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August 15, 2012

Ghana President Mahama Seeks to Improve Citizens' Lives

by Peter Clottey

Ghana’s newly installed president, John Dramani Mahama, says his vision for the country is to improve the lives of citizens and to create an environment that ensures a constitutionally-stable democratic nation.

“Ghanaians want a stable, democratic country constitutionally governed under the rule of law, but at the same time we want to create a country where our people can live in decency and dignity - a country where our mothers are not dying in the process of giving birth, our country where our children are not dying prematurely from malaria, a country where young people can grow up in a moral environment and be proud that they are Ghanaian,” President Mahama said in an exclusive interview with VOA. 

But the opposition New Patriotic Party has accused Mahama and the ruling National Democratic Congress of being incapable of resolving what the party describes as the poor state of the country’s economy. At a news conference Tuesday, the opposition party said the newly installed president is to blame for what it said are the economic hardships Ghanaians are currently undergoing.

But, in the exclusive, President Mahama acknowledges the challenges he faces in trying to unite the country following the death of the late president, John Evans Atta-Mills, and as the country prepares for the December general elections.

“There’s still work to do especially to insure that the business of government continues to run smoothly even as we engage in competitive politics … is a challenge that one has to acknowledge,” said Mahama. “I think that the institutions of state are quite ready to be able to carry out the business and I think in death Professor Atta-Mills has brought a certain opportunity to run the country together let us understand that we have one nation with a common destiny and that even in the political arena there is space enough to be competitive but do it in a way that doesn’t tarnish our reputation.” 

Mahama said he was fortunate to have understudied the late President Atta-Mills, who he said, outlined a vision of making Ghana a better place.

“My luck is that I served as vice president to a president who had outlined a vision of making Ghana a better place and I owe it to his memory to continue the achievement of that vision. I think what it’s taught me is that in attaining a better Ghana it must be a vision the whole country shares,” he said.

Mahama was sworn as president hours after the country’s leader was pronounced dead at the 37 Military Hospital in the capital, Accra, on July 24.  He will finish out the five remaining months of the late leader’s term.

Analysts say the government's adherence to constitutional protocols in the hours following Atta-Mills’ passing has won the nation praise, both at home and abroad, and bodes well for the December elections.

Mahama talked about events leading up to his swearing in following the death of  Atta-Mills.

“The attorney general came and they called the speaker of parliament and they took the constitution and the attorney general gave an interpretation of the constitution and determined that my swearing in would take place that day,” Mahama said.

“The speaker had to go back to her office and summon parliament, which had adjourned at that time and so she re-summoned parliament for six o’clock that evening,” he said. “I would’ve wished we could’ve waited because I was worried how I was going to compose myself to go through the swearing in ceremony. But God strengthened me and somehow we went through the process, but I must say even in that tragic circumstance what happened that day has raised the image of Ghana in the eyes of the world.”

Mahama said the transfer of power was smooth thanks to Ghana's solid constitution and mature democracy.  He said after a long period of instability and coup d’états, the 1992 constitution enabled five successful elections in his country and made it impossible to roll back democracy.

“Our 1992 constitution was written in a very consensual way by people from all walks of life in our country and they must have anticipated a lot of things,” he said. “And so it’s a very good constitution, very well written. It is clear and where we have uncertainties about parts of it, the Supreme Court determines and we all abide by it. 

“But I think its Ghana’s collective experience, along its historical road for the last 54 years that has brought us to this point where we have such a stable democratic process," he said.

Mahama added that in Ghana today, and in much of Africa, there are strong civil society organizations, religious and traditional groups and leaders, as well as pressure groups, that all have a vision of how they want to live. 

He said the age of the authoritarian head of state on the continent is past, noting that 24 African nations held elections in the past year and a half. This was not the case in the 1970s, he said, when there were no elections because most African states were military dictatorships. 

Mahama will run for president in the December elections.  He says the competition will be strong, not because Ghanaians have different visions for their future, but because they have different ideas about how to achieve the same goal.