Ghanaian Selfishness on the Rawlings' Debate
By Chika Onyeani

When I rushed to post the article from the former Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings on the just ended G8 summit in Gleneagles, England, which he had written for the Guardian, UK newspaper, I thought Africans would take this opportunity presented by a former Head of State to debate the merits or demerits of the G8 debt relief for Africa.  In fact, I was expecting my friend, George Ayittey, who was a invitee to the Summit, albeit a shadow summit, to be the first to chime in on Rawlings' observations.  Sadly, what has happened has been the seizure of this topic by Ghanaians to air their various grievances in opposition or support for Rawlings during the 19 years he was in power in Ghana.  The essence of the discourse, that's the G8 Africa policy vis-a-vis the debt relief has totally been ignored.  Mind you, I have no problem with the discussion that is going on right now, but I have a problem of throwing out the dirty bath water with the child.

What the discussion has shown is the truth of the adage that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.  I see Nigerians' admiration for Rawlings, and many of the Ghanaians saying, good riddance, you can have him. Any African with his head screwed right must necessarily find repugnance with any government that comes into office through a military coup d'etat.  And Jerry Rawlings' was one of the most vicious and brutal military coups d'etat in the history of Africa.  I know I might be opening a Pandora's box here, but nevertheless the reason most Africans may not be overtly angry or critical of Jerry Rawlings is what they perceive, inspite of his violent nature, to have achieved for Ghana, a la the great Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah, especially as an country not torn by ethnic strife and if it is, not on the scale of what is happening in other African countries.

There are those who will say that what is happening today in Ghana is as a result of the last four and a half years of the Kufuor administration, which will be doing injustice to Ghanaians who fought vehemently in opposition to Rawlings' administration.  I see a contradiction with the first person to throw the first salvo, Dr. Akurang-Parry's rebuttal of Rawlings post.  Here's what he said, "Today, Rawlings is a globe-trotter whose political theatrics and demagoguery are treasured by Western institutions and their governments as if they are not aware of his sanguinary despotism. These are the same Western institutions and governments that are calling for good governance in Africa. For more than twenty years, Jerry Rawlings has magisterially echoed some political catch-words, two of which are "accountability and transparency." He used such ideological catch-phrases to dupe peace-loving Ghanaians for 19 years. Indeed, the rabble-rousing Rawlings has not demonstrated these politically magnetic catch-words in his private or public life. Today, Rawlings is no longer the poor soldier who could not afford one meal per day. He owns a fleet of fancy cars, boats, and can afford to educate his four children in British universities after his regime had undermined Ghana's stellar educational system."

In other words, Rawlings not only duped Ghanaians but as well as leaders of the western institutions and governments that worked with him to restructure Ghana's debt or grant loans to the country.  Without even touching on Rawlings using "such chatch-prases to dupe peace-loving Ghanaians for 19 years," are we then to believe that Rawlings was able to also dupe these western institutions or governments?  On what basis was he able to do this?  Was it on the basis of the natural resources that Ghana possesses, which would have led these institutions and governments to look the other way?  Impossible, that's not how these people work.  There must be something in it for them.  Of course, this is far from being in defence of Rawlings actions.

Rawlings, like most of his African leadership colleagues then and now, believe that the press is an enemy, throwing journalists into jail at the slightest, anticipated, or even without provocation.  Hence, I have been amused and angered at the same time by the harangue of criticism by former African presidents about how the western media treats African issues.  I chuckle to myself, good for you, if it were in Africa the journalists who dared to write such objective, albeit critical, articles about Africa, would all have been in jail.  But Rawlings did change in that he allowed private radio stations to be established in the country, many of which advocated the views of the opposition, leading to the transparent and equally free and fair elections which ushered in the Kufuor administration.  Again, nobody has accused Rawlings of overt corruption, of having millions deposited in bank accounts around the world.

If our Christian brothers/sisters are to be believed, the Kingdom of Heaven is not only for those who from the day they are born are righteous, but as well as for those who at the last minute confess to their sins and try to change their ways.  Otherwise, what would we make of the carnal excesses of Catholic priests!!  With the exception of South Africa, there is no other country south of the Sahara that businessmen/women are trooping to other than Ghana, and I would disagree with anybody who would want to convince me that this started in the last five years.  That would be an insult to my intelligence and the fact that I try to know what is going on.  As one of Nigeria's acclaimed journalists, Reuben Abati, has noted, a lot of things do work in Ghana - you are not confronted by armed robbers every minute of the day, you are not confronted with corrupt policemen who have not been paid for months for bribe money, at the airport you are not confronted with touts.  These little things and the gentle nature of the Ghanaians are what are driving Ghanaians abroad to return home without fear of being killed.  To me that is a great accomplishment, and it should be applauded even for those who wish to deny that it started in the Rawlings era.

I am sorry that it seems that I am being drawn into the quagmire of this Ghanaian debate, but the reason I decided to contribute this my two cents, is that we must not allow the Ghanaians' selfishness, as exhibited in their contributions, to take away the essence of the G8 debate.  I especially wish to re-direct us to what Rawlings wrote, which is that  "Responsible African governments have endeavoured to keep up their debt obligations and have at times been paying out a lot more than they receive. Therefore even selective debt cancellation is welcome. The debt-relief debate has, however, engendered the false impression - dangerous for Africa's development prospects - that the G8 concession means access to more foreign, and free, funds for national development.

The reality is that no funds are coming from external sources. Debt cancellation means the removal of the obligation to transfer financial resources to the creditor. This belief might lead to an unfortunate situation in which governments abdicate responsibility for sustainable economic development, assuming that debt cancellation is a panacea for their country's problems."

I believe that this is the kind of advice that those countries which are receiving debt relief should understand, especially since Rawlings went on to advocate what these excess funds (non-utilised interests on loans) should be used for, including "empowerment, education, and the provision of power and clean water - enabling our people to work and to live in conditions of human dignity and hope."

Moreover, this debt relief, as Rawlings rightly observed would be meaningless if, on the other hand, the western governments continue to employ indiscriminate farm and other kinds of subsidies to dump their products into Africa and kill African industries.

I am elated at the present situation whereby former African leaders are coming together in service for the continent.  It should be an object lesson to the present ruling leaders that there is a better life, which I say with tongue i n cheek, after their presidency - Diouf in Senegal, Konare in Mali, arap Moi in Ethiopia, Aboubakar in Nigeria, and others.  There is nothing more empowering than knowing that after your term of office, your advice will still be sought, and we are seeing the dwindling of the 'without-me-Africa-cannot-survive' presidents.