Before the emergence of Rawlings, governance had been mystified. When he burst onto the scene with his close attachment to the mass of the people, he succeeded in demystifying governance and raising the spirit of self-help and communal activities.
No one should begrudge him credit for this feat. He broke the myth surrounding elitism in Ghanaian politics and created opportunities for the hitherto “unbiz” elements of the society to walk the corridors of power. Some excelled in their use of that power to advance the cause of the people while others misused that opportunity and suffered for it.
The activities of the PDC’s and WDC’s, although fraught with indiscipline in many areas, were useful mechanisms for raising political consciousness and empowering the voiceless and downtrodden segments of the society. We all witnessed the explosive enthusiasm and commitment with which the cadres went about their activities. It was as if all the opportunities that had been denied them over the years had suddenly been shoved into their hands to exercise power in shaping their own future.
Howevermuch critics of this approach to political activism and mobilization may say to condemn that aspect of Rawlings’ rule, some credit has to be reserved for him. The high level of political consciousness that exists in the country today is the result of his government’s concerted efforts to empower the voiceless.
The District, Municipal, and Metropolitan Assemblies and the successful implementation of the decentralization policy are major landmarks of this political empowerment.
We must be honest to give Rawlings credit for such accomplishments at the political level, especially considering the stability that the country has had ever since he streamlined the political order and ensured smooth transition of power from seemingly antagonistic political camps.
And he recognizes the implications too. “That is the difference,” he told the interviewer. “That is why they have a problem with Rawlings, and have to misrepresent it to make it seem as if he is divisive. He is so and so; he is so and so. No! Rawlings believes in accountability, he believes in transparency, he believes in the empowerment of the people.”
But there is more to this issue, which has turned Rawlings into Ghana’s bugbear today. Rawlings’ shortcomings in-and-out of office come to the fore despite all that he had accomplished. His down side threatens to overshadow these accomplishments, which is why by making such a claim he seems to have raised eyebrows. We see such shortcomings from many angles, beginning with what qualifies as a pathological problem and being translated into a conduct that is at once abrasive and threatening.
The most damaging negative aspect of Rawlings is the strongman mentality that undergirded everything he represents and which motivated all that he did in office. This mentality is the driving force behind his abrasiveness, which most of us have complained about but which he still clings on to even as his post-office status demands a better disposition for him to mature into a statesman. That’s his inhibition.
Rawlings hasn’t changed in his mentality and perception of power and authority and how they should be exercised. He entered political office with a “strongman mentality” and left it with same. He has continued to demonstrate that mentality, which is the cause of his worries ion a system that has no room for that disposition and political posturing.
This “strongman mentality” made nonsense of the so-called state institutions (such as the judiciary) that he claimed to have established and empowered. The paradox thickens.
Other levels at which Rawlings failed include his inability to improve the country’s economic wellbeing or the living standards of the people. Who will forget the metaphor of “Rawlings Chain”? Beyond that, his administration’s wayward socialist orientation and ill-thought-of confrontation with the IMF and World Bank contributed to the country’s economic stagnation. It worsened matters when it turned around to enter into an unholy alliance with those very Bretton Woods institutions to implement harsh policies in readiness for loans with cut-throat conditionalities. If Ghana’s economy is still underdeveloped, it is because of the almost 20 years that it lost under Rawlings.
Rawlings’ human rights records are deplorable. It doesn’t have to take his spokesman (Kofi Adams) to attempt whitewashing him for us to absolve him of the excesses that occurred under his watch. Nor did he have to personally kill anybody before being accused of atrocities that occurred when he was in power. Honestly speaking, let me say that any mention of Rawlings’ name immediately invokes the memories of those sordid days when brute force was used as the main tool for administering the country. Such a sordid record belies any claim by Rawlings to be the best leader that Ghana has had. Being the best must not have such a blot on his rule.
The culture of indiscipline that is plaguing our society has been traced to the Rawlings phenomenon by some people. Considering what happened under his rule, especially with his fixation on what he calls “positive defiance,” one cannot but agree with those who point accusing fingers at him for promoting indiscipline.
Again, although Rawlings established several institutions of state to promote good governance, not much was done to either resource or allow them to function without undue official interference. Most of those institutions couldn’t function as expected because they were not given the free hand to do so. Apparently, a lot of them were mere smokescreens to be manipulated to serve vested interests. That’s why the “strongman mentality” still persists in Rawlings and all others who think like him.
By thumping his chest to make such a huge claim, Rawlings has definitely set himself up as the bull’s eye and can’t escape the wrath of the archers. There is some truth in what he says, even though one would have expected him to be the last to blow his own horn. No matter what criticisms we launch at him, we must appreciate his positive side too. His contributions to national development can’t be erased by any bitter sentiment against him.
His boast shouldn’t irk anybody. Instead, it should open our eyes to what he has accomplished or failed to. In that sense, we should see his boast as a challenge to commit ourselves to building on his positive contributions while making conscious efforts to neutralize the negative aspects of his rule. It is only then that we will be adding to his legacy.
Rawlings must also learn to fall in step in his post-office life and stop degrading himself. If he can boast of being Ghana’s best leader, he must recognize the enormity of the challenge that he has thrown to himself and to us. Meeting this challenge doesn’t call for what he continues to do, using every opportunity to intimidate or alienate everybody in sight. He played his part and must allow others too to do so.
Does Rawlings really want to hold on to his claim till death do him part? If he wants to, then, he has to add to that image and not detract from it. By choosing to be his own judge, though, he has opened a can of worms and must be prepared for the fallout. From the way his popularity is fast evaporating, I wonder what he will say of himself in a few years’ time hence. Probably, like Achebe’s lizard, he may be too old to climb the tall iroko tree. Or if he insists on climbing it to that height, he may not survive the fall.
By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor