Opinions Wed, 13 Jun 2007

Rawlings, Odartey-Willington and the Abracadabra

Mr. Felix Odartey-Willington has collapsed into a relatively quieter existence in Toronto, Canada, where he is undertaking a joint PhD programme in media relations and communication studies. He had served his country briefly as a barrister and solicitor at law before going abroad. He had been a student leader at University of Ghana, but we remember him particularly for his last appearance on GTV, in which he was said to have described Mr. Rawlings as a ‘con man’. That pronouncement triggered an almost never-ending interrogation by the BNI. After that, we haven’t heard much of him, except that he is doing a bit of learning.

For most us, Rawlings’ June 4 uprising is only a bloody chapter in the political history of Ghana; we regret it, but we are spared the thought of reliving the flow of human blood on that day, until every June when the event is celebrated. But, for somebody like Felix, whose father, General Odartey-Willington, was killed in the revolution, it is a daily experience, and it is etched on his mind. While Rawlings doesn’t remember his own age in 1979, Felix and children of other victims who were shot will have no difficulty in bringing back bitter memories, when as toddlers their parents were taken away forever. Felix may also find it amusing to read Hon Nuamah Donkor’s proclamation at the recent commemoration of the June 4 uprising that, General Odartey-Willington died because he did not listen to the prophecies of a Winneba based oracle.

According to ex-minister of state Nuamah Donkor, Rawlings was ordained by God to rule Ghana: ‘‘This young officer who is a half-caste has been destined by God to raise the status of the nation,’’ the oracle has said. Mr. Paddy Acheampong, a military officer at the time was to deliver this message to army commander Odartey, and advise him to perform special rituals, to avert an impending doom. Odartey’s impiety in the gods turned the wrath of the spirits against him and he was killed. The gods were proved right when the young half-caste was broken free from jail to lead the June 4 bloody killing spree, eventually becoming president of the West African country, his hands soaked in blood.

Oracles do speak, and when they speak, things happen. As we taxi earth bound, we are only too aware of today; tomorrow is most often in the womb of time. Oracles see into the seeds of time and predict the future of seeds that will grow and those that will wither. When the witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth predicted that Macbeth will be King, he did become King, but at a price. In Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, the seer, Teresias, was a blind man, but when he prophesied that Oedipus will kill his father and marry his mother, it did happen. He bore children with his mother and had to gorge out his eyes when the reality dawned on him. And when Ola Rotimi adopted the Oedipus story in The Gods are not to blame, the power of the gods was overpowering. Odawale was a butterfly who thought himself a bird. He tried to prove himself a bird, and he was made a butterfly. The Gods are not to blame for this; he was told to stay at one place. Such is the power of the gods.

These are creations of people’s imagination; they never happened. But, we know Rawlings and we experienced June 4 together; do we smell the power of a god or the involvement of a larger design in Rawlings’ ascent to power? Are we talking of gods such as Rawlings’ favourite-Antoa Nyamaa, Techiman Botwerewa and Nsoatre Botene, or we are thinking of the Supreme Being-the Christian God or Allah, as he is known in Islam? The Winneba oracle had sweepingly mentioned God.

Which of these gods does Rawlings believe in? When the PNDC became a national democratic congress (NDC), he was heard to have proclaimed that he didn’t believe in democracy. He has on occasion without number professed his disbelief in God, making the Bible appear like the transcript of a baby’s lullaby. However, he believes in the supernatural. When he called for human blood to flow like a river in the heat of the uprising, he declared that Ghanaians should not put their faith in God; but in ‘‘a fetish native shrine.’’ His handwritten speech meant for his abortive May 15 mutiny, explicitly extolled the powers of voodoo: ‘‘If you should dare touch a penny you will be shot without trial. If you should escape our notice you better be prepared to die on the shrine.’’

He had assured the people: ‘‘He who has nothing to fear has nothing to lose.’’ But a lot of people lost everything, including precious lives: ‘‘I am telling you today that not one single criminal, thief shall escape the wrath of the gods of the underdogs of this country, be it a soldier, officer, civilian, be it a corrupt power hungry politician, businessman or a thieving Labanese.’’ Then as if Yahweh did not mean I am, he extinguished any semblance of a God from his thoughts in a piece of admonishment to Ghanaians: ‘‘We sit here thinking God’s time is the best. We hope and pray that God will punish evil doers. Take it from me today, God will not raise a finger if you don’t initiate the move.’’

With this background, it was going to be easier for anybody to bet that the Pope is not a Catholic than to see Rawlings respect the very lives he claimed to have come to redeem. ‘‘ We had no choice but to sacrifice two initially… Within a week, the cry for more blood was still going on. We had no choice but to offer another six’’, he told a conference in The Hague recently. He was charitable to have wished for ‘rivers of human blood’; the blood that was shed was more than a river; the word tsunami was not popular at the time.

I don’t know much about the June 4 uprising, except that Rawlings was my age today when he led it. At 5, I must have heard gun shots and made to observe the curfew. The story of Ante Domson, a Sunyani based businesswoman, was chilling when it was later narrated to me, and it still sends shivers down my spine, for her grandchild was my classmate at the Ridge Experimental School. Drug-fueled soldiers stripped her naked, poured paint perfumed with chili pepper into her private parts and loaded a big pan with milk and sardines on her head. They marched her into a principal street and ordered her to run, while carrying the heavy load. Then as if the Trinity did not comprise three entities, an armored car would roar its baritone engine and zoom past her, as if to hit her. Then they would apply the brakes in Accra Aca Atwetwe fashion, whereupon Ante Domson will stumble and fall frightfully. They will lift her up, fondle with her enormous bum flirtatiously and load the scattered items onto her head again, as if Golgotha was not enough punishment for Jesus. People watched, cried and cursed. (Believe me, I cried when I finished writing this paragraph; I never knew I was that emotional.) Her crime was for making too much profit from genuine sales. Kalabule, I remember this term well. When the gods decide to make a King, the reason for the choice is also a thing for the gods alone, but often it is predicated on the egotism of an egonomaniac. And often, Kings made this way fall at the feet of the very gods who crowned them. Oedipus fell, Macbeth fell, Odewale fell, so do people who patronize ‘juju money’. When fortune begins creaking at the seams, the walls will cave in. So if the gods, instead of God made JJ Rawlings King, why did he not fall? And perhaps, it is only Professor Martin Owusu, whose King in The story Ananse Told ruled for just one day and was demoted to his original poor hunter state; Kings ordained by the gods could rule for many years. JJ ruled for nearly twenty years and voluntarily (or rather mistakenly) handed over to John Kufour, instead of John Mills. Was there the hand of the supernatural in the process? Did the handing over mark the expiration of the season the gods had appointed or democratic commonsense would have prevented a Mugabe in Ghana willy-nilly?

That superstition works in our politics is known in far away Guinea, where Kankan Nyame was imported to be part of our first republic. Kankan is a town in Guinea, and their powerful shrine was so admired by Ghanaians that we were quick to borrow it the ‘surname’ of Onyankorompon. Perhaps, this was the precedent JJ was following.

When we talk of the supernatural, we mean to say that we are natural and God or the gods are super, so together we make the supernatural. How natural has JJ Rawlings been over the years? He had credited yoko-gari as a young man and made some bad grades at Achimota School. He wasn’t better looking than me when he mounted platforms and delivered moving speeches amidst wild gyrations. He was hailed Junior Jesus by those who felt that a messianic redemption had finally arrived. Today, his boom persona is gradually eating away his much needed statesmanship credentials.

But you can’t say that his belief in the gods, instead of The God, has not helped his course. He still has a good following, and it is virtually impossible to divorce his person from the personality of the NDC. To do so will be denying that speaking in tongues was not the result of the Pentecost. He may have had the support of the gods but could that ever justify the ‘‘rivers of blood’’ that was squeezed from precious lives some 28 years ago? If the gods willed that the army generals, including Odartey-Willington should be ‘‘sacrificed’’ to herald his kingship, then like Oedipus, JJ ‘‘had no choice.’’ But we know there were lots of choices available to him at the time. His life had been spared in jail after the failed May 15 insurrection. Was that not a choice he could have offered the Generals? He was emphatic: ‘‘This time evil shall be made to pay back evil…’’ What evils had the Generals and the judges committed, except being hardworking Ghanaians?

JJ Rawlings had also warned that if anybody stood in the way of the killing of the ‘inhuman nation wreckers,’’ blood will flow like a river. It would be ungodly for any god to have sanctioned a ceaseless flow of blood to save any situation, unless the person supervising the flow was a god himself. That, apparently, is the Rawlings Oedipus.

The author is a freelance journalist. He lives in London.

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

Columnist: Tawiah, Benjamin