Without doubt, Thursday, January19, 2009, was a historic day in three respects.
First, the new Parliament of the Fourth Republic of Ghana met to listen to the State of the Nation Address of the new president, who had been sworn into office a few weeks earlier and was in the process of forming his government.
Second, it related to Prof. John Evans Atta Mills who may be described as President John III, being the third President in a row with that Christian name. The first was Jerry John Rawlings followed by John Agyekum Kufuor.
President Atta Mills' delivery of his maiden State of the Nation Address to Parliament must have been one of the happiest events in his life, having been running mate and Vice-President before, and won the flag bearer slot of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) three times before the 2008 general elections.
Third, to the NDC Members of Parliament, it was another celebration of their electoral victory, showing their majority presence and full control of affairs in the House.
In all, it was a great occasion of splendour and cheers by parliamentarians, dignitaries, leaders of political parties, and other distinguished guests. Being brought together for an auspicious ceremony, they seized the, opportunity to express and share hearty feelings and renewed their acquaintanceship.
But this was not the case of our ex-Presidents Rawlings and Kufuor, who were also there accompanied by their wives. The Kufuor's were the first to arrive in the public gallery followed by the Rawlingses. Both parties were given resounding ovations and sat a few seats apart, separated by the Service Commanders. And that was the gloomy scene in the gallery.
The two top most gentlemen remained in the reflective mood throughout the 65-minute sessional address, shunning one another - a deliberate attempt to ignore, avoid or not speak to each other. Indeed, they pretended not realizing each other's presence. And at the end of the address they both left the House in separate ways!
Though the situation seemed to be appalling and embarrassing, it was not strange; because we already know of their strained relationship over the years that had stemmed from political differences between their governments, each one accusing the other of economic mismanagement, corruption and harassment of political party members.
For example, ex-President Rawlings was peeved at the NPP government's prosecution and jailing of some NDC Ministers and functionaries and the withdrawal of his privileges as a former President.
On the other hand, Kufuor resented the "boom" utterances of Rawlings that seemed to pose a threat to his administration. Besides, he did not take kindly to certain derogatory remarks made against him and members of his government.
Some efforts had been made by various organisations and groups of people particularly eminent religious bodies, to reconcile the two former Heads of State but no fruitful results were achieved.
Perhaps, one saving grace was the State visit of former US President GeorgeW. Bush to Ghana in late February 2008. At the State banquet held in his honour, the two rivals met face to face, shook hands and exchanged pleasantries in the full glare of the guests at the function. It was admiring and inspiring to watch that unfolding spectacle.
But thereafter, the relationship relapsed and worsened. In the interim, Rawlings refused to attend the public parade marking the Golden Jubilee celebration of Ghana's independence. He also rejected the State Award of Honour instituted by Kufuor for Heads of State.
Then at the State of the Nation Address to Parliament last month, they sat so close yet kept themselves so far apart.
And this situation leads to pertinent questions. What signals are they sending to the people in terms of party politics? Must former Presidents continue to be at loggerheads?
More importantly as elder statesmen, can't they come together and bring their wealth of experience to bear on the administration of the country? Are they not obliged to offer advice and direction on critical national issues to ensure unity, peace and progress?
It must be emphasized that the sour and ever-deteriorating relationship between our two, ex-presidents has far-reaching consequences. Lt tarnishes their image and reputation, casts a slur on their political parties and undermines the recognition of Ghana as a showcase of democratic governance.
The stigma is that Ghana is a country where former Presidents are hostile towards each other, not seeing eye to eye, so to speak, and by the estimation of the people, scheming to bring each other down.
This tendency is contrary to the position of past Presidents or Heads of State in other countries, especially in the West. They settle peacefully in their retirement, play the role of elder statesmen and write their memoirs which serve as references to in-coming administrators. The lessons are worthwhile learning.
Quite frankly, it is about time our ex-Presidents realised the need for true reconciliation and harmony as stepping-stones to move the nation forward. Enough of uncompromising confrontation.
Credit: Jos Anyima-Ackah, Times
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