Rawlings: The Putin of Ghana
By: Kobina Antobam
In a political sense, there is no denying the fact that former President Jeremiah Rawlings gave birth to President Atta Mills. The lone kingmaker, Rawlings, with his usually threatening demeanor, virtually shushed and hushed everybody up and handpicked Atta Mills as the National Democratic Party candidate for President, even when there were younger, equally or more qualified and physically more agile and vibrant candidates who, with the necessary experience, would have projected more dynamic leadership qualities as President. But Rawlings as always has to have his way. As a perennial angry soldier, Rawlings always expects fawning obedience; and when he is denied subservience, he will get to end of the world to get even.
After Rawlings completed his 8-year term and couldn’t legally run anymore for the presidency, he restlessly and helplessly sat and watched while the New Patriotic Party cliquishly pillaged the country. Rawlings’ hands were not completely clean either. With his unbeaten record of 19 years in the top leadership of the country under his belt, he knew what was going on with the NPP. He fretted and bit his lips and nails for eight long years until he was successful in bringing NDC back. After unilaterally picking Atta Mills, Rawlings crisscrossed the country and fervently campaigned for Atta Mills’ third election attempt. NDC was narrowly successful, thanks largely to Rawlings’ intense abhorrence and distaste for the continued rule of the NPP. With Atta Mills’ election, Rawlings breathed a sigh of relief. He probably told himself: “We are back in business!” But it was only his type of business.
Like a controlling alpha parent, Rawlings was going to run the country again by proxy. If he “sired” President Atta Mills then Atta Mills was going to have to do his bidding. Top on Rawlings’ agenda right after the 2008 elections was to haul in all NPP “thieves,” prosecute them, and severely punish them. A couple of resulting summary executions, reminiscent of the period of his military control of the country, would have been a welcoming satisfaction. He couldn’t legally implement his dream himself. So, he unceasingly pestered his “baby” Atta Mills to go after those “thieves.” President Mills justly ignored Rawlings because he had the foresight but Rawlings refused to foresee probable future reprises that could target him, his wife, Atta Mills, and NDC “thieves,” too. It was also clear that Rawlings hadn’t forgotten how the NPP hauled his dear wife to court and was prosecuted for causing financial loss to the state.
Despite the public (mis)perception of weakness, President Mills refused to buckle under Rawlings. It took a while before it sank in and Rawlings eventually realized that Atta Mills was his own man and not Rawlings’ baby anymore. Other posturing decisions by Atta Mills added to Rawlings’ separation anxieties. Soon after Atta Mills took office, Rawlings lost his principal residence to fire. It was a total loss and he immediately craved exceptional emotional and material attention that was not forthcoming from Atta Mills. From then on, Rawlings and his wife had had enough of Mills. The kingmaker had now become a determined king breaker.
Of course, the discerning Ghanaian population knew from the outset the weaknesses of Atta Mills as a candidate and a president. Just as much as the NDC tried to play down and hide Atta Mills’ health issues, so was the relentless sharp uptick in the rumors about his physical fitness. Also, the man is honest, smart and astute but obviously does not project a charismatic presence or speech; but that’s exactly what’s been missing since Kwame Nkrumah. Ghana has been craving for years for an honest, intelligent, devoted, charismatic president. One of the major blunders of Atta Mills, soon after he was sworn in, was his loud and showy attempt to appeal to the overwhelming Christian base by muddying his Christianity with public policy. Also, some of his handpicked ministers and staff were people from Rawlings’ past whom most Ghanaians wanted very, very far away from the center of power and away from the Christiansborg Castle. The Mills government kept making one mistake right after another, especially with his administrative appointments.
Among the many daunting issues that constantly dogged Atta Mills were the scandalous “gargantuan” [lol, Berko!] Woyome $50 million court settlement; the $10 billion graft ridden South Korean STX housing debacle; and the unchecked rush into an extreme national risk exposure that would mortgage the future of poor Ghanaians by entering the country into multi-billion dollar loan agreements with China. I still can’t wrap my head around all the rush to get us into these complicated debts. These are a few of the examples of the faulty steps and incompetence of the Mills administration.
In the meantime, Rawlings and his wife were right at the heels of the embattled Atta Mills. They wouldn’t leave Mills alone. The former first couple, constantly craving attention, embarked on a crusade of public humiliation against President Mills. If Rawlings’ unceasing public ripping assessments of Mills’ performance were not enough to crush him, the couple would dream up and plot an interesting coup. They would try to unseat incumbent Atta Mills before the end of his four year term by fielding Mrs. Rawlings as the NDC replacement candidate for the upcoming elections. The humiliating outcome from the overwhelming defeat of Mrs. Rawlings halted the couple only briefly. They couldn’t accept nor fathom, for all they believed they have done for so many Ghanaians, how their perceived supporters would reject and abandon them. They blamed the defeat on everybody else except themselves.
Soon after the NDC primaries, the irrepressible couple was at it again. Even when Rawlings claims to be the founder of NDC, he and his wife publicly declared that they would not participate in the campaign for Mills’ reelection. They even completely wanted out of the NDC if they could. If Atta Mills ever counted on the Rawlingses’ support, this was the very time Mills knew he was finally on his own. And to humiliate Mills more, after exhausting all options, the Rawlingses wanted to take the party’s name and logo away from the sitting government. Mrs. Rawlings demanded, at least, the discontinuation of the use of the NDC logo by the Mills’ supporters because she claimed she had the patented or proprietary rights to the design of the logo. And if that was not enough to hammer in the final nail to Atta Mills’ coffin and bury the President alive, ex-President Rawlings, as soon as the news broke about Mills’ so-called medical checkup trip to the U.S., sucker punched ill Mills by “formally” presenting the presidency to Akuffo Addo. If the Rawlings’s growing detestation for Atta Mills has never been clear to the general population, it is now brightly clear that the Rawlingses will not only sleep with the devil they know, but the couple will make their own comfortable bed available to their sworn political enemies, the NPP, in order to get back at their “prodigal son” Atta Mills.
Typical of a demanding, controlling, and autocratic parent, Rawlings has conveniently forgotten that he was once an idealistic, immature, politically unsophisticated youth of a soldier who picked up a gun and mistakenly thought that he could terrorize and kill in order to completely wipe corruption and his perceived injustices off the face of the earth. I often wonder if he has now been reflective with age and has realized in adulthood that, since shooting his way to power, he has been an abysmal failure at his violent attempt to get rid of corruption in Ghana. Rawlings’ legacy of violence and his deviant paternalistic treatment of Atta Mills negate any and all achievements he has to his credit. I wonder also if Rawlings is now enlightened enough and understands that corruption is worldwide and endemic. Corruption predates civilization. Even honest Kwame Nkrumah is on record for helplessly complaining about his inability to control his ministers’ corrupt ways. You can put a clerical collar on your own brother and call him a pastor and place him behind your cash register and delude yourself that your pastor brother will never steal from you. It never works.
The world is full of corrupt people, including Rawlings himself. All a country can do is to set up enforceable laws, incorruptible law enforcement, and credible and prosecutable control mechanisms and entrapments to combat corruption that can hold up in court. Generations and generations of killings have never deterred thievery and corruption. It will always be with us. Also, from what I have heard from my military friends, Rawlings’s 19-year imposition on Ghanaians has left a bitter taste in the ranks and strengthened their resolve to never readily participate in any future government overthrows. Rawlings’ 19-year reluctance to relinquish power has been the last straw for his fellow soldiers. If a coup plot were ever to be hatched by any foolish commanding officer, we might witness controlled internal revolts and armed rebellion against the idea. Thanks to Rawlings, the country has finally matured.
I have talked to market women in the Western and Central Regions who were dragged to military barracks by soldiers who were acting in the name of Rawlings’ hopeless cleansing revolution, stripped naked, beaten, and humiliated for selling kenkey at the same price prior to and during that so-called revolution. If you believe that Rawlings did succeed then what is the price of kenkey today compared to the prices Rawlings’ revolution violently imposed on those poor struggling market women? A paramount chief friend of mine has told me many times that he will never ever support or encourage his subjects to vote for the NDC. He and an overwhelming majority of his people vote NPP in protest only. His only reason is simply that unforgettable atrocities and bloodshed came too close to home for him and his people when Rawlings burst on the political scene. Close to home for me also was a relative who was an executive in a government corporation who was dragged from his home at dawn, half naked, to his office and, with a gun pointed at his temple, was forced to open the office safe. The three soldiers took all of the millions of the old cedis and foreign currency in the safe and told him that the money belonged to the government and, before disappearing, threatened that they would be back. They left, and were never heard of again. This relative was much traumatized and immediately found his way to a neighboring country, struggled there for two years, and returned to Ghana only when relatives assured him of his safety. The military officer who led that dawn raid now owns a huge building in the Cape Coast area. These were all in the name of Rawlings’ revolution.
A word of advice for Ghana’s kingmaker-king breaker Jeremiah “Putin” – We may always be fathers and mothers but at some point in our lives we have to stop being parents and allow our adult offspring, like President Mills, to make their own mistakes just exactly as we did when we were young. The relentless hounding of Atta Mills by Rawlings has been a selfish behavior of a control freak who has done as much damage as to help position the NPP for a clear win at the next elections. Rawlings is clearly an NPP success enabler. Youthful indiscretions can become tools for learning, but Rawlings’ indiscretions have not only been deadly but very unforgivable.
As Ghanaians, we are individually faithful in our belief of a higher calling. Besides our religious calling, we, individually, in spite of age, gender, education, or wealth or the lack of, nurse a calling and devotion for the good of Ghana. This is our only land. However, we all know that it is needless and it makes no sense to physically molest, terrorize, or kill fellow Ghanaians in order to pursue our beliefs and faith in our motherland. It is also necessary to constantly come down to earth from our lofty idealisms and accept what cannot be changed while working peacefully in search of all areas of practical improvement. Not unlike the tribal superiority complex ingrained in many ignorant and clueless Ghanaians, Rawlings’ well-known lack of humility makes him overconfident that his idealistic higher calling for Mother Ghana trumps everyone else’s. His demeaning and condescending treatment of President Mills has erased even an iota of respect that could have come from at least his peers.
Generations of Ghanaians are not going to easily forget or forgive Rawlings. He may attract blind support from drooling and fawning sycophantic bootlickers and ostriches now, but his claim to the country will pass on to future generations who will frankly and harshly pass judgment on Mr. Rawlings’ inordinate reign and during his retirement. Right now, he has either by default or inadvertently caused an intractable tribal schism in the country, and, by his silence and inaction, is nursing the simmering tension to his advantage instead of spending the rest of his life helping to correct or alleviate current social problems and staying far away from President Mills.
Despite Atta Mills’ faults, the one and only legacy that he should be proud of is his successful stare down against Rawlings. He has already won even if he loses the next elections. Prior to his election as President, many Ghanaians thought that Mills would be Rawlings’ lapdog who would only ask, “how high?” whenever Rawlings asked him to jump. In spite of his missteps, he has proven to Ghanaians that he is his own man. I am very proud of him, at least, for that alone. I wish President Mills well and complete recovery from his current medical problems.
Finally, a novel idea that I read recently about the next elections suggests an immediate step down by Atta Mills for health reasons in order to pave the way for his Vice-President John Dramani Mahama to run in his place with Samia Nkrumah as his running mate. It may be farfetched but, considering the recent public opinion polls, if that interesting suggestion can become a reality, it can jolt and enliven the country and the NDC base and present a formidable opposition to the NPP. If that reorganization can take place now and be successful, that would put the final nail in Rawlings’s coffin instead and sooner. It would not shut him up but he wouldn’t matter much anymore because we would not be able to clearly hear his rants and ravings from six feet under.