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17.01.2005 Feature Article

Rawlings’ Legacy “Indeed”

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Response to the Editorial of the Daily Observer of Gambia This article is in reaction to one written as an Editorial of the Daily Observer of Gambia and published on Ghanaweb on 14th December 2004. The editorial concerned the current democratic dispensation being enjoyed by Ghanaians after countless years of military rule and political confusion that had seen the country on the brink of political & economic collapse.

Ghana as we all know, gained independence from the British in 1957 after a struggle that finally saw Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah become prime minister and then president. Democracy under Nkrumah dwindled when arguably Ghana's most charismatic leader till date, became increasingly paranoid, but with reason, about attempts both internally and externally to remove him from power.

After Nkrumah's overthrow in 1966, Ghana passed through the hands of many different leaders both military and civilian. A major factor however, no doubt, in the political history of Ghana was J.J. Rawlings who ruled my dear country briefly between 1979 and 1980 and then again for a “legendary” period between 1981 and 2000. By this feat, J.J. Rawlings attained the enviable position of the longest ruler Ghana has known since independence.

The Daily Observer in Gambia in its editorial published on Ghanaweb's internet site on the 14th of December 2004 however sought to create the impression that the current level of mature democratic politics prevalent in Ghana is due to the good work that J.J. Rawlings did during his time in power for 20 odd years. This unfortunately I beg to differ with vehemently and I am sure the majority of Ghanaians will side with my view.

If the Daily Observer of Gambia must know, the Rawlings years in Ghana politics were the darkest in the country's history. J.J.Rawlings, then a Flight Lieutenant in the Ghana Air Force, a rank similar to that of Captain in the Ghana Army, took over the realms of power in 1979 at a time when Ghana was going through a hapless period in its social, political and economic life. The leaders of the time had lost the plot and there was obvious rampant corruption in the country that had led to total deprivation of the masses. Life, in a nutshell, had become unbearable in the country as everything was virtually at a standstill.

Rawlings led an uprising on 15th May 1979 in an attempt to overthrow the then military government but failed and was arrested and detained. Whilst being arraigned before the courts, he made a statement that asked for all his accomplices to be freed and himself only to be blamed for the events of 15th May 1979. This course of events gained him huge sympathy amongst the lower ranking officers of the Armed Forces in Ghana as well as the general impoverished and deprived civilian population and it resulted in a raid on his prison on 4th June 1979 that freed him from custody. A coup ensued and he was installed head of state of Ghana on that very day.

His ascension to power in 1979 unleashed the worst bloodbath ever witnessed in Ghana's political history. As was rightly pointed out by the Daily Observer of Gambia, 3 ex-heads of state were executed without a proper trial. Many other people lost their lives under similar circumstances. A good number of these people were just victims of vendettas by disgruntled people within the society. Rawlings was nicknamed “Junior Jesus” in recognition of the fact that he was a leader who had come to sacrifice himself to save his people and as a result enjoyed overwhelming support from the population.

After conducting the so-called house-cleaning exercise, J.J. Rawlings set up a process that led to multi- party democracy and handed power back to civil society led by Dr. Hilla Limann after which he supposedly “retired” from the Ghana Armed Forces. This period thus became the 3rd Republic of Ghana and lasted till 31st December 1981.

On the dawn of 1st January 1982, Ghanaians woke up to the realisation that “Junior Jesus” had returned to power during the night. This time however, he proceeded to carefully hound all those he considered a threat to his power in the country. This process included kangaroo court trials and indefinite incarcerations. People were abducted and murdered, the 3 judges and retired army officer being a case in point. At this time in Ghana's history, the most vulnerable were the intellectuals and entrepreneurs of Ghanaian society. These people were considered by Rawlings, on the advice of his security chiefs, as the greatest threat to his absolute monopoly on power. This led to a large number of academics and entrepreneurs going into involuntary political exile mostly to Europe and the USA as well as to other African countries.

Rawlings ruled Ghana for 20 odd years employing a method of dividing and ruling the people mainly by playing one ethnic group against another to ensure his absolute monopoly on power. He curbed press freedom and stifled the country's economic development by appointing his and his wife's cronies to positions of responsibility within government thus worsening the corruption he was supposed to have come to clean up. He took over on 31st December 1981 at a time when Ghana's debt to international lenders stood at $1.2 billion and run up the debt to $6.3 billion in 2000 with nothing to show for it. Finally, after 20 years of going nowhere, Ghanaians in their own wisdom handed over power to a new political party.

I totally disagree with the point of view that the current democratic dispensation being enjoyed by Ghanaians is a legacy bequeathed us by J.J. Rawlings. I strongly disagree on the grounds that it is an open secret that J.J. Rawlings did not convert Ghana to democracy wilfully. He was forced to do so by the powers that be (World Bank, IMF & other international donor agencies and countries) in pursuit of what was termed “the new world order”. Conversion to democracy was a pre-condition laid down by these international institutions if Ghana and the then PNDC government wanted continued access to funds and other facilities which the country had come to depend upon for survival anyway. J.J. Rawlings, in order to maintain his peace of mind and continue to enjoy the trappings of power which his so-called “revolutionary ideas” had given way to, had no choice but to agree to convert Ghana into a democracy. However, as few Ghanaians knew then, this was to be mainly on his terms.

With the help of the likes of Justice Daniel Francis Annan and P.V. Obeng amongst a host of other political technocrats, the historic referendum was held and when the “Yes” votes won as J.J. and Co. had wanted, the consultative assembly (full of revolutionary cadres, 31st December Womens' Movement representatives and military officers) was constituted to draft the 4th Republican Constitution of Ghana. After J.J. had ensured the design of the constitution protected him against the evils committed during the revolution days, he signed it into a legal document by which time, under the auspices of D.F. Annan, P.V. Obeng, Nana Konadu Agyemang-Rawlings, Obed Asamoah, Dr. Mary Grant & Co. the National Democratic Congress (NDC) had already been formed and taken the lead on the campaign trail. J.J. quickly announced his retirement from the army (for the 2nd time??) and hopped onto the band-wagon to campaign for the presidency.

Before the opposition could organise themselves properly, they were forced to hastily elect their own presidential candidates with Prof. Adu-Boahen leading the NPP, Kwabena Darko (NIP), General (Rtd) Erskine (PHP) etc. bundling themselves into battle against the NDC. The results of the 1992 presidential and parliamentary elections were a forgone victory for the PNDC/NDC as expected.

When the election was won in 1992, just as the PNDC had morphed into the NDC, so did J.J. morph from “Chairman Rawlings” to “President Rawlings”, PNDC Secretaries morph into NDC Ministers & District Secretaries into District Chief Executives according to the 4th Republican Constitution. The newly formed Ghanaian parliament was dominated by the new ruling NDC because of a regretful decision by the opposition to boycott the then parliamentary elections due to irregularities that occurred in the presidential poll.

For 4 years J.J. Rawlings ruled. For 4 years Ghanaians were subjected to the same arbitrary use of state power that characterised the PNDC era. Ghanaians bit their tongues and waited for the opportunity in 1996 to rectify matters. By this time, J.J. Rawlings had become so power drunk, he walked into a cabinet meeting after a disagreement with the then Vice-President Kow Nkensen Arkaah (of blessed memory) and right in front of ministers and other government officials, brutalised the poor old man and in the process ripped his suit to shreds not forgetting his trademark bow tie.

But alas, in 1996, victory again went to the NDC in another election which the opposition deemed was not free, nor fair. But of course with the declaration of victory for the NDC by the electoral commission, all manner of noises of discontent were futile and J.J was to lead us again for another 4 years.

Finally, in 2000 as the constitution debarred him from running for another term in office, a freer and fairer race was run between the incumbent NDC and the opposition NPP. With the majority of voters chanting “Asie Ho”, Ghanaians went to the polls and the NDC was finally defeated in favour of the NPP marking a historic change of government. In 2004 as we now know, the NPP was re-elected to power by Ghanaians to lead them for another 4 years.

We as Ghanaians are aware of the noises being made, especially outside the country, about our democracy being one of the most advanced by African standards especially comparing to most countries within the West African sub-region. However, some of us beg to differ strongly on the issue of this level of democratic dispensation being a legacy of J.J. Rawlings. This differing view is held on the grounds of the fact that, had it not been the international pressure that had been brought to bear on Rawlings and his cohorts, we would not have seen the light of this day. Rawlings, by himself, had no intention whatsoever (and I challenge anyone thinking otherwise to substantiate) to return Ghana to civilian rule ever. Even after he became “democratically elected” president of Ghana in 1992, he used to make speeches on those self-proclaimed public holidays (June 4th & 31st December) to the effect that democracy in Ghana was a “necessary evil”. On many occasions whilst he was president, there was gross disregard and abuse of the 4th Republican Constitution which he was supposed to have had written to suit him and which he had sworn an oath before the whole nation to abide by. Is this a man who would leave us a legacy of our current democratic dispensation?

For those of us who still want to contend the issue, I ask that we look carefully at J.J's life post-presidency. Has he not on several occasions sought to destabilise the peace and tranquillity of our current democratic dispensation by making so-called “boom speeches” at many public gatherings? Has he not on occasion called for the forced removal of the current government from office when his numerous calls for the so-called “positive defiance” had failed?

My simple conclusion is that J.J. Rawlings is a man full of vindictiveness. His only legacy bequeathed to Ghanaians after 20 years of mis-rule is lawlessness and poverty coupled with total disregard for human dignity. He took over Ghana at a corrupt period in our history, murdered the so-called corrupt elements of our society but only further institutionalised the corruption himself. Ghanaians are democratically where we are today not because of J.J. Rawlings' legacy but because of our own patience and a firm belief in the fact the “no condition is permanent”. Our belief in democracy today is further strengthened by our wish to banish from our thoughts, the ills of the so-called revolution that has led us on a 20-year wild goose chase and I hope the Editor of the Daily Observer of Gambia is listening. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Guy Foxx
Guy Foxx, © 2005

The author has 6 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: GuyFoxx

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