Dr. Kwabena Akurang-Parry continues with his evaluation of the Rawlings' era
Dr. Assensoh claims that "Even in Ghanaian politics, I often do
comparative analysis instead of looking at one political leader in
isolation." Perhaps, Dr. Assensoh had engaged in comparative analysis
elsewhere; overall, his posting was lopsidedly non-comparative. He
singles out the Acheampong regime for the guillotine because Acheampong
was instrumental in his arrest and detention. I would take the
Acheampong/Akuffo regime over that of Rawlings any political day.
Certainly, from a comparative standpoint, the Acheampong regime nursed
some seeds of corruption and moral decay - what became known in popular
parlance as "bottom power." But, the Rawlings regime was worse: at
least, Acheampong did not promise Ghanaians "accountability, probity,
and transparency" the way that Rawlings callously and misleadingly did.
Acheampong was not a murderer; Rawlings certainly was. After all, the
keys for the vehicles that were used in transporting the three legal
luminaries to the Bundase Military Range, where they were murdered and
set on fire with the hope of hiding that dastard act, were picked up
from the Rawlingses dining table.
In end, Dr. Assensoh contradicts himself: he calls for respect for all
former heads of state, yet insists that Acheampong should not be
accorded same. Yes, Acheampong detained journalists, including Assensoh,
but Rawlings was worse. The Rawlings regime did not only detain
journalists; it poured human excrement in the offices of independent
newspapers. Additionally, the Rawlings regime orchestrated an endemic
practice of suing and imprisoning editors, using it as an avenue to
derail popular opposition, championed by the press. During the Rawlings
regime, more than any period in the history of journalism and media in
Ghana, state-owned media sources were compelled to celebrate Rawlings
and his immediate family's political theater of the absurd that
masqueraded as revolutionary leadership.
Although, a practicing historian/journalist of high repute, Dr. Assensoh
may be unaware of the fact that agents of Rawlings went to the Accra
national archives and bundled away rich information, mostly local
newspapers, on the early part of his regime, the most brutal phase, when
for example, women were stripped naked in public and lashed. May be Dr.
Assensoh does not know that the fire that engulfed the Ghana
Broadcasting archives was deliberately set to destroy film records on
the Rawlings regime. Unfortunately, large amounts of archival materials
were destroyed in the process. And so it was not only Acheampong who was
anti-press, Rawlings was the worst!
And what has Dr. Assensoh's Asante identity got to do with giving
Rawlings, an Ewe, "a modicum of respect!" Yes, the humanist Kufour is
right in saying that former heads of state must be accorded dignity. But
we need to go beyond what Kufour said to the London Times and engage in
some exegetical analyses. In my opinion Kufour's statement may mean two
things. First, the state or government in power must see to the material
needs and political well-being of former heads of state. Second, former
heads of state must be respected as elder statespersons by all and
sundry. The first one is easily done and Rawlings is enjoying that. I
should add that as a former head of state, Dr. Hilla Limann, whom
Rawlings removed from power in 1981, suffered social indignities and
political humiliations from the Rawlings regime. In the end, the
brilliant, soft-spoken Sorbonne-educated Limann died a pauper; he did
not even have resources to seek adequate medical attention in Ghana!
Meanwhile, Rawlings' cronies were regularly sent overseas for medical
treatments at the expense of the state. Yet Rawlings sought to
capitalize on Limann's death and funeral for political gains, and the
Limann family did very well by seizing the occasion from Rawlings.
It is the second issue of elder statesperson which is a problem because
it depends on how one conducts himself/herself after leaving political
office. To borrow a popular dictum, respect is earned; it is not freely
gained! As my people, the Akuapems say, if a chief goes naked in public,
he may wear his crown, but in the eyes of his subjects he is a
nonentity! In the eyes of Ghanaians, including members of his own party,
Rawlings is on a precipice of political nakedness. While in office, he
was known to have done terrible things, including physically assaulting,
without mercy, his much older second-in-command, Vice President Kow N.
Arkaah of blessed memory. In fact, staple rumors abound, of course
embellished, that he did slap some ministers of state! After leaving
office, Rawlings' conduct has remained woefully inadequate in the
estimation of the general public. In fact, members of the Christian
Council of Ghana have called Rawlings' attention to his unstatesmanlike
political antics that smack of efforts to destabilize the present
government of Kufour. Today most Ghanaians don't like Rawlings for three
reasons: his past reign of terror; the endemic corruption and graft
during his leadership despite his mantra of "accountability, probity,
and transparency;" and his post-leadership foul emissions of political
buffoonery and dishonorable conduct . Indeed, the third point is what
has alienated him the most from Ghanaians, even among some of his
sycophantic supporters and serial cronies.
Yes Kwame Nkrumah detained his political opponents, but does that mean
that the killing of the three High Court Judges and hundreds of people
under the auspices of Rawlings is a saintly thing! Most Eurocentric and
anti-Nkrumahist authors have cordoned off from their writings the
incontrovertible fact that Nkrumah's opponents did not merely oppose his
political worldview; they were avid bomb-throwers and food "poisoners"
who were out to assassinate, indeed, kill him by any means. The simple
reason is that Nkrumah had wrestled popular support from them - a bunch
of sunset neocolonial political elite that shared the colonialists' warm
bed and wanted decolonization in the distant future. What government in
the era of political exigencies of the competing twin-pillars of
decolonization and neocolonialism of the late 1950s and the early 1960s
would not have detained bomb-throwers for their heinous acts against the
state and the person of the head of state.
The pith of the issue at stake is not about the lack of respect for
Rawlings as a former head of state. It is about placing his 19-year
reign of terror in comparative historical perspectives, whether local,
regional, continental or international. Dr. Assensoh plaintively writes
that "After all, they [Ghanaian former heads of state] did try to do
something useful for Ghana in varied ways... as a historian, that is how
I feel." Certainly, the key question here, using Rawlings as an example,
is that trying to do things and actually doing them are two separate
issues. Indeed, as an historian, it is about ideology and practice. May
be, in a journalistic tradition, it is the momentary seizures from
rousing public speeches that does trick. Surely, Rawlings is capable of
vending that with his affected "Western" accent which had hitherto lured
millions of Ghanaians who happily called him Junior Jesus and "oburoni"
[white man], an exemplification of our neocolonial system of education.
We have not addressed our neocolonial mindset, but it may well be the
reason why Rawlings is so much admired: light-skinned, aquiline nose,
thin lips, and an affected "Western" accent. I could only hope that my
Nwakanwa brothers and [sisters] in Nigeria (see No. 925) have not been
duped like millions of Ghanaians who had admired Rawlings' "oburoni"
tongue instead of questioning what his warped political mind was incapable of doing.
In sum, Rawlings is a demagogue with a sweet political tongue, hence in
assessing him, we must, however painful it may be, excise how we "feel"
as historians and use the historian's craft of objectivity to separate
his attractive political invocations from the realities of his rule.