Feb 04

has mahama become isolated within his own cabinet?

(nb: this article was written before the al qaeda murders in burkina faso occurred.)


We have the US to thank for some very good examples of incisive ”political shorthand”. Body language; damage limitation; eyeball to eyeball; plausible deniability.

The expression to which I want to draw  your attention today is to “distance” oneself from a policy or decision which one’s position in Government or business would normally require that one supported.

When a Minister or other high official publicly distances himself or herself from a governmental decision, it may well be that he/she is suffering from a psychological blow which makes it impossible to hide one’s discomfiture over the decision altogether. One seeks a clever way to indicate one’s opposition without causing offence. But alas, that is a very difficult goal to achieve, for one’s sub-conscious would be dying to direct one’s tongue to rubbish the decision. Thus you hear people attempt  “damage limitation” (post-speech)  by claiming  that they “misspoke”, or were “misquoted” or that their words were “taken out of context”.

President John Dramani Mahama ought to note some statements attributed to no less than three of the most important members of his Cabinet, regarding  his Government’s decision to host the two ex-Guantanamo detainees in Ghana.
The first  is the Minister the Foreign Minister, Mrs Hanna Tetteh. Now, a Minister of Foreign Affairs should be one of the most respected members of any Government. He or she is supposed to have a grasp of both national affairs (so that he/she can explain her Government’s actions clearly to foreign leaders with whom he/she might interact) as well as foreign affairs (so that he/she can interpret to the Government, developments in the international arena that might directly or indirectly impinge on the interests of his/her nation.
To execute this dual responsibility well, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs supposedly provides its Minister with minutes or papers prepared on all manner of subjects by “directors” who have been in the business for a long time. These “directors” (often ex-ambassadors) rely on junior staff who are steeped in their subjects and who read everything about their areas of responsibility. The bright juniors draft the bones of the papers, which the directors, using their vast experience, flesh out and then send on to their Minister.

Directors in charge of research ( intelligence), economic relations and specific geographical areas are constantly
briefing their Minister on important developments, both at home and abroad. So unless the Minister is side-lining them for reasons only known to the Minister, there is absolutely no excuse for the Minister to be caught hopping – or floundering —  on any subject that relates to foreign countries.
I repeat that: there is absolutely no excuse for the Minister to be caught hopping – floundering – on any subject. Yet, please read this:
QUOTE: The [Ghanaian] Foreign Minister… in a radio interview, said the suspected terrorists were only ‘foot-soldiers’ of Osama Bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda. UNQUOTE

Does this not suggest that our Foreign Minister has not yet fully grasped the nature of terrorist organisations? Her director of   research or external intelligence must be kicking himself, for obviously, he knows that in a terrorist organisation, the most dangerous people are in fact the very foot-soldiers whom Mrs Tetteh dismissed out of hand. It is foot-soldiers who carry out the most dangerous form of attacks — suicide bombings. It is foot-soldiers who convey messages to and from their leadership to the general membership; it is foot-soldiers who obtain intelligence on military and police movements, as well as political intelligence, and transmit it – be it through sophisticated or rudimentary methods – to the leadership.
The leadership hides away, drawing up target lists and formulating plans on how to hit the targets. Then it communicates strategies and tactics  to foot-soldiers through other foot-soldiers. And all the world hears is BOOOOM! Boko Haram, or Al Qaeda, or Al Shabbab, or Anser-al-Din would have struck again, and done so with a pre-planned finesse that usually leaves no trace of the perpetrators. Foot-soldiers, Mrs Tetteh implied, are not to be feared. Sad. big joke, that.
Mrs Tetteh was also reported to have said this:
QUOTE: Foreign Minister Hanna Tetteh has disclosed [that] she was not privy to some of the details surrounding the coming into Ghana of two terror suspects. According to her, the decision was taken by President John Mahama in consultation with some security chiefs. Speaking to an Accra-based radio station 3FM, Hanna Tetteh said [that] at some point of the discussion, she had to be excused. UNQUOTE
I repeat that: “Hanna Tetteh said [that] at some point of the discussion, she had to be excused.”

This, I am afraid, is one of the most bizarre reports of how a government operates that has ever come to my knowledge. You see, normally, no communication can pass between two countries without their Foreign Ministers being fully aware of every bit of the information contained in it. No contact can be made, either – on a government-to-government basis – without the Foreign Ministers of the two governments being fully aware of what’s going on. So,, how can the Ghana Foreign Minister be excluded from the discussion of any aspect of an issue that concerns relations between her country and another country?

Of course, she is not expected to be told about the operational details of a military or police plan to house or carry out surveillance of the ex-Gitmo detainees during their stay in Ghana. But neither do I expect the President to be bothered with that. The security chiefs would draw up their detailed plans, and inform personnel of the government about them, on a “need-to-know” basis. But the broad policy decisions should be taken with the full participation of the Foreign Minister, in my opinion.

But maybe Mrs Tetteh wasn’t too interested in the issue, anyway? For she said at one point that the Wikileaks document that reported the correct status of the Gitmo 2, as determined by the US interrogators, was “not shown” to the Ghana Government by the US during the discussions that led to Ghana accepting the two. Isn’t that laughable? Did she expect the US that was selling an idea to Ghana, to open the horse’s mouth, as it were, and point the rotten teeth in it to Ghana? Did she consult her own research department before she went to meet the President and the Americans? Shouldn’t she have taken the director of research along with her to the meetings?
The Minister of the Interior, Mr Mark Woyongo, has also said something similar to what the Foreign Minister said: QUOTE: “Interior Minister Mark Woyongo says he was not involved in discussions on the two former Guantanamo Bay detainees who were recently transferred to Ghana. “I don’t know the details for their being here. I wasn’t privy to the discussions but maybe that can be found from National Security.”UNQUOTE

The Minister of the Interior is in charge of the police and immigration services. And he was not involved in the discussions relating to how two ex-terrorists could be settled in Ghana without endangering public safety?

Finally, the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice is engaged in a dispute with JoyFM, over whether she claimed, in a conversation with a JoyFM staff member, that she too was “not privy” to the decision to bring the two ex-Gitmo detainees to Ghana.
Of course, being a lawyer, the Attorney-General would be careful about what she said, and I do sometimes despair about the reporting of some of our media houses. Nevertheless, what the AG is reported to have said tallies with the statements made by her two aforementioned colleagues.
If that is correct, it raises the question: how can the government’s legal advisor not be asked to give her opinion on the issue of the resettlement of the Gitmo duo? There most certainly are legal implications over a decision to resettle them. We now know, of course, that both Occupy-Ghana and the NPP have jumped on the legal implications, pointing out that in bringing the two ex-detainees to Ghana, the Government has infringed Ghana’s immigration laws, in respect of admitting into the country, persons who are, or have been, and could still be — members of terrorist organisations.

Being the executive president of a democratic country does not permit one to override the intra-Cabinet courtesies and conventions that have been built up, in the past,  to shore up a country’s administration. In any case, as President Barack Obama reminded us when he addressed the Ghana Parliament in July 2009, a president must not act in such a way as to weaken the institutions of the country. It is these institutions that should give the president support in his attempt to carry out good governance.
For consider this: What happens if the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for instance, becomes negligent or apathetic over Ghana’s foreign relations, because its top brass have been made to believe that their opinions do not count wuth the presidency?

Certainly, to brush aside one’s Ministers of Foreign Affairs is careless; to ignore the Minister of the Interior is to court disaster and to close one’s ears to the Minister of Justice is to risk acting illegally and thereby committing treason.

These lapses do little to portray President Mahama as a statesman. And the “body language” of the Ministers appears to show that they would much rather “distance themselves” from their President, who has become, perhaps, somewhat ”over-extended”.


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