Former President John Dramani Mahama
Former President John Dramani Mahama has urged African leaders to leave power peacefully when they lose elections.
In doing so, he said, they would earn respect and also advance democratic governance in their countries and on the continent. Mr Mahama made the call when he delivered a lecture dubbed: “Mind Speak” in Nairobi, Kenya, last Saturday. The former President was in Kenya for a number of speaking engagements.
“Leave when applause is loudest”
Mr Mahama recalled a letter his father, a minister in the Nkrumah regime, had written to the then Head of State, General Kutu Acheampong, telling him to “leave when the applause is loudest”.
Using his case as an example, he said: “Throughout the course of my Presidency, I was both applauded and criticised.
I was both revered and reviled. When you find yourself standing at the centre of all that sound and fury, it is difficult to determine when it is, indeed, the loudest.”
To him, it was important presidents who were leaving office allowed history to determine their legacies. Likening democracy to football, which is a team sport, the former President said: “When the ball is in your possession, you do your best to move it forward, but then you must inevitably pass that ball to the next player and wish him or her the best in making progress because the victory that comes is not claimed by you or any of the other players.” He recalled the 2016 electioneering in Ghana when he was asked several times whether or not he would concede if he did not win.
According to him, the positive responses he gave and developments after the December 7 general election when he called the winner, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, to concede defeat to him, even before the Electoral Commission (EC) announced the results of the presidential election, constituted a major reason the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) requested him to participate in two missions to Banjul, The Gambia to get Yahya Jammeh to accept the will of the Gambian people and hand over power to Mr Adama Barrow, but which he refused.
Mr Mahama further told his audience how his arrival at the inauguration of President Akufo-Addo was met with rapturous applause. “Last month, I attended the inauguration of President Akufo-Addo. When I exited my vehicle and my arrival was publicly announced, there was a loud round of applause. Again, I thought of my father and those words: ‘Leave when the applause is loudest’.
Suddenly, I understood those words in a way I never had before,” he said. He stated that any progress made by a sitting government belonged to the people of that particular country and not the President or the government.
“Victory always belongs to the team, and in a democracy the team is always the people, the citizens of the country — and in a broader sense, the region and the continent — that is your home,” Mr Mahama stated.
Democratic governance, he stated, was non-negotiable, but was quick to add that democracy must not be a one-size-fits-all system.
“Each country has to find the type of democracy that best fits the needs of its citizenry; each democracy has to be shaped by the will of the people, by their collective voice,” he stressed.
Nevertheless, the former President stressed that regardless of the form that democracy took, “each democracy, at its core, is a system of governance that is fuelled by the will of the people”. He said it was refreshing that many African countries had held democratic elections that were seen as free and fair.
“Even the countries whose political situations are regarded with scepticism, the countries whose democracies are not considered mature because of the dominance of one political party or because a single President has ruled for decades — even those countries are holding elections,” he added.
Africa, the former President said, was rising economically, indicating that “from seemingly out of nowhere, several African countries are among the top 10 fastest growing economies in the world”.
He said it was also a delight to note that many Africans in the Diaspora were returning home to take advantage of the growing business opportunities in all fields. “We must continue to encourage their return. We must continue to inspire and empower our citizens who are already here.
We must work together, all of us, to realise the prosperity we desire,” he admonished his fellow Africans. Mr Mahama mentioned the growing democracy as one of the reasons for the promise of prosperity on the continent, adding: “Africa has changed, and she will continue to keep changing.”
But he cautioned that the journey to democratic consolidation and economic prosperity would not come on a silver platter, stressing: “We need to work at it, we need to stay the course of structural reform.”
He recognised how the “impatient” youthful population of Africa wanted to see change and experience prosperity in their lives. “But the reality is that nobody possesses a magic wand to create change and progress with a wish of abracadabra,” he posited.
He said the world was going through critical times and Africa had to marshal all its natural and human resources to overcome the challenges.