The Fly In The Ointment: Bawumia’s Manifest Destiny And Mahama’s ‘Schadenfreude’

Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia and John Mahama

There is an unspoken rivalry between former President Mahama and Vice President Bawumia, which is unparalleled in the history of Ghana. Born out of clashing personalities, contrasting worldviews, different loyalties, alliances and life experiences, this rivalry is precipitated in part by a sense of place and identity as well as by politics and history.

Played out against the backdrop of the perennial fight for supremacy between the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the New Democratic Congress’ (NDC), theirs is an epic personal and political battle that will shape Ghana’s political discourse, fracture the NDC, rebrand the NPP and forever change Ghana’s politics.

Amid the 24-hour news cycle, politicians of all strands are paying greater attention to their public image in order to influence voters’ preferences and electoral outcomes. Interestingly, however, regardless of the image politicians project in the media, their truest selves are revealed to the public by how they react, respond to and compete against their main rivals for power. Thus, rivalry can be a useful tool that helps to reveal the interior world of politicians, which in turn helps the people to assess their leadership qualities.   

This article discusses the unspoken rivalry between President Mahama and Vice President Bawumia from the perspective of political psychology. The article seeks to shed light on this rivalry in the context of their beliefs, motivations, perceptions, attitudes, and core personal qualities. Consequently, the article will briefly examine the foundations and outcomes of their respective political behaviors.   

For all their differences, both former President Mahama and Vice President Bawumia are driven by a desire to reshape the political landscape in Ghana, but they want to do so with rival agendas that inevitably set them on a collision course. The irony of this rivalry, however, is that they share similar backgrounds. 

Both men come from great and prominent families in northern Ghana. President Mahama’s father, Mr. Emmanuel Mahama, was a prominent politician who served in the first and third republics as Regional Minister and Senior Presidential Advisor respectively. Similarly, Vice President Bawumia’s father, Alhaji Mumuni Bawumia, was also a lawyer and politician who served as Chairman of the Council of State from 1992 to 2000.

“John,” as he is affectionately called by his friends, President Mahama, is known to be charming, pleasant, extroverted, generous and outgoing. In fact, he was the darling of chiefs, actors and many media practitioners throughout his presidency.  He can dazzle the electorate with his youthful persona, cosmopolitan appeal and laid-back attitude.  That winning combination of charm, passion and persuasiveness has been “John’s” asset throughout his political career. It is also his ability to relate to ordinary people; another strength that propelled him to the presidency. 

On the other hand, Vice president Bawumia, affectionately called “Mahmoud” by his closest friends and family, is a bona fide intellectual, thoughtful, hardworking and detail oriented. He is a typical leftbrained thinker—data driven, logical, careful and organized. Vice President Bawumia’s intellectual prowess is well known, as are his scholarly work and international reputation in banking, finance and economics. 

As a young man who studied and worked in the United Kingdom, Canada and the USA, he honed his intellectual curiosity and pursuit of excellence through hard work. In other words, the life of a foreign student instilled in him the value of hard work, perseverance, self-reliance, humility and self-discipline, which combined to produce his altruistic character and his search for validation. 

So why should we care about the rivalry between these two men? Competition for the presidency of any given country is serious business, so potential candidates will always put their best foot forward while trying to fend off their opponents. If we want to get to know the candidate and get past the dogma and rhetoric, we have got to understand their psychology to appreciate their level of maturity. Further, experience has taught us that pleasant and articulate politicians like the former President do well in campaigns even if they are incompetent and unfit for the job. It is therefore critical that Ghanaians evaluate these two men accurately and appreciate their truest selves in order to make an informed decision as to who is best equipped to lead Ghana after President Nana Akufo-Addo. 

Further, as the main contenders in the 2020 elections, one would expect President Akufo-Addo and former President Mahama to be at each other’s throats, but due to the difference in their goals and objectives the battle line is now clearly drawn between President Mahama and Vice President Bawumia. The incumbent President, Nana Akufo-Addo, is now more concerned about maintaining his hard-earned reputation as an incorruptible leader and passing the torch to someone who can preserve his legacy as he winds up his long and enviable political career.  Despite his shaky start in politics, Vice President Bawumia has now earned the role of heir apparent and has to fend off former President Mahama in order to preserve his mentor President Akufo-Addo’s legacy and his own manifest destiny.

President Mahama’s campaign is struggling against this tide. Notwithstanding, President Mahama is a formidable opponent.  He is a very outgoing man and a charming politician. He has the money to run a tough campaign. For these reasons, as well as his personality, President Mahama is still a force to be reckoned with. The only fly in the ointment is Vice President Bawumia’s appeal to President Mahama’s support base. As Vice President Bawumia rises in popularity, President Mahama’s chances of maintaining his electoral support in the Zongo and minorities communities is increasingly looking like a mirage. 

Further, the floating voters in Ghana do not choose who to vote for based on personality alone. Instead, they tend to choose a candidate who shares their values, wants to solve problems and has the competency to deliver. They are looking for a good leader who can adopt a holistic approach to governance—a visionary and a proven executive, a leader who understands the big picture and how to strategize to accomplish the desired outcomes. Thus far, President Akufo-Addo and Vice President Bawumia have demonstrated this kind of leadership. 

A leader who can manage complex tasks that require multiple forms of intelligence and innovative strategies to accomplish the desired outcomes is precisely the kind of leadership that Vice President Bawumia has provided in his supporting role to the President. Once again, the proverbial fly in the ointment is that as President Akufo-Addo winds down, the heir apparent is clearly capable of taking over where he left off, thereby limiting the political space in which President Mahama can manoeuvre. 

In their past two and half years of governance, both President Akufo-Addo and Vice President have redefined the presidency and demonstrated that qualities like integrity, hard work and discipline matter.  Charm and youthfulness are not enough in the current Ghanaian political discourse.  Thus, if President

Mahama wants to compete in the 2020 campaign; he has to rise to the level of President Akufo-Addo and Vice President Bawumia.  He has to mount a campaign of ideas and substance, as their governance approach and leadership qualities have elevated the standards by which Ghanaians now evaluate their leaders. For now, it appears both President Mahama and his NDC cannot compete on the level of ideas and competency and are merely wishing them to fail in order they may succeed;  therein lies their schadenfreude. 

The writer is based in Canada

By Kwame Abrefah