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The leaders COVID-19 will make or unmake

BY: Maxwell Akalaare Adombila
President Akufo-Addo
President Akufo-Addo

GHANA is enduring its share of a historic pandemic that has no known precedents of equal magnitudes.
The raging novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), which is a health crisis with multiplier implications, is testing the might of nations and the systems they operate.

Also on test, both consciously and unconsciously, is the fortitude of leaders.

As the people at the forefront of the fight to contain the spread and the impact of the virus, the work of leaders – their policy choices, management skills, deployment of human and material resources and execution strategies among others – will determine the impact that the virus will have on their people and societies.

Those choices will also determine how they will emerge from the pandemic; whether the crisis will be the best opportunity to forge them into and project them as great and distinguished leaders or it will dim their lights and illuminate them as virtually ceremonial figureheads who get drown in times of difficulties.

Positives and negatives
Like businesses, COVID-19 presents both positives and negatives to leaders.

An example is how the pandemic brightened the capabilities and chances of the Member of Parliament (MP) for the Ledzokuku Constituency, Dr Benard Okoe Boye, leading to his appointment as Deputy Minister of Health.

Although Dr Boye had the potential of occupying that position from the onset, it is safe to say that COVID-19 speeded up his elevation.

For those already in leadership, however, they either use it to cement their roles and endear themselves more to their followers or tare themselves with black brushes and live with the consequences forever.

Thus, how people in positions, including those in Ghana, react and respond to the crisis and its fallouts will determine the spots they will take when the dust finally settles and tales of the COVID-19 are being told.

Will they be heroes/heroines or inadequate heads? Will they be winners or losers in any post-COVID-19 assessment?

Leadership and crises
Most leaders are made in times of crises, no doubt but some can be unmade, and that is understandable.

In times of crises, people generally lose their focus and build up anxieties and fears that tend to limit their hopes and risk shuttering their dreams.

As a result, they yearn for a credible and a workable direction that can comfort them in the short-term, shine light on their darkest paths and ultimately move them out of the danger in the long run.

During crises, followers also expect brutal honesty, a clear and well-articulated strategy that they can believe in and follow, a tactful and results-oriented delivery and a charismatic posture from their leader.

In short, followers need leaders who inspire hope and build confidence in times of crises; those whose actions warm their coldest of feet and embolden them to march on.  

And when it comes to deployment of resources, followers expect that it must aim at and be substantially seen to be serving the collective good and not parochial interests.

It must be diverse and optimal; utilising all the best resources available to the group.

Leaders in focus
Who then are the leaders as far as COVID-19 is concern?

While the raging nature of the virus makes almost everybody a leader in the historic fight, the roles of some people make them automatic focal points.

President Akufo-Addo: COVID-19 is a battle ground and our arrow man is our Commander-in-Chief of the Ghana Armed Forces and President of the Republic, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo.

As the leader of the country, President Akufo-Addo has that rare privilege yet onerous task to marshal the country's resources – finance, human capital and intelligence – to combat the viral spread and mitigate its impact on lives and society.

How he gets the nation to react to his response strategy through his occasional speeches, the people he appoints and assigns responsibilities to and the policies he introduces and how they are implemented will be critical in any post-COVID-19 assessment of his leadership styles.

On appointments, the appointment of a former Deputy Director General of the World Health Organisation, Dr Anarfi Asamoah-Baah and Dr Boye as Deputy Health Minister will come up for mention.

Also of importance will be how the President will or will not sacrifice personal, political or a group’s interest for the national good in the fight against the virus.

As a global pandemic, the response strategies of other countries against COVID-19 also serve as automatic yardsticks in assessing any President and President Akufo-Addo will not be an exception.

Thus, when the COVID-19 storm is over, these and many more will be critical in determining whether the virus has made or unmade the President.

Coincidentally, the fact that President Akufo-Addo is mounting a reelection bid means that his leadership skills on COVID-19 will be scrutinised the more.

The Minister of Health, Mr Kwaku Agyemang-Manu: COVID-19 is a health crisis and the leadership style of the political head of the Health Ministry will come under the microscope anytime a post assessment is done.

Although there is a Presidential Coordinator for the government’s response, that office uses the structures, policies and resources of the Health Ministry.

This makes Mr Agyemang-Manu a person of interest in a fight of this nature.

Needless to say that how the minister handled the news about his contraction of the virus will feature heavily in any future assessment.

The Minister of Finance, Ken Ofori-Atta: What has finance got to do with a health crisis?

It has everything to do with it. Crises are fought using finances and those who mobilise and allocate the resources are the Ministers of Finance.

The issue is even murkier with COVID-19; the pandemic is threatening the very foundation of Finance Ministers’ jobs and their legacies – the economy.

That is why how Mr Ofori-Atta manages the economy in 2020 in the midst of the crisis will feature prominently in any future assessment of his leadership.

Also, his choice of policies, including the COVID-19 alleviation programme and the US$1 billion interest-free loan from the IMF, and how these are implemented will be paramount.

At a time when lives and livelihoods are at stake and the health system is stretched beyond measure, where the minister sends resources will matter most and the contribution of those investments in containing the virus and its impact will be key.

Minister of Information, Kojo Oppong Nkrumah: The skills of communicators are tested during crises.

In such periods, what they say, how they say it, when they say, where they say it, who said it and what the person wore to say it all play significant roles in how the message is understand and valued by the followers.  

As the mouthpiece of the government, Mr Nkrumah has an onerous responsibility to communicate to the people about the virus and the country’s response strategy.

How he does that and the avenues he uses to achieve these will be critical in assessing his role in the future.

In sum, the COVID-19 pandemic, like any other crisis, puts leadership on the limelight.

While others will emerge winners, some will be bruised.
In the second part, we will look at how the roles of public servants, other ministers and private sector people put them in positions that the virus can make and unmake them.

Former President Mahama: This is controversial but it is true; COVID-19 can make or unmake the former President and Flagbearer of the NDC, Mr John Dramani Mahama.

Conscious of this, Mr Mahama led the setting up of the NDC’s COVID-19 team, which is acting as a shadow to the government’s team.

This act reinforced his position on the COVID-19 fight, thereby making him a sure figure to assess when a post-COVID-19 assessment is ever done.

But unlike other leaders who will be assessed based on results, he will be assessed based the alternative options he provided or did not, how he whipped or failed to whip the government in line and how his public pronouncements on the virus and the national fight galvanised public support or resentment against the fight.

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