Ghana: President John Mahama defends All-die-be-die in his book and yet condems Akufo-Addo – Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko

In his book,  ‘My First Coup D’etat’, President John Dramani Mahama concludes in the last paragraph, “All the decisions I have made in my life were regularly plagued with doubt. It can be challenging to sustain that feeling of hope or the belief that things will turn out for the best. Again and again, I have felt like that boy Dramani, on the bicycle going downhill fast, without any brakes and not knowing which way to turn.”


He speaks of his father, a man of royal lineage, a former minister of state and a well-to-do capitalist, having six cars, the best house and providing for all of young Dramani’s needs, including cash to go to the disco.


Indeed, the opening lines of the book take you straight to his privileged background and upbringing. It begins: “It happened on February 24, 1966. I was seven years old, a class 2 pupil in the primary division of Achimota, an elite boarding school in Accra, Ghana’s capital.”


I finished reading the 314-page book without being clear what John Mahama believes in or what he sought to portray. Perhaps, his ghost writer, my cousin, Nana Ama Meri Danquah, should take a big part of the blame.


The President speaks about the conflict between his privileged, elite upbringing and the socialist teachings that he received from a secondary school tutor, Mr Wentum. How his Marxist romanticism battled with his hero, his father, EA Mahama. The book betrays an ambidextrous mind.


This flimflam nature of the man, John Dramani Mahama, became even more obvious, when I heard him say twice this week in Kumasi (first, at Manhyia and, later, at the NDC Congress) that the 2012 election was not an ‘all-die-be-die’ affair.


“There should be nothing like ‘all-die-be-die,' all of us are Ghanaians, and one people with a common destiny,” he said.


I am sorry, but this is pure glib talk. Akufo-Addo and his supporters have explained, with supporting evidence, that the ‘all-die-be-die’ shibboleth is not a rallying cry for violence but rather a self-defensive one to protect our democracy and, if you like, resist oppressor’s rule, as expressed in both the national anthem and constitution.


And to support this, the opposition party has been pro-active in pushing for electoral reforms, such as biometric registration and verification, and urging its supporters to be vigilant. How different is this from the position of the then opposition NDC in 2008, which brought Mahama to where he is today? As he said at the NDC congress, somewhat oafishly and savourlessly, “The death of President [John] Mills has opened a door of opportunities.”


With the latest Afrobarometer survey showing that majority of Ghanaians believe they have gotten poorer today than they were in 2008, the ruling party, led by the President, is seeking to create an artificial threat to peace and to let it to be believed that it is Akufo-Addo and the NPP who pose the biggest threat to the peace and security of this nation.


Perhaps, the President should be advised that development is another name for peace. And, peace he came to meet and peace he is expected to leave behind. What matters is what he and his party have done with the country they took over in 2009.


President Mahama at the NDC congress, once again, paid lip homage to peaceful elections and in his usual unctuous manner, urged his supporters to be vigilant rather than violent – an almost perfect sound-bite. However, does vigilance mean merely watching a gang of hired thugs assaulting innocent voters and party agents, snatching ballot boxes, and allowing them to get away with it? What would be the President’s response to the above question?


John Mahama, who uncharacteristically, mentioned the name ‘God’ more times in his short congress speech than he ever did in his 314-page autobiography, ‘My First Coup D’etat’, has started, as was expected, by playing the usual dirty trick and quackery against the NPP, portraying himself as a man of peace and Akufo-Addo as a violent man. It may be subliminal but very obvious. His only evidence to support this charge is ‘all-die-be-die’ – a term that has a meaning in Ghanaian culture not invented by Akufo-Addo.


The NPP has explained that the mantra was in reaction to the omissions and commissions under this government that have seen NPP members and supporters victimized and ignored. But, for a man, like Akufo-Addo, who made his name in politics from three decades ago for standing up bravely, without weapons, against oppression and repression, was Akufo-Addo expected to stay mute as his people suffered under a constitutional dispensation?


All two by-elections (Atiwa and Chereponi) and the mini Akwatia election held under the Mills-Mahama presidency were marred by violence, with no known attempts made to bring the pro-government perpetrators to book. The NPP is simply saying, ‘enough is enough’, and that they would no longer tolerate bullies.


Over 800 Abudus and pro-NPP residents of Tamale got their houses burnt and some brutally assaulted in 2009. The perpetrators were identified but never apprehended. NDC foot-soldiers who went on rampage for two years across the country were never made to face the law.


The daylight brutal murder in Agblogbloshie near the police station is yet another example of the government taking no action or the police taking no action when NPP supporters are at the receiving end of violence.


President John Mahama was until recently, Chairman of the Police Council, he owes Ghanaians explanation as to why no police action was taken against known or identified alleged perpetrators of these notable crimes. He should spend more time bringing criminals to book than preaching to the converted about peace. 


What is even more striking is that President John Mahama speaks against bullies in his maiden book and gives two personal encounters where he stood up against the oppressor.


A whole chapter of the book is devoted to how young courageous Dramani stood in front of a bully and said enough was enough and lived to tell the tale, “I did not die, I did not die”, John Mahama recounts, stressing.


It was at Achimota and the boy’s name was Ezra. Ezra, the tormentor, was two years older, very muscular and the tallest of 10 boys in the dormitory.


With his usual elitist tone, John says, Ezra looked like “one of the men we sometimes saw on the campus grounds clearing the underbush with long, slightly curved cutlass. Their skin, which was blacker even than a starless sky at midnight, would be glistening with sweat.”


He adds with undisguised disdain, “I wasn’t at all surprised to learn that his father was a farmer, though I would have guessed that it was an animal farm and not a cocoa farmer, because Ezra looked as though he had been born, raised, and fed in much the same way as livestock.”


John Mahama continues on Ezra, as if the son of a farmer had no business being educated at elite Achimota.  “His father, though uneducated, had a made a lot of money for himself. He wanted his son to attend Achimota, the school where the doctors, lawyers, politicians, and other members of the upper echelon sent their kids. With good reason: Ezra was a bush boy; he was tactless and uncouth.”


Ezra developed into bullying the other boys to bring their afternoon snack to him.

“Ezra,” John writes, “had skillfully indoctrinated us. We had shown him our hearts, taken him into our trust, and this had somehow broken down our defences… Ezra had become our personal bully, and now we were stuck with him. He became so powerful.”


The semblance to the bigger political reality was obviously not lost on the young Dramani. He writes, “What was happening to my group of friends and me in Achimota, around 1967 and 1968, was truly a microcosm of what was happening all throughout Africa. Dictators were sprouting up one after another, bushmen with bad manners and violent tendencies. They held their communities in fear and felt entitled to what did not belong to them… We [the victims of Ezra] did not know that it was within our power to stop it, to effect change in our lives and in the lives of others.”


He was making it clear that citizens have a responsibility to themselves, society and their children to fight against those who use power against them.


But, to his disappointment, all attempts to conspire with the other 8 victims to stop the bully did not work because his friends, unlike him, could not gather the courage to face up to the tall, heavily built bully. So this bullying from Ezra went on for a while until one day John decided to eat his own snack and not hand it over to the bully.  


He recalls what happened to him afterwards: “Ezra unleashed his punishment in one fell swoop. I barely felt the blow, but it landed me on the floor. He kneed me; he gave me knocks on my head. He really maltreated me, but I did not die. I did not die.”


Now tell me, is this not what the all-die-be-die mantra is all about? That you stand up to bullies, and let the worst happen to you?


The writer goes on to tell readers about the moral of the story after two straight days of resistance on his part. “When everyone had assembled in the room to deliver their snack, Ezra made an announcement. ‘Dramani has been exempted,’ he said, trying to sound as official as possible. ‘But the rest of you have not. You must still come with your snack.’”


Indeed, a striking feature of the book is John Mahama’s professed personal conviction that oppressor’s rule must be resisted. In fact, he manages to place himself within the struggle against Gen I K Acheampong’s attempt to impose ‘Union Government’ in Ghana in 1978. The author blatantly avoids his historical responsibility of mentioning those, like the PMFJ, who led the nationwide protest against Unigov, focusing, instead on his own futile attempt.


He was a sixth former at Ghanasco and he and some friends had volunteered to police the ballot.


“On the day of the referendum, we took our positions and watched the ballot boxes, as planned… We had no business being there. We were secondary school students, 18 and 19 year-old boys, not vigilantes… We wanted Ghana to become a new society, one without hunger, rampant unemployment, and wide separation between classes. If that meant watching ballot boxes to safeguard the vote, then so be it. We were willing to sacrifice our study time. It never crossed our minds, even with all we’d heard about the demonstrations and the soldiers, that we might also be sacrificing our lives.”


He continues, “By early afternoon, when we were convinced that the Ghanasco ballot boxes in the referendum would not be subject to any foul play, a suspicious-looking young man arrived. He approached us and told us to go away. We refused and… entered into a verbal altercation with the man.


“He threatened to beat us up. We scoffed at his threat. There was no way he could beat up all of the boys in our group… The man saw that he was outnumbered. He turned around and started to walk away… We were proud of ourselves… Our David to their Goliath.”


The man, of course, came back with a pick-up vehicle full of men who came there to unleash violence to ensure that the rigging took place.


Although the book, written by a man described as a historian, left the story there, so bad was the rigging of the 30 March 1978 referendum that before the results were fully released the Electoral Commissioner, Justice I. K. Abban, resigned in the face of threats on his life for failing to falsify the results.


Only 43.0% of registered voters (totaling 4.6 million) exercised their franchise. 23.5% were declared as having voted ‘Yes’ to Unigov and 19.8% apparently voted ‘No’.

It became clear to all that the results had been falsified. Confusion ensued in the country, 3 months after the results were declared the army staged a palace coup and removed Acheampong from office “in the interest of the unity and stability of the nation”.


11 months later, Rawlings removed Acheampong’s successor, Lt-Gen Kwasi Akuffo. And, one could argue that because of the inability of the nation to resist the attempts to rig the ballot in 1978, Ghana fell into its longest period of dictatorship.


It is very clear, if his writings are to be believed, that President Mahama believes in the wisdom of all-die-be-die but he does not find it politically helpful to be honest to Ghanaians. Will the real JDM please stand up?


The author is the Executive Director of the Danquah Institute

Election 2012 in Ghana hots up

All-die-be-die is what Nigerians would call do-or-die a phrase credited to President Obasanjo