I have been reading and listening with avid interest to the raging debate regarding the abrupt annulment of the proposed conferral of an honorary doctorate on former president Jeremiah (Jerry) John Rawlings. The citation, as reported by Ghanaweb.com, and other media outlets, did not specify the exact purpose of such conferral, that is, whether it was for humane letters, public service or exemplary leadership, and so it would be rather inexpedient to verge into such terrain. Suffice it to observe herein, however, that the record of our subject vis-à-vis the promotion and development of Ghanaian education, during the tedious course of some two decades that he held Ghanaians, literally, by the throat, leaves much to be desired.
Indeed, had not the likes of this writer had parents and relatives abroad who very much cared about his well-being and destiny, he would today be roaming the streets of Accra, perhaps eking out an ignoble existence as a thoroughgoing mendicant or destitute. For it cannot be gainsaid that Flt.-Lt. Jerry John Rawlings was the one head-of-state who made the summary closure of universities a rather routine practice. And through most of it all, the man did not seem to remarkably appreciate the irreparably deleterious impact that such a regressive measure could have on our national destiny in the offing. And we know this because whenever he sent students home, Mr. Rawlings would sneeringly observe that if these students did not seem apt to exclusively devouring their books – by vexatiously meddling in national politics – then, perhaps, it were best to send them home. To what end, effect or purpose, the Chairman of the deceptively designated Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC) did not explain. And he had no reason or need to explain, for as the impregnable Chairman Rawlings, the man considered himself to be the very letter of the law. Which was why when a public outcry demanded his hand-over of the reins of governance, Mr. Rawlings contemptuously and infamously retorted: “Hand over power? To whom?” In fine, Chairman Rawlings had determined to render himself head-of-state for life; and any countryman or woman who thought of him otherwise had better hit the proverbial highway, as it were, or quickly find him- or herself to blame.
And he had legions of sycophants to back him up. Earlier on, for instance, the late Rev.-Dr. Damuah had described Mr. Rawlings as a Messiah; the former had actually appropriated the rather vatical appellation of “Junior Jesus.” And this, indeed, must have been one of the myriad reasons why after having run our proverbial ship-of-state aground, Mr. Rawlings found it extremely difficult, if not outright impossible, to make way for a more experienced and competent leader. Another reason might almost certainly have had something to do with the fact that the PNDC junta had also been the bloodiest, or most sanguinary, in recent Ghanaian memory. The brutal murder of the three high court judges – Agyepong, Sarkodie and Koranteng-Addow – as well as retired Army major Sam Acquah, was not the least among the list of Mr. Rawlings’ safety concerns. Then also, not many of the victims and the aggrieved appeared to have forgiven the impetuous pseudo-revolutionary for his flagrant breach of human rights, in the wake of the June 4th reign of terror. And so, as many an American politico would remark, vis-à-vis the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Mr. Rawlings had to seriously and meticulously prepare an exit strategy. Such auspicious opportunity was to dawn in 1992, when in a heroic feat of genius and unmistakable eclat, Flt.-Lt. Rawlings, the bona fide military dictator, morphed into the much more dignified President Jeremiah John Rawlings, the constitutionally elected premier of the Fourth Republic of Ghana. Now the former constitutional outlaw feels secure and hermetically protected, thus his reckless pontification on the dire need for the NDC, rather than the freedom- and democracy-loving people of Ghana at large, to devise any means of unseating the ruling NPP prior to the 2008 general elections.
Indeed, what prompted this writer to weigh in on the raging debate was an article titled “For the Unity of Our Country – Do not Politicize UDS?” by Kufuor Appiah-Danquah (ghanaweb.com 3/17/05). In the preceding article, the writer makes a conciliatory effort at facilitating the proactive resolution of the Rawlings-UDS controversy. Earlier on, it had been suggested, elsewhere, that it was the intervention of either President J. A. Kufuor or Vice-President Aliu Mahama that prompted the cancellation of the proposed doctorate conferral. However, in a brief letter signed by the vice-chancellor of the University For Development Studies (UDS), neither President Kufuor nor Vice-President Mahama is specifically mentioned as the parade-raining factor. Instead, Professor John B. K. Kaburise cites serious concern for “national security” as the overriding determinant for such ceremonial abortion (ghanaweb.com 3/15/05). And here, we must hasten to iterate that recent anti-electoral democracy pronouncements made by Flt.-Lt. Rawlings, and widely reported by the leading Ghanaian media, glaringly point to the fact that the retired premier has, indeed, rendered himself a national security risk. And his obstreperous and rather undiplomatic meddling in the raging and volatile Yendi Skin Affair makes it imperative for the Kufuor administration to intervene, more so when the occasion during which Mr. Rawlings was to be conferred with an honorary doctorate had been slated to occur within the traditional jurisdiction of the Yendi paramountcy.
On the preceding score, should it come to light that, indeed, either President Kufuor or Vice-President Mahama had intervened to save Ghanaians from another possibility of bloodshed, then such decision deserves our unreserved commendation rather than condemnation. Even so, it bears reminding our readers that the Ghanaian Constitution empowers both the substantive president and his vice, acting on behalf of the former, to intervene in situations where a taxpayer-supported institution initiates a gesture that is apt to seriously endanger our national welfare and security.
For the President of Ghana is also the substantive Chancellor of all government-sponsored or operated higher educational institutions in the country. And needless to say, during his protracted tenure as president, Mr. Rawlings appropriated such executive powers more often in undermining the smooth operation of our flagship academies, rather than progressively promoting high-end research, cultural and economic development. Today, Ghanaian education has no respectable ranking among the comity of nations – and we have Mr. Rawlings to thank for this embarrassing state of affairs; unless, of course, we possess the memory capacity of toddlers. Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is on a Sabbatical Leave from Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City, where he teaches English and Journalism. He is the author of THE NEW SCAPEGOATS: COLORED-ON-BLACK RACISM, a volume of rejoining essays vis-à-vis the role of continental Africans in the infamous Transatlantic Slave Trade, which will be published by iUniverse.com in April 2005. V