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12.06.2005 Feature Article

The Guilty Conscience Of Ex-President Rawlings

The Guilty Conscience Of Ex-President Rawlings
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Recently, the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) of Ghana erected a monument to immortalize three of the country’s high court judges who were brutally murdered in 1982 by top members of the extant Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC). The latter, it may be recalled, was a military junta spearheaded by then-Flt.-Lt. Jerry (Jeremiah) John Rawlings. It was his second coup in less than three years. And in the wake of the December 31, 1981 coup detat, Mr. Rawlings stridently and vitriolically accused the Limann administration of bringing the country to the dire brink of civic chaos. The economy, the PNDC chairman concluded, had been brought to an unprecedentedly low level such that Ghana could no longer be seriously reckoned among sovereign states. Needless to say, Mr. Rawlings would entrench himself through the brazen appropriation of extortionate measures for the next two decades, during which the Ghanaian economy would be literally run aground. Today, the pesewa, the lowest unit of the country’s monetary currency, no longer exists; and any Ghanaian born during the turbulent and chaotic 1990s is likely not to know what the pesewa is or was. Still, Mr. Rawlings, otherwise known, in some circles, as the Butcher-of-Sogakope, insists on vaunting himself as the most auspicious phenomenon ever to have emerged on the post-colonial Ghanaian political landscape. And here, we frankly and honestly acknowledge the fact that the ultimate verdict belongs to posterity. For our part, therefore, we can only humbly lay bare the patent and grim facts as we have known and experienced them, and hope that posterity would duly arrive at its own objective and dispassionate conclusions.

What makes the memorialization of the brutally murdered three Ghanaian high court judges – Koranteng-Addo, Sarkodie and Agyepong – significant is the grim fact that during the twenty years that the Provisional National Defense Council held political sway, it was virtually a taboo to broach this heinous subject. Obviously, it appeared to many a well-meaning Ghanaian that the government of the PNDC, which would later morph into the pseudo-civic National Democratic Congress, had something to hide. This may be partly explained by the swift manner in which PNDC executive member Mr. Joachim Amartey Kwei was arraigned before a kangaroo military tribunal and summarily executed. In February this year, when he was invited before the country’s so-called National Reconciliation Commission (NRC), Mr. Rawlings glibly insisted that the officially accused and charged mastermind of the murder of the three high court judges, as well as a retired senior military officer, Maj. Sam Acquah, had confessed that it was purely a solo act and, perhaps, even one that readily evoked the description of an isolated act of patent aberration. But what made Mr. Rawlings’ assertion before the NRC quite curious was his Shakespearean failure to produce an audiotape which the former president claimed contained the confession of Mr. Amartey Kwei. Furthermore, and curiously so, Mr. Rawlings appeared to have had the sole motive, in coming before the non-judicially binding NRC, of defending his former national security adviser, Capt. Kojo Tsikata. Thus, the former air force pilot kept gushing, almost frantically, that he was extremely elated that Mr. Amartey Kwei had vindicated Capt. Tsikata, shortly before the former was executed by firing squad, a sanguinary and repugnant spectacle that Mr. Rawlings appeared to have delightfully witnessed, for he did not seem to have had any qualms regarding the procedural fairness of Mr. Amartey Kwei’s execution. To-date, it may be significantly pointed out, many well-meaning Ghanaians and their foreign sympathizers are of the firm belief that the slain PNDC executive member was merely made scapegoat of a dastardly act that clearly appears to have been the handiwork of a cabal of the reckless, swashbuckling and powerful.

This past June when a statuary monument honoring the three high court judges was emplaced on the forecourts of the Ghanaian Supreme Court buildings in the capital city of Accra, a solemn ceremony accompanied it. The former head-of-state and president had been duly invited but conspicuously and capriciously, it seemed, failed to attend. Needless to say, this brazen act of flagrant disrespect raised more than a few eyebrows. And in the wake of a flurry of queries from both ordinary Ghanaians and prominent citizens of good conscience, the former president’s special aide, a Mr. Victor Smith, issued an equally demeaning and intemperate, to adumbrate less on the patently preposterous and supercilious, statement claiming that Mr. Rawlings’s failure to attend the ceremony honoring the slain judges was squarely an act of spite, due to a purported fact that the event had been so politicized as to have rendered it “indecent.” In other words, Mr. Rawlings would have his ardent supporters and sympathizers believe that the murder of the high court judges was the pure handiwork of one isolated crank by the name of Joachim Amartey Kwei. And here again, matters get even more interesting. For Mr. Amartey Kwei did not appear to have had anything personal or private against any of the slain judges, other than the fact that the latter presided over the trial and conviction of rampaging (GIHOC) government workers who desecrated the Ghanaian parliament as a bizarre means of bringing national attention to bear on their economic plight. In sum, whatever motivated the killers of the three high court judges and the retired army major was purely and almost wholly political. On this score, therefore, the rather vulgar terminology of “murder” does not quite approximate the grim reality, which is the incontrovertible and ineluctable fact that the judges were “assassinated.” And if we all agree with the accuracy of the latter description, then the next question becomes: Just who created the kind of pathological atmosphere that engendered the dastardly assassination of the judges?

Indeed, his abject refusal to attend the solemn ceremony honoring the illustrious lives of the slain judges was hardly surprising. It had been expected all along by those of us avid students of contemporary Ghanaian politics. At least now we know that Mr. Rawlings has, at long last, acquired a conscience that is capable of steering him away from the council or congress of the righteous and just. In February when he appeared before the National Reconciliation Commission, Mr. Rawlings claimed that the audio-tape purported to contain the execution-site confession of Mr. Amartey Kwei had mysteriously perished with a deceased Regimental Sergeant-Major (RSM) by the name of Tetteh. What interpretation, other than the most obvious and logical, did the former pseudo-revolutionary expect the NRC panel to put on such fatuous pretext? Indeed, the best and most appropriate manner of paying back their detractors and assassins would be to name all the country’s law schools and court buildings after the slain judges. And how about erecting a monument in honor of the judges just across the street from the residence of Chairman Rawlings? *Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., teaches English and Journalism at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. His latest collection of poetry, Dorkordicky Ponkorhythms: Wheel of Fortune (, 2004) was published this week.