Ghana: Mahama and the rejuvenation of the presidency
When Clinton became president of the USA (1993), the observation was made that it was the first time the country had a president who was younger than Mick Jagger. Clinton was then 46 years old. Mick Jagger was almost four years older. The observation was pertinent because, at almost 50, Mick Jagger, the legendary lead singer of the Rolling Stones, had become an old rocker. But he was a representative of the generation, most of them born after the Second World War, who rebelled against authority and their parents as epitomised by the student revolts of the late 60s. Mick Jagger was already rocking by then and Clinton must have been one of those avid listeners of the music of the Rolling Stones. Now, Clinton’s generation had come of age and was ruling.
When Mahama became President by default a few weeks ago, he, too, made the observation that he is the first head of state of Ghana born after independence. But does Mahama’s accession to the presidency really mark a generational change in Ghana’s leadership? Mahama is not the youngest man to ever lead Ghana. He is 53. Nkrumah was 42 when he became Leader of Government Business in 1951. It was like Prime Minister. He was 48 when he became the substantive Prime Minister on independence in 1957 and 51 when he proclaimed himself President of the new republic in 1960. Unlike Mahama, Nkrumah won his own victories on each of these occasions.
Even Hilla Limann was younger than Mahama when he became President in 1979 aged 45. But he, too, was a default president of sorts. The unknown Limann had come from Europe to contest a parliamentary seat. He found himself as candidate of the Nkrumaist party when Imoru Egala, whom everyone thought would lead the party, was prevented from doing so because the NLC decrees that barred CPP politicians from taking public office were still in force. But the party had not lost its organisational skills from the Nkrumah era. These were deployed in favour of Limann who won against Victor Owusu in the runoff.
There were younger military leaders who had ruled Ghana. Rawlings was 46 when he became President. This doesn’t count because it is probable that he would not have won an election in 1992 if he had come in as a purely civilian candidate – not someone who had imposed himself on the country for the previous 11 years. The conditions that enabled him to win had their genesis in the coup that brought him to prominence.
The present party structures in Ghana will ensure that older, rather than younger, candidates are thrust on the electorate at the national level. To get a major party’s nod, one has to be rich and well connected within powerful circles in the party. Young people are not likely to come up with such credentials. The older ones in the party will not even want it led by younger people. It is said that in Akufo-Addo’s last fight against Kufuor for the NPP ticket, Kufuor, after his victory, said Akufo-Addo was still young and his time would come so he should allow the older ones to take their turn first. Akufo-Addo is still waiting for his turn – at age 68!
Our many coups have ensured that the democratic institutions that we inherited from the British have not had the time to mature and become entrenched. Nkrumah is partly to blame for this when he instituted a one party state with a clear determination to rule for life. In the old democracies, the parties, themselves very old creations, have strong youth wings where young people are groomed for political leadership. These are the structures that produced the likes of David Cameron, George Osborne, Ed Milliband in the UK and other young leaders elsewhere. These guys would never have gone so high if they were Ghanaians.
If Mahama fixes the generational cut between the pre- and post-independence eras, that will still not make him young given the fact that our country is old in human years (without really maturing). Mahama only missed being a colonial child. Born in 1958, he must have been in school when Nkrumah was overthrown. While not a baby boomer, he is older than the Generation X cohort.
The statutory retirement age in Ghana for civil and public servants is still 60. Much of the developed world is trying to push the retirement age beyond 65. The low birth rates in these countries mean a diminishing working age group has to cater for an increasing corps of pensioners. The situation is the opposite in Ghana. The working age group is large. The young are itching for the older ones to vacate their works so that they can take their places. Ghana cannot afford to increase the working age beyond 60. Very experienced workers at the height of their talents are forced to retire at 60. Private industry is not big enough to absorb them.
But there is no pension age for our politicians to whom all good things seem to come. The constitution only sets a lower limit for the President at 40. Parliamentarians can be as young as 21. An 80 year-old can stand for the presidency. With people living longer, the older politicians are finding it more and more difficult to retire. Politics is the only job a statutory pension age will not drive them away from. The politicians who willingly retire in Ghana do so only when they have amassed enough wealth to live on for the rest of their lives or, in the case of the presidency, the two-term limit forces them to let go.
Our population is still very young with a birth rate higher than that which will keep the population constant. The economy is not expanding enough to cope with the population increase. With mortality rates falling even as birth rates remain high, Ghana is not benefitting from the so-called “demographic dividend” whereby the country gains from fewer dependent children that is the result of lower birth rates.
Older readers will remember Busia’s frantic efforts at reducing the birth rate. That was the preferred development strategy of the age and Busia embraced it with a passion. Family planning was launched with great fanfare. It was the time yours truly was coming of age and I remember the proliferation of cheap contraceptives – condoms, Sampoo, Emko, oral pills, family planning clinics, etc. AIDS was unknown then. The Aliens Compliance Order was also meant to keep our population low or to reserve the country’s resources for its bona fide citizens. When Busia was overthrown, our population was 8 million. It is now estimated at 25 million. Nobody knows if Busia’s strategy would have worked. Family planning was not discarded with his overthrow but, perhaps, not pursued with equal enthusiasm.
Today, the emphasis has shifted from the blunt reduction of population to better management of the other resources to match the population increase. It is now widely accepted that education, especially of girls, goes a long way in convincing families to have fewer children. It doesn’t seem our country is succeeding in this particular endeavour. The new president has certainly not set a good example with his seven children. Perhaps he was too young when Busia launched the family planning programme and the lessons completely passed him by. But Mahama is in good company. Most of our heads of state have been linked by rumour with fathering more children than they let out publicly. Our male politicians use their enhanced social positions to take more girlfriends. They can afford to bribe the women to keep (only) their mouths shut.
What about the generational structure on ghanaweb? It is easy to guess how old visitors are from what they write and their reactions to what others write. The pre-independence contributors are easy to identity. They include Vodoo Xebioso, Kojo Tamakloe (Kojo, were you a member of the Young Pioneers?), C. Y. Andy-K, Francis Quainoo, Adé Sawyer (who was senior to Rawlings at Achimota), Paa Kwesi Mintah (behind the truculent facade, you can discern a very sharp mind); Kwesi Atta Sakyi (with all the reminiscences going back to the 50s); OYOKOBA(?), Kweku Danso (he says so himself); JOSEPH KWAME ASAFU-ADJEI, ECONOMIST AND BUSINESSMAN, BRONX, USA who graduated from Legon in 1976 with a second upper; Abugri Sidney (who writes nice articles that people don’t read); Adofo Rockson, Prof Lungu (who, like Elvis Presley, has left the building).
Most of the regular visitors on ghanaweb were born after independence. They are also easy to identify. The regular ones include Okoampa-Ahoofe (born in the same year as Mahama), Benjamin Kwesi Tawiah, Daniel Kwesi Pryce, Justice Sarpong, Michael Borkor (if Dr. SAS, Attorney at Law, taught him at Cape Coast University, then he is “young” because even he, Dr SAS, is a post-colonial child), Kingsley Nyarko (his email address gives him away – he was born in 1973), LONTO-BOY, Nimrod, and others. I have not seen anybody who, like Salman Rushdie’s midnight children, was born on the stroke of midnight on Independence Day. They will have to own up to that now
There are also many post- post-independence children – those who think it is now old-fashioned to wear wrist watches (why should you when you have your cell phone?). Bernard Afreh Manu (wonderful language) is young to be placed here but he doesn’t come here anymore. I count Manasseh Awuni here too – the young man with the huge self-confidence. He was chosen as journalist of the year recently. I hope the award was not based on the kind of articles he submits to ghanaweb.
There are a few people I find difficult to place. They have not given enough indications in their writings to enable me to locate their places in history. These include Akadu Mensema, G. K. Berko, even Bernard Tetteh, Nii Lantey Okunka and some others. Perhaps someone else will tell us on which side they fall.
As a senior on ghanaweb, I can understand why many of my age mates have left the site. Those who may be insulting you are younger than your own kids or could have been your students in secondary school in Ghana where they looked up to you with respect. Today, on ghanaweb, these same guys can “point their fingers in your face” and tell you how stupid you are. Is that not enough to make one quit?
Meanwhile, Mick Jagger, now 69, still rocks on and Ghana is not going to get a President who is in his or her mid forties…
Kofi Amenyo (firstname.lastname@example.org)