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Mahama Cannot Win Election 2012 without Jerry Rawlings

Fri, 17 Aug 2012 Source: Pryce, Daniel K.

The cymbal that heralded the euphoria-tinged elevation of John Dramani Mahama to the lofty office of president is still playing – although the sounds, like a fleeting illusion, are gradually fading away. Incontestably, the discernible elation that has consumed the hearts and minds of John Mahama’s friends, epigones, acolytes, and apparatchiks would also not linger interminably. Like the impermanence of the seasons, friendships and loyalties wax and wane. That is life, the lot of frail human beings. This congenital fragility, to which no man is invulnerable, ought to serve as a guiding principle for John Mahama. In other words, irrespective of the differences that President John Mahama may have with ex-President John Rawlings, it is time for both men to sit down and resolve their differences, if the National Democratic Congress (NDC) party is to stand a chance of retaining the presidency after Election 2012.

John Dramani Mahama, like all frail humans, has already committed several faux pas, the most notable being a recently delivered peroration that parochially promoted his newly established presidency as essentially providential, reminding his listeners that no Ghanaian born after March 6, 1957 had had the chance to become president until now. Not only was the statement inopportune and conceited, it was also insensitive, more so because the nation had just begun mourning the late John Evans Atta Mills. It is for this reason that John Mahama cannot continue to begrudge the founder of the political party to which both men belong. This frosty relationship ought to be thawed now.

What may have ruined the rapport between John Rawlings and John Mahama is the unconfirmed report that, prior to Election 2008, John Rawlings had vehemently opposed the selection of the current president as John Atta Mills’ running mate. Although this rumor has persisted the last four years, no one has ever publicly affirmed its veracity, and it appears that the citizenry may never know the truth. John Mahama has every right to be aggrieved by what seemed to be Jerry Rawlings’ lack of trust in the capacity of the former to assume the mantle of leadership should John Atta Mills become incapacitated or die in office – sadly, John Atta Mills would not live long enough to complete his first term as president – but to continue to ostracize Jerry Rawlings over the latter’s stance of yesteryear does not augur well for the future of the NDC party and its chances in Election 2012.

Unless my readers do not recall, Nana Akufo-Addo, the brilliant and experienced presidential aspirant, had defeated the late John Atta Mills in Round One of Election 2008, only to lose by a small margin in Round Two of the same election. As such, if John Mahama, who, incidentally, does not yet have a large political constituency, assumes that he would make mincemeat of his formidable rival in Election 2012, then he is in for a rude awakening. Without a doubt, Nana Akufo-Addo has the support of approximately 50% of the Ghanaian electorate, so John Mahama can realize his dream of winning Election 2012 only if he turns to many old hands in his party for help, including the founder Jerry John Rawlings.

Yes, Rawlings can be brutally raw and callous in his proclamations, but the ex-president still commands the largest following in the country, even if the laws of the land prevent him from running for the highest office again. Jerry Rawlings’ experience and huge following would be indispensable to a John Mahama triumph at the polls, especially in the Upper East, Upper West, Northern, and Volta Regions. Ostracizing Rawlings at this time would, predictably, be suicidal for the sitting president.

While I do not have a prodigiously positive view of Jerry Rawlings, I have always argued that the man ought to be forever credited with the advent of our Fourth-Republican era: he voluntarily jettisoned his military habiliments for civilian ones and, to the astonishment of naysayers, handed over peacefully to the winner of Election 2000, the New Patriotic Party’s John Kufuor.

On a continent where the pursuit of political power can cause a son to turn against his father, a daughter against her mother, Jerry Rawlings remains the cornerstone of the success of our Fourth-Republican democratic experiment. Fortunately for Ghanaians, Rawlings’ successors, John Kufuor and John Atta Mills, would prove to be better constitutionalists than Rawlings, thereby accentuating the gains from the Rawlings era. Even as Ghanaians celebrate freedom of the press, freedom of speech and association, and proliferation of businesses, we must never forget that our contemporary political accomplishments were superintended by giants who came before John Mahama: John Rawlings, John Kufuor, and John Atta Mills.

For John Mahama to win Election 2012, he would need Rawlings in his corner. Rawlings’ popularity has several historical antecedents, and the following paragraphs encapsulate the man’s rise to fame. When it became obvious in the 1980s that the Soviet Union was teetering on the verge of political disintegration, Ghana was forced to relinquish its Marxist-Leninist preferences and turn to the West for assistance. Grudgingly, the Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC) agreed to reform the nation’s economic policies, partially culminating in the government’s willingness to hold multiparty elections in 1992. Taking off his military garb, Rawlings created legitimacy for himself when he participated in and won the 1992 elections. It is this post-1992 John Rawlings that most people admire, as his other stints in the nation’s seat of government were via force and despotism. Counting on his charisma and capacity to captivate large audiences, Rawlings was re-elected in 1996 to serve a second four-year term.

The visit by former U.S. President Bill Clinton to Ghana in early 1998 came to crystallize, to a large extent, Rawlings’ recognition as a modern democrat by powerful Western nations. Prior to the visit, Africa’s problems were brought to the fore when Samuel Berger, Clinton’s national security advisor at the time, stated: “We have to demystify Africa for Americans. We have a one-dimensional view of the ‘Dark Continent’ and there is a sea [of] change going on there.” Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State, in a speech delivered at George Mason University one week before Bill Clinton’s extended visit to Africa, added: “A new generation of Africans has come of age raised in the era of independence, liberated from Cold War divisions and determined to assume an equal place at the world table.”

In February 1999, approximately one year after Bill Clinton’s visit to Ghana, there was a reciprocal visit by Jerry Rawlings and his wife to the White House. With nothing but solid praise for the Ghanaian leader, Bill Clinton declared: “Mr. President, under your leadership, Ghana has continued to flourish. It remains a vivid example of what democracy and open markets can do for the African people. Over the past 5 years, your economy has grown steadily. You have an independent judiciary, a lively Parliament, a thriving civil society.”

Reflecting on the changes that were taking place on the political landscape in Nigeria at the time, Bill Clinton further opined: “Something else of far-reaching importance is happening in Africa, something unthinkable [in 1998] when I visited Ghana. Three days from now, there will be a democratic Presidential election in Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria. For 28 of its 38 years of independence, Nigeria has been run by military dictators. Now it has a chance to start anew.”

Certainly, Ghana’s fledgling – but flourishing – democracy in 1999 had become a beacon of hope for Nigeria, as the latter was dealing with the conundrum of political transition from military despotism to multiparty democracy, with the eventual election of Olusegun Obasanjo as president in 1999. And Obasanjo would be re-elected in 2003 to a second term, just like John Rawlings. Nigeria, like Ghana, would successfully transition from one democratically elected government to another, a first for that nation, with the 2007 election of Umaru Yar’Adua as president.

Political success would come to Dr. Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan, with Yar’Adua’s demise on May 5, 2010. Like John Dramani Mahama, Goodluck Jonathan’s star shone brightly after the death of his boss, Umaru Yar’Adua. Having first assumed the presidency without canvassing for a single vote across the length and breadth of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan would put his own popularity to the test when he contested the country’s presidential election on April 16, 2011. In spite of rumors of electoral irregularities, Goodluck Jonathan came out victorious in the presidential contest, garnering 58% of the total votes cast for an outright win.

If John Mahama wishes to emulate his counterpart in Abuja, Nigeria, he cannot be complacent about his chances in Election 2012, one of the nation’s most important, which is only four months away. Arguably the more experienced candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo should have an easier path to the Ghanaian presidency, having established himself as a popular politician in Ghana, long before John Mahama became a household name, which is why the latter must “slog his guts out” if he is to have a legitimate chance of winning Election 2012. If John Mahama wants to become a popularly chosen president, he cannot ignore the bigwigs in his party. Topping this list of bigwigs is Jerry John Rawlings.

© The writer, Daniel K. Pryce, is a doctoral student and an Adjunct Professor of Criminology, Law & Society at George Mason University. He holds a master’s degree in Public Administration from the same university. He is a member of the National Honor Society for Public Affairs and Administration in the U.S.A. He may be followed on Twitter: @DanielKPryce. He invites the reader to join the pressure group “Good Governance in Ghana” on Facebook.com, which he superintends. He can be reached at dpryce@cox.net.

Columnist: Pryce, Daniel K.