Better a good man for four years than a dunce for five

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Better a good man for four years than a dunce for five
E. Ablorh-Odjidja
January 06, 2016

Is a five year presidential term, instead of four, good or bad? This is one idea that keeps coming up; one idea that means much to those who have vested interest in the power of office.

For, holding office for a long stretch of time is a lucrative enterprise, particularly for those who participate in governance in Africa.


For the rest of us, after all is done, especially when nothing profitable has been gained, the experience then becomes our loss, a complete waste of time, and, certainly for a long time to come, a lingering residue of painful reflections on the wasted years.

But the idea of presidential tenure length has come up. So it is worth a critical look again.

The Minister of Interior, Mr. Mark Woyongo, has suggested that "a five - year presidential tenure" for the country would be a good idea. His reason is that it will assure "that the winning party fully executes its development agenda."

Are we to read into this an excuse for failure of his party's agenda or a reluctance to confront the real demons that have for so long bedeviled our progress as a nation?


Are we being asked to skip the phenomenon of the easy access to money that begets corruption - the default judgment payments; or, forget the power of incumbency that allows corruption to skate free; or the proclivity of this same power to reverse or stomp on viable policies of previous administrations it doesn't like?

If this power is what Mr. Woyongo, wittingly or unwittingly, is proposing to extend, then I say no to the idea.

However, what we can deduce from Mr. Wayongo's plea is that the NDC promise for "better Ghana" has not been fully met. And that this plea, therefore, may also be a distraction from the grim facts of hardship on the grounds in Ghana today.

The hardships may not be entirely the NDC's fault. But long after this regime is gone, the hardships may still be here, if nothing realistic is done.


This must call for the devising of a permanent fix in our system of governance. Presidential term extension by one year may be a wished for magic wand but it will not get the job done.

What to do first is to consider whether another political party, within the same four years time confine given to the NDC, could not have completed a delivery of similar goals that the NDC promised under its "better Ghana" slogan.

Another is to dismiss promptly the duration of tenure as a factor in the accomplishment of political objectives by sighting the 19 years stretch of constitutional or unconstitutional rule of the same NDC administrations, from 1981 to 2000.


Then append to this stretch another seven years, (soon to be eight), after the interregnum of the Kufuor era. You would think the years here are enough to reprise the ideals of the NDC/Rawlings' revolution. 


But after all this stretch of time, Mr. Wayongo, who is a minister of this regime, is still pleading for a five year presidential term.


Of course, it has been natural for many African regimes to demand changes in constitutionally set presidential terms.  But this act is a slippery slope that often leads to retention of incompetents in power and the prolonging of civil strife in some countries like Burundi and others.

Senegal, Congo, Rwanda already have seven year presidential terms.  The majority of the nations on the continent has five year each. So is Burkina Faso, Mr. Wayongo's poster country.


But the problem is how well off are these countries.  Are they so well off enough to command prompt emulation?

The same lack of development in Ghana is woefully expressed  in many of these countries too.  The drive to advance our goals in timely manner, that has gone stale over the years, is on exhibition in these countries too. So, our lack of steady development has nothing to do with our short presidential tenure.


It should be obvious now that what is missing is something else other than tenure.

Truth be told, we don't get much done in four years because of prevalence of excessive corruption.  The tendency to reverse policies of past regimes, our choice mode for political revenge or vindictiveness, is also dodging us. 


Since the coup of 1966, there have been many policy reversals.  Once a regime is out of power, its project and ideas become preys.  We thwart projects of our political opponents to make room for new ones, ours, so as to gain access to funds that can be made amenable for corruption..


The above tendencies are the stumbling blocks. So no lengthy presidential term will be of any account, unless these tendencies are removed or defeated first.

 Even so, why the magic number of five?  If more is the issue then why not a twenty year term?  Hopefully, the nonsensical nature of the proposal can be revealed by this question.

Personally, I cannot support a regime that is unable to start and finish its agenda in four years or pass the ideas on to the next regime, to be restructured and finished.  This is the path progressive development should take.

But Mr Woyongo has a different reason. He says, "the four year period for the Presidential tenure of office in Ghana, ...will be very difficult for any political party who emerges as winner to execute all planned development agenda."

And he continues, “The five years period for the tenure of office of the Presidency will be very ideal for Ghana......just like our neigbouring country Burkina Faso which has five years under its constitutional provision for her tenure of the Presidency."

I could point to Mr. Woyongo other countries, like the United States, that are doing well under the shorter four year term. Or Paraguay that has a single 5 year presidential term (no repeat) as my ideal.

Mr. Woyongo's argument in support of a longer term is false. Even the thought embodied is not complete. There is an omission.  A complete thought would have provided a caution:  That five years of productive work under a brilliant leader can also result in five years of roll back of the same under a dunce.

Also to think that one party alone in a plurality of parties and possible regimes can build or develop a country is a dangerous idea.

Development of a country is a cumulative process in effort and cooperation. Essential ideas of active politics on projects must be shared, accepted and passed on from regime to regime, regardless of their ideological differences, because what is at stake is nation building; not the aggrandizement of a party or an individual.

Once the above is understood, we can be assured that legacies of viable visions and essential ideas for development can be passed on - uninterrupted from generation to generation.


Examples from Nkrumah and Kufuor can be used for this purpose. But I will only dwell on a single project.

Nkrumah completed the Tema Motorway in 1965 with a plan to link it to other road systems in Ghana in a network called The Golden Triangle. His vision collapsed immediately after 1966 because of the hostility to Nkrumah.

This Golden Triangle idea was revived some 40 years later under Kufuor, when the Bush Highway extension was completed on February 2008, with the help of grant from the US. 


This highway has become a very symbolic item and also a link to the crucial idea that worthwhile projects must be continued, regardless of political or ideological differences.

Nkrumah had only six years as President. Kufuor had the full eight; two four year terms. Had there been less policy reversals and more continuity and cooperation from the time of Nkrumah to the present, Ghana would have been a far advanced country than it is today, even though we would still be under the same four year presidential term allowed by the constitution.

E. Ablorh-Odjidja, Publisher, Washington, DC, January 06, 2016.
Permission to publish: Please feel free to publish or reproduce, with credits, unedited. If posted at a website, email a copy of the web page to . Or don't publish at all.




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