By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
November 23, 2009
A common saying goes: “It is most undignifying for a tiger to declare its tigritude.” Who will not know a tiger when he sees one? Does such a tiger have to wear a label to announce itself to the world? No!! But that’s exactly what Flt.-Lt. Jerry John Rawlings, former Chairman of the AFRC and the PNDC and President of Ghana under the NDC 1 administration, has been doing all these years, especially in this post-Presidency period of his life.
For his part in Ghana’s historical development, he cannot be wished away by a mere flick of the finger. Anybody who knows Rawlings will either acknowledge his worth or disparage him, depending on his or her own political persuasion or personal reasons for assessing him. Of late, however, he appears to be giving his critics enough ammunition to undo him. By his own miscalculations, he is attracting disdain. And he has had a lot of it already! No matter how good he is to Ghana, he needs to know that if he over-stretches the patience of the people, they will turn to dislike him. People even become fed up with honey!
Rawlings must stop behaving as if he is God’s gift to Ghana politics. We are fed up with his irresistible penchant to confront Ghanaians with the grit of a drill sergeant or as if he is challenging us to a duel. We have better things to bother our heads over than all this ceaseless spoiling for a fight from him!
Those who remember President Mills’ self-destructive “I will consult Rawlings 24 hours a day” and the newspaper cartoon of him as a “poodle” on Rawlings’ leash can best tell us their impressions. That association and suspected subservience to Rawlings has detracted from his worth and he is still suffering from the negative backlash as he struggles to change that impression and present himself as his “own man.” Thus, President Mills appears to be carving his own niche, which grates Rawlings. He claims that President Mills doesn’t take the pieces of advice that he gives him, and has accused him further of appointing a mediocre caliber of Ministers (“Team B”) into office.
This friction that we are witnessing today had occurred between Rawlings and Kufuor in the early days of the NPP government’s first term in office when Kufuor stood his grounds against any pushing around by Rawlings. Kufuor himself disclosed that when he entered office, he met Rawlings once or twice at Rawlings’ instance but resolved thereafter never to allow himself to be shoved about.
In all seriousness, Rawlings is known for finding a bone to pick with all governments since the 1970’s except his own. He started with Acheampong’s SMC I, through Akuffo’s SMC II, Limann’s PNP, Kufuor’s NPP, and now, Mills’ NDC 2. There we go! Why does he consider himself to be the “Godfather” of Ghana politics in contemporary times who will not give the government-of-the-day the peace of mind it needs to perform its legitimate functions?
No single day passes by without word coming from Rawlings about the goings-on in the NDC (both as a political party and Ghana’s government). More often than not, what he releases is in the form of condemnation or a threat against President Mills and his government. Rawlings’ latest threat is that he will quit the NDC “if President Mills and members of his administration do not sit up.” Let’s hear him:
“If we do not wake up to correct the mistakes, I will not have anything to do with the party. I have died so many times for the party, been humiliated both locally and internationally. I cannot die for the greedy bastards who have wormed their way into government,” was how he put it, when he met constituency chairmen drawn from twenty-two constituencies in the Greater Accra Region on Tuesday last week.
Threatening to quit the NDC is an indirect way of acknowledging the fact that he has lost his bearings. I want to say upfront that this posture isn’t the solution that the NDC needs to its credibility problems or future viability. Quitting the NDC is defeatist and wayward, not the answer to the problems that Rawlings has created by his penchant for wanting to call the shots. It is a misplaced and ill-conceived threat.
However genuine his grievances may be, I think that there are better ways to address them than through threats, open aggressiveness, and head-butting. Was it not this same Rawlings who said that if the NDC lost the 2004 elections he would quit politics? Did he, after all? Was it not this same Rawlings who had declared at a meeting with a delegation of the chiefs and people from Aflao that he would no more criticize the Mills government in the open but went against his own word not long thereafter? Where is his credibility now?
This part of his utterance is not only annoying but it also shows how inflexible he is: “We have brought people into our midst who are unknown to the party, people we do not know.”
What is wrong about other people being brought into the NDC to enhance its membership? After all, shouldn’t the party grow? And how will it grow if other people don’t join it? Did he found the NDC for himself or only those close to him?
I don’t want to suppose that Rawlings’ anger has stemmed from the fact that those he called “bastards” were not instrumental in the “Revolution” he superintended over (as the “old guards”) or were not part of the “new entrants” (including Professor Mills, who did not tout the “populist nonsense” that he, Rawlings himself, condemned at the time he changed the designation of the PDCs/WDCs to CDRs in 1983). They may be those entering the NDC long after those tumultuous times had elapsed to give the party its new face. In any sense, such people also have their contributions to make and must be helped to settle in the groove.
If Rawlings insists on retaining the NDC as he founded and led it while ruling the country, there is little hope that the party can survive when he becomes senile or passes on. After all, if he sits back to take a good look at himself, he will realize the series of metamorphoses that he has undergone (physiologically, ideologically, and mentally), which should make him sober. He will know that he is not the same as he was on May 15, 1979, when he first shot into the limelight as someone with a die-hard political ambition that the society welcomed. Then, when he succeeded in ruling Ghana for 100 days under the AFRC, we all saw him and the public image that his acts of commission or omission and utterances carved for him. By December 31, 1981 when he returned to the corridors of power and hung on till January 7, 2001, we monitored him in every way and noticed the changes that he underwent to become what he is today. Now, having been out of office for 9 years, he should be the first person to know how time has conspired with Nature to turn him into an “old” man. Unfortunately, however, he is yet to shed off his egoistic self-perceptions and general attitude to life. If he had done so, he would have realized that he has come a long way in this process of wearing out and must resign himself to fate. He can help the NDC in better ways than being a stormy petrel within its ranks.
I have said it several times already but will repeat it that the future viability of a political party depends on factors other than this “strongman” perception. The NDC that he is credited with forming in 1992 and leading in government for eight years is recognized as a strong “third force” in Ghana politics, having become the wedge between the Nkrumahist CPP and the Danquah-Busia political traditions. It has virtually dislodged the CPP as a force to reckon with, somehow returning the country to a dual-track political path. The NDC survived eight years of demonization under the Kufuor government and has returned to power under a new President. Isn’t that achievement encouraging enough for Rawlings to gloat over and do what will retain the party’s fortunes instead of this daily struggle to create enmity between the party and the government it has formed under President Mills?
At this point, it is clear that things are falling apart for the NDC (both as a political party and a government). I am tempted to think that the NDC’s own structures are weak. Otherwise, what is its National Executive Council (NEC) up to? Why can’t it act decisively to bring together all the elements in the party and present a common voice on issues? In civilized communities, the party’s recognized structures function without let or hindrance to ensure that no faultline is created by any single individual who might consider himself as a “strong man” on his shoulders the entire party rests. Why can’t anybody in the NDC see things the way some of us do?
Rawlings needs to know that inasmuch as he considers himself a lifeline for the NDC, those who would otherwise have identified with the NDC but don’t like him consider him as a disincentive. Casual discussions with people indicate that he is not the kind of beacon that his self-perceptions might delude him into believing. In any case, those who were mature at the time he was ruling Ghana, especially in the heady days of the AFRC and the PNDC, will not hesitate to justify why they don’t want to have anything to do with the NDC. Does Rawlings know how many people have left the NDC because of him?
For the party to grow, it must make forays into the political camps of its opponents to attract followers. Those who are not aligned to any political party will also have to be persuaded that the NDC is the best home for them. But considering the ever-present bellicose nature of Rawlings, many people turn away because they don’t want to be part of a political family that is still carrying a big baggage of the “evils of the past.” The NDC really needs to do more than it has done so far to persuade the Ghanaian electorate (and the world) that it has purged itself of the “wrongs” of the Rawlings era and that its new facelift is worth accepting. It has to do so not only through the blowing of mere hot air but through practical actions that will entice followers. Belligerence and unnecessary re-opening of dead wounds will not help it do so. Even if Rawlings cannot stage a coup d’état to remove President Mills from office, what he’s been doing so far is destabilizing in several respects as it creates the unfortunate impression that the NDC is disorganized and, therefore, ill-prepared to govern the country. The psychological aspect is important enough to warrant immediate action. Ghanaians (and the international community) must be assured that the government is stable and that its party base can support it in all its endeavours. Otherwise, the perception that President Mills is not in control will erode confidence and endanger the NDC’s own future aspirations. I daresay that if this senseless head-butting continues, the future will be bleak for the party.
Already being buffeted left and right by economic hardships and the narrow circumstances in which they live, Ghanaians need better things to spend their time on, not this daily muscle-flexing by those who should have known better. The NDC must do all it can to rise above this public perception of it as a “personality cult for Rawlings” and reinforce itself as a political party that will endure after Rawlings has become history. However, if the party wants to die with him, so be it. If Rawlings chooses to quit, let’s be bold enough to say “Good-bye” to him and rebuild the party. Quitters don’t ever win!!