GHANA: Is President Mills really ungrateful? – Asks Dr Michael J.K. Bokor

Opponents of President Mills—particularly those following Nana Konadu Agyemang-Rawlings and her husband—are clapping with only one hand as they go about accusing him of being ungrateful to the Rawlingses. Certainly, by so doing, they don’t proffer anything meaningful to a genuine national development effort or the discourse on how to strengthen our democracy.

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Of all the claims being made by these people who are supporting the replacement of President Mills as the NDC’s flagbearer for the 2012 elections, none so piques me like this one that insinuates that he is an ingrate. They have accused him of being ungrateful to Jerry Rawlings, noting that he was a mere “nobody” until Rawlings uprooted him from obscurity in academia to plant him in the high echelons of Ghana’s power structure. In effect, Rawlings was responsible for catapulting President Mills into the limelight, meaning that without Rawlings’ singular “magnanimity,” President Mills would have remained a “Mr. Nobody” in obscurity till thy-kingdom-come. (After all, don’t we say that the teacher’s reward is in heaven?)

That being the case, his opponents argue, it is expected that President Mills will defer to Rawlings, appreciate his kindness, and show gratitude to him for showering the “saving grace of politics” on him. The opponents consider the current frosty relationship between President Mills and Rawlings as the direct result of the latter’s ingratitude. Thus, Rawlings’ scathing criticisms of President Mills and the emergence of his wife as a challenger for the NDC’s topmost leadership slot is justifiable. In effect, President Mills is responsible for whatever is happening to him now.

Talking about ingratitude on the part of President Mills raises the current friction between him and his government, on the one hand, and the Rawlings camp, on the other hand, to a new level of torpid insensibility. The cruel process that has led to this frosty point in their relationship can be traced to such feelings. This expectation of “gratitude” is the breeding ground for waywardness in our politics and moral corruption.

Such an argument is clearly horrifying and must not be tolerated. It won’t wash with any serious-minded person who knows what it entails. First, it is despicable because it seeks to create the impression that by being called upon to serve his country, President Mills (and many others like him) owe their allegiance to Rawlings and must defer to him at all costs as their political Godfather.

I want to make it clear that the call to serve one’s nation is not to be pegged on any particular individual’s personal whims and caprices if national service must have its meaningful impact on the country. Serving one’s country must be without conditions except those bordering on selfless devotion, patriotism, and discipline. That’s the only way to become fully invested in and committed to the national cause. In this sense, then, it is fundamentally wrong for anyone to expect President Mills to defer to Rawlings and obey his command(ment) as an appreciation for making him (and all others who’ve worked with Rawlings since his May 15, 1979 initiative) what he is in national politics.

Second, by insisting that President Mills should be grateful to Rawlings, his opponents seem to suggest that Rawlings is the one and only supreme power broker in the country whose word must be everybody’s command. Rawlings cannot—and must not—be set up that way in the system. Otherwise, we will continue to give him undeserved space within which to manipulate the system as he has been doing all this while, buoyed up by the feeling that he is a matchmaker.

What can be better than acknowledging the fact that all those who are called to serve the country should do so without recourse to anybody’s personal agenda but the supreme national interest? The problem with some people is that they cannot perceive politics beyond the personal or ethnic level and are always bent on projecting issues from such narrow perspectives. The call for gratitude is misplaced.
In all human-related situations of vicarious participation in activities, someone has to join another to help achieve aspirations. No one rules a country alone. If Rawlings could do things all by himself, why didn’t he go it alone but had to work with others? Should we say that President Mills is culpable on this score at all?

This thinking—and demand of gratitude from his former appointees—is the major psychological stumbling block that Rawlings faces. This thinking has become the hoop that he has placed in his own path but can’t jump to be able to relate productively to others. He has fallen out with almost all those who were his comrades-in-arms for the military actions of May 15, 1979, June 4, 1979, December 31, 1981, and since the beginning of the 4th Republic (January 7, 1993). It’s a long story that we have heard to the point of a surfeit.

It was this very thinking that caused friction between him and former President Kufuor because he felt that having been his appointee before, Kufuor needed to submit to him or show gratitude. Will we say that because former President Kufuor didn’t do so—and won’t be expected to do so—he is ungrateful too? If we accept the Christian Bible’s aphorism that “God is the one who appoints leaders,” what gratitude has Rawlings himself shown to God, considering his outrageous declaration that “I don’t fear God”?

Now, let’s re-package the argument and throw it back to those opponents of President Mills. I do so to suggest that Rawlings himself doesn’t know what gratitude is nor does he practise it to deserve any requital.

Casting our minds back, we can tell the circumstances under which he was saved from the jaws of death and rushed to the studios of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation in that Monday morning of June 4, 1979, to announce the overthrow of the Akuffo-led SMC administration. What gratitude did he show to Boakye Gyan and all those soldiers who actually took action against that government while he was languishing in cells at the BNI headquarters? Or what gratitude did he show to the students of the University of Ghana who provided the safe haven for him until he re-surfaced later that day after the troops had neutralized the resistance put up by Gen. Odartey-Wellington? Why is he not at peace with all those people?

Then again, during the December 31, 1981, coup d’état against the Limann government, only 33 soldiers under his command took the initial action that ushered in the PNDC. Some of those troops died in action but the rest survived. What gratitude did Rawlings show to them? On the contrary, his government regarded them as “pests” and took stern action against them. Some of those architects of the coup were hounded (e.g., Sgt. Alolga Akata-Pore, a PNDC member, was detained and eventually forced into exile); others were forced by circumstances to become disaffected and turned into dissidents who were hounded and killed (e.g., Lance Cpl. Halidu Gyiwah, Sgt. Awal, etc.).

All others with whom Rawlings has been at logger-heads after using them to legitimize his hold on power and to achieve his political and economic ambitions are not to be forgotten. They were the very people who toiled day and night to prop up his administration, whether providing the intellectual validation, moral backing, or political rhetoric to reinforce his ideals. The NDC is what it is today because of the hard work of all those who have regarded their participation in its activities as a call to serve the country. Their hard work pays off but who appreciates it? How is the appreciation shown, anyway? They play their part as a national duty, not expecting to be set up to show gratitude to Rawlings in consequence.

I have heard a similar argument from critics of Nkrumah that even though it was J.B. Danquah and other precursors of the fight for independence who toiled for him to be invited to join the UGCC—and even provided the money to bring him down—Nkrumah failed to show gratitude and instead hounded those benefactors to death through his Preventive Detention Act. Such arguments are annoying.

In politics, any attempt to introduce such issues into the equation creates problems that we must be wary of. I think that whatever motives Rawlings had for including President Mills in his team are known to him but by being in office, President Mills is serving the national interest and no one should expect any show of gratitude to Rawlings as a pre-condition for his support.

I don’t think that if one is invited or appointed to serve one’s country, that call-to-duty should be perceived as a “favour” for which the appointee must be perpetually enjoined to show gratitude to the appointing authority even long after the fact. Demanding gratitude and basing one’s attitude to such a person on it is impolitic. It breeds tension and creates needless enmity as we are seeing in this bad-blood relationship between President Mills (as an individual) and his government, on the one hand, and the camp of Rawlings and his wife, on the other hand.

All said and done, though, I expect those opponents of President Mills to insist that he is an ingrate. That’s how they hope to destroy him; and they will keep on harping on that issue as they continue clapping with one hand. That is the nerve-end of their politics.