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07.04.2005 Feature Article

Watch Your Mouth, Mr Rawlings

Watch Your Mouth, Mr Rawlings
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Former President Jerry Rawlings idiosyncratic behaviour has landed him in fresh trouble with the authorities in Ghana after he reportedly used choice expletives on President John Agyekum Kufuor at a political rally last week. Rawlings who ruled Ghana with an iron grip for nearly 20 years allegedly rained insults on his successor, drawing parallels between him and a common criminal recently busted by Ghana's police. The incident has received tremendous media play back in Ghana, raised the political temperature and deepened the yawning rift in an already polarized nation.

In a not too fiery riposte, President Kufuor rebuked the former President (albeit indirectly) for showing gross disrespect to the highest office of the land and asked Ghanaians not to countenance such comments. Organizers of the rally would not be drawn into making comments about the ex-President's utterances. One ranking member of the CJA who dared to broach the subject suggested Rawlings made the comments as a form of jest and that it was bereft of any malice.

Later in an interview with a newspaper said to be linked to the NDC, the former President defended his utterances by listing a string of transgressions he said had been committed against him by President Kufuor and his government. He spoke about the quality grain trial that led to the imprisonment of three ministers in his government and other on-going trials involving other ministers in his administration.

In his words the on-going trial of his colleagues was a campaign orchestrated by the current government to discredit nearly 20 years of hard work. However this column has learned that the above-mentioned cases were in fact very remotely connected to the recent outburst of the former President. In fact the main grievance that the former President has yet to make public according to sources close to Ridge is based on the allegation that the Kufuor administration doled out a $2 million commission to a private consortium to ferret out foreign bank account(s) belonging to Rawlings and his family. After four years of search nothing is showing on the radar. Rawlings is naturally livid and his way of showing it is to direct his attacks at the person of the President.

This really is unfortunate. Launching personal attacks on the person of the President in a public arena as former President did at last week's rally was very distasteful to say the least.

While we know diplomacy is not one of former President Rawlings strongest suits the use of diplomacy would have been a veritable catharsis in the scheme of things. It is difficult to believe that former President would use such highly libelous words against a sitting President when the phrase conman was used to describe him during his presidency by a television commentator on national TV led to the arrest and detention of the commentator.

For those with a short memory that commentator in issue was Mr. Odartey Wellington of GBC breakfast show fame. He was arrested by agents of the dreaded Bureau of National Investigation (BNI).

Truth be told the element of shock was absent in terms of the way the public received the news because Ghanaians are so well accustomed to the non-conformist personality of former President Rawlings.

Even as President and the face of Ghana at international settings, Rawlings was not the kind of leader who could be scripted. His handlers had little sympathy from me for taking the job. RESPECT FOR THE PRESIDENCY The office of the President is not just the highest office of the land it is also the most coveted office in Ghana. In order to preserve the sanctity of the office of the President and to engender respect for same the colonial government passed the seditious libel law, which basically criminalized speech that exposed the office to ridicule and contempt.

Even past governments which saw the wisdom in the law kept it on the statute books. In the nearly 20 years Rawlings ruled Ghana, first as the leader of a military government and later as a 2-term President after ushering in constitutional rule, this law was applied in a rather brazen, no-holds-barred fashion especially against private media houses.

Although the law was established to protect public office holders from the acerbic tongues of their opponents, the Editor of an Accra daily, the Free Press was jailed for publishing a story that alleged that the wife of President Rawlings was involved in a gold and wee smuggling syndicate. What made the case very interesting was that the office of the Attorney-General itself prosecuted the case before the courts. In other words our tax payers' money was shelled out to defend the person of the First Lady of Ghana who per the 1992 constitution of Ghana was a mere private individual.

So if the Attorney-General's office would lead a legal campaign to protect the person and the image of the wife of the President of Ghana why wouldn't a similar campaign be launched to railroad the former President to court to answer charges of seditious libel in order to protect the highest office of the land.

Oh I forgot there is no such thing as seditious and criminal libel law anymore. President Kufuor got rid of them when he assumed the Presidency. Rawlings on the other hand used those laws which were colonial relics in a bid to muzzle Ghana's vibrant private press.

The way I see the Kufuor administration has two options at its disposal to bring closure to this issue.

One is to sue Rawlings in a civil case. The second is to ride it out with no action.

At the moment it appears the second option is the preferred choice.

“There is a wide chasm between a politician and a statesman. One functions in a cesspool of filth, the other lives on a rarefied atmosphere.” Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.