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Opinions Thu, 29 Mar 2001

The Rawlings Era: A Legacy To Avoid

-March 29 2001
Upon assuming power through a coup d'etat in 1981, Jerry Rawlings, in one of his early interviews, responded to a reporter's question, as to the ideology that drove him, (as reported on the BBC website) to act, thus: "Don't ask me what my ideology or economic programme is, I don't know any law and I don't understand economics, but I know it when my stomach is empty."

That was an inauspicious beginning for Ghanaians. For the next few years, neither the respect for the rule of law, nor the economics of developing Ghana proved to be a oncern for Rawlings; only his personal aggrandizement and greed were catered to. After ruling Ghana for nineteen years, Rawlings was required to leave office by the very form of government he dreaded most; multi-party democracy. In the end Rawlings was not sure what legacy he had left Ghanaians. In his last days in power, the BBC's Mark Doyle interviewed Rawlings at the Castle, and asked him what he would like to be remembered for, Rawlings responded, "that he hoped his legacy would be a feeling of confidence among the Ghanaian people."

The tragedy of the Rawlings era is that, after promising so much, Jerry Rawlings and his gang did not provide the leadership, nor set the example worthy of emulation. The Rawlings era is remarkable only for the greed, corruption, inordinate ambition, and total breakdown of the rule of law and accountability.

One of the fallacies perpetrated in the official Ghanaian and Western press was that Rawlings had brought 'stability' to Ghana. But the truth is that when Rawlings forcibly seized power in 1981, Ghana was already a stable, peaceful country with a duly elected constitutional government. We had a robust parliament debating the affairs of state. There was no insurrection on the horizon. If anything, it was Rawlings who destabilized Ghana and brought untold hardship to her people.

There is little doubt that under Rawlings, Ghana attained a level of international repute that she had not had since the days of Kwame Nkrumah. Ghanaians remained a peaceful and law-abiding people and thus managed to avoid the encumbrances that have thrown our neighbors into civil strife and despondency. But our international acclaim, masked nagging problems at home that impoverished the people and made a change of government inevitable. Indeed, the domestic policies of the Rawlings era present a legacy to avoid, if the country is to move towards economic development.

In the NPP, the party in government, whose ideological commitment to private enterprise and liberal democracy cannot be doubted, Ghana has a good chance of developing a truly democratic-based free enterprise regime. Certainly, President Kufour has given assurances that every support will be given to investors in an effort to resuscitate the moribund economy. However, Mr. Kufour could also achieve some of his goals faster if he avoided some of the brazen and corrosive policies of his predecessor.

First, the new president must assure the business community that their investments and businesses will be safe from any wanton government policy that would lead to their ruin. Such an assurance will be a step in the right direction because under Rawlings, established Ghanaian businessmen and entrepreneurs suffered greatly.

Under Rawlings, a 'war' was declared on Ghanaian businessmen and entrepreneurs whose businesses, and in some cases their lives, were destroyed. Among them were:

If these businessmen and entrepreneurs had been given government support, or at least not interfered with, they would have expanded their outfits, created new products, and provided more jobs, thereby helping in Ghana's industrial take-off. Never should political considerations and personal jealousies be allowed to destroy entrepreneurial effort, especially that of the Ghanaian in his own country.

President Kuffuor must assure businessmen that banks and other financial institutions exist to advance credit for the expansion of their businesses, and that the banks do provide the legal mechanisms whereby such loans are repaid. This is the practice in all civilized countries. The government, in turn, must avoid the policy of confiscating factories and business assets, a technique used frequently during the Rawlings era, either because the owners belong to different political parties or are accused of not paying their taxes.

When the giant American company Chrysler was on the verge of bankruptcy, it was the United States government that bailed it out by making affordable loans available to the car manufacturer. Needless to say, thousands of employees kept their jobs, Chrysler under Lee Iacoca became profitable again, and paid off the loan to the U.S. government. The government must be seen as a friend of business and not a competitor.

The harassment of businessmen who have not broken any law must come to an end. In this wise, one hopes the new government will expedite the case (or lack thereof), regarding the proprietor of the A-Life Supermarket chain so that he can continue in his business.

The proprietor of A-Life, a young Ghanaian businessman was "accused" of acquiring several bank loans. Rather than having the man pay off the loan as required in a loan contract, the proprietor's business was ransacked. He was arrested, and his business crippled as a result. It is never a crime for a businessman to borrow money from a bank to expand a business!

Government interference in Financial Institutions/Business relations based on political considerations must stop in order to afford an enabling environment for business growth. The harassment of businessmen who have not broken any law must come to an end.

Second, the new government's desire to court investors will receive a shot in the arm if Kuffour avoided another Rawlings legacy - the control of the Press through archaic laws. Perhaps the major cog in the wheel of democracy is a free and unfettered press. The American statesman Thomas Jefferson recognized the role of a free press in national stability when he said when the press is free, and everyone able to read, the Republic is safe.

There is nothing more stifling to homo sapiens than being denied the truth, or having an opinion and not being allowed the right to express it without fear of prosecution or harassment. Ghana should never recede into the era of a "Culture of Silence", when fear pervaded the entire country because Ghanaians could not express an opinion.

President Kuffour can reassure Ghanaians of his commitment to freedom of the press and of opinion by abolishing the Criminal Libel Law under which the NDC crippled critical opinion by using the Courts to levy heavy fines on newspaper publishers, journalists, and private individuals. A free press is a needed catalyst in economic development, and will help to unearth corrupt practices that inhibit investment and business growth.

The third policy change that will assure investors of the safety of their investments and their persons is the adherence to the rule of law. Very little can be achieved in a country where lawlessness abounds; and the traditional instruments of law enforcement are trampled upon. Under Rawlings, a new term called "machomen" was employed to underscore the law of the jungle mentality where might is right. These "machomen' or armed enforcers were not beyond attacking private citizens including members of parliament and the Police with impunity! Such acts of lawlessness must cease if Ghana is to attract investors.

A major component of the rule of law, is the maintenance of law and order by the Police not the Army. It bears belaboring the point that the Police must be afforded all the necessary resources to enable them to perform their task effectively. Unless that is done, we will be haunted by stories such as this one reported by the Ghanaian Chronicle (Internet Online Edition) Volume 9, No 46 - Dec. 14, 2000:

"Unfortunately, the police at Pramkese (near Kade, Eastern Region) could not arrest the gunmen because they were more armed. At the time the incident occurred, only one policeman, Constable Poku was on duty without a weapon. Apparently, the only AK47 at the disposal of the three policemen doesn't function and is only used as a scarecrow"

Fourth, in Africa, the greatest threat to national security and stability comes from the very institution that is set up to ensure the stability of the nation, the Army! The Army in Africa, without exception has arrested the development of Africa by its constant interference in the affairs of state. Though partly corrupted by coups d'etat, the Ghana Armed Forces has generally remained a highly professional, and respectably unified institution.

Unlike other African countries where the Army is openly divided along tribal lines, and battalions reflect the tribal component of the area where it is located, the Ghana Armed Forces has remained a truly unitary, national institution. The only exception is Battalion 64 or June 4th Battalion ( a date that commemorates Rawlings' June 4, 1979 coup) a separate unit that Rawlings created. One cannot say in so many words what dangers this particular unit poses to national security. Without mincing words, this unit must be disbanded and its members integrated into the national army after re-orientation.

Indeed, Ghana faces excruciating economic problems as never before in her post-independent history. However, by adopting sound fiscal policy that can rescue the Cedi from its doldrums, lower the interest rate (which can only be described as atrocious) on bank loans, provide an enabling investment atmosphere by setting an example in good leadership that controls corruption, (and cuts waste), Ghana would be on its way to economic resuscitation.

Business and long-term investment will thrive best where a regime of tolerance, promotion of the rule of law, and adherence to the principle of Separation of Powers are developed into our national culture. The Rawlings regime made mockery of all these cherished principles and ideals. President Kuffour should avoid the debilitating anti-business legacy of Rawlings by promoting these principles and ideals as linchpins of his economic programme.

Columnist: Ellison, Kofi