Rawlings: An Angel Abroad and a Devil at Home? – Asks Dr Michael J.K. Bokor

President Jerry John Rawlings
When the African Union appointed him its High Representative to Somalia, many of us hailed his choice, thinking that having survived such difficult times in his own rule and knowing very well the harm that armed insurrections do to countries, he would learn useful lessons on his mission to guide his conduct. He’s been to Somalia and Kenya and seen the evidence of what instability does. But he seems to have left that lesson behind him before returning to his own country where, since his return, he has raised much dust.

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Why will Rawlings choose to be more interested in and satisfied with his efforts toward helping other people solve their internal political problems while turning round to create those very problems in his own country?

If for nothing at all, he shouldn’t miss the import of this paradox. It should raise the wake-up call for him to realize that being a High Representative of a continental body working for peace in other countries demands that he should be the last person to stir up trouble wherever he goes. He shouldn’t do or say anything to suggest that the AU made the wrong decision by choosing him for such conflict-resolution efforts. The charity that he thinks he can carry along to other people’s lands must first begin at his own home.

Then, having turned himself into a carcass to attract flies, he is now turning round to blame others for his stench. The Rawlingses early this week issued a stern warning to the Ghanaian media to desist from waging “war” on them or face the consequences. This stern warning may seem to be the turning point in their resentment for unfavourable media reaction to their acts of commission or omission, including their public posturing and utterances.

Such a warning will not scare some of us, primarily because of the wrong premise from which the Rawlingses approached issues. They failed to realize that they will not feature in our discourse if they don’t do what turns public attention to them (especially for the wrong cause). For as long as they shed light on themselves, they can’t avoid being seen. For as long as they rush out of the bathroom unclad, they can’t prevent people from peeking at them in their nudity. Can we blame the eyes for what they see or the ears for what they hear?

It may seem as if those of us who continue to write about JJ Rawlings may have too much time and too little to do or that we simply delight in using him as a crutch to launch our own discourse of hate or to make needless trouble for a man who is exercising his freedom of speech. Far from anything of that sort.

We continue to express pertinent comments on Rawlings’ public posture and incendiary utterances because they are part of the major factors creating tension in our society. Just look around whenever Rawlings’ name (or those of his wife and children, or even those who worked in his government) crop up in any conversation and you should be able to infer from people’s comments that Rawlings is at the core of what bothers our contemporary Ghanaian political thought.

Even though he may not personally be guilty of practising or encouraging tribalism in national politics, some people are quick to trace the ongoing Asante-Ewe internecine tribal ill-feelings to him. His haters think that there was a systematic way of mistreating Akans under his rule, citing the excesses that led to the death of many prominent personalities of Akan extraction (military Heads of State, judges, businessmen, etc.) or the dismissal of others from work. These are realities difficult to gloss over.

For whatever he is, Rawlings has continued to present the double face of the Roman god, Janus which, in his case, is at the center of the tension that we have had since he shot his way into the country’s political limelight some 32 years ago. Those who admire him will do anything for his sake while those who hate him are so entrenched in their sentiments that nothing will move them to be on the same page with those on the other side of the emotional divide. Even non-Ghanaians have their own stake in the issue.

Rawlings has been a thorn in the flesh from many angles, especially at the political level. Here is one person who is at odds with the NPP. Of course, considering the different political purposes that he seeks to achieve and how the NPP does its politics, any stand-off between him and that political camp is unmarked. But encouraging acrimony between the NDC and NPP doesn’t solve national problems.

Then, within his own political family too, Rawlings is considered a “trouble-maker.” Having already set the bad precedent of physically attacking the former Vice President (the late Kow Nkensen Arkaah) and now turning the heat on President Mills–apart from the various allegations on his assaulting of some of his appointees in the PNDC era—Rawlings will always be on people’s lips. As he continues to maintain his presence in the public domain, it is only natural for us to keep the searchlight on him, hoping that our viewpoints will provoke more public scrutiny of him and means found to pre-empt anything untoward (from or against him).

Anytime Rawlings launches his characteristic scathing verbal attacks on other politicians, some of us cringe, not only because such attacks are mostly unwarranted but also because they reflect on his own inadequacies. We know that strictly speaking, he isn’t any different from those he is wont to bad-mouth. We saw how he ruled Ghana for nearly two decades but couldn’t eradicate the very vices over which he rants and raves in condemnation of others.

An honest assessment will reveal that there is nothing happening in Ghanaian politics after his rule that didn’t happen while he was in power. Taking away the excesses that characterized his 100 days in office under the AFRC or the 19 years of the PNDC/NDC, all that Ghanaians deplore in the current crop of politicians also happened under Rawlings’ watch. So, what is the justification for his incessant effusions and bad-mouthing of others?

By hook or crook, he has succeeded in antagonizing his political opponents in the other political parties. And having cleared the bar in that effort, he has nowhere else to go but to take on his own party functionaries to gore. What manner of man is this who will not rein in his emotions but continue to step on toes?

Rawlings’ role as the African Union’s High Representative to Somalia should have informed him well enough about the danger of political intolerance. I reiterate that it is difficult to understand why Rawlings will want to solve political problems in other countries yet turn round to do in his own country the very things that give rise to such problems.

The political crisis in Somalia that he is busily trying to mobilize world opinion toward resolving didn’t just erupt overnight. Rawlings’ refusal to listen to reason and his determination to create pockets of tension wherever he goes or whenever he opens his mouth doesn’t become of the stature of an AU High representative—and he must be told to repair his own image before seeking to do so for others.