THE DEFEAT of the NDC in the Offinso South by-election was an upset in what appeared to be improving performance of the NDC in post-2004 by-elections. But it was more than that. It was also a message that victory for the party in 2008 could be far-fetched. Maybe it is.
For many people, an NDC defeat in 2008 will only be an event to celebrate, while for others, it will be a disappointment. Either case, life will go on. But for Rawlings, the man upon whose adventure the NDC party was born, a third defeat could also send worries that the party was gradually but certainly passing away. Now, that is an unpleasant prospect.
Human as he is, this worry would have to be expressed one way or the other, and the revelations by the President about the former President's potentially subversive activities have provided an opportunity to do this.
I have little difficulty making the observation that if the NDC had put up a good showing (not necessarily a victory) in Offinso, Rawlings would have been more comfortable moving on. What we are hearing from him is a betrayal of his fears that NDC may not win power in 2008 after all.
In reality, the prospect of NDC demise is informed by other happenings, among which the dwindling finances of the party and the emergence of the Democratic Freedom Party. Rawlings therefore has a good reason to take these developments seriously, because the falling fortunes of the NDC is the same as the closing years of the Rawlings Phenomenon in Ghana politics.
It is in this context that Rawlings' frantic reaction to the party's defeat and, supposedly, to Kufuor's campaign remarks at Offinso South ought to be seen.
You don't have to listen to Rawlings for long to notice that managing life outside power has been difficult for him. And there are good reasons for that.
At the young age of 32, he had become the Head of State of the country. Being a military leader, the subservience of people to him (both out of fear and out of opportunism) and the absolute power he commanded as a result were the bases of his understanding of power.
But his very rise to power (with all the violence) at that young age and the circumstances of his second military take-over also meant that political power was simply a prize in a game of "we against them". It is a narrow and basic understanding of power that excludes all other considerations. So that, so long as somebody else is in power, things must be abnormal.
It is unlikely that the former President can ever live comfortably under any government that does not do his bidding.
Thus, as the NDC's space in the future politics of Ghana continues to diminish, we are witnessing, together with Rawlings, the closing years of his relevance. But there is still some room to hope that the NDC might come back to power. After all, it is still the largest opposition in the country, and in theory, the most likely alternative to the government.
However, as the party and their founder cling to this hope, the fact remains that they are insecure about the future.
We are seeing symptoms of this insecurity and the struggle to resist their own demise. In a sense, it is sad, but it also underscores the fact that artificial systems don't last. And the Rawlings phenomenon would not be an exception.
Obviously, it would be in his interest to recognise that his time is drawing to a close, accept that reality, and manage it in an honourable way. His handing over in 2001 to the NPP government was a brilliant opportunity to retire. He didn't. This was not surprising. Honour is not meant for everybody, even when the die cast.
I listened to his press conference yesterday and felt sorry for him. His attack on the Ghanaian media for "being in bed with the government", and his attack on the international community for applauding Ghana's effort betrayed a feeling of isolation. He seemed to be inviting and imploring the world to join him in his view that the NPP administration is bad and illegitimate.
Does Rawlings genuinely believe that his government was better for Ghana than the present government is?
I don't think so. So, why does he say that? Because he has to say something to show that he is still there. He has to say something to indicate that he and his people do not deserve to be out of power.
COUP Yes, the disclosure by the President that Rawlings was looking for money to destabilise and overthrow the government seemed to have upset Rawlings. But I doubt it very much that Rawlings is sincere about this. We don't have to see any intelligence report to suspect that he is desperately looking for an opportunity to be in power at all cost. His personality and activities radiate that impression.
He denies touring the world to seek funding for a coup in Ghana and explains that he did not need money to assemble arms in his earlier coups. It was an interesting explanation. Well, times have changed. He is no more in the army and has a more sophisticated security set up to come up against.
As a nation, we have learnt our lessons. The events of 31st December 1981 would not happen again. The backdoor to power is closed. And with the dwindling fortunes of the NDC, Rawlings has to accept that, since 2001, we have been in his closing years. The sun is setting on him. If he would accept this reality and manage it well, he would be a happier man.