Compulsory Leave Will Revitalize African Heads

Published on 15th February 2008

The health status of Prof. John Atta-Mills, Former Vice President and currently presidential candidate of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) has become a public scrutiny. In the face of his health inquiry, Atta-Mills, a former university soccer star and fitness addict has stated that he can run Ghana-wide. Like elsewhere in the world, an illness of a political leader means his political machinery is in trouble.


The health of Ghanaian leaders has been of concern to Ghanaians. Ghanaian political leaders project a high degree of robustness either for political enticement or to appear immortal. One time, some Ghanaians thought that the Asantehene Otumfuo Osei Tutu 11 had contracted severe sickness and died (as some have been saying of Atta-Mills).


"An illness to the president is not just a personal matter. It is a devastating public crisis," notes Jerrold Post, a political psychologist and professor at America’s George Washington University. From president Kwame Nkrumah (who played tennis and practiced yoga); Prime Minister Dr. Kofi Busia (who played tennis); President Hilla Liman (who liked strolling and played tennis) to two-time President Jerry Rawlings (who projected high energy, youthfulness, and strength, and did some athletics) to incumbent President John Kuffuor (who plays tennis), Ghana’s political leaders have not been taking leave off their state duties as leaders elsewhere in the world do.


Rawlings collapsed on state duty, due to exhaustion and fatigue, and was forced by his medical team to rest. President Kuffuor changed that by publicly announcing his vacationing for some weeks for rest. It is no doubt that Atta-Mills announced his going to South Africa for medical treatment. Initially, Atta-Mills and his NDC had said he had gone to South Africa on “a purely private visit.” As the speculation deepened, the NDC spinned that Atta-Mills was undergoing “a normal medical checkup” in South Africa.


Ghanaian political leaders have physical strains. President Jerry Rawling’s high fever and collapse while on state duty is attributed to the infection he caught while helping to clean a gutter at the Nima slum. Prime Minister Kofi Busia’s eye problem was worsened by his long-running diabetes, and has to travel to London, U.K for medical treatment. President Kufour was rumoured to have got cancer in his first term –a fact he quickly denied and has since projected immense fitness and restfulness.


The day-to-day demands of being political leader in an election year like 2008 are astonishing. Experts explain that sustained stress brings the worst in people. Nkrumah and Liman, for example, suffered from severe depression after their overthrow. Oftentimes, the political leaders' many demands can impair their mental health. Liman was allegedly disoriented by the sustained squabbling in the Peoples National Party that led to his overthrow in 1981. He allegedly withdrew to himself, resorted to heavy drinking and smoking and showed paranoid tendencies.


The Atta-Mills health buzz demonstrates the enrichment of Ghana’s developing democracy unlike the long years of one-party regimes (6 years) and military juntas (21 years) where Ghanaians couldn’t discuss their leaders in relation to their development process openly and without fear.






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