Home / ARTICLES / Mahama’s “do or die” comment: the perceptual conflict it has raised, the dictionary meaning and the reality from the Ghanaian perspective.

Mahama’s “do or die” comment: the perceptual conflict it has raised, the dictionary meaning and the reality from the Ghanaian perspective.

Ex-president John Dramani Mahama speaking on Techiman-based Akina FM on Tuesday, September 7, 2021, as part of his thank-you-tour, said he has learnt lessons from the 2021 elections; hence 2024 elections is a “do or die” at the polling stations. This comment from Mahama brought a lot of castigations against him.

In a quick response, Mahama said on Moonlite Fm that the phrase ‘do or die” from the dictionary means a critical assignment that you have and that you must do the needful or perish.

He further added, “maybe NDC will select a different flag bearer who is ready to go to court after the 2024 elections, but if I am the candidate, I won’t go to court. We are going to settle everything at the polling station”.

Gallant cadres of NDC such as Asiedu Nketiah rushed to its defence. You can consult the dictionary if you still don’t understand Mahama’s ‘Do or Die’ English – Asiedu Nketiah.

However, a section of the populace holds different opinions about the statement.

According to some schools of thought, in the context of African elections? Context is everything. Come again. Let’s be unbiased. “Do or die?” said in the context of exams isn’t as alarming as in the context of an (African) election. The context is the issue, not the idiom. Idioms have denotative and connotative meanings. If Kotoko says this match is a do or die affair, from one view, it means that they will put in frantic efforts to win the match. It could also mean that either they win or they lose but hurt some of the opponent’s players? You cannot be explicit in determining the meaning of idioms. To them, Mahama should value the essence of context. And not present his illustrations as simplistic as they are but he should know better that any of those statements made concerning an African election can not be merely overlooked.

Other schools of thought also say that “Mahama will live to regret his defence to that unfortunate statement. In politics and public speaking, one thing you should be mindful of is ambiguity.
You don’t tell me what you mean, I decode what you say”. It’s rather unfortunate that Mahama wants to teach semantics.

A lot of meanings have been made out of Mahama’s statement. Nana Poku Frefre understands the statement as it’s either Mahama is declared winner in 2024 in case he contests or he plunges the country into chaos since he is not ready to go to court, hence the beating of war drums and usage of fear to have his way back to power.

“I heard you explain that what you said was an idiomatic expression. You’re a communicator, and I know you are well aware that the words we speak have denotative and connotative meanings. To the average angry and desperate party fanatic on election day, a “do-or-die” charge at the polling station is a vague and deadly war chant. Your idiomatic expression could be heard as an idiotic expression and translated into violence. John Mahama, elections should not be a “do-or-die” affair. John Mahama, you don’t need violence to win the next election. You and the NDC only need to be told the bitter truth. The NDC was careless (if not stupid) in the 2016 and 2020 elections. You could not account for your votes”- Manasseh Azure.

The pertinent question is, why have a section of the Ghanaian people attached violence to the phrase ” do or die”. The answer is simple, perception. In the Ghanaian context, anything that has death content in it is not simplistic. This has resulted in perceptual conflict among Ghanaians. For example, if you happen to come across a group of people wailing and filing past a coffin, what will be your impression?

The evolution of conflict in many communities is a result of perceived and objective incompatibility by a person or persons or group of persons over interest, values, needs, data and relationships, which may destroy an opponent or self.

This is why many Ghanaians including Dr Brakoh, a political science lecturer at the University of Education, Winneba have called on the ex-president to retract his statement instead of using defensive mechanisms. He described the comment as inappropriate and disingenuous, a comment he believes has the tendency of threatening the security of Ghana ahead of the 2024 general elections.


Decode the dictionary meanings below and ask yourself if it means the same about decision meaning. 


Said when you are in a situation in which you must take a big risk to avoid failure.


Of or involving a determined and sometimes a reckless effort to succeed


Involving a potentially fatal crisis or crucial emergency.


Words are very powerful, and what we speak means different things to different people in different environments. What may be seen as normal in one’s cultural environment may mean different things to people in different cultural environments.

As leaders of the country, it is advisable they choose wholesome words, and not one that has the tendency to cause trouble.

Curses, like chickens, come home to roost. And  the danger of creating a monster is that one day it will turn against its master. The “do or die” has become a monster.




Prince Ayerakwa


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