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Mustapha Ussif: President Akufo-Addo's consummate appointee shining in a dark zone

BY: Nana Frempong Manso
Youth & Sports Minister, Mustapha Ussif (right) being honoured at the 40th-anniversary dinner of the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa (ANOCA) at the Transcorp Hilton in Abuja, Nigeria in September 2021
Youth & Sports Minister, Mustapha Ussif (right) being honoured at the 40th-anniversary dinner of the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa (ANOCA) at the Transcorp Hilton in Abuja, Nigeria in September 2021

When President Akufo-Addo nominated a certain Mustapha Ussif as his new Sports Minister in his second term of office, many were those who were taken aback by the shocking nomination.

For a young man completely alien to the sports terrain, and therefore, a rookie in sports administration, those who raised doubts could not have been begrudged.

Indeed, there were two groups who raised apprehension; those who feared for the sports industry, being handed to an inexperienced hand at a crucial time and those who feared for Mustapha Ussif, that by sending him to the volatile sports Ministry, the young, promising, politician was being prepared for the slaughter house.

More importantly, however, there was a third group, in significant minority though, who welcomed Mustapha's appointment and believed he had what it takes to succeed at the Sports Ministry. This group was led by the President himself, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo.

By appointing Ussif to succeed the experienced Isaac Asiamah as sports Minister, at a time Ghana Sports needed so much attention and intervention, clearly showed the volume of confidence President Akufo-Addo had in the administrative acumen of his new Sports Minister nominee.

President Akufo-Addo’s confidence in Mustapha Ussif, surely, would have been inspired by the rave reviews of the young legislator's transformational stewardship of the National Service Scheme. But inspite of that, coupled with his assured delivery during his parliamentary vetting, I was still unimpressed by Mustapha Ussif's appointment, and I predicted a calamitous reign at the Sports Ministry.

I asked myself: if his two immediate predecessors, Issac Asiamah, and Nii Lantey Vanderpuije, who had considerable industry experience, didn't get things too easy, how could a novice like Mustapha navigate through the myriad of problems at the Sports Ministry.

But every doubting Thomas is usually humbled, and I am unashamed to admit that after over a year in charge of the red-hot Ministry, Mustapha Ussif has humbled me as a critic, and also reposed the huge confidence President Akufo-Addo had in him.

After informing the press what he has been doing so far at the 'Meet the Press' last week, I watched with admiration as Mustapha Ussif went through some interviews on radio and television. His composure and great delivery, especially on Asempa FM and Metro TV's Good Evening Ghana, cast him out as a man on top of his game.

In this review of Mustapha Ussif's reign as Sports Minister so far, three things stand out, which have significantly contributed to making him an outstanding Minister so far. They are relationship, innovation and results.

RELATIONSHIP
During his parliamentary vetting, I noticed the calm, composed and friendly posture of members of the Vetting Committee towards Mustapha Ussif. Even usually antagonistic members of the panel, including those from the minority side, appeared friendly towards Mustapha, who also reciprocated with a combination of humility in his posture and responses.

With this, I thought Mustapha Ussif as a man who naturally cherished maintaining relationships and humility. I thought, if he went to the Ministry with these attributes, and was able to maintain this humility and excellent relationship with sports stakeholders, then he might be on the right path.

From my observation as a critic, and the analysis of what sports stakeholders have been saying, it appears Mustapha has established and improved the relationship between the Ministry of Youth and Sports and many stakeholders of the Ministry.

It is fair to note that Mustapha's predecessor, Isaac Asiamah, did well to create a harmonious environment devoid of rancour between the Ministry and sports federations, but the hitherto, inexperienced Mustapha, has taken it a step further.

The Ghana Football Association, is notorious for mostly having rough relationship with the Ministry of Youth and Sports and Ministers, but it's quite obvious the Sports Minister has carefully 'handled' the GFA, by being tough when necessary, without running into battles with the GFA.

Recently, I read a report in which some heads of one of the so-called lesser sports federations commended Mustapha Ussif for being supportive to almost all the federations. The report said in the past one year, the Ministry of Sports, under the stewardship of Mustapha Ussif, has supported lesser known sports more than they have ever received in years.

For a Ministry whose Minister's have often been accused of overly concentrating on football, his attention on the so-called lesser known sports and offering them the required support is really a positive step.

And to succeed as a Sports Minister, understanding the workings of the Sports media is very key. I was sure handling the media would be a slippery ground, but Mustapha Ussif has been excellent in his relationship with the media.

It is not as if it has been all rosy for him with the media. He has really been battered on occasions, with a section of the media, characteristically going overboard sometimes, but he has always maintained his cool. This is remarkable.

Apart from the Media, I have been impressed by the way the Minister has reached out to retired Ghanaian sportsmen. Somewhere last year, he hosted a number of retired athletes at the Kempinski Hotel in Accra. That was impressive!

Bilateral Relations
I have taken good note of Mustapha Ussif's strategic moves to enhance bilateral relations between Ghana and other countries. Since he assumed office, the hitherto rookie Minister has made a lot of international moves and engagements with other country's Ministry of Sports, as well as with international federations and organisations.

The most recent one being his bilateral discussions with his counterpart in Saudi Arabia, and this week's meeting with Egypt's Minister of Sports, which I understand, has earned Ghana an anti-doping agreement with Egypt for regular free sampling and testing of Ghanaian athletes.

Leveraging on positive bilateral relations for mutually beneficial development programmes is essential in managing sports, and it is apt and commendable that the Mustapha Ussif realised this so early and has been making these strategic moves. It will make it easier for Ghana to have more friends in the international sports arena to fall on when key decisions, which require support are being taken.

The Minister's excellent relations with the international sports community, which he brilliantly initiated, has culminated in his appointment onto the World Anti-Doping Board as a member, representing the entire West Africa sub-region - the first Ghanaian Sports Minister to achieve this.

INNOVATION
One of the most challenging Ministries, bedevilled with huge financial burden, is the Sports Ministry. To succeed as a Minister and make some meaningful impact, a Minister needs to be innovative to raise more money, and also be innovative to achieve results, otherwise it will be business as usual.

Mustapha Ussif has been brilliant in introducing innovations. The key, for me, was the Presidential Breakfast Meeting with corporate Ghana, to raise money to complement government's funding of sports. At a time covid-19 had devasted the economy and government budgets were being slashed, it was a smart move to invite corporate Ghana for support through the Presidency.

To be able to raise about $2m through such innovation is commendable.

Also, the Minister of Sports, deserves commendation for leading the successful implementation of the electronic football ticketing with the Office of the Vice President. This is a game-changing innovation, which posterity will commend those who initiated it.

Mustapha Ussif and his Sports Ministry again, have showed their innovative best through the decision to adopt the hybrid approach for the Accra 2023 Africa Games.

When it appeared hosting the Africa Games was slipping through our fingers due to delays in construction, the Ministry came out with a masterstroke, to use existing facilities at the University of Ghana as well as construct some facilities at the site earmarked for the Games at Bortey.

Without doubt, this innovative idea by the Ministry, has saved the country serious international embarrassment that would have been associated with being stripped off the hosting rights.

I also understand Mustapha Ussif has instituted innovative ways of handling bonus issues for all national teams, including the Black Stars, and this has completely minimised the usual row over bonuses. A source told me that the Minister has made it clear to all involved that serving the nation should be of utmost interest, but he also ensures that all financial arrangements, agreed with any team, are fulfilled on time.


ACHIEVEMENTS
My third major highlight of Mustapha Ussif's reign as Minister of Sports, is achievements.

In as much as he has put in place the right measures and has also been working hard, the Yagaba Kubore MP must also be a man with extreme luck. It is quite impressive and remarkable the feats various national teams have chalked since he assumed office.

I remember when Mustapha Ussif took over as Sports Minister in 2021, there were calls by the media for Ghana to pull out of the Africa Under 20 Cup of Nations in Mauritania due to the outbreak of covid-19 and the difficulty in flight arrangements. But the new Sports Minister insisted Ghana would take part in an interview, and he went on to support the team by ensuring they flew to Mauritania on a charter Ghana Airforce Flight.

In the end, the Black Satellites conquered Africa and won the Africa Under 20 Cup for Ghana for the first time 12 years. That was the first major trophy under the government of President Akufo-Addo and the President must have been proud of his Minister.

Then later in the year at the Tokyo Olympics, Ghana ended a nearly three decade wait for an Olympic medal when boxer, Samuel Takyi won bronze for the country. At the same Olympics, a number of athletes impressed, as they broke national records.

Again, in football, the Black Stars atoned for their Africa Cup of Nations failure by qualifying for the World Cup in Qatar. Failing to qualify for the World Cup would have been a massive disappointment for President Akufo-Addo, as he would have been the most recent President in the 4th Republic, under whose government Ghana didn't qualify for the World Cup.

Presidents Kufuor, Mills and Mahama's governments all qualified Ghana to the World Cup and for a football enthusiast President such as Nana Akufo-Addo not to qualify, would have been a disaster.

In the end, the young man the President entrusted the Sports Ministry to, did not fail him. The President has his place in the world cup history and that is fitting, considering his love for football.

I have realised that Mustapha Ussif, in over a year, has led more delegations to the Presidency at the seat of government, probably more than any other Minister. From the Satellites, to Hasaacas Ladies, the Olympic Team, the Black Princesses and the Black Stars, each time the Minister has led these teams to the Presidency to visit the President or the Vice President, it is because some success has been chalked.

I am quite sure the President must be proud of his had work and success so far, but there is more room for improvement, and if he continues this way, Mustapha Ussif would end up as one of Ghana's most effective Sports Ministers.

THE WAY FORWARD
All has not been rosy for the Sports Minister, and there are many lingering issues on infrastructure and grassroot sports development, which he has to focus more attention on.

There have been concerns over the apparent stalling of work to complete the ten multi-purpose youth centres being built across the country. However, the Minister gave positive updates during his recent meet the press. These are important legacy projects for President Akufo-Addo and it is important the government ensures its completion.

Still on infrastructure, the recent hoohaa over the nation's stadium facilities have been quite misleading. The impression was created as if all national stadia are in total ruins. Contrary to this, again, as explained by the Minister at the 'Meet the Press', so much has been pumped into renovating these facilities, but they are being done in phases.

I want to urge the Sports Minister to ensure that work moves at some considerable fast pace, to ensure that at least the Accra and Kumasi stadia meet all requirements by CAF as soon as possible to ensure we have options for our international matches.

And when the renovation of the facilities are done, maintaining them should be of extreme importance.

Mustapha Ussif spoke so impressively about adopting a maintenance manual for our national sports facilities. If he is able to do this, together with the National Sports Authority, it will be one of his biggest legacies.

On grassroot sports development, I was getting increasingly concerned but my fears were allayed by Mustapha Ussif when he announced that the Ministry was shifting focus from sports promotion to sports development, with emphasis on grassroot sports development.

This is the way to go, and I urge the Minister not to make it a mere rhetoric. Our sports can only achieve sustainable development with grassroot development, combined with education.

Mustapha Ussif has proven to be a man of little words and more action, and I want to believe we will see more from him.

The Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and the FIFA World Cup in Qatar offer him more opportunities to put Ghana on a higher pedestal.

So far, so good for the man we all thought was too inexperienced to be on the hot seat. I have been proven wrong, and I have eaten the humble pie. I believe many others have.

The Sports Ministry was thought to be a slippery ground and a dark spot for Mustapha Ussif. But after over a year in charge, President Akufo-Addo’s consumate appointee is proving us wrong, standing firm and shining in a presumably dark spot.

Keep on, Mr. Minister. Stay focused and do your best for God and country.