African News

The Decline of J.J. Rawlings

20 November 2005 at 04:05 | 640 views

By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong

In terms of sheer patriotism and nationalism that propelled him to Ghana’s
political scene, John Jerry Rawlings is in a class of his own. He was Head
of State around 32 years, having projected the need for across-the-board
patriotism and nationalism rooted in accountability and general moral
health. Don’t ask me to explain it in detail here, but apparently it
revolutionalized a country which has not seen something like this before.
Even among Ghana’s 56 ethnic groups with various patriotic figures such as
Asante’s Osei Tutu 1 and Yaw Asantewaa demonstrating attempts to maintain
social order and restore the public good, Rawlings is a giant.

The story of Rawlings is instructive because it reminds Ghanaians that a
former Head of State with above average patriotic and nationalistic
calling is no protection against the dumbing effect of immature outbursts
that undermines Ghana’s innate cultural values. Among Ghana’s 56 ethnic
groups traditional leaders and those that have been in such position have
to maintain high degree of discretion and be above reproach so as to maintain
the dignity and respect of their social stature. Rawlings’ crude and
unGhanaian utterances have been well documented over the years, but this
week the former President, who ruled Ghana for almost 20 years, got
downright silly.

In a report carried by the Accra-based newspapers “Gye
Nyame Concord,” Rawlings not only defended himself as a marijuana
(otherwise called “wee” in Ghana) smoker, but that “he was not a cold
blooded killer.” President Rawlings, whose mother is a Ghanaian and his
father a Scottish and appears not know Ghanaian values very well, had to
respond to these attacks against him from his National Democratic
Congress (NDC) party, which he is said to have founded, National Women’s
Organizer, Ms Frances Asiam.

The “Gye Nyame Concord” piece reveals a former President who has brought
himself so low that he is being insulted by no more that top figures from
within a political party he is said to have founded and in the process
demeaning not only himself but his former high office - the Ghanaian
presidency which is expected to be sacred like all Ghanaian traditional
rulers offices. Before the Ms. Asiam explosive insults, among a long list
of unGhanaian and un-presidential behaviour by President Rawlings, the
Accra-based “Times” reported how Rawlings humiliated the acting General
Secretary of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), Bede Ziedeng,
publicly for suggesting that he has keys in unlocking the ruling National
Patriotic Party (NPP) hold to power. Maturity demands that, at his age, as
a father and his former office, instead of saying that while Ziedeng may
hold the key to defeating the NPP in the next general elections in 2008
but the real winning key is in the hands of the people, Rawlings, as the
“Times” reported, explosively “condemned Ziedeng for what appeared to be a
harmless pronouncement he made at a Regional Delegates congress in

Former President Rawlings has always presented himself as some sort of
super-Ghana-lover, super-nationalist, super-patriot, or some sort of
modern day Okomfo Anokye, who virtually created the Asante Empire, but
really he is some sort of a confused, acrimonious nationalist zealot whose
creed is not accommodating other people’s views - a contravention of pure
Ghanaian value. Since vacating the Osu Castle, the seat of government, as
two-time president and long-running military dictator, Rawlings, a former
Ghana Air Force Flight Lieutenant who came to power because of the idiocy
of Ghanaian elites and their ensuing inability to grasp innate Ghanaian
values in relation to Ghana’s development process, has invested so much in
the belief that he is the only one who can right the mistakes of Ghana’s
development challenges, of which he has now come to be part of the
problem, that if his imagery reality doesn’t conform to his cosmology,
then he must change reality despite the reality and Ghanaian traditional
values telling him on his face to be matured and civil.

The Rawlings cosmology holds that Ghanaians are oppressed by certain
rotten and unpatriotic elites who are not in his camp and that only those
in his camp or who think like him can save Ghana - such thinking has put
Rawlings in almost permanent collision with not only some members of his
own NDC party but also the ruling NPP government too, creating unnecessary
tension nation-wide. While Rawlings, a restless extrovert, has been
heckling the ruling NPP regime for reason some petty and some substantial,
much of his troubles come from his activities within his own NDC party.
While his unhealthy, open rivalry with the chair of the NDC, Dr. Obed
Asamoah, clearly undermines party cohesion, his insult-trading with Ms.
Asiam to the extent of the brainy Ms. Asiam describing Rawlings, “as a
murderer, whose hands are soiled with blood,” as the Accra-based “Daily
Guide” reported, is uncalled for, especially for a former President.

Former President Rawlings increasing decline in the eyes of thoughtful
Ghanaians who initially welcomed his political house cleaning
interventions in Ghana’s then dark and rotten political scene and his
long-running attempts at national development, reminds me of the
increasing decline of one my intellectual and professional heroes, Noam
Chomsky, now 76, who, having already developed his theory of language
acquisition called transformational-generative grammar (don’t ask me to
explain it here, its too complex), became a full professor at the famous
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) at the youthful age of 33.
Those familiar with Chomsky’s academic work in linguistics know that he
possesses an exceptional capacity for critical and abstract thought. As
somebody said, “Even at MIT where huge brains are the price of admission,
Chomsky is a giant.” Chomsky’s decline has occured because of his crude
and immature political views over the years culminating in last week’s
suggestion that Serbian atrocities during the Balkan wars never happened,
that there was no 1995 massacre of Bosnians, and that there was no
Serbian-run concentration camp.

Rawlings may not have Chomsky’s unique intellect but he has remarkable
capacity for self-less leadership driven by exceptional motivation and
inspiration and unusual ability for sacrifices and to project patriotism
and nationalism. Despite what his detractors may say, he laid the
foundation for the on-going democratic dispensation after many disastrous
failures by Ghana’s dull elites. Yet when it comes to high public demand
for certain degree of public politesse, which Ghanaian traditional values
demand of older or senior citizens or “Big Men,” Rawlings is embarrassing
not only to himself, his family, his ethnic group (the Ewes), and his NDC
but also the Ghanaian state.

Rawlings is a genius for his demonstration of patriotism and the public
good in a country where these have been in short supply for long time, but
like Chomsky, genius can come with cost, and his decline, coming down to
open damaging verbal fight with some officials within his own NDC last
week, is instructive for Ghana’s development process because it reminds us
that an off-the-charts patriot and the high capacity to midwife the public
good is no protection against the dumbing effects of fanaticism. In
Rawlings, Ghanaians are learning that even former Presidents or smart
people can be deranged or stupid. Meantime, I pity the NDC for Rawlings’ infelicitous flare-ups.