Rawlings and Chinua Achebe’s lizard
Do you remember Chinua Achebe’s proverb of the lizard that drops from the tall iroko tree to hit the ground, nods its head, and praises itself if nobody will praise it for surviving such a mighty fall?
Former President Jerry John Rawlings may have a part of that proverbial lizard in him. He says that his nearly 20-year rule can be described as the best ever in the annals of the country’s political history. And his boast has sent his critics, including former President Kufuor, into a tail spin. Instantaneously, all of them are giddy with anger. Why not?
In an interview with a South Africa-based television station, eTV, he stated that his administration’s strengthening of institutions like the judiciary and the empowerment of Ghanaians qualified him as the best Ghanaian leader.
Here are his own words: “And my leadership, to be quite honest, I don’t know any other type of leadership that want to bring the best out of people… I will cite instances, the progress that was made within the judiciary, when people actually, you know, felt that they owned the political atmosphere.” (MyJoyOnline, Nov. 10, 2011).
He raised other main points to justify his claim, virtually revealing that no other Ghanaian leader had achieved as much as he did. As is to be expected, his boast has stung many people, including former President Kufuor, who has also ever made such a claim but is quick to condemn Rawlings for going the same way in self-adulation.
Now, we have a clash of two former Heads of State struggling to outdo each other in self-praise. They will not let the people of Ghana decide. I wonder where they place themselves in comparison to the Great Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah who sacrificed all that he had (mentally and physically) to wrest Ghana out of the claws of colonialism to give us the independence that we don’t know how to use to move the country forward. I wonder how they feel when they look around them to see the lasting monuments of the Great Osagyefo’s rule in comparison to their own structures and institutions designed to promote their self-aggrandizement. I wonder what they take Ghanaians for as they engage in this useless exercise of self-adulation!
I have no problem with what Rawlings is attributing to himself. Sometimes, self-delusion may sustain some people’s ego. Do we have to blame them? After all, Rawlings knows that he is admired for doing many things that have set Ghana on a path of stability to become the object of open acclamation by even non-Ghanaians. He has his constitutional right to project himself anyhow he wants to.
My main concern (which has all along motivated the articles that I continue to write to put him on the spot) is, however, that he has no justification to behave in his post-office life to destroy those very gains. I have persistently criticized him—to a fault even—because he doesn’t seem to know the difference between who he was while in power and who he is (or is expected to be) now out of power.
If he can separate both periods in his life from each other and behave accordingly, he won’t have so much venom hurled at him. Unfortunately, he has failed to see the difference and still remains fixated on having his way to call the shots, which is the cause of the friction and backlash he is suffering from!
His self-praise, to me, is acceptable at several levels which constitute the strengths of his administration. These strengths are mostly identifiable at the political level, which is why Rawlings was quick to talk about “empowerment of the people” as a major accomplishment. But a leader’s success can’t be determined by only “hardcore politics,” which casts serious doubts over the basis for Rawlings’ boasts. It takes more than “hardcore politics” to develop a country and improve the living conditions of its people.
Kufuor and others may have a problem with Rawlings’ self-constituted authority to praise himself. No matter how anybody assesses him, though, the truth about his obvious accomplishments cannot be denied. I was lucky enough to be an adult when he was in power and witnessed the bubbling energy with which he administered affairs to fulfill his death wish that he was prepared to face the firing squad if Ghanaians didn’t like what he had come to do for them for the second time. That was a foolhardy challenge to Ghanaians, some people held; but he pushed on till he left the scene after almost 20 years on the seat.
Within this context, let’s examine the positive aspects of his rule that might have emboldened him to make that claim. We must do so to determine how to receive his self-praise. We will lump together his rule under the AFRC, the PNDC, and the NDC for this purpose.
The AFRC’s rule was traumatizing but it has its eye-popping benefits, raising consciousness about the penalty for wanton misuse of the apparatus of state for self-acquisition. It instilled fear in wrong-doers and galvanized the youth to be part of national affairs. The PNDC sought to build on the ideals of the June 4 era and has its own implications for Rawlings watchers. Under the NDC, Rawlings’ attitude to governance has its own lessons for us to learn. All-in-all, these three different eras portray what Rawlings could do or failed to do, which provides the yardstick with which to measure the claim he is now making.
Rawlings accomplished a lot even if he couldn’t solve the systemic problems that have prevented Ghana from developing as fast as the people might wish. He is even appreciated all over the continent for restoring Ghana’s dignity and setting examples to be emulated in nation-building. No one dare deny him this credit.
I don’t know the particular yardstick that Rawlings used to compare and contrast himself with all the other leaders of the country; but I have a hunch that he might be focusing on only the political aspect to honour himself as he’s told us. We can gather from the news report that he placed much emphasis on “empowerment of the people” and other accomplishments that tie in with the June 4 mantra of “probity and accountability.” A mere matter of hardcore politics!
In fact, Ghana saw a new wave of governance under Rawlings, which opened the corridors of power to all manner of people, regardless of ethnicity, level of education, or political allegiances. This particular ability to accommodate all these diverse interests doesn’t support any attempt by anybody (including the host of the programme) to suggest that he used the tactics of divide-and-rule.
I will find it difficult to accept any allegation that he sidelined the Ashanti’s and some Ewes, and even disposed of some Akan ministers when he took over power, “causing a great divide in government” (as was indicated by the host of that programme). Yes, he appointed and dismissed people from office; but any accusation of tribalism against him won’t wash with me.
Ample evidence exists to confirm that Rawlings brought together all those whom he thought could contribute something to his administration’s efforts at developing the country. His appointees and PNDC or NDC functionaries came from all the over 100 ethnic groups constituting the social fabric of Ghana. He stands tall above all others in this regard.
Probably, those prominent opponents from some ethnic groups who found nothing good with his administration and, therefore, locked horns with him might create that impression; but let’s be honest to admit that Rawlings didn’t place any ethnic group above the others in appointments to office. He didn’t practice nepotism either.
Another issue about this interview was his long hold on power, which he justified as a means to empower Ghanaians. “I lasted for many years not because I was using the coercive machinery, but because we were engaged in empowering the power [people?],” he said.
As he explained, “Having become empowered, [the people] will demand accountability from you, will demand transparency from you, will demand integrity from you. How many of us in this position are prepared to render accountability to the people?”
Indeed, Rawlings wielded that much power and ruled for so long because he had put in place the appropriate structures for that purpose. More importantly, he enjoyed the maximum support of the civilian populace and unalloyed loyalty from the security services. He held power and teased his opponents asking him to hand over power: “To whom”?
Paradoxical though this assertion (deliberately gripping on to power yet claiming to be doing so to empower the people, who should be the ultimate wielders of power) may seem, it may be borne out by facts based on his government’s political agenda, which included grassroots activism.
Continued in the next installment…
By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor