is a ripe foundation for Oga-nomics to dominate.

The Oga in Africa – the leader of any clan, organization, institution or nation – has unquestioned power, is followed, requires absolute loyalty and is to be obeyed. That does not best serve a nation’s progress. It is not how nations flourish. It is how they flounder. Or fail. Especially given the turbulence that marks our growth.  Oga-nomics must not flourish.

Democracy via multi-party elections is a new friend. It is one who must be nurtured, fiercely protected and celebrated. This call to resist government treating governance as the family business, as the place to enrich only those who are appointed and their blood relatives is an ideal we must continue to support.   

There is a peculiar irony then in watching across the Atlantic as America’s incoming president makes political moves that serve his family and personal business interests, but enter so far grey areas of the US Constitution – and have already ignited rumblings of impeachable action.

Power matters. How a president wields power matters. That a people can trust their president with power bestowed by the vote also matters.

We are a nation whose ultimate goal should be to shift power so it is not serving foreign investment, foreign government or foreign applause. Our shift must be to better  serve our  own people. All of our people. What might that look like in our global world? How do you compete effectively and provide nationally? How do you attract investment from abroad but ensure progress at home? How do you measure progress? This is our work.

As our outgoing president bids farewell, our incoming one has issued a call for forgiveness.

Farewell and forgiveness.

An opinion piece in a Ghanaian newspaper invited our President Elect  Nana Akufo-Addo to begin his own forgiveness tour, not from the Accra Stadium from which he delivered a moving and powerful speech – but from within his own party.

The bruising engagement with Chairman Paul Afoko, the tendency by some NPP party members to scrap publicly via the airwaves about internal party affairs left some questioning if a party displaying such naked division within its own party ranks could offer national cohesion in these times.  The answer via the election win: a resounding yes.

Forgiveness is a much used word when it comes to political rhetoric. In South Africa, it turned racial chaos, a nation on the brink of civil war violence into global celebration as Mandela called on the black majority to forgive the white minority for apartheid era atrocities. That forgiveness was manifest via the globally recognized Truth & Reconciliation Commission. It was a body that was globally recognized, respected and revered. I travelled to South Africa and interviewed the TRC Chair, Desmond Tutu, about the body and its work.  In South Africa, forgiveness through this racialized lens was complicated.

 Here in Ghana, does the NPP need its own internal version of such an auspicious body?  Internal division breeds external chaos.  How might the incoming President’s message be applied within his own party? Does his party need the kind of engagement that settles bitter scores, relieves tension and invites the party to focus on its future, not its failings  - to shine a light on its present and not litigate its past?  We must wait and watch to see how – or if - such questions are answered.

Forgiveness is power too.  As we head into the holiday season - can we learn that lesson?

Farewells and forgiveness. Power in each, politics in both.

Lose the politics, choose the lesson.  And enhance the leadership.