Feature Article of Friday, 31 July 2015
Columnist: Smart Brown
This article was first published in August 2013.
In view of the attempted assassination of the President by Charles Antwi, it is re-posted for the benefit of those who didn’t read it.
When millions watched Barack Obama give his history-making victory speech in Grant Park in his home city of Chicago, Illinois on 4th November 2008, one thing stood out starkly – the bulletproof screen that surrounded him.
A day before Obama’s inauguration on 21st January 2009, the Secret Service rolled out a special edition of the heavily armoured presidential limousine commonly referred to as ‘The Beast’ with improved security detail above that which was used for President George Bush.
These occasions clearly indicated to any serious observer that the Secret Service- the agency responsible for the protection of the American President had indeed reoriented its security protocol around the new president. And they had every reason to.
Three months earlier, one Shawn Adolf and his cousin Tharin Gartrell fancied that 28th August, 2008 would be a good day to kill the then candidate Obama.
They had the capabilities- M77 bolt-action rifles; they had a strong motive- believing in a radical white supremacist ideology that abhors the idea of a black man becoming the President of the United States of America. In fact, Adolf was reported as saying: “No nigger should ever live in the White House.”
These situations may not have anything to do with President Mahama, suffice though to illustrate the startling similarities, at least in the changing nature of presidential security in general and the apparent disparity between our presidential security protocol and the US in particular: whilst the Secret Service deploys varying levels of protection protocols, dependent on the personality of the President, our so called National Security appear to operate a-one-size-fits-all protection detail.
Yet the ‘presidential security curve’ since the Fourth Republic has not remained static: President Rawlings enjoyed a moderate level of insecurity as compared to his PNDC days, perhaps given his authoritarian style of governance; President Kufuor faced no significant threat to his presidency.
In fact when Ghanaians went to the polls on December 7, 2000, they did so not only because the Constitution demanded it, but more importantly, most Ghanaians yearned for a new leadership from the somewhat tired Rawlings-led administration.
There was therefore neither political will nor military appetite to disturb Kufuor’s presidency. Apart from his ill health, President Mills faced little to no threat to his presidency mostly because he presented a dilemma to any would be trouble-maker, first as an Akan and second, belonging to the NDC.
So no Akan was interested in harming an Akan president. Equally no serious NDC extremist could ever think of harming an NDC president- leaving President Mills the most secure president ever.
Unfortunately, President Mahama is not just another president: as the first Northerner President of the Fourth Republic, in a country whose history is spattered with ethnic /tribal disposition, he is, by far, a target several orders of magnitude more tempting than the average for ‘all-die-be-die’ members, who tend to be unashamed in their tribal-ethno centric fervour.
President Mahama is therefore, likely to be confronted with the most of threats a sitting president has ever endured in Ghana.
While Obama faces a plethora of threats including a white supremacist racist ideology, Mahama is facing a clear, real and present threat of a tribal-supremacists hell-bent on either making the country ungovernable and/or, where possible eliminating the president altogether. Yet the president’s security protocol, though probably aware of this threat has not risen above the routine presidential body guarding tactics.
The protection of our president is not a routine security function: it’s about the deepest of Ghanaian values – the sanctity of the presidency and the security of our country. Without the executive arm of government our democracy stands on the precipice of paralysis.
Of course, Ghana has come a long way. At least we have been through some twenty-one years of an uninterrupted democratic dispensation; it has been some thirty-three years since a successful coup attempt and, Ghanaians, especially the national security establishment might rejoice in the knowledge that no sitting president has ever been assassinated. For this, we are touted as a thriving democracy and a gateway to Africa.
While acknowledging this commendable stride in our fifty six years history, it is important that National Security eschew complacency, sheer negligence and groupthink in their perception, assessment and treatment of threats around President Mahama.
A few observations substantiate the seriousness of this call: in modern democracies around the world, it is often the case that the vice president is given the full support of his political party to contest for the presidency once he/she expresses interest.
It was not for nothing, however, that late former Vice President Alliu Mahama was never given the opportunity to contest the presidential race in 2008 on the ticket of the NPP.
Also, it is not for nothing that there is a concerted effort at establishing a ‘Danquah- Busia tradition’ when in fact a little glance of history shows that the very ‘tradition’ being expounded by the ‘Danquah Institute’ was spearheaded by uncle Dombo.
Furthermore, it was not for nothing that prior to the 2012 election there were complaints from some top National Executives of the NPP of Northern extraction to the effect that they (the Executives of the Northern extraction) were kept in a separate office location from their Southern counterparts. Was this strategy meant to prevent the Northern folk from being privy to the most sensitive campaign information because, as Northerners, they could not be so trusted?
More so, it was not for nothing that when Sir John ran down a Northerner Supreme Court judge and threatened his life, no word of condemnation was ever issued by the Akan party, much to the disgust of some judges on the bench.
Similarly, it was not for nothing when two prominent Northerner lawyers raised the issue of corruption in our judicial system, they were immediately suspended by the hypocritical General Legal Council and referred to the Ghana Bad (sorry)Bar Association: an association that only sees and hears when particular section of society errs but pretends to be sleeping when another section of the same society commits acts of attrition.
It is not for nothing that some Christian leaders, now in a Machiavillian style, preach politics on the pulpit, chastising the current government and blaming our developmental woes on ‘leadership’ and ‘the poverty of policy’ which is quite a significant ‘u-turn’ from what they held not too long ago when they among others, blamed we the ‘people’ for being ‘lazy’.
It was obviously not just a case of oversight that President Kufuor built the seat of government- the Flagstaff House in Ashanti architecture, including the Ashanti stool and Adenkra symbols; That between 2001-2008 the ‘welcome’ and ‘good bye’ messages at all forecourts of the Goil fuel stations across the country, as well as the Kotoka airport were erected in the Twi language, quite oblivion to the fact that Twi is not the national language of Ghana.
All these efforts, to name but a few, signify a grand strategy for the implementation of the ‘Great Ashanti Project’ that late President Mills flagged in the wikileaks cables. The ultimate view of this surreptitious, yet, sustained effort is to establish Ashanti hegemony in Ghana.
Thus, if the petitioners lose the case before the Supreme Court, it would be the last legitimate attempt by the ‘yen akanfuos’ to ensure, as Shawn Adolf wished of the White House, that ‘no pepeni ever lived in the Flagstaff House’. The ‘all-die-be-die’ believers would essentially be left with two more options: learn to live with the fact that indeed a pepeni is occupying the Flagstaff House or employ illegitimate means to undermine, humiliate, or even eliminate President Mahama altogether.
Gleaning from our short history, the demeanour of the current leadership of the Ashanti/Akyme party, it is highly likely that they would opt for the later.
After the verdict, if Mahama is maintained as president, his protection detail must therefore, rise-up above standard operating procedures; train-up beyond physical endurance; and wise-up beyond the physical safety of the president to a more comprehensive health, safety and security protocol.
The fire service should, for example, expect to fight more market fires; government must brace itself for more strikes, the police should be ready for violent demonstrations, false reports of highway robberies, etc.; the president’s communication team should expect to counter a sustained effort by a section of the media to ‘talk down’ the economy, scare investors, scandalise the president’s efforts etc.
In sum President Mahama’s protection, must be elevated above a function of whim, caprice or familiarity. Just like the Secret Service did with the arrival of the new black President Obama, so must our National Security do with the new pepeni President Mahama.
If they needed reasons to change their security protocol, they need not look further: President Mahama’s ‘fault’ is that he is a pepeni president. The president himself should note that no amount of soft spoken, humbleness and nice man-ism would cleanse him of this ‘fault’.
He should beware that his presidency is the most vulnerable since the beginning of the Fourth Republic. This is the surest way to ensure that he survives, and becomes the first truly Northerner president who gets to complete his mandate given him by the people of Ghana on the 7th and 8th December 2012- assuming without concluding that the results are upheld by the supreme court on the 29th of August 2013.