Chapter One – “An Inglorious Sunset”.
The darkest part of the night, they say, is the moment just before dawn. For President John Dramani Mahama, however, the darkest hour on Friday, December 9, 2016, started immediately after sunset, a dreadful sign of a long and gloomy night ahead. But he had to brave the emotional odds and face the nation from his official Cantonment residence in the nation’s capital, Accra.
The familiar faces of men and women surrounding him that evening bore expressions that accentuated the gravity of the moment, advertising the melancholy that subdued their beings like a depressing and incurable epidemic. These men and women were the pallbearers of a regime whose sudden demise had just been announced and whose burial would take place a few weeks later by jubilant undertakers on the other side of the political duopoly.
They did not speak, but if their bodies and minds were the central processing units, their faces were the monitors on which their thoughts and emotions could be read.
These men and women appeared to be standing still, but they were swaying wearily under the heavyweight of indescribable grief. Before they came out to face the cameras, this household was like a graveside, where loyal party faithful wept like mourners who had gone to bury a breadwinner in the prime of his or her life. Tears, like rivers that had burst their banks, flowed freely for different reasons.
These politicians ought not to have been grieving if one took them by their words. They had sworn to serve. They had often spoken of the sacrifices they made for the nation, even to the detriment of their own happiness and those of their families, if they were to be believed. So when the voters decided to give them rest from their labour, by lifting the burden of the nation from their aching shoulders, they should have been seen rejoicing before the cameras.
They should have heaved a collective sigh of relief that they could now have their privacy, that party members would not harass them for jobs and fees and medical bills and dowries and funeral donations; that the nation’s intrusive media would not rudely wake them up with probing questions that embarrassed them or dumb questions that angered them. They should have been happy that they would not be blamed for all the woes of the country, including the inability of some men to satisfy their wives. Their faces, however, told a different story; a story of grief, not relief. And the reason was not difficult to find.
Apart from those of their lot who would be returning to Parliament, they would now relinquish the hallowed title “Honourable” and forfeit the endless opportunities and possibilities that came with it. They could no longer dictate who got what contract or decide who got what job. Some would still ride in Toyota Land Cruisers and other V8 vehicles they had acquired, or would acquire, by virtue of the political positions they had occupied, but they would now fuel them at their own expense. Their drivers would now not be able to leave the engines of those heavy fuel-guzzlers humming for hours while their bosses were locked up somewhere for business or pleasure.
The V8, especially the Toyota Land Cruiser, had come to symbolise power. It was synonymous with being an Honourable. To drive or ride in a Toyota Land Cruiser meant you were free to disregard or break all the road traffic laws in Ghana and still have police officers and other traffic regulators on duty salute you as you passed. It is a practice and a sense of entitlement among the political elite as old as independent Ghana. John Dramani Mahama, whose father was an MP and minister of state in Ghana’s first republic, makes this observation in his book, My First Coup D’etat and Other Stories from the Lost Decades of Africa:
Whenever we heard Salifu, the watchman, opening the gate to let our father’s car in, we would all stop whatever we were doing so we could run outside to greet him. Like most of the ministers of state, members of Parliament, and other politicians from Dr. Nkrumah’s time, our father drove a Mercedes-Benz 220. They all loved those cars. So many of them owned those Benzes that it was like the unofficial official car. It came with status. Whenever people saw a Benz approaching, they took notice because they knew whoever was inside the car had to be a ‘big man,’ an important somebody.
Sixty years after independence, the circumstances of many of the governed had not advanced beyond the Stone Age, but their governors, the tiny class of men and women fortunate to preside over the affairs of the land, found a way to set themselves apart. This time, it was not the Benz; it was the Toyota Land Cruiser. The preference for Japanese cars had received the endorsement of the President. Toyota Land Cruisers, the vehicle of choice among all who fancied themselves important in Ghana, had become so ubiquitous that it was almost impossible to stand by a road in the national capital for three minutes without seeing one pass by.
As with a certain make of Benz in times past, a Toyota V8 placed you above the country’s traffic laws and their enforcers. You could drive a Toyota Land Cruiser for a lifetime without carrying a valid driver’s license and still not fear being stopped at a police checkpoint. The Land Cruiser and its cousins spared the political class the routine torture endured by citizens on the nation’s deplorable roads, and offered them a level of comfort that made it easy for them to forget and bypass the very problems and conditions they were elected or appointed to fix.
They need not worry about getting stuck in the suffocating urban traffic; they can simply bulldoze their way through with the help of a dispatch rider or just activate their strobe lights or blare their sirens, and all other road users will dutifully give way. With political power behind them, they would be spared punishment even if their reckless driving endangered other road users or caused an accident.
All these privileges were about to slip away. And the sorrowful faces that surrounded the president were painfully aware of that fact. Some of them, in their wildest dreams, had never imagined themselves ever using even domestic flights. Thanks to politics, they had become so accustomed to business class on international flights that the prospects of reverting to economy was degrading. But that was not all. They would now pay for utilities. The endless flow of cash would cease. Some of them would no longer be able to attract the succulent women they once had endless access to because of their positions, influence and cash. Some might find jobs, but those who had no aim beyond politics, whose name hinged only on their political fame, would spend sleepless nights figuring out how to survive the dry season of political opposition.
Power, they say, is sweet. And no one knows it better than politicians, the men and women who become VIPs overnight, those who preside over all programmes ranging from funerals and church harvest to government, political and other social gatherings. They were about to lose their status in such gatherings where long, winding and fictitious introductions and exaggeration of their scanty achievements often began with, “Our special guest of honour needs no introduction.”
Now they would need introductions. And that would be short acknowledgments of their presence without the opportunity to speak. Where they have the opportunity to speak, they must work extra hard to impress. Their jokes would no longer be as funny as they used to be, for every joke of the rich and powerful evokes laughter no matter how dumb and mirthless it sounds.
Everything was about to change and they would watch, with envy and scorn from the sidelines of power, how a group of people they so much despised, would be accorded these unearned niceties of life at their expense.
In the weeks, months and years that would follow, they would begin to reason and see things from the perspective of the ordinary person. They would suddenly realise the high rate of unemployment in the country. They would begin to see that the paradise they claimed to have created was, indeed, hell as soon as their opponents take over. They would see the unacceptable levels of crime and insecurity in the country. They would lose their immunity from police arrests.
The president, who had the power to set free three party supporters jailed by the Supreme Court, would not have the power to negotiate a bail for his party’s then deputy general secretary, Koku Anyidoho, who would be arrested by the police. They would agree with the sane person in the streets that the Ghana police are puppets in the hands of the government.
In the extreme winner-takes-all democracy of Ghana, where the winning party controls everything, including public toilets, the consequences of losing an election can be as devastating and paralysing as a man losing his manhood in his prime. The dreaded effect of it was written on the faces of the men and women who stood beside and behind the president as he conceded the limitless privileges to another set of privileged few.
To President Mahama’s left stood Vice President Kwesi Bekoe Amissah-Arthur. Behind him was Haruna Iddrisu, the Member of Parliament for Tamale South and Minister for Employment and Labour Relations. Mr. Iddrisu was rumoured to be interested in running for the presidency some day. It was unclear how he was taking the defeat of the man who announced his appointment after agitations from his supporters in Tamale South. To the president’s immediate right stood the national chairman of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), Kofi Porturphy. Next to Kofi Portuphy stood Prosper Bani, President Mahama’s first Chief of Staff, who was later reassigned as the Minister for Interior.
Behind them stood other ministers and deputy ministers of state as well as party executives. Their immediate audience were hundreds of party supporters. They had earlier marched to the president’s residence to chant for action, but after realising the helplessness of the situation, they decided to comfort their leader. Across the country, millions stayed glued to their television and radio sets, listening and watching with either heavy hearts or delight, depending on where they stood.
There were intermittent cheers and applause from the party faithful around, but the president did not seem to notice them; for their applause and cheers did not change the mournful look on his face. They did not elicit a smile or nod in acknowledgement. The sages of old were right: greetings are of no use to a dying man. So were cheers of no significance to a man whose political fire was being painfully extinguished.
He had failed to secure a re-election, the first time a sitting president had contested and lost an election since Ghana gained political independence from the British in 1957, or since the inception of the Fourth Republic because no president had had the chance to contest for re-election prior to the Fourth Republic. For many, this was a monumental failure on his part. His government had failed. His party had failed. His appointees had failed.
But he was the mascot of that regime, an embodiment of the success and failure of the nation in the past four years. He was the leader and a symbol of that failure. Leadership, they say, is a lonely position. It is the type of loneliness one feels in the midst of a crowd. That crowd, in the case of Mr. Mahama, included ministers of state and hundreds of appointees whose actions or inaction might have angered the voters. The crowd included the party executive in Nandom, who used to drink pito with his constituents, but had made a sudden switch to beer when his fortunes changed, while insulting those who complained about hardship as haters of the government.
It included the appointee in Elmina who diverted subsidised premix fuel meant for the fisher folks, smuggling the precious commodity to Cote d’Ivoire to sell and enrich himself. It included the district chief executive who saw his position as an opportunity to loot resources, snatch wives and girlfriends and ended up angering the community against the party.
It included the chiefs who travelled hundreds of miles to appeal to the president not to take punitive action against their son or daughter who had dipped both hands in the national coffers and deserved a long jail term. It included the ministers of state who awarded outrageous contracts in exchange for kickbacks in sacks of cash. The crowd included friends and family members who saw the regime as a period of harvest, but did not see the need to first plant.
On this occasion, however, the president was alone in the spotlight. The headlines said John Mahama had lost the election. He was the bearer of the unenviable record of failing to secure a second term. He was facing the nation alone, with a face contorted with grief and a faltering voice that laboured in vain to convey those difficult words without betraying the feeling of the speaker.
Even his wife, who would often stand beside him beaming with smiles, was missing. She would, for a long time, be missing during his public appearances. It was his name and his legacy that were at stake. It was a John Mahama defeat.
Like the tortoise, he had to carry his own shell no matter how heavy or ugly it was. He would recoil into it for sometime before reappearing to announce his future. But, for now, he had to face the nation and present to them one of the two speeches that had been drafted ahead of the declaration of the results. The victory speech would be shredded. The victory clothes that had been printed and sewn for the occasion would be shelved.
As he spoke, his voice shook with emotion, like a bereaved son who had paused after hours of wailing to address mourners at the graveside of his only surviving parent. About half of the nation, or specifically, the millions of his party faithful, were united with him in the indescribable grief he had to bear. Some sympathised with him. Others, the internal friendly foes, would definitely gloat with various versions of I-told-you-so conspiracy theories.
In the coming days, they would engage in acrimonious “blamestorming” sessions. The official coroner’s report on the sudden demise of the regime, christened the “Kwesi Botchwey Report”, which sought to document the official cause of the defeat, would be guarded more securely than a nuclear code. Nevertheless, its leaked contents would dominate the airwaves, offices, homes and bedrooms of those who cared enough about the subject.
The grief that pricked John Mahama’s heart, however, lighted the souls of his political opponents with joy. Unlike a similar grief in the past, this was not the kind of grief expected to unite the country. A little over four years before, the entire nation mourned with him when he became the centre of attention in a monumental loss at about the same time in the evening. Both days were destiny- defining moments for Mr. Mahama. That day in 2012 and this fateful day in 2016 were similar, yet different.
July 24, 2012, was not a special day on the calendar of the nation. Everybody went about their duties as usual. John Dramani Mahama woke up and went to work as Ghana’s vice president. Before sunset, however, the cruel blow of death struck down the most powerful man of the Republic. After hours of rumours and hesitation by media houses to break the news, the Chief of Staff, Mr. John Henry Martey Newman, confirmed the fears to the nation in a press statement:
“It is with a heavy heart and deep sorrow that we announce the sudden and untimely death of President John Evans Atta Mills. The death occurred at the 37 Military Hospital this afternoon while receiving medical attention after being taken ill a few hours earlier.”
The president, who had recently returned from a medical retreat abroad and jogged at the airport, in suit and tie, to prove his fitness for the impending election, was said to have collapsed in his office. He was rushed to the 37 Military Hospital in the national capital, Accra. There is no consensus on exactly when he passed. Official records said he died at 2:15 PM, though it is generally believed that the name of the former law professor changed from His Excellency John Evans Atta Mills to “the body” before he got to the hospital.
That night, Parliament reconvened. And John Dramani Mahama was there. He was there to take the Presidential Oath, which was administered by the Chief Justice of Ghana, Her Ladyship Georgina Theodora Wood.
President Mahama did not want to be sworn in the same day President Mills died.
Editor’s Note: To find out why Mr. Mahama did not want to be sworn in as president the day President Mills died and who convinced him to change his stance, get a copy of the book and enjoy the concluding part of this chapter and other juicy details in the book.
About the Book
An influential northern caucus is secretly meeting and grooming him to contest the man who will select him as a vice presidential candidate; a meeting between the first lady and the Brong Ahafo caucus results in, perhaps, the fastest ministerial reshuffle in the history of the country; at 2a.m., before the breaking of a major scandal, there is a meeting between the president’s friend and the investigative journalist about how to involve the main opposition leader in the story to minimise the damage to the president in the upcoming election; the wife of the president reports the wife of the vice president to the vice president’s mother; and the night before a crucial election, the president and his main contender are locked up in a meeting with Ghana’s most revered traditional ruler.
These and other revealing accounts on governance, policies and programmes of the fourth presidency of Ghana’s Fourth Republic are the intriguing contents of this book. Here, the journalist whose investigations are believed to have contributed to the downfall of the administration gets brutally intimate with the regime. Rare interviews with key figures of the governing party and historical contexts to contemporary events provide readers and students of African politics the inside story of what is considered the model democracy on the continent. The fluidity of the writing style and humour make this book about politics and governance in Ghana’s Fourth Republic, informative, educative and entertaining.
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