John Mahama’s hardly veiled announcement that he intends participating in the National Democratic Congress’ (NDC) presidential primaries has set the political world agog.
A couple of questions have arisen since the Facebook announcement. What are his chances? Why does he want to run? Why did he choose that medium? Will he be a formidable force against Nana Akufo-Addo? Here, we present a revised pro-con analysis of his candidature.
John Mahama is one of the most popular figures in the NDC right now. Compared to other aspirants, he is probably the most popular by leaps and bounds. Let’s not get it wrong. Presently, the NDC today is as much Rawlings’ party, the late Atta Mills’ party as it is Mahamas’ party. He now wields a sizeable following and unalloyed support. You might say their support is borne out of personal interests or perhaps they might desert him now that he is no more in power but the feeling of allegiance is there and Mahama is sure to ride that.
Take it or leave it, there is a general perception that former President Mahama is loaded. We probably need to look a bit more into party financing and campaign fundraising in this country, but it is generally accepted that Mahama has the funds and resources to effectively oil a campaign machine. As a former president, he also has the ability to network and attract support from sponsors and long-time financiers.
There are many things candidates like Mahama can do to raise funds: speaking appearances, write books and use the allure of his status in very creative and innovative ways. If money is crucial factor to successfully running a presidential campaign then clearly, John Mahama has a foot in.
When you become a former president, one is immediately accorded the respect and prestige as a statesman. You become a national figure. History, they say, is usually kinder to presidents when they leave office. It is no wonder that in the US, a president’s approval ratings usually jumps higher once they leave the White House. As a former president, John Mahama’s stature has surely been enhanced, enabled and elevated. This is likely to win him some admiration his competitors cannot garner.
Closely related with the idea of statesmanship is the towering international stature former President Mahama has built for himself. As president, he was co-chairperson of the group of sixteen SDGs advocates set up by the then UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and was naturally involved with a lot of international meetings and multilateral engagements. As a former president, this stature has only increased with his involvement in several international activities.
He has been head of the Commonwealth Observer Mission to Kenya, head of ECOWAS Election Observer team to Liberia and member of the Commonwealth Observer Mission to Sierra Leone, just to mention a few. These are clearly enviable positions that have raised his profile and probably changed how some Ghanaians view the former president.
John Mahama can always make the argument that he is the only one among the lot who has been president before and actually knows what it means to be in the hot seat. He can always make the argument that hindsight, lessons, experiences and reflective moments have made him a man of insights and greater wisdom.
He can make the argument that he will be back refreshed and revitalized to correct his wrongs (if he is willing to admit any) and be an even better president. He can make the argument that the presidency is no place for neophytes or experimentation.
He can also run on the more positive aspects of his record especially the infrastructural elements, that is, if he deems it as necessarily better than the NPP. As an experienced political player, a prolific campaigner and a highly energized candidate he is sure to bring all this to bare on his comeback effort.
John Mahama is easily likeable. He communicates well, writes well and has the gift of the garb. One of his greatest political strengths is his common man appeal. John Mahama does not carry the air and aura of an elitist. He looks, sounds and acts like your next door neighbour.
This is one of the reasons why candidate Mahama should never be underestimated. He is adept with social media, knows what’s trending and has the wit and ability to tap into emotions. Of course sometimes it comes off as dry and low handed but he’s got something there—a bit of charismatic appeal that could work for him if he handles it well.
President Akufo-Addo’s performance
If the incumbent government performs badly in the eyes of Ghanaians; if they end up with more scandals and conditions get worse under the incumbent government, John Mahama will all of a sudden begin to look very different in the eyes of Ghanaians. He may have lost an election with a big margin but if things get decidedly worse, voters may begin to pine for their former leader.
Why the Mahama candidature could be a pipe dream
Mahama has had his time
John Mahama’s presidential bid is embryonically deficient. How do you as a former president, who has seen it all in politics as a former Member of Parliament, former deputy minister, former minister, former vice president and former president make a case for another chance especially after losing the last elections with a margin considered one of the biggest in our recent democracy? This is going to be a hard argument to make because there are many folks who believe John Mahama has had his chance.
For Mahama, the question of the election is this: What would he do differently now, compared to when he had all the chance in the world? The feeling is that he has been there, done that and has seen it all. The suggestion is that Mahama has given off his best and there’ll be nothing new to expect from him. In the minds of some folks, the time has come to move on. This makes his candidature conspicuously untenable right from the get go.
The reasons for the NDC’s loss in the last elections are well rehearsed treatise within our political discourse. The public’s concern with pervasive corruption, evidenced by results of the corruption perception index, the long list of scandals that rocked the administration and perceived arrogance by some government appointees to name a few. If Mahama runs again, all these issues are likely to come up again and he would spend a bunch of time defending his administration or litigating the issues.
Well, here’s the catch 22: generally in politics, if you’re defending then you are losing. A Mahama candidature could be the NPP’s dream come true because it would only be a re-run of the 2016 elections and we all know how that went although it would be mediated by a first term Akufo-Addo record. Still, it will be a very unpalatable situation for the NDC if they have to spend precious time playing defence right from day one of campaign season. Two things; first voters like to look forward not backward. Secondly, the fact is that John Mahama’s brand is a badly damaged one and a lot of work will have to be done to rehabilitate it.
Competence vs Incompetence
One of the major issues that dogged the Mahama campaign in 2016 was the tag of incompetence hurled at it by the NPP and their surrogates. It is quite clear that the incompetent tag stuck with the electorate. If this tag is not erased it would do irreparable damage. In modern campaigns where the candidate is seen as the message, a bruised brand—particularly on the question of competence – is as bad as it can get. Unless Mahama has a great response to this, he could end up facing the ghosts of 2016 including—wait for it—Samira Bawumia.
Mahama fatigue. Mahama here, Mahama there, Mahama everywhere.
There’s a general feeling within the NDC that the only reason John Mahama wants to come back is John Mahama. The whole comeback bid is seen more as an ego or image restoration and political rehabilitation exercise more than anything else. The 2016 election was quite an embarrassment and it’s quite clear Mahama is bent on showing he can wrestle the Flagstaff House/Jubilee House back.
This feeling of self-ambition could alienate more and more people in the party who do not belong to his camp. Already, some view his dominant footprints all over the party as unfair, pervasive or claustrophobic. The feeling is that he has undue advantage over his opponents and that has led many to work quietly behind the scenes for his downfall.
His unity walks have become a topic of divisiveness as some don’t fully see it as a party sanctioned event. There has also been intra-party concerns about rented crowds. So clearly, there is some palpable anti-Mahama sentiment simmering within and outside his party that could explode anytime.
No clear message. Highly personality based
So far it’s all been about why Mahama is the best person to lead the party, how he injects fear into the NDC, staunchly defending his past actions and throwing veiled attacks at opponents. There’s very little on what he intends to do for the people of Ghana and proactive messages on what he intends to do differently for the country.
Schism with party elders & lacks backing of party founder
There were a lot of party elders in the NDC including founder J.J Rawlings who felt alienated by former President John Mahama. It is difficult to see how far he can go without the support of such high ranking leaders of the party.
Aggrieved party executives
Mahama may have some strong loyalists but there are some party members who feel aggrieved my treatments meted out to them by the Mahama administration. Sources indicate that JDM personalized most processes and functions within the party while the wider party structures did not feature strongly.
One term curse
Fortunately, or unfortunately, there’s always a certain shine or gloss that wears off with a one-term presidency. Former US President Jimmy Carter understands this fully well. The shiny, attractive and trending John Mahama of yesteryear has given way to a dimmer, disappointed and dejected image which does not bode well for our former president if he is to be a magnet of attraction and admiration.
Author: Dr. Etse Sikanku