In reacting to the NRC report which was recently presented to the President of Ghana, Mr. Appiah Danquah Kuffuor apportions blame to all of Ghana for watching passively as the repressive regime of the PNDC brutalized the people of Ghana. I am referring to his article, "NRC Report - Are We all Guilty?" which was published on Thursday, 28 October. I do not agree with him that every one in the country was passive or indifferent about what went on under that regime. There was one particular organised pressure group which fought the PNDC dictatorship for many years, and that was the National Union of Ghana Students (NUGS).
POWER OF A PRESSURE GROUP
I must admit though that the initial reaction of the three universities to Rawlings' coup of 1981 was one of acceptance and cooperation. Under the leadership of the President of the National Union of Ghana Students (NUGS), Philip Gardiner, our students initially first embraced the Dec 31 coup, and worked with Rawlings and his group. It was quite disappointing that they didn't condemn Rawlings. But if any good came out of this initial enthusiasm, however, it was to the benefit of our country, Ghana, that the students pooled their abundant energies together and worked day and night to cart to the ports for shipment, cocoa that had been locked up in the hinterlands for many months. This phase of acceptance and cooperation did not last long for soon there was no love lost between the university students and the PNDC.
Under the subsequent leaderships of Arthur Kobina Kennedy, Kofi Aikins, Kakraba Cromwell, Kwaku Yamoah Painstill, etc., the students of our premier universities put up a sustained and unrelenting fight against the PNDC, which was characterized by demonstrations, high-level meetings with PNDC representatives, walk-outs, as well as numerous letters and articles from the students body that sought to portray the PNDC in a very negative light. In those days, every pressure group, including even the Ghana Bar association had been cowed into silence, and the lone voice of dissent against the PNDC dictatorship was the National Union of Ghana Students. True, we did not bring the PNDC down through those methods; yet we helped to draw local and international attention to Ghana's situation, all of which culminated in bringing our country closer to democratic rule sooner than otherwise could have been the case. They say all the time in Ghana that university students are know-alls; but when the chips were down, and the rubber met the road as Americans are wont to say, we were the only organized group who could stand up to the might of the PNDC.
MY PERSONAL STORY
I personally helped to organize one of the biggest demonstrations against the PNDC misrule in June 1987. LeavingLegon campus, we marched through the Achimota forest to evade a platoon of policemen who had been deployed between Legon police station and Tetteh Quarshie Circle to break up our demonstration. We continued to march through the suburbs of Dzorwulu, Kokomlemle, and through the Kwame Nkrumah Avenue after we emerged from the suburbs across the street from what used to be the P & T Headquarters in North Accra. Carrying our placards which bore inscriptions that were openly critical of the PNDC, we shocked Accra by our rare show of courage, and I may say, a little bit of foolhardiness. It may sound like an insignificant thing now, but 1987 wasn't a good time to try that stunt.
The PNDC had by then entrenched themselves in power and grown increasingly paranoid and brutal in its handling of any form of dissent. To be honest, we flirted with real danger when we took them on on that massive and open scale. By the time we reached Makola Square, intelligence had reached the security agents that we had arrived in town with our big demonstration. We had, at the beginning of the march, decided that we were going to stop and sit on the street when we saw the police coming after us. But when they finally showed up we knew it would be suicidal to do that. They were driving in many white jeeps at top speed and if we had tried to stop them they would have run us over. Needless to say, they broke up our demonstration, sending all of us in different directions for safety and refuge.
I ran down a blind alley between several buildings and found myself in an open-air working-class restaurant (chop bar). Looking desperately for a place to hide I dashed behind a group of women who were seated in a corner. One woman quickly advised me to look for a better place to hide because it wouldn't be too hard for the police to find me where I was crouched. Then I ran into a small toilet room across from where I was hiding. The same woman advised me to do something more sensible than that. So I took off my shirt, singlet and sandals, and took over the BANKU from the guy who had been hired to turn it that morning. Seconds later, some of my colleagues ran up the same alley, only to be followed soon after that by several policemen. They quickly arrested them even over their protestations that they were not Legon students. Because I was turning the food on the fire, my disguise saved me from arrest. My colleagues were whisked away, arraigned before the People's Tribunal and jailed for several months for organizing an illegal demonstration.
My ingenuity saved me from arrest and imprisonment not because I was smarter than my colleagues. On the contrary, because I was the first to run into the alley, I had enough time to try different things before finally finding the perfect disguise. My colleagues didn't have that luxury. POWERLESS INDIVIDUALS Outside the environment of organized pressure groups Ghanaians, on the whole, were powerless in the face of the formidable PNDC apparatus. That is why when Mr. Appiah Danquah found himself at Gondar barracks in the company of his elder brother to broker the release of another brother, all he could do was that as, "I watched in disbelief, I was paralysed with fear and did nothing". Mr. Appiah-Danquah shouldn't be blaming himself and other individuals for "doing nothing" about the PNDC brutalities. What could he have done when the soldiers began to manhandle his brother? Being paralysed by fear and watching in disbelief was the best thing under the circumstance that he could do. Confronted by drug-crazed, gun-totting soldiers he couldn't have appealed to reason because those people were not rational. Nor could he have issued threats, because the soldiers at Gondar barracks were a law unto themselves. They feared no one; and they were accountable to themselves. And Gondar barracks, where Rawlings had his PNDC Headquarters was a notorious place, to say the least. So by staying silent, Mr. Appiah-Danquah did the noblest thing; for there are times when all you can do is to keep your mouth shut so that you would live to continue the fight later. If he had tried to resist the soldiers, or tried to reason with them he probably would have lost a limb, an organ (I don't know which one in his case) or his entire life. When you step outside the confines of an organized pressure group, an individual is bound to be overwhelmed by the sheer power of a regime like the PNDC and its operatives, as I found out for myself around April 1990. PRINCIPLE OF SELF-PRESERVATION For all the noise (and "book-long") we could make on and off the university campuses as an organized group, it felt completely different when I came face-to-face with the dreaded Warrant Officer Yaw Nkwantabisa during my National Service days in Enchi, in the Western Region. Here was a guy who had shot and killed countless people at the Tema harbour for breaching his security arrangements. I don't know why he was in Enchi, and who had brought him there. But he had come to my house to collect some kind of tax that he said the whole town was paying. Not only had I not been paid since I started teaching at the local secondary school, but what is more, I felt disgusted at the methods he was using to gather his taxes. National Service personnel did not pay taxes, anyway, but this bloke wouldn't listen to any of that. Needless to say, we soon got into a heated argument; but it didn't take long for me to realize that I was in a weakened position. I was right, and he was wrong. Yet if I was not careful the guy could shoot me and throw my body into the stinking gutter behind my window. In Enchi he was the "boss" during the short time he stopped by, and every one feared him. Even the District Secretary and the CDR chairman feared him. Incidentally, my landlord had heard the commotion and had come over to see what was going on on with "teacher". When he stepped in and spoke to the Warrant Officer to calm down I knew it was my chance to sue for peace. I quickly backtracked and diffused the tension that had been mounting. God gave all of us a certain level of intelligence. Sometimes you must learn to bury your pride to be able to wiggle your way out of difficulties.
Is that the image of a guy who helped to organize a march against the PNDC in Accra? Seemingly not! I must say here that the law of self-preservation is a basic human instinct, and when you find the odds heavily against you, as Mr. Appiah-Danquah found that day at Gondar Barracks, you must look for an exit so that you would live to fight again. That is not cowardice. Didn't Bob Marley say that he who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day? That was the situation most Ghanaians found themselves in living under the PNDC rule. We lived under the constant threat, or the potential for it, of gun-wielding soldiers who were always looking for an opportunity to open fire or drag you away to be "disciplined". That is why I maintain that as individuals Ghanaians were powerless before the monsters of the PNDC regime. There is nothing that anyone could have done as an individual to confront the widespread physical abuse and torture that had become the order of the day. A few individuals like Professor Adu Boahen did what they could, but on the whole all we could do as individuals were to talk about it in hushed tones. The general public cannot therefore be blamed for putting up little or no resistance to the PNDC. THOSE WHO FAILED US There is however, a particular group of people who could have stood to the PNDC, but who didn't. These folks can be said to have failed us when we needed them most to stand up to the PNDC. I am referring to all the politicians of the Third Republic who joined the PNDC government after the overthrow of a regime of which they were a part.
In my article, "Rawlings, Coup D'etats, And The Future Of Democracy" carried by Ghana Web on 8 August 2002, I had this to say: "What's more ignominious, some of the leading champions of multi-party and liberal democracy quickly turned coat and jumped on the PNDC bandwagon........... Obed Asamoah, Iddrissu Mahama, Nana Akuoko Sarpong, John Agyekum Kuffuor ( many people don't remember Kuffuor's stint with the PNDC), are just a few of the people who would condescendingly accept high-ranking positions in the PNDC. All of these were people who played prominent roles in the liberal democratic dispensation which immediately preceded, what has come to be known in Ghana politics as, the second coming of Rawlings. Was it opportunism, betrayal, or just a forgiving attitude that drove these liberal democrats and the intellectual leaders of this country to dine at the same table with Rawlings and the PNDC hoodlums? We profess to ourselves and the whole world that we hate coups; yet when the chips are down and we are confronted with coup plotters we sell our nation down the road by accepting positions in military governments and doing other things to support and prop up these regimes".
Also in another article, "Principles, Prostitution, and Politics of the Stomach", published on 29 September, 2002, I said that, "These four gentlemen were champions of democracy in Ghana. They were some of those on whom the growth and development of democracy hinged. They were vital cogs in the wheel of Ghana's fledgling democracy. They were the opinion leaders of our bourgeoning democratic movement, and the men we were looking up to in our national search for stability and in our collective efforts to perpetuate the gains of our home-grown liberal democray....................Of course, John Kuffuor took a relatively early decision and quit his association with the PNDC guys. But why he even agreed, in the first place, to accept an office in that government continues to baffle me to this day. I know that he has been at pain to explain to us, over the years, why he decided to join the PNDC. He has advanced arguments like, "I thought they had the nation's interest at heart and so I wanted to help in what they were doing". How, in this world, could a military government ever have any nation's interest at heart? How could a democrat even come up with the idea that he could work with military dictators to build a nation? Why would you offer help to a man who has just taken away from you something that rightfully belongs to you? How can oil and water blend together in the same bottle? Kuffuor's explanation is exactly like the analogy of having your father's house attacked and burgled, and all his valuables taken away. Then the burglars, knowing you to be a man of great ideas about how to invest resources, approach you for help. Surprisingly, you offer to help them in investing your own father's stolen wealth because of a promise that they would give you a certain percentage of the profits that would accrue to them from the business venture. Why would anyone stoop so low?" These and others like them should have put their lives down for the nation in resisting the PNDC, because that is what it means in the final analysis when you decide to seek political office as a liberal-democrat. Considering their high local and international profile if the politinas of the Third Republic had resisted the Rawlings coup, they could have turned much attention on Ghana. It wouldn't have been easy to eliminate them considering how important they were. THE WAY FORWARD Regardless of who must share the bigger blame for Ghana's long tolerance of the PNDC regime, we must congratulate ourselves for surviving this period and bringing our nation this far. We have certainly made progress in terms of advancing the horizons of political plurality, and tolerance for dissenting opinions. Especially since the historic victory of the NPP in 2000, Ghana has come very far in throwing off the yoke of political oppression. Our Honourable President Mr. John Kuffuor deserves praise for the great work he has done so far. We admire his gentle, peace-loving nature that has kept Ghana together. As hotheaded as some of us are, we sometimes chafe at what we perceive to be the President giving his opponents, especially the ungrateful Rawlings, a field day. It irritates us also because we think he is going to let the criminals from the NRC report go scot free, judging by his recent utterances. But if that is what our President wants for our nation, and if he thinks doing otherwise might be misconstrued as seeking vengeance, we respect his decision and will go along with it. We want the best for Ghana, and I believe that with President Kuffuor in the saddle he will steer the NPP government to stimulate growth and development for Ghana. I believe that if the NPP is given another term in office we shall strengthen the gains we have made so far. It is my prayer that the electorate in Ghana will give Mr. Kuffuor the mandate to continue, for the next four years, the good work he has begun. God bless you, my compatriots. B. K. Obeng-Diawuoh Bardstown, Kentucky, USA Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.
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