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04.01.2006 Feature Article

Mojo Odyssey: Rawlings' Charismatic Authority ...

Mojo Odyssey:  Rawlings' Charismatic Authority ...
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... Is Not CULT PERSONALITY....NDC IS NOT A CULT Ghana Politics circa 2006 has already become a contentious arena. The NPP refers to the NDC pejoratively as a “CULT”. A disgruntled former NDC member and ex- par! ty executive is the latest to derisively spout the NPP propaganda. Virulent anti-NDC forces malevolently think this is their political brimstone to destroy NDC. However, to the NDC, this is only a political machination tied to the common antipathy harbored against the Founder of the NDC, Jerry John Rawlings, ex-President of Ghana. To the credit of Jerry John Rawlings: 1) there is no evidence he has taken advantage of any “Individual predisposed to credulity” ( Grete de Francesco in “The Power of The Charlatan”) 2) it cannot be shown he is a deceitful man who had employed the tact! ics of Niccolo Machiavelli who says 'men are so simple of mind and so much dominated by their immediate needs, that a deceitful man will always find plenty who are ready to be deceived”, and 3) he never formed a Church and had never followed Friedrich Nietzsche's precepts of acquiring a psychological infallibility that “the founder of a new religion', must have regarding “ a certain average type of souls who have not yet recognized that they belong together' and so could be easily exploited.

Dear Reader, our quest here will be quadruple; 1) to determine whether the NDC is a CULT, with Jerry John Rawlings as the CULT LEADER as opposed to a political party with a living Founder, 2) to determine whether the NPP likewise is a CULT worshipping the dead Busia and Da! nquah, like Scientologists worship their deceased Founder, 3) to determine whether JJ Rawlings is a Charismatic Authority, and/or, 4) to determine whether JJ Rawlings is a Cult Personality.

Leo Pfeffer, a distinguished American Jurist who died in 1993 described the phenomenon of CULT thus; “...if you believe in it, it is a religion or perhaps 'the' religion; and if you do not care one way or another about it, it is a sect; but if you fear and hate it, it is a cult." Does the NPP call the NDC a CULT because they fear and hate it?

So what is a CULT and what is not a CULT?

Caveat: It may be advisable to sound a note of caution here that there is no generally accepted, single, definition for the word "cult". The Merriam Webster Dictionary though includes a non-religious definition of a Cult as a “great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book); especially : such devotion regarded as a literary or intellectual fad or b) : a usually small group of people characterized by such devotion”. NDC IS A MASS POLITICAL PARTY AND DOES NOT FIT THIS DEFINITION. As is currently unfolding, there are those in the NDC who don't fancy JJ Rawlings and there are those who hold him dearly.

To the newsgroup alt.usage.english, a word like 'cult' is often called a “skunk word." It has varied meanings to different people. In fact, it has so many meanings that it often causes misunderstandings wherever it is used. Unfortunately, most people do not know this, and naturally assume that the meaning that they have been taught is the universally accepted definition of the word. So therefore, the most confusing word is "Cult". Going by this, one may be tempted to say that NPP chose a 'skunk word' Cult to unjustifiably denigrate NDC, and nothing more!

The Methodist Ordained Minister J. Gordon Melton says: "My working definition of a cult is a group that you don't like, and I say that somewhat facetiously, but at the same time, in fact, that is my working definition of a cult. It is a group that somebody doesn't like. It is a derogatory term, and I have never seen it redeemed from the derogatory connotations that it picked up in the sociological literature in the 1930s." Could the NPP be trying to manipulate the public consciousness in the hope of permanently disparaging the public image of the NDC?

It would soon be clear as we proceed with the search for its meaning that the word "cult" has been used to refer to Evangelical denominations, the Roman Catholic Church, Unification Church, Church of Scientology, United Church of Christ, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, other Neo-pagans and many other faith groups. Indeed to many, the word is essentially meaningless. EVEN SO, NDC IS NOT OF THE SAME CLASSIFICATION AS ANY OF THESE ORGANIZATIONS.

Scholars agree that the etymology of the English word "cult" is derived from the French word "culte" which came from the Latin noun "cultus (care and adoration)." The latter is related to the Latin verb "colere" which means "to worship or give reverence to a deity, or to cultivate." These Scholars are further in agreement that 'in its original meaning, the term "cult" can be applied to any group of religious believers: Southern Baptists or Mormons, Jehova! h's Witnesses or Catholics, Hindus or Muslims.' Suffice it to say that these Scholars have assigned at least 7 new and very different meanings to the phenomenon of CULT. The original meaning of "cult" remains positive; yet more recent definitions are neutral, negative, or extremely negative: NDC DOES NOT FIT THESE DEFINITION AS WE WILL SEE.

Oxford English Dictionary defines "cult" as: worship; reverential homage rendered to a divine being or beings"; "a particular form or system of religious worship; especially in reference to its external rites and ceremonies”; devotion or homage to a particular person or thing." This is the historical meaning of the word, but is rarely today heard outside of religious circles. For instance, a reference to the "Cult of Mary" appeared in a newspaper report on the Pope's 1999 visit to the Americas. It simply means that the Pope devotes special attention to the Virgin Mary. NDC DOES NOT FIT THIS DEFINITION.

In a sociological sense, cult refers to a small religious group that exists in a state of tension with the predominant religion. Tigare or Antoa Nyamaa might be considered a cult in Morocco; Christianity might be considered a cult in Iran, just as Hinduism might be considered a cult in Iceland. NDC DOES NOT FIT THIS DEFINITION.

In general religious parlance, a small, recently created, religious organization which is often headed by a single charismatic leader is viewed as a spiritually innovative group. A cult in this sense may simply be a new religious movement on its way to becoming a denomination. The Christian religion, as it existed in the very early days might be considered a cult involving one leader and 12 or 70 devoted disciples as followers. The Mormon Denomination was started in the 19th century by Joseph Smith and a few followers; it has grown to become an established denomination in excess of ten million members. NDC DOES NOT FIT THIS DEFINITION.

Those of the Evangelical Christian and Counter-Cult Movement regard any religious group which accepts most but not all of the historical Christian doctrines (the divinity of Jesus, virgin birth, the Trinity, etc.) as CULTS. Under this definition, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons), Jehovah's Witnesses are considered CULTS. The earliest use of this meaning of the word "Cult" is believed to be a 1938 book "The Chaos of the Cults" by J.K. VanBaalen. Isn't it ironic that the Mormons, Unification Church and Jehovah's Witnesses regard themselves to be the true Christian church and therefore view all other denominations as being in the wrong? Thus, one group's true church is another group's cult. NDC DOES NOT FIT THIS DEFINITION.

Some Fundamentalists would accept the Evangelical definition of cult defined above. Others might brand any religious group which deviates from historical Protestant Christian beliefs as a cult. Over 70% of humanity would belong to cults, by this definition. NDC DOES NOT FIT THIS DEFINITION.

The Western Media defines a cult as a small, evil religious group, often with a single charismatic leader, which engages in brainwashing and other mind control techniques, believes that the end of the world is imminent, and collects large amounts of weaponry in preparation for a massive war. (Vide 1965 book by Walter Martin "The Kingdom of the Cults" (revised and expanded posthumously by ! Hank Hanegraaff in 2002). NDC DOES NOT FIT THIS DEFINITION.

WHY THE NDC IS NOT A CULT

So, affirmatively, why is it completely wrong to describe the NDC as a cult? In the first place, the defining characteristic of a cult is that its belief systems are shrouded in secrecy, and are not accessible easily and openly to the public for honest scrutiny. One can easily see that the NDC does not possess this characteristic. In fact, as an ordinary political party, the goal of the NDC is to share its beliefs openly and honestly with the public, in the hopes of finding common ground. The NDC is a democratic party, and even the reports of its alleged internal turmoil only point to the openness with which the NDC conducts its business.

Another feature of cults is that the members of the cult are expected to think in the sam! e way, and act in lockstep. True cults do not tolerate those who think and behave differently from what is considered to be the norm. This kind of group think is designed to break down the individual personalities of the members and preempt differences. NDC members do not think or behave in the same way. Although, like all other political parties, its members share similar principles, there is no expectation that every member should think or behave in the same way. The NDC fosters competition and encourages a diversity of ideas, all of which points to its not being a cult.

Lastly, another major trait of cults is that they operate on beliefs that are based on false or non-verifiable information. The NDC believe in facts, statistics and information that is easily verifiable. It does not use false information to recruit new members. And neither does it shy away from using facts to fulfill its current opposition role. As a democratic party, the NDC's message of truth and progress is a winning one that has allowed many Ghanaians to believe in the party.

From the foregoing, it would be a hard stretch to say NDC, the political party, is LIKE a Cult variously described above. Leaving aside the 2nd inquiry about NPP's Cult status it may be instructive to delve into the 3rd and 4th inquiry: Is JJ Rawlings a Cult Personality, or a Charismatic Authority? CULT PERSONALITY OR CHARISMATIC AUTHORITY According to Wikepedia, a CULT OF PERSONALITY differs from CHARISMATIC AUTHORITY in that it has a negative connota! tion by definition, and is thus a pejorative term. It also differs from general hero worship in that it is specifically built around political leaders. However, the term cult of personality is often applied by analogy to refer to adulation of non-political leaders. JJ Rawlings is a political figure.

Cult of personality is a term for what is perceived to be excessive adulation of a single living leader, especially a head of state. The term was coined by the General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party Nikita Khrushchev in his 1956 "Secret Speech" denouncing Joseph Stalin to 20th Party Congress. The phenomenon that Khrushchev described, however, is much older.

Throughout history there have always been leaders who have fostered adulation. For much of pre-modern times, absolute monarch! ies were the dominant form of government, and monarchs were almost always held in enormous reverence. Through the principle of the divine right of kings, rulers were said to hold office by the will of God, and thus criticism of any leader was interpreted not only as treason but also as blasphemy. JJ Rawlings has never claimed the divine right of kings.

Many leaders of the Roman Empire and Hellenistic Greece displayed features of today's cults of personality, as did Imperial China, with ancient Egypt especially noted for elevating monarchs to the status of god-kings. JJ Rawlings was never elevated to the status of god-king.

By the 20th century, many nations (particularly in the West) began to become liberal democracies. Yet at the same time, many other states resisted democratic reform, and in some cases aggressively opposed liberalism. It was in this context that some of the world's best-known personality cults were formed. JJ RAWLINGS IS NEVER CITED AS ONE OF notable examples, of such personality-cults which include: Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo; Idi Amin of Uganda, "Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea" and "Conqueror of the British Empire"; Kim Il-sung of North Korea, "Great Leader", appointed "Eternal President" upon his death; Kim Jong-il of North Korea, "Dear Leader", according to an announcement from state television, he "came down from heaven", reportedly skeptical of the praise he receives; Augusto B. Leguía of Peru, the "small giant of America"; Mobutu of Zaire, "the fearless warrior who because of his inflexible will to win, moves from victory to victory, leaving fire in his wake."

The criticism of personality cults often was part of criticism of the regimes of Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong. During the peak of their reigns both these leaders appeared as god-like omniscient rulers, destined to rule their nation for all eternity. Government orders prescribed the hanging of their portraits in every home or public building, and many artists and poets were instructed to produce only works that glorified the leader. It is true Rawlings pictures hung in government offices and embassies abroad, but so do the current President Kufuor's pictures,(which spawned loose arguments that Rawlings' pictures were nicer than Kufuor's). SO JJ RAWLINGS CANNOT BE ROPED IN WITH STALIN AND MAO.

The most famous fictional cult of personality is probably that of Big Brother in the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. The character was possibly based on Britain's Earl Kitchener although more likely based on Stalin. WAS JJ RAWLINGS LIKE ORWELLS' BIG BROTHER? NO.

Personality cults usually characterize totalitarian, authoritarian, or one-party states, especially those with a strong revolutionary consciousness. The reputation of a single leader, often characterized as the "liberator" or "savior" of the people, elevates that leader to a near-divine level. NOT JJ RAWLINGS.

So how different is the NDC from the NPP, apart from the obvious, being the existence of the Founder of the NDC? The Encyclopedia of The Nations: Africa, Ghana; has the origins of both NDC and NPP.

“With adoption of a new constitution in April 1992, the longstanding ban on political activity was lifted on 18 May 1992. Ghanaians prepared for the presidential and legislative elections to be held in November and December. The parties that emerged could be grouped into three clusters. The center-right group…. consisted of followers of Busia. They formed the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and chose Adu Boahene as their presidential candidate. The center-left group was the Nkrumahists. Ideological and leadership differences kept them divided into 5 separate parties, of which the People's National Convention, a party (affiliated to) ex-President Limann, was best organized. PNDC supporters comprised the third grouping. They favored continuity and, after forming the National Democratic Congress (NDC), were able to draft Rawlings as their candidate.

Rawlings eventually defeated Boahene (58% to 30%) for the presidency. Opposition parties boycotted the December 1992 parliamentary elections, and the NDC carried 190 of the 200 seats.”

A previous version of Mojo Odyssey noted Jerry John Rawlings' charisma. It was deduced that because of his charisma, hordes of people were drawn to his cause of June 4, 1979. He was a visible leader. One moment he was amongst the people in a community clean-up and at another time he was carrying train derailed sacks of Cocoa with volunteers. Were these activities not seared in the memories of Ghanaians that gave rise to his credential as charismatic? If he was a charismatic leader of AFRC and PNDC, why have we not heard anyone describe AFRC or PNDC as Cult? Is it NPP's Rawlingsphobia, the fear of Rawlings?

CONCLUSION; JJ RAWLINGS is a charismatic authority, not a cult personality and NDC is not a CULT. If it were otherwise, why is RAWLINGS not able to compel every NDC member to bend to his will all the time? In 2001, he favored the Co-Chairmanship Principle, but he lost the Vote and a single Chairman of NDC was mandated as it is now by NDC Congress. He supported Nii Lante Vanderpuije for National Youth Organizer as against Haruna Iddrisu. He skipped important funerals to travel to Bolgatanga in November but Haruna won handily. Why could he not decree for only those he favored to be sole candidates but go to elections only for those who lose and who happen not to be in his 'good books' run around with all sorts of complaints about 'cult'?

Mojo Odyssey 2006 in motion. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Ebby Koney
Ebby Koney, © 2006

The author has 22 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: EbbyKoney

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