Opinions Sat, 15 Oct 2005

J.J. Rawlings, Trokosi and Dr. Okoampa-Ahoofe

This article is a response to statements contained in Dr Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe?s article on ?The Life And Times Of J. J. Rawlings - Part 5?. In his article Dr. Ahoofe makes many debatable claims, but one presentation stands out and betrays perhaps his diminished understanding of and sensitivity to cultural practices of other people, and the limited role of presidents in bringing about change. Dr. Ahoofe makes an unjustified requirement that Rawlings ought to have stamped out the Trokosi in order to affirm his credentials as a revolutionary when he wrote: -

?If, indeed, Mr. Rawlings is the kind of moral and political revolutionary that he claims to be, then one salient question that ought to be asked is: Why did his twenty years in power not stamp out the odious practice of ?Trokosi,? a ritualistic practice of modern-day slavery which is rank and prevalent among the Ewe community in Ghana? And here, we also relevantly must add the fact that Mr. Rawlings is partly of Ewe-Ghanaian extraction?.?

I am here to defend Rawlings on this. Dr. Ahoofe? s suggestion in the preceding quote is unjustified, and is outside of the revolutionary vision of Rawlings. It is also an imposed singular role outside of the constitutional roles assigned the president of Ghana. Firstly, Rawlings and his men through the AFRC to PNDC had visions for the Ghanaian society that did not include an agenda to change the traditional cultural practices of any ethnic group. Their visions rather centred on societal activities that fed into the expanding stream of corruption within Government and civil service.

It is important to state here before I proceed, that all revolutions bring incredibly unacceptable consequences- suffering and pain to lots of people unleashed by unjust acts of the prevailing power intoxication. So for Rawlings and his men of the AFRC, any injustices that came with June 4th (if they ever reflect over them) should/ought to invoke a sense of guilt, pity, and /or regret, which would haunt them for the rest of their lives.

Coming back to my defense of Rawlings against what I consider to be an unjustified requirement, it is relevant that Dr. Ahoofe, recognizes that there are so many other cultural practices among many ethnic groups in Ghana and I am wondering whether each government must eradicate these by law to be seen as revolutionary or innovative. In a sense Dr Ahoofee is assuming that presidents (single handedly) have to be seen to be stamping out outmoded practices in order to be seen to be innovative, and to affirm their credentials as good presidents. Are our presidents custodians of cultural change among ethnic groups under their jurisdiction?

By requiring Rawlings to change Trokosi, Dr. Ahoofee, assumes (in absolute terms) that changes in cultural practices must be radical in character similar to implementing new laws. If Rawlings had instituted and executed such draconian measures against those who practiced Trokosi, I am very certain that his actions would have drawn criticism from many a quarter because it would amount to religious persecution. In fact Trokosi is a belief system tied to deep-seated values about the nature and conduct of life in these particular societies. Thus, the banning of its practice is not merely a halt to outward physical expression of something that is believed, but it is also certainly an attempt to curtail the possession of psychological states of minds of a people by an external force. I am not sure if Dr. Ahoofe thought of this whole issue in this way before requiring Rawlings to take care of it. However, to me, the fact that cultural practices are shared/ agreed ways of life of a people implies that changes need not be radical but rather gradual: a slow transition to the new ways of thinking and doing, which includes an attitudinal change component that is guided by new knowledge. This explains why some members of those communities began to challenge the Trokosi practices by individual volition.

For many peoples of other cultures whose ways of life are disrupted by the singular acts of Governments through regulation/legislations, there always occurs periods of psychological disequilibrium that may even lead to more negative consequences. Trokosi had/has both merits and demerits for those who practised it, and in cultural relativity terms, other peoples who found/find it unacceptable must work from other positions to influence change. And clearly, one does not have be part of the ethnic group to work towards its abolition. Many centuries before the coming of the Europeans, different groups in Ghana practiced other atrocities, which have now been prohibited, but some are still inclined to engaging in these practices. Are we to hold Nkrumah, Ankrah, Afrifa, Busia, Acheampong, etc liable? Yet Dr Ahoofe holds Rawlings accountable for failing to stop a practice that is engrained in the spirit of a community, and in some way defines the meaning of life as well as their existence as people.

Unfortunately, Dr. Ahoofe does not stop there, he writes ?.. ?But then, again, since this writer is neither an expert nor practitioner of traditional Ewe religious culture, perhaps it is only too apt to leave it to Mr. Rawlings to explain the preceding to our audience and the rest of the global community?.

Does Rawlings hold ample knowledge of the practices of Trokosi and does Rawlings practice Trokosi? I am not sure, but this is what is assumed in Dr. Ahoofe?s statement above simply because Rawlings is of Ewe extraction?. If the answers to these two questions indicate that Rawlings does not know or practice Trokosi, then Dr. Ahoofe has a big problem- academic/intellectual, attitudinal and analytical.

To me, Dr. Ahoofe?s statement emanates from a tribal imprisonment mentality, and his thinking also fits perfectly into a classical racist philosophy of the world ? in this case sadly a black African classical racists philosophy. This is, because Dr Ahoofe does not even bother to know whether Rawlings belongs to the group of Ewes who practice Trokosi.

By this statement, Dr. Ahoofe demonstrates a surprisingly low capacity to analyse issues in contradistinction to personalities and falls into the trap and pattern of the journalists of the developed world putting all Africans into a single box. His suggestion that Rawlings should explain Trokosi to the world smacks of gross arrogance and simplistic understanding ethic knowledge/relations, which is akin to the way the westerners see Africans and Ghanaians, which in any case, infuriates Dr. Ahoofe.

I will quote further from his article to show how Dr. Ahoofe, demonstrates this surprisingly tribal imprisonment mentality, which is mixed with a misguided developed versus developing world mentality. Some where in this article under reference Dr. Ahoofe, writes that

??. And here, it may also be aptly recalled that in the wake of his election as United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan ?..who is Fante/Akan ?? was made? inextricably culpable..? of the practice of Trokosi simply because he was Ghanaian..?.

Dr. Ahoofe is completely at pains with the fact that Kofi Annan was associated with Trokosi by the Media in New York. Unfortunately and rather unimaginatively he commits the same mistake of holding Rawlings culpable by virtue of the fact that he is of Ewe Extraction. This is clear of case intellectual/analytical impotence. Dr. Ahoofe is so blinded by his personal hatred of Rawlings to the extent that he fails to realize that these cultural practices lived before Rawlings, and it takes more than just belonging to an ethnic group and/or being the president of Ghana to change a particular cultural practice.

There is so much venom in Dr. Ahoofe for Rawlings that his article fails to be objective. He asserts that the AFRC?s killings were ethnic in nature and Rawlings was instrumental in IMF agreements and the failure of the SAP Program. Sad! In all honesty, Rawlings was as guilty and implicated in those acts as any other members of the AFRC, including those who Dr. Ahoofe partially prefer to honour to the exclusion of Rawlings. These full ?blooded Ghanaians (who Ahoofe prefers to call ?those whose Fathers did not forsake them?) from prominent families of different ethnic groups were part of the butchery of 1979. None of these will be able to excuse themselves, just as Rawlings as leader cannot excuse himself. But what we don?t know is whether Ghana would have faired better under any of these others than it did under Rawlings. Dr. Kwesi Botway (an Expert on IMF) who once said that it would take about 50 years for the real benefits of SAP to reach the pockets of ordinary Ghanaians was the brain behind IMF agreements. Well, Rawlings takes the blame because he was the president, just as all presidents must take blame for what happens in their governments. Dr. Ahoofe is right to hold Rawlings accountable for these failures, but time and again he fails to see to eye to eye with people who put any blame at the feet of the UP tradition. (Check his article in which he heaped insults on Albert Bagbin of NDC and his northern extraction for having a different stand on issues with the NPP). This is not honest journalism. Dr. Ahoofe is not honest and is not impartial himself and yet he writes in his article that

?Needless to say, it is this kind of visionless and cynical journalistic collaborators who are to be avoided, at all costs, on the African continent. Indeed, such pocket-book media practitioners have absolutely nothing to offer their primary audience short of misery and intellectual and cultural regression ?

It is my opinion that this statement rather defines Dr Ahoofe himself as one of such journalists who has never written an article that makes any constructive arguments for development other than insulting personalities of the past, both dead and alive who cannot even defend themselves. Rawlings is a doer of good and evil, but Dr. Ahoofe is only a writer of venom that pours forth like acid-rain on the green foliage of Ghana?s struggling democracy, causing burning pain in the hearts and minds of those whose family and members are continuously castigated by Dr. Ahoofe. It is time that Dr. Ahoofe varied the themes of his writings to be both critical of the mistakes of politicians (past and present), and more importantly to provide ideas to the government of the day to move our democracy forward in all honesty.

This is not personal but a piece of my mind

Dr. Ahmed Bawa Kuyini
LED, University of Melbourne

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Columnist: Kuyini, Ahmed Bawa