JJ, What Have You Done For Ghana Lately?

Wed, 19 Nov 2008 Source: Casely-Hayford, Sydney

Since he was constitutionally asked to leave in 2000, but did not stay out of Ghana politics, former President JJ Rawlings has spent some time aimlessly wandering around Africa and other places, looking for something to engage him, keep him in the limelight, over-shadowing his own pick for the NDC’s presidential candidate Professor Atta-Mills

In the USA and Europe there is an established tradition when a leader serves a significant term in office. Most of them set up a library, a collection of memoirs, a non-profit organization or other institution, which creates some lasting memento and a reminder of achievements and challenges, reminding us of historical moments and implanting events in our minds with signposts of which directions are dangerous to follow.

I have had the privilege these past few years to interview President Rawlings at least four times in the USA. Our “conversations” have lasted on average between three and four hours and ranged on several topics, from AFRC days to modern developments in Ghana and his future as a leader on the African stage of change.

Rawlings is different. Different because he really has not changed what he wants to do with his future. I asked that question directly a few times and even though there is a foggy response to the coming years and he has no solution to Ghana’s problems and Africa’s overarching economic woes, he is definitely passionate about those he considers “enemies” and he still talks in revolutionary idioms, praying (he actually couches this in religious terms) that one day he will get a second bite at this mango. In no uncertain terms, there is nothing JJ would like better than to be back at the helm of Ghana’s affairs again, to maybe, maybe, correct and re-direct what de did wrong. In our last major conversation in a Hotel in Virginia, USA his regrets boiled over and his accusations were far and ranging, blaming the NPP for everything and re-writing the history which I lived and experienced first hand. I narrated my experience at kilometer 101, Okponglo junction when we went up against Kutu Acheampong as students, protesting against the university shut-downs and pitting our lives against a desperate leader who was baffled by the support and fervor we had for a junior officer who could nothing wrong and was the champion of change in our era. He translated all this into a political kingdom and then gradually proceeded to dismantle it in that self-destruct way he does. These days we have “boom” speeches and “Yo ke gari threats”. In his personal capacity, JJ does not add any value to Ghana’s economic base. He employs a handful of political “servants”. He neither owns nor operates any industry of sorts and he is not involved in any institution that employs a significant number of people. He travels a lot, settles on the benevolence of a large number of people and shares common interests with the likes of Nigeria’s Obasanjo (who owns several companies and employs a large workforce) and other wealthy middle east royal families, who virtually control their countries and are benevolent dictators of sorts.

At one point there were suggestions he might get a “calling” and become an evangelical Christian. He was supposed to, or owned a farm somewhere. I suggested to him, one on one, he might want to consider grabbing the malaria impediment as a project and use his large political capital to attract resources to a center of expertise in Ghana and project that across Africa and the international stage. He breezed past that, preferring the larger need to fix the water problem in rural communities in Ghana. I agreed, it was a much more laudable project. Since that conversation two years ago, his addiction to center stage politics in Ghana has obliterated that noble intention and left the water project in the wake of a possible other shot at taking over, this time, hopefully without an Ak47.

My opinion, JJ has squandered the large opportunity to convert his massive political capital into economic gain for the benefit of Ghana. Which chief would deny JJ a piece of land for a research center to solve the water problems in Ghana? (not even Asanthene!). Which Obasanjo and Arab sheik would not offer real financial assistance? (they gave him a jet and supported his efforts in Ghana!). Which foreign research center would refuse technical expertise? (Biwater supported his children!). What managerial expertise would not jump to his aid if asked? (the Ahwoi’s and PV Obeng’s are all still clamoring for something to do!), and he still has grassroots support in the NDC. (Tony Aidoo is still there!).

The land is in place, the capital is guaranteed, he has managerial expertise to call on, he has a good source of labor to use and his market is guaranteed. Did I just do economics 101?

Columnist: Casely-Hayford, Sydney