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 outburst 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 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 Koforidua."
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 feel for NDC for Rawlings' infelicitous flare-ups.
www.ghanaweb.com: Feature Article of Thursday, 24 November 2005