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Did mate Bawumia sleep on the job for the driver to end up in the ditch?

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Ghana’s second most powerful man on Wednesday joined the ranks of the ubiquitous conductors on our commercial buses—trotro— to sell himself to Ghanaians ahead of election 2024. Dr Mahamudu Bawumia, the Oxford-trained economist, literally joined the league of the ‘aplanke,’ the Ga word for the men and women, also known as mates, who control affairs on trotro while the driver focuses on the wheel.

“As Vice President I am like a driver’s mate. But if, by the Grace of God, you make me President, I will be in the driver’s seat with constitutionally mandated authority to pursue my vision and my priorities,” he told cheering New Patriotic Party (NPP) members and supporters in Accra. The strategy was ostensibly to purge himself of the sins of the Akufo-Addo administration.

Facing a referendum on December 7 on the tenure of the administration in which he was more than Akufo-Addo’s cheerleader, Dr Bawumia’s use of the allegory of a mate and the spin he gave it makes it a political concert with a borrowed chorus from dancehall artist, Shaggy’s hit song, “It wasn’t me”.

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Music reviewers say Shaggy claimed that the message behind the evergreen song more than two decades ago had been misunderstood for years. It is exactly the way I feel about Dr Bawumia’s aplanke analogy.

I am no economic expert, but I have expertise in the work of mates. Until seven years ago, trotros ran my mobility. This was before I bought my first car, a Toyota Corolla that had seen better days, and defiantly left me in the middle of the road on a number of occasions. So, I’m well versed in the work of the trotro mate. It varies but there are certain things that remain constant.

In every trotro, the mate has the responsibility to collect fares, ensure passengers receive change and keep law and order in the bus. However, it is not uncommon for some mates to contribute to the chaos on board.

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Mates are also in charge of filling vehicles with passengers. They strategically know where to direct the driver to stop and load passengers. A bad mate could end up with an empty car. A careless mate could cause the driver to lose money and ultimately result in the driver not being able to fulfill his financial obligation to the car owner. The driver could end up borrowing to even buy fuel for the next day’s journey.

With my experience as a driver now and trotro passenger, good trotro mates don’t limit themselves to financial sustainability, they also ensure the safety of the vehicle and passengers. I can’t count the number of times they used body language to help the driver switch lanes. The notorious ones even help drivers reverse on highways.

These roles are akin to that of Dr Bawumia’s responsibility as the head of the Economic Management Team. He is the government’s chief economic advisor which meant that he was supposed to ensure the economy is healthy and not as ailing as it is now.

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In collecting the fares, mates ensure that the balance sheet of the vehicle is kept clean for the driver to pay for fuel and the daily sales that must go to the car owner, and on good days collect enough to make his boss happy. On the campaign trail, Dr Bawumia made us believe that as a former Deputy Governor of the Bank of Ghana, he knew where to find money and that we needn’t borrow. But in office, Dr Bawumia, the able mate supervised perhaps the biggest borrowing spree in the history of Ghana.

In their effort to hoodwink us into believing the infallibility of Dr Bawumia, his handlers have told us, albeit subtly that the finance minister, Ken Ofori-Atta, is overbearing and more powerful than the vice-president. However, the latter’s posturing and utterances over the years until the crisis kicked in did not depict someone who was playing second fiddle in an administration in which he was supposed to be the economic guru.

As he attempts to deflect his contribution to the economic mess while taking credit for the dividends of digitalisation, Dr Bawumia forgot that he is the driver’s mate who posed 170 questions to the mate who previously handled affairs in the same car some years ago. It appears karma has been on steroid with our eloquent Veep whose 170 questions followed the late Vice-President Paa Kwesi Amissah Arthur to the grave. And if a driver works with a mate with a greedy appetite for stashing cash away unnoticed or insatiable appetite for snacks, the trotro’s account suffers as the national economy would do if we had a corrupt Vice-President.

In an attempt to battle and contain widespread disillusionment with his performance in the role, Dr Bawumia is further damaging his standing. In the last four years that the economy has been on the backfoot, the Vice-President has struggled to seize the initiative on issues that give the average Ghanaian migraine—the cost of living, taxes, lost investments among others.

Dr Bawumia wants us to believe that in 11 months to come, e-levy, sports betting among other taxes won’t be necessary. He also wants us to believe that he could grant tax amnesty and wave off taxes under an International Monetary Fund programme that requires that we spend less and collect more taxes to pay off our debts.

In the midst of an economic crisis, Dr Bawumia’s bid for the presidency carries with it the weight of accountability and leadership. However, his reluctance to accept responsibility for the economic turmoil, despite heading the economic management team, casts doubt on his credibility. By distancing himself from his role in steering the nation’s economy, he reveals a lack of accountability and leadership integrity, which undermines public trust. This evasion of responsibility not only reflects poorly on his appeal but also raises questions about his capability to navigate the country through future challenges.

As a voter, I see his reluctance to own up to his role in the economic downturn as a sign of weakness and opportunism rather than genuine concern for the nation’s welfare. Moreover, the Vice-President’s refusal to acknowledge his part in the economic crisis highlights a disconnect between his actions and the reality we face as citizens. His attempt to shift blame onto others within the economic management team may further erode public confidence in his ability to lead effectively. Can we trust him not sleep on the job just as he did as a mate?

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Dickson Ofori Siaw
Dickson Ofori Siaw
Dickson Ofori Siaw is an experienced Ghanaian journalist who has worked with credible news outlets, including where he serves as the Head of Content and Editor-at-Large. He also serves as the Editor at
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