Feature Article of Sunday, 13 November 2011
Columnist: The Herald
By BK Segbefia
The Arab Spring, a revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests occurring in the Arab world, forced hitherto unconquerable leaders like Muamar Gaddafi of Libya, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Ben Ali of Tunisia, Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen, and Bashar al-Assadof Syria out of office has sparked debates in the minds of political watchers here in Ghana, and other parts of the world.
In this thought provoking write-up. An avid reader of The Herald, Mr. B K Segbefia, is asking the good people of Ghana to honour the nation’s longest serving President; Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings by renaming the University of Development Studies (UDS,) in the Northern Region, after him for his contributions to national development, financial contribution to the school and more importantly a peaceful transition of power to ex-President John A. Kufuor in 2001.
Below is the unedited write-up from Mr. Segbefia….
Each and every president that Ghana has had made some great contributions to the nation’s development drive for which they deserve an ocean of commendations.
However, in comparative terms, some could be said to be ahead of others in one area or the other. And for me, Jerry John Rawlings, a former military officer of the Ghana Armed Forces, has done certain things which Africa as a whole is so proud of vis-a-vis his background.
Firstly, the open and transparent manner in which he conducted the country’s general elections at the end of his second term when his Vice was a presidential candidate and very much wished to succeed him, but he decided to let the people’s will prevail.
He was so honest to his countrymen and peacefully handed over power to the opposition leader to then Mr John Agyekum Kuffour, the opposition leader.
This is remarkably commendable in that he did this in the face of what was becoming trendy on the African continent where many leaders barefacedly put on an armour jacket, went every length and breadth to alter their nation’s constitution by either removing or extending limits so as to contest as many times as they had life in them.
In the electoral duel, they always put the Opposition’s back on the ground with much ease without the international and local referees’ whistles playing any effective role. But JJ distanced himself from this team of self-seeking leaders. Some of them ended up plunging their countries into a pit of fire that caused irreparable damage to lives and properties.
On this objectionable list, which, on the other hand, is worthy of reference are Eyadema of Togo (dead but succeeded by his son, Faure, who recently caused the gaoling of his elder brother for a coup attempt), Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Paul Biya of Cameroun, Omar Bongo of Gabon (dead but succeeded by his son Ali), and the late Lansana Conte of Guinea.
Others are Idris Derby of Chad, Zine El Abdine Ben Ali of Tunisia, and Mamadou Tanja of Niger. In Uganda, term limits were removed entirely, thus giving an opportunity to aspire for life presidency.
This limitlessness is what has made it possible for our in-law, Robert Mugabe, (his late wife hailed from Sekondi) to manage elections the way he does, thus attracting various negative adjectives from observers.
Some presidents were, nonetheless, ill-fated in their bid. Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria was about to join the band wagon when his Vice, Atiku, broke ranks and led a rebellion with the Senate lining up behind him.
Though attempts in Malawi and Zambia to cause a constitutional review for longer stay also failed, they demonstrated the insatiable taste some African leaders had/have for power, tasty or sour. In Namibia, however, proponents succeeded in extending the term by one only.
The afore-mentioned examples offer us enough testimonies of how manipulative some of our presidents became and could become.
We can think of Hosni Mubarak and Col Al Qathafi of Egypt and Brother Qathafi Libya, respectively. They were only swept off their feet by the artificial tsunami of revolt. Qathafi’s death was most unfortunate.
His corpse should have been treated in a dignified manner rather than being ‘buried at an identified location in the desert’, why? May Allah receive his soul.
JJ had a foresight and displayed statesmanship that was very rare in his days. He ensured that Ghana remained peaceful and intact. Ghana has since become the bastion of democracy.
For this exceptional gesture, JJ has become a doyen or a highly respected ex-leader on the continent. Before this feat, he had demonstrated his benevolence in another unique way.
He donated a great chunk of his Hunger Project award of USD5ml in 1993 to the University of Development Studies as seed money to make university education more accessible to our compatriots in the northern sector of the country. Another aim of this donation to the school was to bridge the development gap between the north and the south, as education clasps the golden key.
The remaining amount did not go into his pocket, no; it went into charity. If it surprises you to know that it was that amount that was used to establish the Korlebu Heart Foundation, then of course that should draw attention to the relevance of my point of the need for the state to immortalise JJ by naming the UDS after him.
It’s worth mentioning that Ex-President JAK Kuffour has also won this Hunger Project award. The institution of this award is to recognise tremendous efforts made by leaders at reducing hunger among citizens of their countries through increased food production.
JAK deserves praises for the way he has conducted himself so far in retirement, maintaining silence on partisan domestic issues and rather focussing on international assignments. He should keep this up and it’s hoped that others will emulate him. Silence, it is said, is golden.
Coming back to JJ’s contribution to the establishment of UDS, today, the institute is attended by thousands of students with a good number coming from the southern part of the country.
These students, especially those from the south, whom other state public universities could not admit due to obvious reasons, would either have spent a year or two at home before gaining admission in any of the universities in the south, or would simply not have had access to university education.
What could USD5ml not have done in the life of an individual, for that matter a Ghanaian? It could have been more than enough to put up a state-of-the-art mansion for JJ and his family. However, he gave it up for the good of the nation, what an altruistic selfless man!
Today, we are told that with the exception of a chalet at Vume near Sogakope in the South Tongu District of the Volta Region, and his state-given but burnt ancient house in Accra, JJ has no private residence.
It was for this priceless contribution to the growth of education in the country in general and the north in particular that the UDS thought it prudent to honour him during an anniversary sometime ago. Sadly enough, however, the scheduled award was taken off at the eleventh hour by some unseen hands to the disappointment and embarrassment of some citizens as well as students of the school.
The occurrence sparked off some brief but loud debates in the country with a permanent scar on the conscience of some people; that is if only they have one which is alive.
But as Ewes lullaby a distressed person: ‘ne Mawu mewu wo o la, anyigba madu wo o’, to wit unless God takes your life, vain mother earth’s attempt to gulp you down. God returned the NDC to power against all predictions and prophesies.
This miraculous return is interpreted as divine for the restoration of that deserving honour which was yanked from JJ. I, therefore, wish to remind the NDC government of the need to rename the UDS after JJ.
It must do that sooner than later. If even under the NPP administration, the authorities of the UDS and some members of the government saw the need to honour JJ ala his contributions to the establishment of the school, what excuse will the NDC, now in power, have for not doing that?
All natives of the North, without partisan consideration, and all parents whose children or wards, past and present students of that university must, without partisan interest, support the suggestion for the renaming of the school to Jerry John Rawlings UDS (JJRUDS).
It was reported that the new Zambian president, Michael Sata, renamed the country’s airport after Kenneth Kaunda, the founding father. Though good, I do not think that patriots should be honoured rather posthumously when it’s possible for us to show that appreciation whilst they are alive.
It will be a big indictment and humiliation of the NDC if it fails to rename the UDS after JJ and leaves power someday only for the government of a different political party to do that. That will add more weight to the axiom that the Ghanaian adores the dead.
I am of the view that tributes read at funerals should rather be compliments to the living, that’s whilst they live, not dead. This will be a way of urging them on to continue being benefactors.
Although some of the living at funerals where these tributes are read will derive some useful lessons by moulding their lives on the positive attributes of the departed, I don’t think that it’s good enough to withhold those commendations till they drop dead and are lying motionlessly when those nice words will not mean anything to them.
Let us honour patriotism as the patriots are alive, not after their demise or when they are in the evening of their lives. Let us acknowledge JJ’s immense contributions by renaming the UDS after him, as he is alive.