Sadiq Manzan (doctoral student of literature in Toronto) offers a methodological note on how to assess Jerry Rawlings
I have been following the intense exchange on Jerry Rawlings with interest largely because even though I have met him twice, and know a lot about his ideas and policies when he was in power, I'm unable to come to a firm conclusion about him and his place in the pantheon of African leaders or dictators.
I think that, to be insightful, we need a multi-disciplinary approach to assess not just Rawlings but all other African leaders, past and present. A limited disciplinary approach just doesn't work.
In my humble opinion, we should pose the following five questions (at least) in assessing these leaders:
(1) How did the leader perform, in terms of leading his/her people to successfully address the major challenges or contradictions of their time? -- This is a question for historians
(2) How did the leader govern, in terms of being tolerant of non-violent opposition, fostering political and economic inclusion of all, etc? -- This is a question for political scientists
(3) How did the leader's policies help to improve the livelihoods of ordinary citizens, especially the rural population (in Africa, that's paramount) -- This is a question for economists
(4) How did the leader advance the international image and standing of his/her country and Africa in the world/global power system? -- This is a question for international relations specialists
(5) How did the leader inspire the youth to dream, prepare and work for a future of pride and progress? -- This is a question for sociologists, educationists, etc.
I am not suggesting that you can't have one analyst or scholar/researcher attempt to answer all these questions, using an appropriate multi-disciplinary framework. Of course that is possible, but the debate here seems to suggest that people tend to look at these leaders from a narrow perspective. A multi-disciplinary approach, I sumbit, will produce more nuanced and complex conclusions about even the most easily categorized leader.