The Human Element in our Democratic Experiment

Thu, 3 Sep 2009 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

Part 1

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor


August 31st, 2009

A keen and impartial observer of the Ghanaian political scene will not fail to notice that there is too much tension in the system, which is detrimental to the country’s quest for a lasting democracy. From the North through the South, East and West, the citizens seem to be divided by something. More worrisome is the unproductive relationship that exists between the people because of their being polarized over political persuasions.

Today, I intend to draw attention to one of the major problems that we must address if we want to help our democracy mature: the human element in our national life. More importantly, the kind of relationship that has existed between various segments of the society is not encouraging. I will bring up the strained and seemingly intractable problematic relationship between our two former Presidents, Rawlings and Kufuor, as a glaring example of the negative human elements that threaten our democracy.

The scene that I saw at the requiem mass of Senator Edward Kennedy in the Basilica in Boston, Massachusetts, on Saturday August 29, 2009, evoked very strong emotions in me and foregrounded some provocative issues concerning the human factor in democratic systems. The event brought together three former US Presidents (Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton of the Democratic Party, and George W. Bush of the Republican Party). The camaraderie that all these former Presidents exchanged with each other and with the current President (Obama) reinforced my understanding of why the US is recognized as the “father of democracy.” Then also, it was gratifying to see others from the Republican and Democratic Party mingle and exchange pleasantries (considering the broad smiles they were wearing while chatting). I saw President Obama and his wife (Michelle) as well as Hillary Clinton and her husband interact vigorously with George Bush and his wife, Laura; and throughout the period, it was all laughs and smiles from these politicians. These were bitter political opponents in the heat of the electioneering campaigns for the November 2008 elections. What harsh words didn’t any of them hurl at the other?

But knowing very well how the human factor affects a country’s political system, more so in a democratic dispensation, they didn’t allow their political rhetoric to control their entire lives such that they would entrench themselves against each other. In Ghana, it is not so. Politics has divided us to such an extent that some of us are willing to cause mayhem if we perceive our political interests as being threatened.

Of all the abundant definitions of “democracy,” the one that best appeals to me is: Government of the people, by the people, for the people.” What can be more exhilarating than the truth that a group of people should rule themselves through the choices that they make to establish institutions that embody their aspirations and to choose representatives from among them as their rulers? In other words, the Greek’s notion of “demokratia” (“demos,” meaning“ the “people” and “kratos,” meaning “rule”) is appealing; hence, the desire by people all over the world to be labelled as being “democratic.”

Right from its etymological base, then, we see democracy as heavily invested with the human element. Wherever people gather, the need for “ruling” emerges because such people want to take advantage of their gregariousness to advance the cause of humanity.

Our choice of constitutional democratic governance, having suffered from all forms of military interventions (whether spuriously labelled as “liberation,” “redemption,” or “people’s revolution”), suggests that we want to use our sense of humanness to facilitate the development of our country and its people. But the strained relationship between Rawlings and Kufuor and the fallouts at several levels leave a sour taste in one’s mouth.

Here is what I consider as the worrisome contributions of each to the crisis.

Jerry John Rawlings

I want to raise issues with Rawlings first before I turn to the others. I will do so with a clear understanding that he has been involved in many events that have had (and continue to have and will always have) varying degrees of impact on the country’s political, economic, social, and cultural life. His role raises questions that he should join us answer because its impact on our democratic experiment cannot to be discounted.

The tumultuous events that propelled Rawlings to power are still fresh in the memories of many people. The loss of limb and property stands out as the most pervasive aspect. It will take a whole encyclopedia for anybody to chronicle all those “painful” events, despite the gains made in some areas. People always respond to those tumultuous happenings from varying perspectives. If you are an ardent follower of the Rawlings cause, you will surely justify those events and bet your life on insisting that they were meant to clean the stables. If you were a victim or simply someone who abhorred what took place, there is nothing on earth that will make you justify or rationalize them. The scars left behind by those events are deep and indelible.

In all these circumstances, opponents of Rawlings have unceasingly pointed accusing fingers at him. But for his emergence on the political scene, those catastrophes wouldn’t have happened, they claim. Although Rawlings has apologized on a number of occasions for the excesses that led to the death of some of those victims of the events he spearheaded, he still believes firmly that the Army Generals who led the country in the 1970’s and paid the ultimate price deserved their Fate. He is known to have strongly defended his position on this score. Others such as Boakye Gyan have also defended that stance, although disagreeing with Rawlings at several other levels.

We all know that three former Heads of State (Gen. I.K. Acheampong, Gen. Fred W.K. Akuffo, and Gen. Akwasi Amankwaah Afrifa) were shot to death at the Kpeshie Range under the AFRC. Then, the heinous kidnapping and murder of the High Court Judges occurred on June 30, 1982, under the PNDC. The President of the Third Republic (Dr. Hilla Limann) and his Vice, (Joe de-Graft Johnson) died natural deaths even though Rawlings’ opponents still want the world to believe that his coup d’état was a major factor for their debilitation and passing away. Then, he physically assaulted Kow Nkensen Arkaah, his Vice. All these are not good marks on his score card, I daresay.

Probably, Rawlings’ direct likening of Kufuor to Ayiayi, the convicted armed robber, when he sang the harsh refrain: “Kufuor nie, Ayiayi nie” at the Osu Cemetery can be recorded as the highest level of frustrated belligerence and spoiling for a fight, which further widened the gulf between him and Kufuor. Rawlings continued to show clearly how much hatred he was still harbouring against Kufuor and made it known in the period before, during, or after the Obama visit. He had said that all that he did to accommodate Kufuor was not genuine but due to the pressures of diplomacy. Then, Kufuor also gave an interview in which he bared his teeth, even though he said he won’t insult Rawlings. Of all people, Rawlings should know that he has positioned himself at a crucial point in Ghana’s politics and that the onus of doing what will lessen (and not raise) tension in the system lies on him. No other Ghanaian has had such a nerve-wracking presence in national life. That he is still alive and making his presence felt can only be ascribed to “The Grace of God.” It is enough to excite a sober reflection.

John Agyekum Kufuor

Kufuor’s role in the problems that we have is equally alarming. He appears to be a victim of political developments that he couldn’t extricate himself from. We all know that before he became the President of Ghana, he had not had any good relationship with Rawlings under whom he had served in 1982 at the Ministry of Local government, anyway. Thus, leading the NPP from opposition into the citadel of power was a heavy responsibility that Kufuor shouldered, not without worsening the relationship between him and Rawlings. We know all that happened between Kufuor (as an individual) and his government in terms of the demonization of Rawlings and the persistent effort to paint him black. Kufuor’s wild allegation at Offinso that Rawlings was plotting a coup d’état against him was a big below-the-belt blow. Perhaps, stripping Rawlings of his privileges and exposing him to public ridicule could also be seen as an impolitic action by Kufuor. No wonder, Rawlings appears to be unforgiving toward him. Be that as it may, their strained relationship doesn’t make Ghanaians happy.

These two former leaders have set a very disturbing example that nobody should ever emulate in Ghana or any part of the world. Rather ridiculously, both claim to be Catholics; but I daresay that they are being unCatholic in their attitude toward each other. Where, in their enmity toward each other, is the element of forgiveness that the Christian sect stresses?

Several efforts by organizations and prominent personalities to resolve their personal conflict have not succeeded, leaving Ghanaians slack-jawed and persistently wondering why the situation should be so. Not that Ghanaians cannot live their lives without them; but the point is that as the two remaining former Presidents, if this bad blood relationship between them persists, it will not bode well for the country. Is it possible for them to be at the same spot to do what the former Presidents and high-ranking politicians from both political divides did last Saturday in Boston? Think about that.

Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.