President John Atta Mills died unexpectedly on Tuesday and vice-president John Dramani Mahama immediately stepped in as caretaker. But amidst the flags flown at half-mast during this officially declared week of mourning, Ghanaians are worrying about who will lead in the longer term.
Francis Kokutse, Accra
It didn’t take long to position an interim leader after Ghana’s chief of staff announced the death of President Mills. Six hours later, Vice-President John Dramani Mahama was sworn in as caretaker, to finish his partner’s unexpired presidential term.
In a speech after the swearing, the newly appointed President Mahama said: “We are deeply distraught, devastated as a country.” He added that Ghana was “hit by an unprecedented tragedy” in having lost a sitting president.
Fifty-three year-old Mahama is not a newcomer to politics. He began his career serving as a deputy minister of communication under former President Jerry John Rawlings. First elected to Ghana’s Parliament in 1996, he represented the Bole/Bamboi constituency for a four-year term. Two years later, he became the substantive minister.
When the National Democratic Congress (NDC) lost power in 2000, Mahama returned to Parliament, again serving as an MP for Bole/Bamboi. Mills chose him as his running mate in 2008, and he was sworn the next January.
During his speech on Tuesday, Mahama paid glowing tributes to Mills, whom he described as his “friend, father, mentor and senior comrade”.
A smooth handover
An analyst from the Centre for Democratic Development (CDD), Kojo Pumpuni Asante, commended how smoothly Mahama’s swearing-in went. “I am pleased with the way things have gone. We did not have any of Africa’s problem with the death of a president.”
Asante noted, however, that the people would be watching to see just how the process would be completed. He suggested that the population is especially concerned about transparency in appointment of a new vice-president. “We have come to a point where it is clear that the state is seen as sacred and the people would want to know how the whole process is conducted,” he said.
Election of a new presidential candidate, come December, is another issue. Asante said the NDC would have to choose from a new congress, adding “it is how this is conducted that should be of concern to every Ghanaian.”
Return of the Rawlings
As the country mourns President Mills, some members of the ruling NDC are expressing worries for the future of their party. The next presidential election is just five months away.
There are speculations that former First Lady Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings will become the NDC’s presidential candidate. NDC deputy general secretary George Lawson has dismissed this. “There is no truth in that,” he said. “The party’s constitution is clear that we have to go to Congress to elect a new candidate to lead us.”
Despite President Rawlings having hand-picked Mills as his vice-president in 1997 and later proving instrumental in Mills’ own presidential election, Rawlings did not have good relations with Mills.
The opposing New Patriotic Party (NPP) will be watching closely to see how the NDC slugs it out among themselves. If Mr. Rawlings turns against President Mahama, it will also mean that the NDC would be jeopardizing its own chances for election – not only against the NPP, but also a new party that has yet to register and claims to have the blessings of both Mr. and Mrs. Rawlings.