'Mede me nkwan to ho ma Ghana', a man in his sixties tells his admirers. Immediately, one of his aides corrects the statement: Sir, did you mean to say you sacrificed your life, 'nkwa' as in life for Ghana, or you meant nkwan, as in soup, say Abenkwan? Oh, that was soup, right? Okay, I meant life but we could go with soup too, reminiscent of the episode at the British parliament when Margaret Thatcher quoted the wrong figures during Question Time, in response to a question on government spending. His treasury staff quickly prompted her, but the Iron Lady, who does not believe in alternatives, said: “We are going with my figures this time”. But Rawlings is not Thatcher; he is not even a Thatcherite, so he went on enumerating several alternatives. Well, all is well that ends well, he chides in, employing the usual gyrations and gesticulations that are his trademark. Next, he mounts a platform and yells: 'Menuanom, sabi taferakye, we did much better than those people, what do they call them, err, that man, Kufour and his people. We built the structures, we built the institutions. This country was far better under the NDC'. After that, he punches the air, his fist clinched together tight, like a boxer. Supporters cheer at the background, including those who were not even listening.
Newspaper headlines suddenly become rich on account of that showpiece: Ooops, he does it gain, will scream a tabloid. The Boom is on: JJ dares Kufour, will have another. The more philosophical one would be: Statesmanship on the Loose: Dr Boom goes Boom. Then we do what we do best: Pundits sit on radio and discuss the appropriate code of conduct for an ex-president. 'Let's leave him alone and concentrate on the more pressing issues affecting this country', one would submit. 'Leave him alone? I beg your pardon; he is an ex-president of this country, the only surviving ex-president, in fact. He is a reflection on this country. His actions and inactions must reflect well on us, the other will cut in, pretending that he has suddenly become wise in a week. Ok, the host will settle it: 'Reconciliation is healthy for our development as a people, if we want to move forward'. We end the discussion with that cliché. Let's move forward; it is the only way forward. But how forward have we moved since we learnt that phrase?
So, often we like to ask: Has anybody helped us very much to move forward in the last fourty years? Did JJ put his life on the line for his country or he actually meant to say he served us soup? While we in Ghana would fight over this simple riddle and struggle to reach a consensus, a respected Nigerian novelist has provided a shocking clue to Rawlings' stranglehold on Ghanaian politics. Bisi Ajediran, celebrated author of The Governor's wife and Product of Africa, a novel that was published in the UK, said last week that Rawlings succeeded as a president largely because he was a half-caste. His colour, rather than his principles of probity and accountability, is what tamed his greed, according to the Nigerian writer. Commenting on Barack Obama's historic election as president of the United States, Bisi wrote “I believe that African and Caucasian bloods have their respective strengths and weaknesses. And I am persuaded by the successes of former Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings, who transformed Ghana and Obama's to think that a mix of Caucasian and African blood removes or tones down greed. Raw, primitive greed is the fundamental cause of failed leadership in Africa. Rawlings's father is a Whiteman and I will tell his story I saw play out before my very eyes another time. But careful, please. This blood thing is for now an unscientific observation.”
If Bisi were an Okereka (secondhand clothes) seller plying his trade in Ikeja, or an Okada rider in Abeokuta, I would have dismissed his thoughts anon, and concluded that he is a racist African who is besotted with the white race because they have blue eyes and curly hair. But that would be throwing away the baby with the baby water, because Bisi discusses important issues in that article. Besides, he is a prolific writer who is worth reading everyday. Bisi has six novels to his credit, including his most recent, The False Truth, which was dedicated to Dr Mo Ibrahim. He has also written a number of very good plays. Also, he writes a column for This Day, a powerful Nigerian newspaper. He wouldn't write crap, as if Wole Soyinka has set him a craptrap. He appeared well-intentioned in that article, which was published on allafrica.com, even if the title comes across as a repartee read backwards: Is Obama a Blackman? See http://allafrica.com/stories/200811110421.html. He asks some searching questions: Would Obama have become President of the United States if he grew up under Jomo Kenyata or Daniel arap Moi in Kenya? Well, that wouldn't happen, because Kenya does not groom people to become presidents in America; Kenya prepares Kenyans in Kenya to rule Kenya. Well, not quite, because we prefer folks who have had contact with the West. Those who have never experienced the west in any way, but wish to rule pick up arms and destroy everything. He compares Barack Obama to his half brother George Obama, a chap who by his own confession, lives on one dollar a month. Haven't we killed our Obamas in Africa? In other words, our system does not groom gems, he opines.
That, methinks, was Bisi's prognosis. Sometimes, the only way to squeeze good juice from a bad thought is to look at the intention behind it as something different from the 'intentionsity'. But that will be doing the Tartuffe in a way that only Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, Moliere, can. Is there something in the Caucasian blood that makes them honest than some of us in the west coast of sub-sahara Africa? Well, we should be careful how we proceed on this controversial subject, because Bisi did not put it in absolute terms. He did not say that anybody of mixed African-Caucasian parentage, be it a half-caste, a quadroon, an octoroon, or a mulatto is a superman. But he was definite that Obama's white other half prepared him better than his very black, polygamous father. Bisi wishes that Obama never had an African connection, or indeed wasn't black at all.
Now let's turn to Bisi's comment on Rawlings. Perhaps the danger some writers face is that because most novels are written in the third person, it affects their thinking. We often confuse what we think with what we know, and in the process end up thinking for everybody. All the same, I am happy that Nigerians think highly of our ex-president when we in Ghana are begging the Asantehene to convince him to dine with incumbent J.A Kufour. So, let's ask ourselves the same questions that engaged us during Jerry Rawlings' 19 year rule. Was Rawlings corrupt? Well, we don't have information from Transparency International, or any national watchdog which cites him as having stashed away public funds in foreign bank, as Sani Abacha did. And Rawlings himself has said that he never has a pesewa at any foreign account. He came to liberate the suffering masses; he wouldn't turn round and steal from them, we would assume.
Of course, corruption is a big word, and we will not attempt a definition at this stage. But we can agree on some indices to determine who is corrupt and who is not. President Kufour made good his zero tolerance for corruption promise in the first few months of his administration, by charging and imprisoning his own minister. But that was only the beginning of a campaign that would see some ministers of the erstwhile NDC administration serve various jail terms for causing financial loss to the state. The former President has so far never been mentioned in any official document as having stolen or misappropriated state funds. So, the assumption is that he was a man of integrity. But that would be thinking of corruption as pregnancy, in the natural sense: once the stomach protrudes, it means there was intercourse. When there is no big stomach in our frame of reference, we can assume there was no intercourse. What about the series of intercourse that failed to inflate the stomach? There could well have been several abortions.
Another way to look at this is that, Jerry Rawlings as a person was not greedy but some of his ministers and friends were. Jokes went round that Jerry Rawlings visited ET Mensah's residence, and was shocked to see the mighty architecture the former Minister of Sports had erected on Ghanaian soil. Mr. Mensah, it was reported, opened the gate to his mansion from his bedroom, and when the president entered, he exclaimed: “ET, is that your house? Oh ET, you have killed me”. And then there were the Selormeys and the Boadus who would sign million dollar contracts and show empty CDs as evidence. There was also a Mrs Cotton who was paid provocative sums in dollars to grow rice for Ghanaians to buy in cedis. There was bribery nearly everywhere. Some folks had become richer overnight for knowing another person who knew another person who knew a certain minister. There were lots of money doing the rounds in a tight circle. At the end of his reign in 2000, it was difficult to tell whether the June 4 mission had succeeded.
That Rawlings children attended universities abroad wouldn't fit into our corruption criteria here, even if their school fees were paid in advance and they had a house of their own in Ireland. Ooops, the girl got pregnant while on the loose. My mother is only a civil servant in Sunyani, but I schooled abroad, too. Besides, I know bankers in Ghana who owned houses in London and also paid their children's school fees upfront. But, let's try to understand the man himself. Who is Rawlings? As a boy I wondered why Osahene Boakye Gyan and others who were instrumental in the 1979 insurrection chose a junior officer to be their leader. What did they see in him? I don't think they were impressed with his Caucasian other half. We don't have any records on his father, except that he is Scottish. He lost appetite for further education after performing poorly at Achimota and became a soldier. He got impatient with the corruption in the system and decided on a coup as a civilizing antidote. He was arrested, charged, and later smuggled out of jail. He did it again and later became president of Ghana for 19 years.
In all these, the 'superiority' of his half-caste nature was lost on Ghanaians, including Nuamah Donkor, who thinks of him as a God. As a person, JJ Rawlings has been lucky and successful. He had started out crediting gari, but now he can afford a Jacuzzi for his wife and lives in a plush complex boasting five houses. As a president, he wasn't very successful. He left Ghana a better country than he found it in 1979 but he could have done better.Well, the Nigerian author says he was successful because he was a half-caste.
By Benjamin Tawiah: The author is a freelance journalist; he lives in Ottawa, Canada.
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