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Opinions Sat, 24 Sep 2011

Presidents Rawlings And Kuffour, End The Era Of Errors

On the morning of September 21st 2011, I woke up with mixed emotions. But the strongest emotion I felt was pride. The previous day Ex-President Kuffour had cut the sod for the John Kuffuor Foundation for Leadership, Governance and Development project at the University of Ghana, Legon. Among the dignitaries who accepted the invitation and attended the ceremony was Ex-President Rawlings. It is not a secret to the wide world that the relationship between the only living former presidents of Ghana is anything but cordial. Unfortunately this is what we are stuck with in one of few countries in Africa with ex-presidents, one of whom handed power peacefully to the other. This confrontational relationship between these former presidents is a reflection of the relationship that has existed between the two main political traditions of the Ghana since the fight for independence accelerated with formation of the Convention Peoples Party from the UGCC.

Since then, the Danquah/Busia tradition (the UP) did everything including the use of violence to make it difficult for Nkrumah and the CPP that finally led to his overthrow by elements sympathetic to the UP tradition. As a way of confronting the violence, Nkrumah also resulted to some dictatorial tendencies including detection. This widened the relationship between the two parties further and the resulting confrontational attitude has been passed on from generation to generation to the Fourth Republic.

In other words, although, democracy was seen as the only means by which the appointment of a government can be regulated peacefully in the independent Ghana, the call to political competition (for example, in election campaigns) often led to an escalation of underlying tensions between the two parties leading to clashes between their leaderships and militant supporters. The second cause of the non-cordial relationship between the two former presidents is along the ideological paths taken by the two parties and the resulting innate mistrust and rivalry that are associated with left-leaning and right-leaning ideological blocks. The result is that one tradition will always find fault with any programs embarked by governments of the other tradition. During Rawlings rule including the democratic section of it, the NPP was one of his main adversaries, sometimes going beyond ordinary criticism to making governing difficult for him. Things became even worse after NPP took over power. The Rawlings family and anybody associated with them, particularly, people who held some form of political power were persecuted and prosecuted. Naturally, when the NDC took over power from the NPP, it was seen by the Rawlingses as payback time and everything was done including boom speeches to get the Atta Mills government to go along.

The passionate dislike and animosity that developed between the two leaders made compromises between the two parties difficult and accelerated the polarization we are seeing in the country right now. In fact the present wrangling between the Atta Mills’ government and Nana Konadu and the disunity in the NDC right now can be traced to the refusal of the Mills government to be involved in the “war” between the two former presidents. President Mills’ unwillingness to deal seriously with abuses by the government of President Kuffour and to pay back the persecution of the Rawlings family and followers probably has done more to contribute to the disunity.

So that single and simple show of solidarity of President Rawlings with President Kuffour on his day of honor is awesome and has made Ghana stronger, and it is time for the two leaders to lead the country to end the era of political persecution because to me it is an era of errors. The country never benefited from it and great patriots lost their lives and others were expended just to appease our anger and satisfy our vengeance. As the only surviving former presidents, treating each other with respect, diplomacy and conciliation in spite of all that has happened between them will be the best legacy they can leave the country. That is the least we can ask of them.

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How wonderful it will be if the world will see them working together on projects for the good of the world and man. We don’t need a visionary to tell us how good the people of Ghana will feel and how strong Ghana will be if these two leaders show solidarity to each other. Ghana will be stronger because we are always a strong people and country. We need their cooperation and leadership in solving the culture of insult and the polarization in the country where every issue between the two parties is treated with violent confrontation.

In Ghana, the problem with the use of violent confrontation strategies is that they quickly escalate to the point where the parties' only concerns are victory, vengeance, and self-defense. In these cases, the moral arguments of people who are being unjustly treated become irrelevant. What matters is that they have used violent strategies and their opponents are, therefore, justified in a violent response. This problem is complicated by the fact that both sides are usually able to argue that the other side started the violence. And it goes on and on.

In frustration, it is only natural that we often turn our focus away from the challenge of doing something about shared problems, and turn our attention towards describing each other’s limitations with insults. We are experts at pointing out the ways our fellows are constrained by the particularities of their perspective, their ideological and party commitments, their theoretical background, their self-interest, and their lack of understanding. Unwilling to dwell in a fractured world of multiparty democracy, we retreat to the comfort of social, intellectual and party islands where we share with peers a common language and set of categories. Alternatively, we exercise whatever form of power is at our disposal to impose a singular problem understanding or plan of action, in essence declaring: “this is the solution!” as if by command we could make it so.

Nevertheless, if there is to be any hope of making progress on the problems that will unfold in our own lifetimes and the lifetimes of our children, neither intellectual retreat nor singular party domination are useful responses to the frustrations that arise when multiple partial perspectives fail to coalesce into a unified understanding. Instead, we must find ways to collaborate in spite of conceptual dissonance and lack of a unified understanding. This does not mean succumbing or abandoning principle. It means wisdom does not lie in only one head.

Today, I find relief and closure as I take a step back to remember all of those Ghanaians who were subjected to political violence and were beaten or killed for having different political beliefs or belong to different political parties. I hope this meeting will set the stage for a new phase of relationship between the parties and their leaderships and particularly between their followers. Despite considerable socio-economic hardship, Ghanaians have shown an admirable willingness to carry out reforms and to let democracy-orientated institutions and structures flourish. The Global economic uncertainty and our own sociopolitical problems and our lack of moral compass to deal with these complexities, encourage the search for scapegoats usually from the previous governments and opposing parties. Their solidarity with each other will go a long way to show Ghanaians and the world how far Ghana has come and our vision of the future. We may be living in a problem and under developed zone of the world but the Ghanaian is has a high moral character and a very civilized man. My call is not to ask any of them not to express his opinion or concern about matters affecting the country and in a forceful manner he may feel. Rawlings still has a militant and revolutionary character and as members of parties with different ideological orientations, they may not agree on any program or ways of implementing any program. That is understandable and fine with Ghanaians. The discussion of their dissenting views will be good for the country to reach consensus. While we all might not agree with each and the other party’s policies, we must respect each other’s right to have those opinions and to be able to express them. What we may not encourage is for us to “do” each other particularly in public.

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Our old ladies admonish us to know that if one builds a system to prevent one’s fellow man from achieving nine, the system will not allow one to achieve ten. The proverb does not mean ganging up against the people, but it is a call for collaboration with each other so we can overcome our own partiality for the common good.

It is heartening to learn that Ex-President Kuffour has established a foundation for leadership training. But the best form of training of leadership in Ghana is for us to have the opportunity to learn from the Rawlingses, Kuffours, and Kofi Annans of Ghana. We want to have future leaders who can seek and inspire broad participation from citizens and restore the shared sense of opportunity, privilege, and responsibility underlying civic participation in a democratic society.

What we don’t want is leadership that ignores our interests and nullifies the fundamental premise of democracy – a nation that encourages the full participation of the citizenry in government. In other words, a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

So Presidents Kuffour and Rawlings like your single gesture of acknowledging each other be the beginning of the end of the era of errors. Ghana deserves better.

Kwame Yeboah gyeboah@harding.edu

Columnist: Yeboah, Kwame