Rawlings: 2012 is sooner than You Think!

Mon, 11 May 2009 Source: Tsuo, Cedric

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The founder of NDC, ex-president Rawlings has again been making news lately. Last week, he delivered a speech titled “Ghana’s Democracy-the Way Forward” at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, as part of the 10th anniversary celebrations of the Asantehene’s accession to the Golden Stool. The previous week, he was reported to have visited on his own accord some Ghana armed forces facilities in Ashanti Region and inspected a guard of honour. The same week he made wide-ranging public comments, including a press statement, on the occasion of president John Attah Mills’ first 100 days in office.

The latter two events generated no small interest in the media and among political analysts as to what tricks Rawlings might have up his sleeve this time. Some speculated that given his background and the events leading to his overthrow of the Liman government, Rawlings could well be preparing the ground for another coup or something similarly sinister against Mills-led NDC government. Others put a less ominous interpretation on his actions, suggesting instead that being the showman that he was Rawlings was out in his characteristic robust fashion to project himself as the power behind Mills’ throne, and that the president reigned at his pleasure. Their fear was Rawlings possible political damage to NDC’s electoral chances in 2012 rather than an intention to re-introduce into Ghana unelected government of AFRC and PNDC years.

For a start, it may be fair to say that president Mills may have brought this avoidable pressure on himself by subjecting his young regime to the searching convention of incumbency report card on the first 100 days in office. But Rawlings doesn’t have to go out of his way to make it more difficult for the NDC president. I don’t know the origin of this convention, but I think it is a US invention, which some Western European presidents and prime ministers also follow. Traditionally, well-informed political and economic commentators in the US, as well as Western European countries, have used this milestone to assess presidents’ or prime ministers’ early successes and failures and to gauge incumbents’ popularity or otherwise in the opinion polls, where these things matter a lot.

In my view, setting “first 100 days” target for interim report makes sense in only countries where good governance, transparency, probity, rule of law and a culture of time-tested orderly transfer of power from out-going administration to incoming administration exist. These pre-conditions exist in the US and Western European countries but not in Africa, at least, not in Ghana. The US, as well as Western European countries, has a highly educated and well-trained apolitical civil service (the same is true of their armed forces) whose loyalty is only to the government of the day They are “permanent” technocrats who oversee seamless and well oiled transitions, rooted in centuries of experience. In the US, the presidential elections take place early November. The new president takes office only around the third quarter of January. By this time, (in fact, earlier during the long campaign) the essential structure and personnel of the new administration are already in place, and the transitional team up and running the day the winner is announced.

Quite apart from the fact that we had a second round of presidential elections the last time, Ghana, unfortunately, has no tradition of expeditious and smooth handover of reigns of government. Our transitions have always been mired in acrimony. Parliament has put some structure in place but its operation has been bedevilled by deep-seated mutual antagonism between our two main political parties and their respective functionaries. Take, for example, the last handover from the Kufour government to the Mills government. We know all too well what happened or didn’t happen. The process got bogged down in endless mutual recrimination: the former chief of staff at one point threatening non-co-operation with the incoming administration’s transitional team; conflicting information as to whether the country was broke or not; action on various issues not being taken because of complaints about paucity or lack of documentary information; accusations of virtual wholesale dismissal of the previous administration’s security staff; complaints of marginalization or victimization of some civil servants because of their party affiliation or perceived party affiliation; reports of out-going government officials helping themselves to state bungalows and vehicles, the very support the in-coming administration needed to be able to function more effectively, etc., etc. That could never happen in the US or Western European countries. Amidst all these, president Mills had to try and put his cabinet and other teams together through vetting process; set his programme of work, and get down to implementing it. 100 days is too short a time to accomplish much. Perhaps, our future presidents should not make so much of their first 100 days in office, especially so when we have yet to evolve apolitical handover culture. I reckon that will take us as long as Ghana has been independent, if not longer, to evolve.

Now, let me return to the various interpretations that some pundits have put on Rawlings’ actions and press comments. I personally discount the coup motive and would describe those who peddle that line of explanation as political mischief-makers. We know their character and political colour. I do recognize, however, that Rawlings had during two periods in our history--1979 and 1981--exhibited a streak of recklessness and got away with it on both occasions. But he now knows, or should know, that Ghana has since changed in very profound ways. Next time round, if there is ever one, Ghanaians simply will not take another coup lying down, no matter from where it originates. Unlike the past, there would be no military stage-managed spontaneous “jubilation” and “dancing” in the streets to welcome our “liberators”. Instead, there would be blood bath. From Tamale to Kintampo, from Kumasi to Keta, from Wenchi to Winneba, Ghanaians would rise as one united nation and resist. So, we can safely dismiss the coup motive.

Personally, I lean towards those who see Rawlings’ visit to military installations and his public criticisms of aspects of Mills’ programme, first, not as sinister signals but as an indication of his frustration and annoyance that Mills has not given him room to play a second president and, second, the political damage they are likely to do to Mills’ or NDC’s electoral chances in 2012. My main aim in this piece, therefore, is to try and make Rawlings see (by holding a mirror to him to see his own reflection) that his public criticisms of Mills’ timetable and approach are inappropriate; that they portray the president as weak and rudderless; and that they could jeopardise Mills’ (NDC’s) re-election chances in 2012 more than anything that NPP might do to put their house in order and to refurbish their badly tarnished image as a party of corrupt and arrogant politicians; that he should instead be attacking NPP’s eight-year record (no personality attacks, please); and, lastly, that he would serve himself and Ghana better by taking time off from criticising Mills to write his autobiography.

Now, let us look at some of the things that Rawlings actually said in that press comments, and elaborated in his Kumasi speech. In the press comments, Rawlings said: “Ghanaians needed a manifestation from the presidency that it was in control of affairs and had a grasp of the issues and President Mills did not disappoint.” He concluded in the next sentence: “The President exhibited an excellent grasp of the issues, gave positive assurances and rightfully positioned his government’s achievements in the last hundred days and is very commendable.”

Interestingly, however, Rawlings left us, at best, in suspense as to whether he also judged Mills to be “in control of affairs”. His silence on this crucial question could fairly be interpreted as a negative rating. A couple of his critical remarks reinforce this view. He bluntly told Mills that there were “a lot of problems within his current structure that need to be resolved with a sense of urgency.” Going from the general to the specific, Rawlings added: “we should not overlook power play for instance within the communication’s structure of the government which is now becoming a cause of concern.” It is unclear whether he aimed his broadside at individuals within the communications department or not. Whatever his intentions were, these are not comments that portray Mills as a captain firmly in control of his ship, that is, at the helm of our national affairs. Public statements like these are a gift on a silver platter to any party in opposition anywhere in the world. They would exploit them to the hilt to knock the government off its perch.

It was not only aspects of Mills’ government structure that came under criticism but also the speed with which he approached some issues. In the Kumasi speech Rawlings pointedly said: “We cannot make haste slowly as far as justice is concerned. The politically motivated murders that have taken place will have to be brought to justice and there must be clear manifestations of these.” He didn’t stop there. He made it an issue of confidence, saying: “When the citizenry have no confidence in the security agencies and see no quest by the elected government to seek justice for families that have been orphaned then we do not deserve their mandate.” To me, this kind of language questions Mills’ competence and judgement. It is also a declaration of no confidence in him. The net effect, it undermines his authority. But it is a grossly severe, unfair and shameful judgement on an NDC president, any president, who has been in power for only 100 days! Rawlings will do well to seek legal advice from lawyers in his family. In matters of prosecution, one must make haste but very slowly. Haste to rush to court without ironclad case is a recipe for disaster. The prosecution risks having its case thrown out for failing to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt, assuming that the judges are left entirely independent. The political fallout from unsuccessful high profile prosecutions can be more damaging than no prosecution at all. But Rawlings does not seem to see it that way. In any case, he cannot forget that one of the three judges his regime murdered for political reasons was a nursing mother. That baby is also orphaned!! Did Rawlings seek justice by bringing the real murderers to justice? No, he didn’t, but we all know why!

Justifying his criticisms of the president in his press comments Rawlings said unconvincingly that “all he has done has been to echo the concerns and frustrations of the ordinary folk who voted us into power” and that “they are justified to be impatient because they had to endure eight years of [NPP] insensitive leadership that institutionalised corruption, nepotism and arrogance and they dread being told that the government they voted into power has similar attributes.” Similarly at Kumasi, Rawlings said: “I have been critical of President Mills because the true tenets of democracy mean that irrespective of party affiliations we should not shirk our responsibility of taking ourselves to task. It is pointless to sit askance when the ordinary folk who voted us into power have strong opinions that need to be heard.”

I think that Rawlings is stretching our credulity too far when he told us that “ordinary folk” became “impatient” and “frustrated” with the Mills’ administration just after 100 days. This prompts me to ask him two questions. First, if “ordinary folk” were that “impatient” and “frustrated” with the Mills administration barely after 100 days, why didn’t they throw out the Kufour government at the end of its term in power? But they didn’t. On the contrary, they gave NPP another four years in power. Are we to infer from this that “ordinary folk” felt the Kufour administration bettered their lives? There seems to be contradiction in what Rawlings said. Maybe he got carried away by own his rhetoric. Second, have any members of the new administration been found to be corrupt? If there are no such cases what is the point in hurling around general comments like these? That is not constructive. It is destructive. I regard myself as “ordinary folk” but I have no recollection of ever mandating Rawlings to speak for me. I can do that for myself. If some “ordinary folks”, probably the hawks or hardliners within NDC, have goaded Rawlings to push Mills in their ideological, vindictive or revengeful direction, then Rawlings should choose his words with more care, and not seek to create the impression that he speaks for all “ordinary folks”.

If Rawlings is impatient and frustrated that Mills in his quiet dignity doesn’t let him play the role of co-president, he should be honest and say so and not hide behind his fictional “ordinary folk” to mask his real intentions. Rawlings preaches democracy and claims to be champion of constitutional democracy. Yet he seems to be behaving as if he wants to be president. Our Constitution provides for only one president at a time. This time our president is Mills, who has done a magnificent job so far.

Whether Rawlings admits to himself or not, his actions and the inevitable negative publicity they generate can only irritate, and any human being would be irritated, and distract president Mills’ attention from settling down quickly to plan and effectively implement NDC’s election manifesto on which the electorate voted him to office. The president cannot plan the way he thinks best when Rawlings is breathing down his neck like a pack of bloodthirsty hounds baying after a prey. If Mills fails to deliver on his manifesto or is seen to be Rawlings’ poodle or puppet on a string, he or NDC won’t have the chance of snow in hell of being re-elected. Ghanaians are becoming more and more issues-oriented voters. So, Rawlings will be well advised not to delude himself into believing that time is on president Mills’ side and that he can recover from all these public criticisms and distractions in time to put the economy right to make a difference in the living standards of Ghanaians. This may well turn out to be wishful thinking. 2012 is sooner than he may think.

Rawlings has too many skeletons in his closet to teach us anything of value about democracy, good governance, probity and rule of law in Ghana, at least not in the Kumasi speech. In that speech he said: “I will be the first to express regrets at the excesses of the AFRC and the PNDC regimes of which I was the Chairman, but Ghana had to go through a phase where the people had to take control of their destiny through a popular uprising even if it was manifested through the military.” Rawlings’ coup eras were terribly painful periods that most Ghanaians, at least I, would like to forget. It is about time Rawlings stopped reminding us about what he did and why he did it.

More important, Rawlings surely must know that he is being extremely economical with the truth about the “excesses” of his military regimes. He has his viewpoint. I have mine. But contrary to what he would like us to believe, I do not for one moment accept his view of the inevitability of his coups. Throughout history, when one man or a group of men take it upon themselves with arms to right perceived wrongs or injustices in society, they set the country on a slippery road to dictatorship and repression. The Bolsheviks, Lenin and others, did that in 1917 in Tsarist Russia, with unimaginable brutality and repression. Rawlings did the same in Ghana, though not on the same scale of brutality. With regard to corruption, one of the two main planks for the coups, can Rawlings now stand and tell us that there was no corruption in his governments? Does he not know that some of his ministers suddenly became rich enough to buy or build expensive mansions? More important, does he not know that there are still unanswered questions about his own relationship or dealings with Sani Abacha, the most corrupt president that ever ruled Nigeria, a man who made Mobutu Seseseko of Zaire (as it then was) look like a choirboy? And by Nigeria’s own high standards, this says a lot!

No amount of rationalisation, and mere expression of “regrets” will ever suffice to absolve Rawlings from his responsibility for the coups and the lawlessness and indiscipline that his regimes unleashed into our society that have plagued Ghana to this day. We remember the blood curling and gruesome murder of the three judges, one of whom was a lactating mother. We remember the thugs-brigades-he let loose into our society, into our homes, when children were encouraged to inform on their parents; when government officials and business managers were chased out of their offices into the streets and subjected to all manner of humiliation and indignity, including caning; when halls of residence at Legon were ransacked, even toilets, all in the name of “popular uprising”, which as far as I am concerned is a figment of Rawlings’ imagination. As if this was not bad enough, Rawlings’ thugs were put on government payrolls, as a reward for making life hell for their fellow citizens. If Rawlings really seeks “absolution” for his crimes against the people of Ghana, an admission of unspecified “excesses” and mere expression of “regrets” are totally inadequate. He should be a man and spell out those “excesses” and make a public apology. At that time I would be the first person to sign up to campaign for forgiveness for him. Meanwhile, he should leave president Mills space to breathe much-needed breath of fresh air into running Ghana, especially after eight years of Kufour’s murky government.

It is hard to understand how Rawlings could in all honesty expect Mills to achieve so much in mere 100 days (to undo 8 years of NPP) when he has just barely finished putting his cabinet together and some important appointments still to be made. Rawlings himself was in power for 19 years yet he could not build even a kilometre of road from Tema to Aflao. In fact, the people of lower Volta should be grateful to former president John Kufour for building a first class road, at least from Sogakope to Akatsi. So, why put Mills under so much pressure, public pressure at that? With friends like Rawlings, president Mills doesn’t need enemies.

Overbearing Rawlings can have disruptive effects on Mills’ programme and delivery, disillusioning those who voted for him in 2008. Some of those NDC voters could conceivably switch to NPP or some other party in 2012. My views are not grounded in a scientific analysis of the voting patterns in the December 2008 elections but my political sense tells me that a disaffected 1 to 2 percentage points swing away from NDC to NPP would be enough to bring them back to power, with a small but working majority. There is another development taking place that Rawlings should not forget. The Volta Region may not remain NDC’s preserve political turf much longer. NPP brought more developments in the Volta Region, especially roads, in eight years than Rawlings had done in all his 19 years in power. So, NPP are making a gradual but steady inroad there, and this could prove very significant in tight polls. As of now, however, NPP can afford to sit back and watch Rawlings surgically dissect an NDC president in public theatre, all in the name of fictional “ordinary folk” and freedom of speech. I do not deny that Rawlings, like other Ghanaians, has freedom of speech, something he denied Ghanaians during his military regimes. But my contention is that given his position in our society, in general, and in NDC, in particular, Rawlings has a responsibility to exercise his right with circumspection, sensitivity, and acute political awareness. He campaigned well and hard for Mills in 2008 but he seems to have forgotten that those who voted NDC voted for Mills, and not for him personally.

Personally, I think that Ghana’s economic development and entrenchment of accountability, transparency, probity in government, war against corruption and improving the standard of living of all Ghanaians would be put back several decades if NDC lost the next elections. Rawlings needs no reminding that the last NPP government was one of the most corrupt, if not the most corrupt, government in Ghana’s history, and that leopard doesn’t change its spots. It is frightening to imagine that the 16 NPP presidential aspirants in 2008 who spent mind-boggling billions and billions of Cedis on their campaign are out there straining like a hound on leash to regain power. Wherever their funds came from, those guys are unlikely to write them the off like a bad business debt. They want to come back to power and recoup their “losses” and will help themselves to Ghana’s petrol dollar reserves. The irony, of course, is that they have an unlikely ally in person of Rawlings. The irony is not lost on the former NPP regional commissioner, Mr. Joseph Boahen Aidoo. He was reported (Ghanaweb 2 May 2009) as remarking that although it was the responsibility of the opposition, NPP, to put the Mills administration on its toes, Rawlings had taken over that mandate and that they were happy with his role. That must rank as the understatement of the year.

For the sake of Ghana, for the sake of NDC, Rawlings should stop trying to upstage and undermine our president. If he has any wise advice worth imparting to Mills, he should telephone or go and see the president and have a civilized chat with him over a nice cup of tea. Resort to public criticisms and detailed comments on specific problem issues within the Mills communications structure are politically damaging. I personally think it would be more useful if Rawlings channelled his energy into something more constructive than public raving, ranting and “booming” about what Mills must do, how he must do it, and the speed with which he must do it. My advice to Rawlings for what it may be worth is that he should shut himself out of the political limelight, sit down and write his autobiography. That exercise should prove immensely helpful to him (and Ghanaians generally, of course). It should enable him to gain an insight into, and hopefully understand and curb, the demon in him. Irrespective of whether he takes my advice or not, there is one thing that Rawlings cannot afford to ignore: 2012 is sooner than he thinks, and Ghanaians will soon be back in the polling booths to render their verdict!

Cedric Tsuo

Columnist: Tsuo, Cedric