Tuesday the 15th of February was an archetypal English winter's day! As I stepped out of the office into the dark dampness outside, I was hit by a cold breeze which sent shivers down my spine. I shuffled into the car and settled in for the 45 minute drive home. It was just five minutes after 5pm and the BBC Radio 4 news bulleting had only just started. As one would expect the presenter, Eddie Mair, went through myriad news headlines and then, as always, began the in-depth analysis that the BBC is so famous for. As I drove my mind oscillated effortlessly between catchy splinters of the news and myriad other things about work, family and life in general.
But then an interview with a guest from the Centre for Strategic & International Studies in Washington DC arrested my attention. The presenter asked Edward Ludvak if he would equate the revolution in Tunisia and Egypt to coup d'états. In the following 10 minutes this erudite man educated both Eddie Mair and the listening public about the stark contrasts between what happened in those Arab countries and coup d'états. He was of the view that “a coup is when a group of [disgruntled] officers in the armed forces seize control of the entire military force or paralyse it and then seize control of the state”. So listeners would not confuse what happened in Egypt with a mere military coup by a bunch of blood-thirsty and gung-ho junior officers, Ludvak clarified by saying that “the Egyptian case is quite different. This is the Egyptian armed forces under their established commanders assuming power or overtly declaring the power they always had by removing the former military president and replacing him, in effect, with the Chief of Staff of the armed forces for the moment”. Delightfully, Edward Ludvak pointed out that “the difference is that they are committed, morally committed, to start the process leading to civilian government immediately after the [intifada]”.
This clarification took my mind back to the June 4th and 31st December coups in Ghana. In the light of the above it is obvious that the efforts by the NDC and Potentate Rawlings at convincing the world of the legitimacy of those bloodbaths is at worst a carefully crafted ploy to swindle the Ghanaian populace [something the Potentate is well skilled at doing] or, at best, testament to their collective moral and intellectual ineptitude! Rawlings' June 4th bloodbath cannot be compared to the Egyptian revolution because whiles the former was a mutiny of disgruntled junior officers desperate to satisfy their own thirst for power, the latter was a real revolution because the people, and not the army or splinters of it, forced out the president. Indeed quite a lot of military personnel in Ghana at the time of the Rawlings takeover had no knowledge of the coup whiles many of the top brass were hurriedly 'laid to rest'. Having labelled the June 4th coup a revolution of sorts, John Rawlings, uncharacteristically and in keeping with the tenets of a real revolution as explained above, also hastened the transition to civilian government but not before he had slaughtered a few undesirables namely, Kutu Acheampong, Afrifa, Akuffo, Yaw Boakye, Amedome, Kortei and Odartey-Willington not to mention the numerous Ghanaians that were surreptitiously hastened into the proverbial sunset! But ah! In keeping with his true nature the Potentate had to, necessarily, find fault or rather conjure up faults with the new civilian administration of Hilla Limann and hastily remove it from power. Deftly, the Potentate and his yes-men conveniently 'forgot' to label the second coup a “revolution” because clearly that noble word could no longer be abused. As far as Rawlings was concerned the democratically elected leader, Hilla Limann and his government, were not 'competent' enough. As always HE, Potentate Rawlings, was the only one who could 'solve' Ghana's myriad problems. But how about the will of the people expressed so loudly in voting for Hilla Limann? The Potentate could care less about that! “After all the people do not know what they wanted”, he must have thought. Taking advantage of Ghanaian mass illiteracy [extant at the time], the populations' obsession with the lighter complexion [a condition that has clearly become pathological], the Ghanaian's fascination with his cowboy antics, and the zombie-like sycophancy of a posse of disgruntled junior officers whose enthrallment and captivation with this 'white man' on horseback can only be compared to Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the Chairman in one fell swoop and in his singularly bloody style swept aside the Ghanaian constitution, dissolved parliament and placed the president under house arrest. Paradoxically and as far as HE alone was concerned, HE was doing it for the people of Ghana! But hang on, how about the rights of the people who chose Hilla Limann? Never mind that! Potentate Rawlings knows best!
So the Chairman rules the country with an iron fist for the next 12 years. In all this time the country's economy retrogrades rather than improve. Indeed on some measures the country becomes worse off than it had been before the Rawlings takeover. He manages to dampen the collective Ghanaian spirit in such a way that he is accepted into the elite group of benevolent despots. In HIS own time, the Chairman deems it fit to move the country into democratic rule! Elections are conducted and guess what: the Junior Jesus finally attains legitimacy! Hooray! The Potentate gets another 8 years to repair Ghana's tattered economy and to improve human rights. But he is no democrat! He struggles to keep up the facade but every now and then his congenital heavy-handedness threatens to seep through the cracks. When real democracy begins to play out and the Ghanaian lays hold of his rights the Chairman is flustered! This time he is not getting his way! And if you know anything about the Chairman you will know he hates to not have his way. His long-winding and often nonsensical extemporaneous harangues are not working as well as they did. Having tasted the freedoms that come with democracy, the Ghanaian is less enthralled by the Chairman. Besides there is a proliferation of light-skinned people in Ghana by now and people have gotten a bit more used to them thanks to the mass availability of skin-bleaching creams and rural-urban migration; also the average Ghanaian is more educated by now. The Chairman is not impressed! His distinctive bombasts are being drowned by the more scholarly and discursive arguments of the new breed of political heavy weights who are taking advantage of the plethora of radio stations that have mushroomed in the country. His rather crude and pert mannerisms are being sharply contrasted by the level-headed conduct of the new class of politicians who will not be intimidated or captivated by the opiate of the Potentate. When a push comes to a shove, Rawlings' inborn viciousness and sadism, held back by this alien political system, breaches his carefully manicured and freshly cultivated 'liberal' exterior. The simmering anger within the Chairman explodes in the form of an attack on Kweku Baako, Selassie Djantu and taken to a new low by the physical assault on Kow Nkensen Arkaah. Soon enough the Chairman had to leave office as his 8 years was up! “Damn”, he must have muttered to himself! And even worse was the fact that the NPP had won the elections. The Chairman hands over power to John Kufour, everything is hunky-dory and the Ghanaian people finally breathe a sigh of relief! The Rawlings era was over at last!
But then the Chairman invites John Kufour to what was dubbed “secret talks”. John Kufour gently obliges, for it is in the latter's nature to be respectful and gentle. Deliberations in the meeting are never made public. Sometime later the Chairman requests another meeting with the president. John Kufour obliges again for good measure and this time the meeting is said to have been held at Peduase lodge. Again goings on at the meeting is not made public. For the third time Potentate Rawlings requests yet another meeting. This time John Kufour politely declines as he had other more important engagements. Rawlings goes berserk and unleashes a torrent of abuse on the Kufour government. As far as he is concerned John Kufour and all the people in his government are thieves. To him the NPP government has completely destroyed the Ghanaian economy and confined the Ghanaian to perpetual servitude. He labels the NPP government as murderers and holds them responsible for the death of Rokko Frimpong, former deputy manager at the Ghana Commercial Bank and myriad other people. But hang on a minute; is this the same Rawlings who so wantonly massacred people in his twin coups? Unbelievable! Or perhaps he's forgotten about all that! Be he can't have forgotten! I mean nobody [not even Rawlings] commits genocide and forgets about it! And if he had the magic potion to the numerous economic woes that confronted the Ghanaian population why did he not apply it in the 20 years he ruled the country. “Well, never mind that”, he must have muttered under his breath. Rawlings knows best anyway!
By taking advantage of the right to free speech so carelessly spurned during his own rule, the Chairman hits the campaign trail in preparation for the 2008 elections. Before hand he had singularly anointed his vice president, John Mills, as the flag bearer of what HE considered HIS private property-the P[NDC]. The Ghanaian populace in their wisdom decide to vote the NDC and Attah Mills into power. Potentate Rawlings is elated! “We are back again” he must have muttered to himself. The virtuous and impeccable “Son of God” is indeed coming again! Surely in keeping with his oath of listening to the potentate 24/7, Attah Mills will allow himself to be remotely or immediately controlled by the Chairman. But contrary to that oath Koo Fanti blazes a different trail! The man appears to have gone off in a tangent. The Chairman's frustrations start to mount! He is not getting his own way and he's not happy! He makes many futile attempts to get the attention of Koo Fanti Mills but to no avail. As you would expect the Chairman will not take it lying down! It is not in the man's nature to submit himself to anybody or to appreciate the idea that others may be right and he, wrong. As far as he is concerned he knows it all and is always right. But then he is Potentate Rawlings anyway and so that can be taken as granted. Disagreeing with him amounts to hating him. He breaks protocol by ruthlessly attacking the president and flag bearer of his own party al fresco. “But the man is the president, Chairman Rawlings “and so he has a right to do what he thinks fit”, the fair-minded person would think. “He does not have to listen to you”! “Never mind that”, the Chairman is likely to have snapped back, “as long as he is not listening to me and not following me 24/7 as he promised, he is not fit to be president”. “Why”? “Because Potentate Rawlings knows best”. “But the Ghanaian people chose him and not you”. “To hell with that” the Potentate is likely to have retorted yet again, “since when did the Ghanaian ever know what was best for them”?
The NDC party is thrown in disarray! Party stalwarts are gobsmacked with Rawlings' attacks. Koo Fanti Mills, however, refuses to be drawn into a fist fight with Potentate Rawlings. After all and to be fair, he had, indeed, sworn to follow him 24/7 and Nkensen Arkaah's manhandling was vivid in his memory! Besides he had lost a lot of weight lately and would not risk a punch up with the hefty Potentate! As far as the latter was concerned, Koo Fanti Mills was not fit for purpose and had to be removed and replaced with someone who he could well and truly control. “Why”? “Because Potentate Rawlings knows best! Surely someone who was bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh would listen to him! Thus the equally brutal and, in many respects, far more crafty wife is unveiled as a contender for the P[NDC] leadership race.
The message is announced loud and clear and hopefully once and for all: IF CHAIRMAN RAWLINGS CANNOT CONTROL YOU, YOU CANNOT BE LEADER OF THE P[NDC] OR PRESIDENT OF GHANA. PERIOD! “WHY”? “BECAUSE POTENTATE RAWLINGS KNOWS BEST, STUPID!
Bernard Asher, Lecturer Guildford College of Higher Education & Associate Tutor Reading University. E-mail: [email protected]