Are John Mahama’s Democratic Credentials on the Line?

By Paul Ejime *

Mahama as Head of ECOWAS Election Observation Mission to Liberia in 2017

Having worked closely with Ghana’s former president John Dramani Mahama, one can attest to his commitment to democracy.

The 62-year-old former Minister of Communications, writer, farmer, ICT expert and graduate of history is from a family with strong leadership pedigree. His late father was a government minister

When the deadly Ebola virus struck West Africa between 2014 and 2016 with badly-hit Liberia isolated by the rest of the world, Mahama as Ghanaian president and Chair of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of and Government, broke that isolation by paying a crucial solidarity to Liberia.

Ghana under his leadership also became the regional hub for international interventions against Ebola, which killed 11,310 people from the 28,618 cases reported worldwide, mainly in West African countries of Liberia, Guinea Conakry and, Sierra Leone.

Elections are triggers and drivers of conflicts including civil wars, especially in politically restive West Africa.

Electoral processes are even trickier in post-conflict environments.

Indeed, only the insiders appreciate the complex behind-the-scene spadework that precedes successful elections in Africa.

Take for example, the presidential polls in Liberia 2017 and Sierra Leone in 2018.

This writer served as member of the ECOWAS Election Observation Missions on the two occasions, providing communication and visibility support to the missions and the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONEC).

Mahama, a former MP and vice-president for three years to President Attah Mills, who died in 2012, headed the ECOWAS Observation Mission to Liberia, and that of the Commonwealth Mission to Sierra Leone.

Earlier, the recipient of several honorary doctoral degrees and a laureate of the 2016 African Leadership Award from the African Leadership Magazine in South Africa was in charge of the Commonwealth Election Observation Mission to Kenya in August 2017.

It should be noted that unlike other foreign poll observation missions, the ECOWAS Mission takes on the additional role of preventive diplomacy in member states. This involves structured engagements, negotiations and sometimes, hard decisions to get all stakeholders on the same page.

The objective is to ensure that potential conflicts are nipped in the bud before their escalation.

This strategy was very effective in Liberia and Sierra Leone, where Mahama and his fellow heads of international election observer missions (mainly from Africa), worked tireless, including sleepless nights and into wee hours of the mornings to steer the electoral processes to success.

In the case of Liberia, the presidential run-off vote was postponed over procedural dispute and only held after the Supreme Court’s intervention and back-stop diplomacy. Mahama and his colleagues persevered, sacrificing their Christmas holidays to ensure that the run-off eventually took place on 26th December with results acceptable to all parties.

A similar display of shrewd diplomacy facilitated the conclusion of the contentious 2018 presidential poll in Sierra Leone, which also went into a re-run.

In several of the marathon and tough peace negotiations with rival politicians, Mahama often reiterated his now famous mantra: “election is not only about winning but also about losing.”

This is very pertinent in a climate where politics and elections are seen as a do-or-die affair or a matter of life and death.

Mahama should know, having won and lost presidential elections himself. He is also one of very few African leaders to have congratulated the winner that defeated him.

And this is partly the reason he is rated highly as a statesman who believes in and supports democratic processes in Africa.

Some might therefore, find it surprising that the same Mahama of Ghana’s opposition (NDC) is singing an apparently new tune.

Mahama and his party have rejected the results of Ghana’s 7 December presidential poll after the National Electoral Commission, declared he lost to incumbent President Nana Akufo-Addo of the ruling NPP.

If those results should stand, it would be Mahama’s second loss to Akufo-Addo after that of 2016 following Mahama’s victory in 2012.

It is generally agreed that the December 2020 polls were marred by violence including the death of at least five persons, while two polling officials were arrested for vote tampering. There is no perfect election but this performance is considered below Ghana’s often touted democratic standard.

Mahama in rejecting the declared results, cited “a litany of irregularities and blatant frauds.”

Ghanaian electoral law allows petition/s within 21 days after a presidential election and the NDC is reported to be weighing its legal options.

The situation is delicate for Mahama, who, as a farmer knows that cultivation does not necessarily yield the desired harvest. There could be waiting, weeding, nurturing, poor harvest and even crop failure from the vagaries of weather. JOHN MAHAMA’S DEMOCRATIC CREDENTIALS ON THE LINE

These are indeed, testing times for the recipient of the Benin Republic’s highest Honour, the Great Cross of the National Order, as he contemplates the implications of his action/s vis-a-vis his international standing as a democrat.

To overturn the declared results of the last election he must prove his allegations at the Supreme Court.

Is Mahama willing to go the whole hug and what are his chances of success, given the unpredictability of politics, incumbency factor, and the growing influence of the judiciary, especially inconsistent verdicts/ interventions of Supreme Courts in the electoral processes in Africa (Kenya, Nigeria, Liberia, Malawi and Cote d’Ivoire, to name a few)?

Some might argue that the resort to legal action is a legitimate option open to an aggrieved party to test the workings of the democratic process.

Others might cite the Al Gore strategy on the 2000 American presidential election, in which he lost narrowly to President George W. Bush.

Al Gore gave up the legal fight “in the interest” of the American nation. Thus, he retained his credibility and integrity, going ahead to emerge as joint winner of the coveted Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Unlike Akufo-Addo who is 76, age is on Mahama’s side. So, will he, in Ghana’s overarching national interest, abandon the legal pursuit to overturn the results of the December election, amid strong and serious fraud allegations?

The NDC has a comfortable number of parliamentary seats to cause the ruling NPP some trouble. But can Mahama wait it out? He has until December 28  to make up his mind!

Either way, Mahama has become a major factor in the determination of the political direction of Ghana, the cocoa-rich nation of famous pan-Africanist Kwame Nkrumah, at least in the nearest future.

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