By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
February 17, 2010
To many Ghanaians, every misfortune is a blessing. Even before the Rawlingses regain their composure to start counting their loss, someone has whispered into my ears that their misfortune may be a blessing in disguise. According to him, it may bring a silver lining to the Ghanaian political horizon and initiate measures for reconciliation between the Rawlingses and their bitter political foes in the NPP. Such a reconciliation will be the best thing to happen to Ghana in contemporary times, he claims. Who am I to doubt this friend’s audacious claim?
It is no secret that the relationship between Rawlings and Kufuor has been strained to the point that none would want to share a common ground with the other. The negative spillover effect is inescapable, as is evident in the encounters between supporters of either political giant. Public discourse has also been poisoned by such ill-feelings. Who will deny the fact that the deepening of the political gulf between the NDC and the NPP (or the ethnic aspects of their respective political constituencies) has its roots in such impaired personal relationships?
But here come the twists and turns, following the burning to ashes of the Rawlingses’ residence last Sunday. A string of sympathies has come from various segments of the population to confirm the popular Ghanaian trait of “hospitality.” So far, diverse groups—political parties (including the NPP, the CPP, and the PNC); NGOs; the Muslim Community; and many more—have extended their sympathies to the Rawlingses either personally or through press statements. Conspicuously missing are the Christian religious groupings; but they may have their own reasons for not publicly showing their sympathies. May be, they have chosen to do so by other means.
While some of the sympathizers have not raised eyebrows, others have. Of all these individuals and groups sympathizing with the Rawlingses, the moves by ex-President Kufuor, Nana Akufo Addo, and the NPP (if Nana Ohene Ntow’s word is representative of the party’s stance) were not only pleasantly surprising (because unexpected?) but also heart-warming.
This spontaneous show of sympathy by Rawlings’ publicly known political foes has opened a new chapter in national life that we must take advantage of to rebuild broken relationships. The event has offered us a rare moment to take glimpses into what would otherwise have remained an impenetrable cloak of ill-will and mischief between these contending forces in Ghanaian politics.
Of all the utterances so far made, none has caught at my heart as the one by the Minority Leader in Parliament, Osei-Kyei-Mensah Bonsu. As part of the Parliamentary leadership that called on Nana Konadu Agyemang-Rawlings to commiserate with her, the Minority Leader was reported to have expressed his sympathies to Mr. Rawlings and his family, but added that “it’s time politicians learnt to interact regularly, not only during disasters, but during feasts as well.”
This statement is loaded with wisdom and speaks volumes. I like this stance of the Minority Leader for all that it reflects of the bad blood that has existed in the national body politic over the years. That bad-blood relationship is not a new thing. It has been with us since time out-of-mind, although it became very much pronounced in the 1950s and sustained thereafter.
The enmity that arose between the various political forces in the pre-independence era became overstretched to the point of dirty tribal politics after the British had handed over power to our own people. These sharp divisions heightened tension and pitted citizens from different ethnic groups and political camps against each other. It still persists and does nobody any good. We have to be grateful to whatever Supernatural force controlling our destinies that such a tension hasn’t yet degenerated into civil war, unlike what happened to Nigeria in the 1960s and whose embers are still burning somehow.
By their singular show of unreserved sympathy—despite the cloud of hostilities between them and the Rawlingses—the NPP bigwigs have unnerved critics and proved that they are either politically mature or beginning to see the need for concessions that will ease the tension on the political landscape. Either way, it is commendable a move to make. It is only little minds in the NPP that will see things differently and make disparaging comments as have so far come from some of them parading as commentators.
I commend the NPP big shots because what they said in solidarizing with the Rawlingses took many people, including me, by surprise. At least, we didn’t expect that they would have the compunction to sympathize with someone whom they have not ceased painting black. In this circumstance, equating the calamity facing the Rawlingses to a “national disaster” speaks volumes of political maturity for the NPP and gives indications that the efforts to deepen our democratic culture are paying off. One may ask: What might have happened to cause this sudden about-turn in the NPP leadership’s perception of the Rawlingses? Could this posture be a mere political gimmick? I don’t think so, if anything at all. I see it as a genuine effort by the NPP to extend a hand of friendship to the main pillars of the NDC as a means of repairing relationships. I may be wrong but can’t say otherwise. By responding to the calamity in this mature manner, ex-President Kufuor and his NPP have demonstrated a high degree of sensibility and humanity that must be reciprocated by the Rawlingses, especially.
Reciprocating this goodwill (gesture) means creating opportunities for reconciliation. Many previous efforts by the religious leaders failed, apparently because there was no immediate indication of the willingness toward reciprocity. Thus, although the Asantehene said he would do all he could to bring Kufuor and Rawlings together before the end of Kufuor’s term, nothing fruitful emerged. The two former Presidents have continued to be at loggerheads. But with the current developments, I can see a small window of opportunity opening for their strained relationship to begin being repaired.
I call on all those who matter (whether the Chief Imam or the Asantehene) to take up this issue again to bring both together once and for all. After all, they have nothing to gain from their continued head-butting. At worst, they will continue to make themselves laughing-stocks as two former Presidents who couldn’t set any good example in human relationship for their compatriots to emulate. Letting bygones be bygones and behaving in a mature manner as dictated by their status will be a shining example to emulate.
If it has to take this kind of calamity to bring them together (and to set the stage for the repairing of all other human relationships that have been broken by partisan politicking), so be it.
This initial move is unprecedented and Rawlings himself must not let its benefits slip by unused. Particularly, he has to see himself as part of the problem and sober down to allow external influences to sway him toward common sense and maturity. The time has come for him to stop seeking to thrive on risk, belligerence, and unnecessary controversy. That’s the blessing element in the fire disaster.
Then, the politicians of all shades must pipe down on the utterances that engender bitter rivalry and help their followers relate to their opponents in a better manner than has been the case over the years. The moments of continued display of misplaced mutual ill-will must not continue to wear on. The time has come for conscientious efforts to end it all for the betterment of our Ghanaian body politic.
The need for oneness that has been aroused by this calamity to the Rawlingses must not be allowed to evaporate. We must seize the opportunity to reconcile and move on in a spirit of fellow-feeling. After all, the fire that destroyed their Ridge residence has already burnt itself out of contention; but it has taught us a lesson that we must use to advantage.
As the Acheampong government rightly sought to do, we have a bounden duty to pledge to be each other’s keeper and to actualize the motto that we are indeed one nation, one people, with one common destiny.
If we accept to live as “one people” in this one nation, we must realize that our common destiny is in our own hands. After all, the World Bank has just warned us that we will not make any progress if we continue to depend on foreign aid or the magnanimity of others. It is a stark reality that we must face. In the circumstance, we have only one charge: to work hard together to rid our country of poverty, disease, want, suffering, and the short life expectancy rate that is characteristic of it as a Third World country. We must realize that life is not made up of endless opportunities and that within the context of political stability and abundant human and natural resources, we should expend our energies doing what will move our country forward. We have the human and natural resources—and a stable political environment too! What we need are leaders who will not engage in undignifying conduct or knock people’s heads against each other to create opportunities for self-fulfillment. All we need are capable leaders to help us put our house in order.
It is in this sense that President Mills must redouble his efforts to make his presence felt in a better way than what we’ve seen over the past one year of his “go-slow” administration. He has to demonstrate the kind of leadership acumen that will inspire Ghanaians and reassure them that the mistakes that past leaders made will not be repeated to the detriment of the country.
So far, he hasn’t convinced me that he has a handle on the situation and that he will administer Ghana in a manner that is different from what is already known and detested. The situation hasn’t changed drastically for the better and one expects that he will dig into his intellectual archives to bring about the change that we direly need. Ghana deserves more than lethargy at the helm of affairs. For one thing, Ghanaians are fed up with the political rhetoric that has occasioned his administration. There should be less talk and more practical work to confirm that the decision by the majority of the electorate to put him in office is not misplaced. If for nothing at all, he should prove to the people of the TAIN Constituency, especially, that their resolute move to put the icing on the cake for the NDC’s electoral victory is justifiable. The substance of the “change” of government must be visible!!
If he fails to inspire the people and instill hope in them to continue sacrificing their lot for the country, he will end up compounding problems and inflicting the worst form of disaster on the country. This kind of misfortune will not qualify as a blessing in disguise. It will be a curse that the country cannot contain.
As it stands now, the disaster that struck the Rawlingses may be a blessing in disguise because it has drawn attention to one of our country’s major crisis situations. It offers us a rare chance to re-vision our aspirations as Ghanaians and to do what will unite us and not divide us. We must not continue to take entrenched tribal or political positions because that posture will not solve our problems of existence. This kind of unhealthy personal relationship that has characterized our national politics is unproductive and must not continue to be countenanced. We do so at our own peril.