General News Wed, 20 May 2009

Rawlings' Speech At Oxford


Distinguished ladies and gentlemen the subject matter of security and democracy in Africa is thought provoking and interestingly, the story of our diverse continent.

Africa’s diversity was existent long before the colonisation of the continent and its subsequent partitioning leading to various regional and political blocks.

I need not bore you with the historical antecedents to the partitioning of the continent and the various security implications it had. Nevertheless the subject of security and democracy on the continent cannot be removed from the fallouts of the Berlin Conference of 1884.

I recently had the opportunity to address the African Presidential Roundtable in Berlin where the issue of land security was discussed. It was evident that colonialism (a partnership of greedy landowners and colonialists) had taken a great toll on the political fortunes of the continent as land security continues to be an albatross round the neck of many governments and indeed full-scale civil wars and other conflicts have evolved out of land insecurity. Lest I digress, it is important to first identify what security is. Security is the ability of a people to feel safe and comfortable within a certain socio-cultural framework. In this regard we can all understand the two modern security structures - National Security and Human or Political Security. National security involves protecting the state, its institutions and sovereignty. Human or political security entails issues of poverty, basic amenities, employment, and abuse of human rights and a host of others. How can we have security without genuine democracy? Since freedom and justice anchor democracy, how can you have the security of peace and stability when there is no freedom and justice? It is most unethical and politically unwise to attempt to govern a people by resorting to a high ratio of physical security as opposed to political/human security. Are we not violating people’s human rights, sensibilities and sensitivities with the use of the coercive machinery of the state by terrorising people into a State of subjugation?

The use of the judiciary also, to jail innocent people contributes to instilling fear and emasculating the populace. In effect, it creates a false and intoxicating sense of security for the leadership at the expense of the security and the empowerment of the citizenry. We then get away with being corrupt dictators. Integrity, transparency and accountability become meaningless in our leadership. Fear, intimidation and terror tactics are the tools of corrupt dictatorships.

On the other hand, a high ratio of political/human to physical security is a mark of good leadership and a demonstration of confidence in the sense of responsibility of our people. It empowers our people. If we have the courage to empower our people, it then demands of us a leadership that will necessarily be accountable to the people, be transparent, and maintain a high degree of integrity.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Ghanaians experienced the worst form of famine any country could conceivably endure in 1983 when there was widespread drought due to a lack of rainfall. Food insecurity aside, there was also insecurity associated with electricity. Ghana’s major hydroelectric dam almost dried up and the country had to resort to load shedding with its attendant negative impact on economic development.

Regional security in Africa has always been an important factor in the political directions of most African countries. Ghana belongs to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). We have other regional groupings such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC). These institutions have all played significant roles in the security of their various regions. Security cannot however exist in a vacuum but always overlaps with the political environment.

In Africa, democracy and security have always been bedfellows. The democratic system of governance relates to the free and equal representation of the people in the management of a country. Several exceptions aside, Western type of multiparty governance is the most adopted form of political system on the continent and I must say the major source of insecurity on the continent.

Democracy works only when it has evolved within a specific socio-cultural environment and fused into the traditional political systems such that it is seen as an indigenous product, but unfortunately Africa has not been given the opportunity to develop this.

In 1987 the government of the Provisional National Defence Council established the National Commission for Democracy with the task of seeking national consensus on Ghanaian political reform. Their final report hinted at a democratic system that was not multiparty based but on a grass roots system that encouraged elected unit committees district assemblies, regional assemblies and national assemblies - In effect, the continuation of the governing structure of the PNDC. The concept was more entrenched within the socio cultural fabric of our traditional political system and was aimed at ensuring that every citizen played a direct active role in national politics. The aim of our leadership at the time was to place utmost importance on participatory governance, where power belonged to the ordinary citizen. Such empowerment in an evolving political situation ensured stability because our leadership was under a constant challenge to do the peoples’ bidding and not capitulate to the whims of a select elite. Governance was demystified. There was a sense of social responsibility, respect for human values and transparency of governance.

Democracy is about what the people want and need, not about what the rulers think the people want or need.

The multiparty system of governance prescribed and inflicted on us by some Western powers did not factor the social cultural fabric of our traditional political system that existed before Western multiparty democracy. We can sit on our high horses and send observers to cover elections across the continent and they will return with lovely stories of free expression of the people’s will. What they fail to realise is the fact that many voters are influenced into voting in a certain pattern and are threatened with violence should they vote otherwise. Unfortunately that situation persists on our continent and we cannot play the ostrich, adopt democracy in the form that the West has handed down to us and expect that our security will be guaranteed. Democracy could be described as existing in name and form but without substance in some parts of the continent.

In developing Western style multiparty democracy on the continent, we have resorted so much to text book definitions which have been imposed on us and have refused to do a critical analysis of the impact such wholesale adoption has had on our societies.


Ladies and gentlemen, Ghana is one country that has gone through it all. I first took political office in 1979 when the military top brass had presided over one coup after the other and turned Ghana into a very corrupt state following the failure of the two post-independence elected governments to manage the country. The intervening military leadership did little to curtail the corruption that had been inherited and inflation and other economic indices were in a galloping state.

The insurrection of June 4, 1979 came close to a very violent explosion. It was an enraged call by the officers and ranks to purge the armed forces. Containing this rage within the barracks, in other words, preventing it from spilling into the civilian populace was indeed a herculean task because the civilian populace kept demanding for more executions and the blood of their perceived oppressors too. The shock and rage of June 4 appeared lost on some of the civilian politicians and their corrupt collaborators who took refuge in a state of self-denial.

When I became head of state again in December 1981, it was a desire for a revolutionary transformation by the people. The regime that we handed over to after the revolt of June 4 1979 had embarked on a punitive behaviour towards the armed forces and civil population. Our country had once again sunk into a political and economic quagmire that had little respect for the masses. The economy was in shambles; state institutions had become all but insignificant, corruption was on the rise again and the hope and expectation that had been ignited by the spirit of June 4 was virtually being undermined by the civilian regime.

Ladies and Gentlemen, what is democracy if there is no clear developmental order? People’s very existence hangs on good governance and if successive elected governments have failed miserably in defending the will of the people, it manifests itself in revolutions.

Ghana underwent political and economic metamorphoses that every true proponent of democracy has to concede, laid the fertile framework for what we regard today as a stable democracy.

The social sense of responsibility and natural justice in a non-constitutional era was so high that the judiciary were not needed to do justice to the people. The self-empowerment had led to a higher quality of justice at no cost – the courts had become irrelevant. The spontaneity towards natural justice gave true meaning to democracy.#

Ladies and Gentlemen, as the ten-year tenure of the Provisional National Defence Council drew to a close it became clear that economic development had taken seed. The infrastructural development that went with it was there to be seen. Electrification around the country had been vigorously pursued rising from about 25 per cent to over 80 per cent by the time we left office in 2000. In 2001 I handed over power to John Kufuor after serving a two-term presidency since 1992. I handed over gracefully even though the candidate of my party lost. The people’s will had decided that John Mills was not the man to lead Ghana at the time. I respected that decision and did not dream of taking power by force or passing a decree to entrench my stay in power. Need I mention the number of times it has happened elsewhere on the continent and beyond? In a lecture I gave at the University of Science and Technology, Kumasi on April 25, 2009 I stated that:

The stability and smooth transitions recorded within the first eight years of the Fourth Republic was a true manifestation of the will of the people and a belief in the leadership they had elected. No government is without its negatives and I am convinced that my government had some flaws but what was important was the fact that we were never alienated from the ordinary folk who elected us into power to move this country forward…

Crucially important for the successful management of any democracy is the need for leadership to allow institutions of governance to work effectively without interference. The Commission on Human Rights (CHRAJ), The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and all the institutions of government played their roles effectively. Indeed some members of the NDC government were affected by adverse findings by some of these institutions. Embarrassing, as these may have been it sent a strong message to all that democracy was really at work and elected leaders were not above the law.#


Early this year, Professor Mills of the National Democratic Congress was elected as President of Ghana. Eight out of ten regions voted for him. Our electoral system requires perfection, but it is significant to note that several firsts have been chalked since 2001 when Ghana first experienced one elected leader taking over from another. In 2009 we did it for the second time.

The election of Mills was preceded by an era of that I described in my April 25 lecture as follows: The election of the New Patriotic Party’s John Kufuor in 2000 gave further boost to the development of our democracy. Many had serious doubts about the intention of Rawlings to hand over power and respect the will of the people, particularly if his party’s candidate lost the election. Little needs to be said about the smoothness of the transition…

Contrary to the assertion that their tradition was truly democratic the NPP government was an excellent example of an undemocratic regime. Once you belonged to the party you did no wrong. Every effort was made to obliterate the P/NDC legacy and the institutions of government were so politicised that even when they took decisions against government officials such decisions were disregarded with impunity.

Ghana once again sunk into a democracy of nepotism, non-accountability, power to the rich and a complete disregard for the feelings of the electorate.

More dangerous was the abuse of the security services structure, the hounding and persecution of some services personnel, refusal to follow laid down promotion procedure and a complete politicisation of the military. The NPP could not co-exist with institutions with forceful integrity. The security services were not spared and the judiciary took a serious beating as well. Seeing shadows and recognising the fact that some of us were aware of the deepening crises in the barracks, a blanket ban was placed on respectable senior officers not to visit military installations including the police and military hospitals.

Fortunately Ghanaians knew better and did not hesitate to vote out the ruling party when it mattered most despite the clear doctoring of figures and tinkering that took place in a desperate bid to stay in power.

…the general populace was privy to the fraud that was taking place and a refusal to allow that to persist meant threats of a state of emergency and a culture of fear designed to compel the electoral commission to announce the incumbent as the winner. What was a better recipe for chaos than this?... The NPP took us to the abyss as far as democracy was concerned and such methods do nothing to deepen or entrench democracy. It allows for chaos, lack of confidence in the electoral process and political apathy.#

It is insightful to note that the previous government left a huge national debt of GHC 47 trillion when Ghana’s combined debt from Independence was GHC 44 trillion! Never before in our country’s history had there been such blatant dissipation of national resources. There was absolutely no significant infrastructural development to show for it!

Significantly, Ghana managed to stay stable because of the culture of tolerance that had been created between 1981 and 2000. These achievements are not due to pressures imposed by the West but a desire by a people to prove that peoples’ power is most sacrosanct.


Several countries in Africa survive on fragile democracies and these have led to several security threats some of which has spilled to neighbouring countries.

African governance and security has faced major challenges because of the imposition of conditions by certain western powers over the manner our various countries should be governed.

In 1982 Nigeria deported more than one million Ghanaian economic migrants in what was a major political and security threat to the very stability of the then PNDC regime. Rather than panic and plead for some understanding, we marshalled forces and received the Ghanaians with open arms. Shiploads of Ghanaians were ferried to Tema where they were transported by articulated trucks to their various towns, cities and villages. It was a test of Ghana’s resolve and a ploy once again plotted by Western vested interests to destabilise Ghana.

Indeed that singular event strengthened the power base of the PNDC as a government of the people because the manner the repatriation was managed confounded the harshest critics and sowed an atmosphere of patriotism never before seen in Ghana. The spirit of positive defiance was at its best. Many ‘Agege’# returnees with support from government went into farming and other local industries and contributed positively to the economy of Ghana. Security in the region was again threatened when Liberia was plunged into confusion in 1989 following the outbreak of a civil war. Though there was an ECOWAS Protocol on Mutual Defence Assistance some members developed cold feet when attempts at deploying an intervention force was mooted.

In August 1990 at a meeting in Banjul, Gambia, some of us impressed on our colleagues the need to establish a military intervention force, ECOMOG (ECOWAS Monitoring Group). The initial composition involved troops from a few countries from the West African region. The grounds for the establishment of the force were based more on a political and moral will, and the need to set a precedent than on a legal basis.

Under the leadership of General Arnold Quainoo of Ghana, ECOMOG had to fight its way into parts of Monrovia to create a buffer zone. Its intervention led to the United States and United Nations showing subsequent interest. ECOMOG had its major issues like every military intervention group but it served as a fillip to the international community as the United Nations then intervened and helped broker peace.

What was significant was that the political powers within the region had grown to appreciate the need for a regional force to act with dispatch when member states encountered situations that affected their internal security particularly because of the spill over effect. The war in Liberia was linked in so many ways to the war in Sierra Leone and both countries traded accusations over what each other was doing to destabilise her government. Regional stability is thus crucial and a permanent machinery to either prevent or manage conflict hence the initial idea for ECOMOG.


The media has played both positive and negative roles in democracy and security. With particular reference to the Western sponsored media, bad news about Africa make the headlines all the time and even in times of great achievements the negative aspect is highlighted.

Ghanaians could for instance not fathom why the Bloombergs, Al Jazeeras and a host of others chose to call Ghana’s last elections for the ruling party’s candidate when Professor Mills was leading the poll by a respectable margin. Back home Kufuor had over the past eight years sponsored a vociferous bunch of no-good journalists who had sold their ethics and were practising what I will refer to as stomach journalism. They aided in creating an atmosphere of fear and turned the NPP leadership into a quasi-dictatorship with power centralised within the presidency and all dissenting opinion snuffed out with the full weight of the sponsored media.

I must admit that some media houses stayed neutral and made great efforts to report the real situation on the ground. One station in Accra was brave enough to call the election for Prof Mills eliciting heavy abuse from the ruling party. The inevitable nevertheless happened.


Africa’s security and political stability is key for real socio-economic development. Security in effect relies on a genuine democratic culture. Significantly, directions taken by countries such as Ghana have served as a source of inspiration to many countries within the region and beyond. As leaders of our countries, we have a responsibility to gauge the mood of the people and always move the political train in a direction that ensures that the electorate feel their interests have been served. Democracy makes true meaning when it is the kind of governance that advertises true people power. It is not the absence of military interventions, which we seem to have achieved that will restore democracy, freedom, justice and development. What is required is the integrity of leadership and ability to empower the people. Leadership should have confidence in our people and not feel intimidated by empowering them.

Are we bold enough to empower the people? Are we prepared to be accountable to the people?

Corruption has persisted because our leaders have used state machinery to terrorise the people and silenced the opposition. Vested interests from outside have also contributed to perpetuating this by whitewashing such corrupt and autocratic governments.

In Ghana, the recent victory of the NDC is a strong indication that people are ready to lay down their lives for freedom, and has sparked hope that the opposition can stand up to the power of corrupt and autocratic governments. The uni-polar nature of the Blair-Bush years did little to improve the political situation in Africa. The growing culture of democracy suffered a serious setback.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Barrack Obama offers hope for the world. His victory is to some extent an indictment of the political immorality of the past and the savagery of capitalism as Pope John Paul put it. Obama’s leadership will now hopefully make it more difficult for governments to get away with the corrupt and autocratic behaviour since the fall of the bipolar world. Let us take advantage of the redeemed political morality before we lose this opportunity again.

Interference by some Western powers in African political affairs where corrupt and errant leaders are supported to consolidate their stay in power should be denounced in no uncertain terms.

When students and academics like you make an assessment of Africa it is important that you identify the underlying issues created by your own leadership and make calls to them to revise their posture. Democracy is democracy so long as it is propped by freedom and justice, probity and accountability. Our problem is having to deal with the Western double standards unknown to the public. We are clothed in the form while they live the substance!

I take this opportunity to thank the Oxford Research Network on Governance in Africa and the University of Oxford for the opportunity to address this august audience. Thank you to all who helped in facilitating this trip. Good evening.

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