During president Rawlings' memorable state visit to the USA last year, president Clinton announced to the world that he shared a similar fate as president Rawlings. It was that both of them were young, both of them were presiding over burgeoning economies, and that both of them were expected to be out of office by the end of the year 2000! Some of us took that statement as president Clinton's friendly reminder to Rawlings to relinquish power as the Ghana Constitution required. There is no doubt that Clinton will leave office to a life of lecture, writing, and leisure, befitting an accomplished statesman. When it comes to president Rawlings, one tends to scratch the head! It is understandable that among Ghanaians talk of what president Rawlings will do in his retirement, ranks as important as the upcoming elections. This will be the first time that an elected president of Ghana, will hand power to another elected president. Under normal circumstances, this will be no news. But, this is Africa, where dictatorship is the norm; and presidents consider elections as anathema. Some of president Rawlings own pronouncements and actions have further raised concerns among the public regarding how he would spend his retirement.
Will the president choose the retirement of Leopold S. Senghor, the first president of Senegal, who retired to his estate in France, with his French-born wife, and has barely set foot in Senegal since. Will he retire like General Obasanjo of Nigeria, who in 1980 retreated to his hometown and became a commercial farmer, contributing to the agricultural production of Nigeria. Or will Flight Lieutenant J.J. Rawlings choose the path of General Denis Sassou Ngueso of Congo Brazzaville, who upon losing power in 1992, left intact his personal militia called ominously The Cobras, which he later employed to fight his way to power five years later in overthrowing the elected president Pascal Lissouba.
The latter scenario is no empty speculation. The current history of Africa affords us numerous and scary examples of leaders who have created their own Praetorian Guards, better-equipped, better-fed, better-paid, and better-resources in comparison to the national army. These private militia are used either to perpetuate the leader in power, or to serve as a dog-in-the-manger when the leader is voted out of office. Our own Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah had his own militia, the Osagyefo's Own Guard, whose primary allegiance was to the Osagyefo rather than the state.
Thus, it comes as no surprise to observers that no mean a person than General Hamidu, a former Chief of Ghana's Defense Staff has come out publicly to describe the so-called 64th Battalion as "a private army of Commandos" beholden to president Rawlings. Yet, the Armed Forces Directorate has come out with a bland excuse that the group pose no threat. It begs the question why these so-called "men from the various security agencies", were not incorporated into other battalions of the Ghana Army rather creating a separate unit for them?
The issue of what president Rawlings will do after relinquishing power was the subject of a Washington Post newspaper article written by correspondent Douglas Farrah on August 21, 2000. It seems the world is interested in knowing what our president will do after he leaves office. Will he be a partisan meddler in national affairs, or will he be a wise elder statesman who will be like the mythical "old lady" in our Ghanaian culture upon whom we call for advise.
Ghana may be in the economic doldrums, but there is no question that under the Rawlings tenure, Ghana has been restored to the international leadership and prestige that we enjoyed under Nkrumah. The West would much prefer a peaceful Ghana to serve as a shining example to our warring and fragmented meighbours. The Washington Post quotes US ambassador to Ghana Kathryn Robinson as saying that "relations between the United States and Ghana are the best they have ever been". All of us wish that to continue. A free and fair elections; and a smooth transition will ensure continued US support of Ghana.
Sadly, it appears that Rawlings cannot seem to wean himself from the trappings of power. No matter which party wins the elections, it seems ex-president Rawlings would wish to behave like the folk-story character "Osaman Twentwe", the mythical ghost who never disappears, but hangs around the corners of the neighbourhood to haunt the family incessantly.
Our president is well on his way to being that kind of character if he leaves the so-called Battalion 64 intact. President Rawlings, you have done very well in maintaining the peace and tranquility of Ghana for the past two decades. Please leave no room for some wayward adventurers to sully your image and record. Further, give up the position of "party leader-for-life" to which the NDC charter was rewritten to afford you that position. You should also resist the fawning encouragement of some of your minions who may wish to put you on the Council of State, and then make that docile group a decision-making body. In your retirement, please endeavor to stay above partisan politics, and lead a cheerful and contented life as an elder statesman.
I make these suggestion because looking at the current crop of African leaders, none matches your international standing which you can parlay to assist Ghana and Africa as an international lobbyist for African initiatives. Were you to relinquish power peacefully, and lead a life above partisan politics, your international prestige will only increase, thereby enhancing your prospect as an elder statesman for Africa who can be called upon to engage in finding solutions to Africa's myriad problems.
To this end, I will humbly suggest that you tone down your oft repeated "I don't believe in democracy" mantra. Not only are such comments from you dangerous and unhealthy to our fledgling democracy; such statement present an obfuscated view of you as a leader who cannot be taken seriously. There is nothing in democracy not to like. Except that it places checks and balances on personal ambition for power, and provides mechanisms for accountability against personal greed and corruption. Additionally, such statements scare off foreign as well as domestic investors. You see, statements like that create instability and confusion as to the direction of the ship of state. No investor worth his name, would want to invest his money in long-term projects, when he does not know where the ship of state is sailing.
A current practice in Ghana, is to install foreigners as local chiefs in order to extract development dollars from them. According to a report in the Ghanaian Times of July 14, 1999, you were installed a sub-chief of Alakpe in the Keta District under the stool name Togbi Xornametor I of Kome. You can select a development project of your choice to benefit your subjects. And, believe me when I say that as a former president people will make contributions to the project, the same way they bought copies of the NDC Manifesto that had your signature in "blood".
History has not been kind to our former leaders. Two of them Nkrumah and Busia died in exile; three of them, Afrifa, Acheampong, and Akuffo were shot dead by firing squad; the other two Liman and Ankrah died in anonymity. History must be the best teacher.
As is the case with all leaders, you have your coterie of hangers-on and praise singers who invariably will urge you to do things that would ensure their own hold on the spoils of power; because they cannot exist meaningfully in any other manner. Mr. president refuse their Ahithopel-like counsels and entreaties
Finally, as a respected former president of Ghana you will become a respected spokesman on the world stage. Even former Nigerian President General Abdulsalami Abubakar, has been appointed U.N. special envoy to Democratic Republic of the Congo in order to help bring peace to that rich but tortured land. Your profile is higher that Abubakar's. You will lose all that if you forego wise counsel to become a worthy elder statesmen by retiring to a life of statesman-like conduct. I wish you well.
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