Any doubt that there is deep, very deep division within Ghana’s ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) party was finally dispelled, when the party’s founder and former Ghana’s President JJ Rawlings upped the ante in his incessant criticism of current President John Atta Mills.
What the former president called the sitting president was ‘Konongo Kaya,’ a very offensive term that means someone who cannot do something, but is preventing others from doing it.
The place was Tamale, the capital of the Northern Region and the occasion was the commemoration of the June 4 (a pivotal date in Ghana’s political history) revolution that propelled the then Flight Lieutenant Rawlings to national and international prominence and the iconic place he enjoys today in Ghana’s icononography.
Actually this was not the first time the pugilistic Rawlings have fired heavy artillery in the direction of his former protégé and deputy. He had on one occasion lambasted Mills’ Ministers as ‘greedy bastards,’ who would not have gotten away with the whiff of corruption that surrounds many of them when he Ghana’s Maximum Ruler.
Rawlings expression: ‘Who born dog?’ has since entered Ghana’s political lexicon.
Now we have the NDC Young Turks replying the once sacrosanct Rawlings in kind. This ought not to have happen had President Rawlings been heeding the advices from people like yours truly.
Few years ago, I wrote a piece where I advised the ex-president on how to curb his verbal utterances. For the benefit of those that missed the article, ‘When an elder loses his head,’ I am republishing it hereunder. Enjoy.
“There is no medicine to cure hatred.” – African proverb
One of the things I cherished most in life is the strict disciplined upbringing that I received from both my parents. My father was almost martial in his self-discipline (he never ate outside his house); my mother was less austere, but she did her best. I learnt a lot from my parents for which I am eternally grateful.
And among the things African I cherished the most is our reverence for old age. Disrespecting an elder is a big taboo that is heavily frowned upon. In our culture, one’s material station in life has nothing to do with this veneration of old age, hence the saying that a child might have more cloths than the elder, but he can never have more rags. You might have all the new Ghana cedis fighting in your pocket, but you’ll be considered uncultured, even boorish, if you should show disrespect to someone older than you.
Imaging my shock and awe when I got to Europe in my early twenties and saw children ARGUING (they call it discussing) with their parents. And horror of horrors, some children were actually calling their parents by their first names! I have to explain to my son that it’s quite unacceptable for him to call my brothers (his uncles) by their names without the ‘uncle’ prefix. It’s simply not done in my culture and he certainly would look like a cultural philistine were I to take him to my village and he start calling his uncles by their first names!
Throughout my stay in Europe I never got used to the idea of sitting comfortably in a public transport when there were people older than I standing up. Many find my behaviour peculiar and pretty old fashioned, but I simply couldn’t bring myself up to start behaving outside my cultural space. And whenever I travel in any of our metal contraptions, I still relinquish my seat whenever an elderly person enters and couldn’t find a seat.
In Africa we revere old age maybe because we hope and pray to get into old age. But like in everything else, our elders evolved a strict check and balances to ensure that things properly balanced out.
Old age carries with it great responsibilities. An elder must comport himself (sorry I am not being sexist here) at all times. He has more responsibilities in ensuring that his conducts, including utterances, are ALWAYS measured and that they are above board and above reproach. An elder speaks guardedly; he dances with more caution and he does not eat with both hands (metaphorically speaking). As leaders, they are expected to show great good examples. That may be the reason why our Chiefs do not speak except through interpreters.
So what happens when an elder violates these age-old norms? What happens when the Chief becomes the village machoman and start to exhibit bolekaja (come down and let’s fight antics)?
Unlike the free-for-all ‘freedom’ we think that we are enjoying today, our elders do not believe in unfettered freedom, and they certainly do not believe that a society needs liberty without its concomitant responsibilities. An African proverb says that it is the elder that decided to ease himself by the roadside that calls for people to come and look at his buttocks.
Ex-President J. J. Rawlings utterances at a press conference early this month and his subsequent speeches left me a bitterly disappointed man.
I am both sad and disappointed that a man that I greatly admired and respected should decide to jump into the gutter with his critics and perceived enemies. What baffled me the most is: what made him do it?
Those who have been reading my pieces will readily agree that I hold no brief for President Kuffuor and his party and government which I consider too close to the imperialists for my comfort. And their slash and burn, Jurassic economic policies aches me badly. And readers will attest to the fact that I have always refrained from personal attacks and insults. Sorry to disappoint you, but I am not going to start with President Rawlings!
In an exchange of missives with the editor of the London-based New African magazine, Baffour Ankomah, last year, I opined that Ghanaians appear to be unappreciative of the tremendous changes that President Rawlings brought into their lives.
In my opinion (IMO), with the exception of the incomparable Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah, no other Ghanaian leader has performed better that J.J. President Kufuor has done his best in terms of physical development, but the moral turpitude of government makes it score very low on my card.
I told Baffour that given his intellectual limitations, J.J. did his best and performed rather credibly. In the pantheon of Ghanaian leaders, President Rawlings is eclipsed only by the Osagyego, but we shouldn’t forget that Nkrumah was among the foremost intellectual of all times.
“He who hates, hates himself.” – African proverb
I know that many people will be shaking their heads in dismay, and some are probably reaching for cudgels and things, but I only ask that we remember the rot our beloved land was before J.J. came in. No matter how passionate we are about our political convictions, historical facts are simply historical facts which we simply cannot wish away. No matter how hard one tries, one cannot argue away the simple fact that President Rawlings left Ghana in better shape than he met it. That, IMO, should be the yardstick with which we judge those that rule us.
I don’t know about you, but I very clearly remember a pre-J.J .’s Ghana when people were breaking bones in order to buy agbelemo. I remember a Ghana where shops are TOTALLY empty. I remember a bankrupt and totally corrupt Ghana where citizens were despondent, and were massively voting with their feet. It was a Ghana where citizens residing in Nigeria and other lands were sustaining families with packages of Geisha sardines, toothpastes, soap and other hard-to-get consumables. It was a Ghana that was held in utter contempt by the rest of the world.
Many are minds that will point to alleged violations of rights and other things; I do not wish to wish their agonies away. But the only certain lesson we learn from political history is that there is no nation that didn’t go through a baptism of fire in its quest for nationhood. Correct me if I am wrong, please.
The Albinos enslaved and colonized us; today our ruling elite consider them their best of pals. Mayhap it’s time we Africans start to ask ourselves why we are ever so eager to forgive strangers who abused and brutalized us while we are willing to carry the grudges of the slightest slight from our own kind for ages.
No dispassionate analyst can wish away President Rawlings immense contribution to the democracy we all enjoy today. We may shout and cry about the shortcomings we see around us, but the fact remain that many of our institutions are the envy of our brothers and sisters across the continent. OK, we get blackout now and then, but go and ask the Burkinabes or the Nigerians. Those who complain about the dirt in Accra only need to take a trip to Lagos. Our electoral system is adjudged to be among the best in the world.
As I have often written on these pages, no society evolved by man is devoid of its earthly problem. This has been my biggest gripe with those wretched Albinos who leave their tiny, roaches-infested Council flats and come to Africa to pretend that they just landed from ‘alujanahs.’ Sorry for the digression.
What, on earth, then informed a former President to come out firing from all cylinders? I once opined that it is the sad duty of a writer to catalogue the woes of his society. Do ex leaders also have the same obligation? I think not for the simple reason that while many can become angry writer of vitriolic polemics, very few of us will ever occupy the Presidency of our land. That’s what makes the Presidency of any nation so special and so awesome! The American presidency have been occupied by men of the shadiest characters, the moronic George Bush being the latest in the sad parade of amoral President to occupy the White House; yet Americans continue to revere the office of their leader. It shouldn’t be different in our dear land.
“If your mouth turns into a knife, it will cut off your lips.” – African proverb.
It saddens me greatly whenever I see the only living ex-president of this country being made the object of crude and not so funny jokes. I feel much diminished whenever I see the ex President of my land been rendered in unsophisticated and not altogether flattering caricature.
I don’t know who President Rawlings advisers were, but in the last few occasions I feel that he has been badly served. Those who get paid to manage his PR should hang their heads in shame as they have woefully failed to do their job properly. In computer jargon, they all ought to be totally DEBUGGED! How on earth could they have so badly misjudged the mood in the country? And the timing, God have mercy!
For Christ sake, there is going to be a general election in a few months and any right-thinking person knows that there are many ‘floating’ voters hanging all over the place. What could have caused our ex leader such aggravation that he couldn’t see the incalculable damage he’s doing to the party that he founded? It could be true that he’s not the Professor Mill’s best of pals, but could Mr. Rawlings be so hateful as to want to shoot his lips in order to spite his tongue?
Dear President Rawlings, I do not know what your minders are doing, but I feel concerned enough to tell you that they are ill-serving you. Please, do not make the life of people like me who hold you in the highest esteem unnecessarily more difficult than it is. I hate it when I see you slinging verbal mud with all and sundry. The office of the President which you have been privileged to occupy is an exalted one, and we would all be diminished if it is to be desecrated by those who take it upon themselves to trade insults with you.
You are a man of undoubted charisma, but the simple truth is that there is no way you can win a slinging match with a newspaper editor if he chooses to go to the gutter with you. Our elders say that the man who pelts another man with pebble is asking for rocks in return. My counsel to you, for whatever it’s worth, is to please simmer down and drink from the fountain of peace. The era of demagogy is finally and truly over in our land; try Pedagogy for a change.
Let me stop here with another advice from our elders: the Wiseman is like a nail; his head keeps him from going too far.
Post mortem: Every patriotic of Ghana should be concerned about the inner wranglings in the ruling party. No, it has nothing to do with whether or not we support one faction or the other. Self-interest makes it imperative for us to show our concerns. As the party entrusted with running the affairs of our nation, it is our concern to know what is going on.
President Mills is a human being and according to biologists the first concern of any organism is self-preservation. Whatever he professes Professor Mills is a politician, period. He cannot pretend not to be concerned about his re-election. This concern will, of course, translate into ensuring that he uses some of his time on tackling the problems besetting his party. He knows that he cannot launch a new party and hope to win the next election. It is also inconceivable that he will join the NPP or any other party. So, he‘s stuck with his NDC party. Given the formidable opposition of the Rawlingses (they won quite a sizable chunk of the party executive posts contested at Tamale), they cannot be discounted.
All these mean that our president will be a very worried man, indeed. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that any time our president spends on intra-party squabbling is time that could have been put into productive use in solving some of the problems facing our nation.
This precisely is the President Mills Dilemma.
How did President Mills got himself into this fine mess? It’s difficult to imagine President Rawlings or even President Kufuor facing the same problem in their party. Unlike President Mills, both men do not come across as one whose authority is open to questioning. Methinks that is the hallmark of a true leader.
Leaving the Young Turks (Rawlings ‘greedy bastards’) in his party to fight his battle for him also portray the president as a coward.
So what are the options open to him? Methinks that he should come out boldly and confront the problem head-on. He should let one and all know where he stood on any of the issues confronting his leadership style and the way forward for the party. He has the whole authority of his office to back him up; it is time he uses it. These are not the times to be meek; these are occasions for decisiveness.
It is said that if you do not stand for something, you will fall for everything. As things stood, no one knows where our president stood. He needs to come out candidly and forcefully to declare his stand. Anything less would not jell.
Alas, I am not his advisor!