Esther Armah’s thoughts: MANIFESTO MADNESS! -People, Politicians, and Prosperity

Esther Armah

Unveiled. The People’s Manifesto was so-called by the NDC presidential-aspirant John Mahama and his history-making, running mate Prof Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang. In the tradition of presidential political manifestos, it was long, the roll-out late, and more than a few of us snoozed before it was over.

What caught my attention was naming it ‘The People’s Manifesto’. The move was a politically savvy one, but it of course then invited specific scrutiny regarding ‘the people’. Which people, and what did this manifesto promise them? Were those promises any different than what we had seen or heard before? Did their content suggest anything particularly innovative or forward-thinking, outside of the usual ‘youth need jobs’ ‘women matter’ and ‘the other party is failing’ narrative?

Suspend your party-political cynicism and frustration for the moment, and let’s examine this with some care as we seek some clarity.

Certainly, the call for sustainable jobs, and not simply the promise of jobs was an important focus. It spoke to – and recognized – the uncertainty, the devastation and the havoc wreaked by Aunty Coro who continues to force us to reimagine what an economy emerging from 2020 and a pandemic must look like.

Digitization is long overdue. Not the occasional digital reality or opportunity, but an infrastructure where the digital rules and the manual retires. I don’t mean a full retirement, people matter, they always have, they always will and they are irreplaceable. This is about a necessary reckoning with Ghana’s bureaucracy. Right now, bureaucracy stifles progress, feeds incompetence and fattens mediocrity. It should not – it cannot – be allowed to stand.

The focus on youth is welcome, but traditional. While the NDC’s manifesto critiques what it claims are unsustainable jobs peddled in the NPP’s manifesto, its own claims must be viewed through the lens of failure – a failed return to presidential power. And, of course, John Mahama has already acknowledged mistakes and asked to be returned to rectify them.

That is a dubious strategy. Admission of error may be one thing, a return to power is a different story. The excitement of a history-making running mate does not resolve the fundamental issues within the party, it does not clean up the disorganization, and it does not rectify the litany of issues that occurred during his time in office. More importantly, the world has moved forward due to the unwelcome intrusion that is COVID19. The question is with this intrusion, what should presidential leadership look like? What opportunities does the pandemic offer? What additional challenges does it present? How must presidential political leadership change to reckon with the pandemic?

The visionary leadership coach, Taaka Awori, has called for Africa’s leaders to develop a ‘tuned-in leadership’ one that is ‘agile’ and can pivot in order to respond to a moving world with changing needs. Closed borders are now opening worlds with additional dangers, and new measures are required to mitigate those dangers.

How might that apply to presidential leadership needs?

Can the power of a running mate mitigate the errors of the presidential candidate? Is it enough? A manifesto lives, dies, thrives or flounders based on the party implementing it. While we have always individualized leadership, the need for a more collaborative approach, and one that requires more efficient party operations is crucial for forward motion.

For leadership within the current NPP party, a new title as ECOWAS Chairman offers President Nana Akufo-Addo fresh possibilities to further collaborations and connections between African nations. He has disappointed with his Gender Champion title, so there is valid caution in considering what might be possible regarding ECOWAS. I write this after picking up my ECOWAS id card, and welcoming an ID that allows freedom of movement within ECOWAS nations.

I have said this before on these pages, and I will repeat it for those inclined only to silo individuals and doom them to partisan party-political perspective, rather than explore the content of what is written within the context of what is written.  I am party neural, I am people loyal, I am country committed and continent focused – such are my politics.

Prosperity. What does that look like for Ghana emerging out a pandemic that devastated jobs, but also offered a window into what I call collaborations that reflect prosperous leadership? Prosperity must extend to sustainable sectors, and not the usual number crunching designed to impress. Sector sustainability means connecting environmental justice and global warming to our economy and our job market. It means creating the kind of strategy that positions Ghana as a Chocolate Capital, a title held dubiously by Belgium – the nation currently embroiled in truth and reconciliation issues due to its horrific legacy of brutality in the Congo.

We often think of prosperity as solely connected to the economy. We need to expand it to imagine a ‘prosperous leadership’ – one where sectors combine to deliver on deadline to a people in need. We witnessed that with the building of Ghana’s Infectious Diseases Center. Built in three months via a private-public sector collaboration, this 100-bed hospital unveiled by the current VP, Dr. Bawumia. Its erection offers us important lessons.   The lesson is not that the hospital was built –  but that such a collaboration had not happened before with such clear efficacy, across our nation. The bigger issue is how might such prosperous leadership be engaged across sectors so we might scale collaborative efforts in order to transform the individual achievement into an infrastructure that serves our too fragile health sector.

It is this reimagining that a manifesto for a forward-thinking nation needs. Without it, we are doomed to sling the same arrows at the same opponents, hurl the same accusations about the same issues. And the pandemic will not have moved the presidential political campaigning and manifesto needle. That cannot be the narrative.

Indeed, a huge part of prosperity is narrative. What is the story being told to Ghana and the world about prosperity, about what that might look like, and how that might shape the economy? How might that narrative be served by lessons learned during this lockdown and the gradual opening up that continues to bring a semblance of normality back to our lives?

Unmasking a manifesto is an entry point to the ramping up of presidential political activity across the country. On our airwaves and our small screens, prepare to watch the unveiling of election hubs, where presenters, broadcasters, pundits bring perspective, and challenge each other for the attention of a populace for whom this is traditional regular fayre. When we think about the narrative of a nation, we should also extend this to media’s coverage. What creativity and clarity can be brought to this national exercise? What perspectives can the world of media offer, to enable many more of us to engage, explore and exchange on the issues?

Ultimately, there is always a kind of manifesto madness, an unmasking of political menus designed to persuade us that one party offers and extends while another retracts and withdraws. I invite us to reimagine and redefine prosperity, to think about prosperous collaborations, to engage in sustainable sectors and to strategize as we digitize.

Manifesto delivered. Arguments considered. The campaigning continues….


Esther Armah is Executive Director, The Armah Institute of Emotional Justice (AEIJ); a global institute providing equity education in the context of Race, Gender, Culture using the visionary ‘Emotional Justice’ framework. AIEJ does this  via Projects, Training and Thought Leadership. Website: Email: [email protected] Twitter: @estherarmah


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