Sunday, July 29, 2012

A President passes, a country holds it together. I say amen


By Bernard Tabaire (email the author)

Posted Sunday, July 29 2012 at 01:00

Sometime in the late afternoon of Tuesday last week, a hush swept through the room affecting only Ghanaians. But amongst them were journalists, and the need to spread news, or some version of it, quickly overcame them.
Kwami, seated a table away in a meeting room at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA) in Accra, passed me a note. President Atta Mills was in a bad way. Then I got another note from another Ghanaian.

About an hour later, the Ghanaian journalists in the group had stopped paying attention to their compatriot who was leading a session on how oil is metered. Their BlackBerrys, smart phones, iPads and tablets were aflame inside the room and on the balcony. The President was dead.

Later in the GIMPA dining room, debate revolved around whether the presidential passing had altered the dynamic heading into the December presidential election, already handicapped to be a tight affair. And, by the way, who would in-coming President John Mahama pick for vice-president?

I fled to my room at that point to go make sure, via TV of course, that there would be no power play and that Mr Mahama would actually be President and get to choose his VP. Of course, the Ghanaians had no doubt. They trusted the ability of their state system to work. It worked. And so it was that within hours of his 68-year-old boss' passing, Vice President John Dramani Mahama, 53, took the oath with simple but powerful dignity in the parliamentary chamber.

Ghana has handled itself extremely commendably, and it is great to watch things from out here. The only cacophony anyone is talking about is within Mr Mahama's party, which has already decided it will sit in October to name him flag bearer. The cacophony, though, is that a certain Nana Konadu, former President Jerry Rawlings' wife, may resurrect to challenge for power. No one serious about Ghanaian politics and the country's future gives a damn about her, but the woman will not go away. It is her right to hang around though. In some countries, openly ambitious politicians like her get harassed, jailed and whatnot.

Interestingly, it is Mr Rawlings, having grabbed power using fire and bullets, who helped set Ghana on a firm path to what we are seeing unfold. Of course, Nigeria and Malawi have recently had Presidents dying in office. The difference is that in both cases there were attempts at cynical power play, a scheme to subvert constitutional provisions that mandate the veep to take power when the chief passes.

If Ghana keeps doing its thing quietly and without swagg, it stands a good chance to address the poverty I have seen around a number of gold mines. Last weekend's visit to the Tarkwa area in the western region, my second in as many months, witnessed palpable anger amongst members of one of the communities. Tempers rose so high, right in front of the chief and a mine official that elected local leaders stepped forward to calm down the young men.

And there was a young woman who took the floor toward the end of proceedings and spoke so articulately about the community's problems all of us visitors from more than 10 countries swarmed her for pictures. She needs to learn how to sign autographs, this madam.

As a Ugandan, I wait with bated breath the first peaceful transfer of presidential power in our history, whatever the circumstances. We need this sense of predictability to have the confidence needed to deal seriously with how to organise our society to make everyone wealthier and happier – in that order or not.

The last time I was in Accra, in October 2011, the heavens dumped a flood killing a few, displacing some and taking a shine off this otherwise decently run city. The events of last week have since restored that shine.
As they mourn the death of their polished President, the Ghanaians and the rest of us should take time off to enjoy the Olympics. Life comes, life goes. The Olympics stay on.

Mr Tabaire is a media consultant with the African Centre for Media Excellence.

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