By Boakye Nyamekye (Speech Forces Ghana)
There are those who pin it down to Napoleon Bonaparte. That it took him a 100 days to return from exile and seize his throne, reinstate himself as ruler of France, wage war against the English and Prussian armies before his last stand at the battle of waterloo.
However, in participatory democracy, the earliest evidence of the first 100 days of a president can be traced back to Franklin Roosevelt a US President who was considered to have led them out of the great depression in the 1930’s. The term was coined in a radio broadcast to the nation although he was referring to the special hundred day session of congress he called for rather than the first 100 days of his presidency. He believed that he had a responsibility to pull America out of depression which he attributed to the wrongs of the Herbert Hoover administration. His four main priorities were to get Americans back to work, protect their savings and prosperity, provide relief for the sick and elderly and get industry and agriculture back on their feet. Within the period, he got more than fifteen bills through congress and these bills became known as the New Deal. Many people considered the new deal very successful as they created employment for the jobless and used agriculture as a base to stabilizing the economy. Critics who were republicans and big businesses felt it was too expensive and increased government wage bill in a way they did not approve of. However Roosevelt was largely considered an over achiever hence being elected to office for four separate terms by the American people; the longest serving US President.
Ever since then, the first 100 days of a president have been used to measure the successes and accomplishments of a president at the time when his power and influence are at their greatest. This theory has held in a lot of places even in modern times though most African leaders like Buhari, John Mills and John Agyekum Kufuor have diluted the theory to mean a time when the media places little pressure on the president. In other words, a honeymoon of a sort. Leaders of today still make pledges of their first 100 days in office to the extent that it has become a critical component of the electioneering and policy discussion process. Donald trump has been no exception. In order to fulfill his 100 day pledges, he has signed more than a dozen executive orders ranging from repealing affordable care act popularly known as Obama care to the widely criticized seven nation ban. He has almost set up his entire cabinet and appointments and shown a strong discipline to go through with his campaign pledges. His cabinet is criticized as a congress of billionaires and his executive orders have been critiqued for its implementation. Of all the criticisms though, none can describe him as anything less than action oriented.
Take a short trip down to Nigeria in 2015, Buhari successfully unseated a sitting president Goodluck Jonathan. Expectations were high after his numerous campaign pledges and his specific hundred day goals. After a 100 days all he had earned was the nickname Baba –Go slow which is to wit, a man of very little action. His main campaign pledge of fighting corruption and restoring the economy stood at parallel. For corruption, a large number of property seizures and discovering looted state funds that were diverted have carried the headlines while his decision to pick his cabinet carefully so he gets clean hands has earned him praise though it begs the question of how the country was being run then. However for the economy, he had more excuses than solutions. The popular excuse given for the slow start being that the first thing a doctor does for any patient that is rushed to the emergency ward for critical care is to stop the bleeding in order to stabilize the condition. It made sense then but almost two years down the lane, the people are not only lost on what exactly Buhari has done for the economy but are also literally searching for the president.
In Ghana, the story has not been too different, the first 100 days of John Kuffour ended with him achieving two major goals;
- Blaming the previous government for all the problems.
- Globetrotting to get Ghana to receive debt relief from various donors.
Indeed, his early relationship with the international community largely aided his government in fulfilling major campaign pledges and establishment of social interventions such as FCUBE, a national health insurance scheme among many others. He scored himself highly after a 100 days and declared that the media had given him no honeymoon. The story of his successor was slightly different. After having four years as an apprentice as he himself declared under President Rawlings and preparing for the next 8 years to take over as President John Atta Mills was largely considered to have had a very bad 100 days in office. He failed to stem what has been a characteristic feature in transitions with respect to property seizures and vindictiveness towards former government officials. Intense lobbying ensured that he could not assemble a full cabinet until late in his 100 days. Decision making had been slower than could be tolerated. Things got to a boiling point when the man whom many had considered the mentor and political boss of President Mills resorted to open criticism of the president. He publicly passed a vote of no confidence on the administration. No one could keep Rawlings from “barking”. The rest is history.
So the question becomes, why has so much priority been placed on the first 100 days. Is anything achieved outside this period any less important? Is the evaluation of a president within this period accurate and does it place them in a position to make badly rushed decisions even if they are skeptical in their quarters about how good it is for the people?
For most leaders especially elected into office, there is always a responsibility to send a strong message across indicating the kind of leader he or she is set to become. Mostly these actions are set to serve a purpose of clarifying a point or create dramatic effect. More especially for those who constantly made bold declarations during the election, it is to reiterate a particular statement or action identified with his campaign or person. Trumps ban that affected citizens of seven nations from entering the US was a typical example of this. Another class act in this is the Tanzanian President Magafuli. He was a relatively unknown quantity outside Tanzania. It didn’t take long for that to change. His headline stance on anti-corruption and anti-waste measures soon captured the attention of all. Within days of assuming presidency, he banned civil servants from travelling overseas, cancelled lavish independence celebrations and slashed the budget for a state banquet to mark the official opening of parliament. He made surprise visits to hospitals, firing the board of the country’s biggest hospital after finding patients sleeping on the floor. This set the roadmap for the Tanzania he sought to build. Sending across a strong signal in your first 100 days is one of the many important opportunities you are presented with.
Forecasting and mobilization
A tagline is given for many reasons. Aside the dramatic effect of it, it is a strategic platform to give people the opportunity to forecast the future of the country. American citizens had been held hostage by Iran for many months. Protracted negotiations by the Jimmy Carter administration failed to secure the release of the hostages. What seemed an impossibility was achieved few hours after Reagan was sworn in as President. His first major achievement just a few hours into his presidency sky rocketed his popularity ratings. That it was a diplomatic move by Iran to deliver the hostages to the new president did not matter much to the American people. The feeling that this was a president who was here to get things done led America into very happy times. He is therefore remembered by history as one of America’s best. Same with Magafuli, he won his elections by almost 59% yet after a 100 days in office, 94% of the people believed he was living up to expectation. Even in Zanzibar, the semi-autonomous island that is considered the opposition stronghold, about 86% of the respondents said they were satisfied with his leadership. Very little indicates that things can go sour for him as he is almost likely to go along this path and the perception surrounding his presidency will last a long time.
Today, Tanzania is seen as one of Africa’s brightest spots and there is a more riled up citizenry interested in working hard to develop the nation in concert with government’s efforts. Leaders who have ended their 100 days with a feel good factor have generally ended their tenure with relatively better performance than leaders who have begun slowly. That is however not always the case. On the whole, Buhari was viewed quite positively in his first 100 days. Ideally that would be the foreshadowing of a great future to come. But the story as we all know it is immensely different. The economy is fast spiraling out of control, there is a feeling of discontentment particularly in the south and even some northern areas. The ill health of the president has worsened matters and worse of all, Nigerians are searching for the man they voted for both figuratively and literally. His people are as disenchanted as they struggle to get a grip on affairs.
There are elections that come with the euphoria of an indepence day. It is generally disappointing and a step backwards especially for African countries where there’s little political awareness among the citizenry. It denies them of an opportunity to believe in government and leads them to postpone hope till the next election. Some never make it there while others become corrupted by the system. Voter apathy rises till someday the people lead a revolt or just die out.
May every 100 days be like Magafuli’s.
The writer Boakye Nyamekye Isaac is a social commentator, leader and a business solutions consultant.