Sylvester Mensah: Long Shot or Giant Killer?
He’s got youth, he’s got experience, and he’s got charm. He’s Sylvester Mensah and he could be your next president. Mr. Mensah easily reminds you of politicians like John Edwards (the John Edwards before his scandal): boyishly handsome, easily believable and exceptionally warm.
Mr. Sylvester Mensah is the dictionary definition of cool as cucumber. Steady but zealous; genial but indefatigable; cautious yet ambitious, Mr. Mensah is a man of reason, resolve and respect. For a position which presents some of the most combustible, tempestuous and vacillating circumstances, the presidency demands men of thought, restrain and tact. As an insurance and financial expert, this is not surprising; his risk aversion and guarded nature seems innate. Mr. Mensah has the right kind of temperamental balance for the Office; peaceful, humane and civil, he maintains a disposition that could see him claim the “asomdwoehene” mantra. This would probably mean fewer or zero unnecessary wars, sound economic risks (with the likelihood of lesser financial losses to the State), rational leadership, and guarded judgements. He would offer mature leadership and hopefully his composed or well-mannered disposition would make him a unifier, peace broker and advocate of decent, empathetic and compassionate governance.
Make no mistake: Sylvester Mensah may not possess megawatt status but he definitely has significant party clout. He’s politically experienced, has a political base and is considerably grounded within the internal party dynamics of the NDC. He’s a former parliamentarian for the La Dadekotopon Constituency, former Greater Accra Regional Youth Organizer, former Greater Accra Regional Secretary of the NDC and former Chief Executive Officer of the National Health Insurance Authority. It has not always been so but he is certainly now a major player with the coveted status of a “party big wig.” He is extremely well known among the party’s grassroot structures and has the enviable status of a giant killer dating back to the 1990s and early 2000s when he fought and won against the party establishment candidate to become general secretary of the party in the very important swing region of Greater Accra.
This brings to mind a few things about the political character and skill of Mr. Mensah: slow but sure, silent but deadly, calm but lethal. If Mr. Mensah were to consult me I would advise him to frame himself as an outsider with a common man story, who is ready to bulk the system—not necessarily at Donald Trump levels but there’s something in there to latch on to. He professes social democracy as his major political belief but my own introspection and analysis also reveals a belief in centrism, post-partisanship rather than the usual hyper partisanship, and bridge building. These are serious political traits that should be able to help assemble a particular kind of campaign for maximum effect. Let me stop here now before I give off any more campaign freebies.
Policy and Professional Expertise
Hon. Sylvester Mensah may be a political colossus but he’s also a consummate professional. Unlike some politicians who have made the political arena their sole and only concern, Sly has taken the time, effort and sacrifice to get a great education. His expertise is in finance, economics, banking and risk analysis. He has an MBA in Finance from the University of Leicester and a certificate in Political Economy from Cottbus Political College in Germany. Under his leadership, the NHIA won a United Nations Award for excellence in leadership for health insurance. He won an award from the IMANI Center for Policy and Education for inspirational public sector leadership. His core contributions at the NHIS include establishing the Consolidated Claims Processing Centre (CPC), granting “permanency” to the NHIA through the construction of national and regional office complexes, thereby reducing expenditure and streamlining the NHIA Act. His claim to fame as regional secretary for the National Democratic Congress in the Greater Accra Region includes the introduction of branch auditing within the party, an initiative which was adopted nationwide. As Member of Parliament, his major areas of focus included education (the La Dadekotopon Education Trust Fund), the reconstruction/rehabilitation of major roads, and the upgrading of the La Polyclinic. In short, Mr. Mensah is a technocrat whose knowledge in governance, finance and management will serve him well.
In addition, Hon. Sylvester Mensah has written a book which is not just an interesting memoir but a useful treatise in Ghana’s politics. That is a recognizable feat and an admirable contribution to political studies which he needs to be commended for. Mr. Mensah has slayed giants before (when he beat an establishment candidate for the position of Greater Accra regional secretary of the NDC) and he might do it again.
Dark Horse & Long Shot
Mr. Sylvester Mensah, though well qualified, is the dark horse in this race but so was Barack Obama before he become front-runner. Still, as far as this race is concerned, Hon. Sylvester Mensah is one of the long shot candidates. This means, his name recognition is low and may not have the same barnyard popularity as other mainstream candidates. Which also means that Sly has to work extra hard at increasing his name recognition which translates to more resources, campaign spending, sharper messaging and extra efforts to close the long shot gap. That would be no easy task especially with the likes of Spio, Mahama and possibly Haruna in the mix. Hon. Mensah has his work clearly cut out.
To be CEO of the NHIA means you’re in the cross hairs of Ghanaians daily. Sylvester Mensah and his organization have been vilified in the public domain over time and this does not portend well for his public image. In addition, the tenor of his exit from the NHIA, the BNI saga (storming his house and visiting the BNI on New Year’s Day 2016), the bank account freeze and the suspicion of false claim payments, all under the supervision/instigation of his own government dented the public image of Sly. Hon. Sylvester Mensah was later cleared and the Financial and Economic Crime Division of the Accra High Court ordered the release of his account but harm had already been done. His campaign would have to work hard to rehabilitate his public persona.
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