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Feature Article of Saturday, 24 August 2002

Columnist: Obeng-Diawuoh, B.K.

Rawlings, Coup D'etats, And The Future Of Democracy

The problem we have in Ghana today about Rawlings' intrusive presence on our national politics is not whether or not he still has presidential ambitions. Constitutionally we all know that it is impossible for him to become President again even if he wanted to. Neither do we fear that Rawlings might stage another coup d'etat. That too does not look feasible right now. Our concern, however is that he is whipping up too much anti-governement sentiment in the minds of the people that could be seized upon as an excuse by any group of misguided and adventurous military brigands who might want to strike at the government. That is to say that Rawlings, without mincing words, is encouraging, even laying the foundations for, a mutiny.

One of the things Rawlings has said ( and he has spoken a lot of nonsense recently) is that the Armed Forces of Ghana is not interested in staging another coup d'etat. While we all hate coups and pray that no one would ever attempt another one in this country, my question is: how can Rawlings, or anyone for that matter, be so sure that the Armed Forces has lost interest in coup d'etats? The Chief of Defence Staff, Major-General Seth Obeng, recently affirmed the loyalty of the Armed Forces to the Kuffuor Presidency. We believe that he said so sincerely. Unfortunately, that is only cold comfort because a look back at Ghana's politics reveals that it has never been the top brass of the Armed Forces who have taken up arms and overthrown our governments.

In February 1966, Colonel E.K. Kotoka and Major A.A. Afrifa were only mid-level officers when they toppled Dr. Nkrumah'sgovernment; in the 1972 coup, Colonel I.K. Acheampong and his cronies of the NRC junta were not the highest ranking military officers in Ghana at the time; and in 1979 and 1981, those who disturbed the democratic set up of the country were not even military officers. They were some of the lowest ranking soldiers at the time. Thus, even though the upper echelon of the Ghana Armed Forces has pledged unflinching loyalty to the government it is not enough for us to be complacent and bask in the false hope that all is well and will continue to be well. My worry is that whenever a group of Ghanaian soldiers get together, find convenient excuses and the conducive social milieu to strike, they might stage a coup. And this fertile ground is what Jerry Rawlings is deliberately nurturing for them through his occasional subversive utterances.

Rawlings knows how to prepare the minds of Ghanaians to receive, even embrace, a military takeover. During the trial for his involvement in the attempted coup of May 15 1979, he ran an angry diatribe against the SMC government and drew the people's attention to the parlous state of the economy. Was it not enough that the SMC had finally given in and was preparing to turn the country over to civilian rule. No not enough for Rawlings who had always harboured a hidden desire for vengeance against the military establishment. He used this opportunity at the trial to generate a false awareness of a situation that wasn't as bleak and hopeless as he had painted it. In so doing, Rawlings created in Ghanaians a great expectation for change; so that when the ragtag band of non-commissioned officers and men of the Armed Forces struck again on the morning of June 4th, Ghana was ready for the debacle that followed.

Nor should we think that Ghanaians are 'too tired of coup d'etats' as we are wont to say. We may not be 'so tired'. Didn't we say the same thing after President Limann's government assumed office in 1979? Did we ever think that another coup was possible? Didn't we relax and feel complacent that the Armed Forces were tired of another coup? Yet when Rawlings awakened us from our dream and swept us off our feet with the coup of 31 Dec. 1981 that ushered in his infamous revolution, didn't the whole country embrace him as Ghana's last hope for this generation, and the messiah who had come to salvage us from our social and economic morass. True, many of us - brave and gallant sons and daughters of the land - resisted Rawlings in various ways, and even lost our lives in the process. But on the whole, the vast majority of us accepted his nonsensical philosophies and abstruse sophism, and even urged him to continue in his absurd theatrical performances. The entire campuses of our three universities at the time erupted in a spontaneous and uniform adulation of Rawlings and what he stood for. What's more ignominious, some of the leading champions of multi-party and liberal democracy quickly turned coat and jumped on the PNDC bandwagon.

Obed Asamoah, Iddrissu Mahama, Nana Akuoko Sarpong, John Agyekum Kuffuor ( many people don't remember Kuffuor's stint with the PNDC), are just a few of the people who would condescendingly accept high-ranking positions in the PNDC. All of these were people who played prominent roles in the liberal democratic dispensation which immediately preceded, what has come to be known in Ghana politics as, the second coming of Rawlings. Was it opportunism, betrayal, or just a forgiving attitude that drove these liberal democrats and the intellectual leaders of this country to dine at the same table with Rawlings and the PNDC hoodlums? We profess to ourselves and the whole world that we hate coups; yet when the chips are down and we are confronted with coup plotters we sell our nation down the road by accepting positions in military governments and doing other things to support and prop up these regimes.

I am saying all these to say that, we as a nation should work hard to prevent a coup from occurring, because it is easier to do so than to try to resist the soldiers once they are already in power. We should stop deceiving ourselves with the mantra that because Ghanaians are 'tired of coups', we would all rise up spontaneously against the aggressors should anything untoward happen. That would never happen as our history has amply shown. If a coup d'etat ever occurs, countrymen, forget it. It will have come to stay!

Rawlings is setting the stage for another coup and he must be watched closely and stopped. He may not necessarily be planning it; he might not even participate in it. But he is certainly sowing the seeds that would soon blossom into trouble. We must all remember that this is a man who has expressed overt and undisguised disdain for multi-party politics, and who did not conceal his utter repugnance of this institution even when he was an elected President. How much less do we suppose he would hate liberal democratic institutions now that he is out of office and his party is even in opposition. In all sincerity do you think, compatriots, that Rawlings prays that the NPP remains in office till the end of their four-year term, knowing full well that it is becoming increasingly difficult for the NDC to regain power through the ballot box? Don't you think that he might be thinking that if the NDC cannot have power anymore then no one else can have it. And so if a coup comes along then the NDC and the NPP would both be losers. This might all be just conjecturing; but I may not be far from right after all.

We all hate to think of the prospect of another coup occurring. I probably hate it more than any other Ghanaian. But I would hate it more if I have to do a post-coup analysis of what went wrong with our internal security apparatus. I would hate to mourn over the fact that even though there were clearly visible signs in the air pointing to such an occurrence we all ignored them. So now is the time for us to do such an analysis, and nip the cancer in the bud; and not after the fact. Drawing attention to the issue and talking about it every day, could go a long way in taking the wind out of the sails of any group of soldiers who might want to do anything stupid to our nation.

I would therefore like to appeal to President Kuffuor to watch out carefully and keep an eye on Rawlings. In fact, when it comes to dealing with Rawlings, there is no need to play by the rules because the man himself does not respect the rules of the game. The President should throw the rules away and take him on squarely. Some people may be saying at this point that President Kuffuor cannot do that because he hasn't found anything against Rawlings. He doesn't have to find anything against him. Mr. President, just look for something against him - manufacture a plausible reason to deal with him in any way that seems fit in curbing the threat that he poses.

I am talking now about the politics of reality (versus the politics of abstract theory and principles). Even the United States, the bastion of democracy, practices this when it finds itself confronted with visible threats. President Bush is contemplating carrying out preemptive strikes against Iraq in anticipation of the threats that the country poses to the international community. Iraq is engaged in biological and chemical warfare programmes, and pursuing, at the same time, a nuclear one in defiance of a disarmament pledge after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. There may not be much evidence that Iraq is actively employing these unconventional war methods today. Saddam Hussein may even have decided to dismantle his arsenal of dangerous weapons; but pride may be preventing him from going public with this decision. Yet in the midst of such paucity of evidence of Saddam's actual use of these weapons, the US government is harnessing its military, diplomatic and intelligence resources to strike a blow at Saddam's evil empire in anticipation of the possibilities that exist for the villain to put his plans into action. It sounds undemocratic and unprincipled; and everyone knows that since the Gulf War, Saddam really hasn't 'misbehaved' again. But it is an open secret what the dictator could do if he is left alone for too long. Mr. President, there is a thing called Preemptive Action in politics and war and it is a useful strategy that needs to be employed, when necessary to contain the potential of any situation spiraling out of control. And I have very good reasons to advocate the use of this principle against Jerry Rawlings.

In 1981 the PNP government's internal security network identified Jerry Rawlings and Kojo Tsikata as threats to the stability of the government. The Minister of Presidential Affairs and Information at the time, Dr. John S. Nabilla, working in tandem with Colonel Annor Odjidjah, Director of Military Intelligence, concluded that Rawlings and Tsikata were acting in suspicious ways that portended trouble for the country's fledgling democracy. Many times they prevailed upon President Limann to allow the Secret Service to 'find something' against the two villains so as to put them away. But every time, President Limann discouraged them by counselling restraint because he thought that would be an infraction of the rule of law. True, that would have violated the rule of law. But in retrospect, we can now say that when the PNP decided to leave Rawlings alone he and Tsikata turned around and violated different aspects of the rule of law, and not just once, but for all the twenty years they ruled the country after seizing power from the very President, who had been acting against his better judgment, to protect them against any possible violation of their rights. Can we say then that President Limann acted without shrewdness? No! He did exactly what the constitution stipulated in 'normal times'.

But the problem is that in emergency situations like the one the PNP found itself in at the time - with a coup monger and his cousins threatening the country every day with provocative pronouncements and suspicious movements -- the situation was anything but normal; and what was needed was some action that was not necessarily constitutional. If President Limann had listened to the advice of his close lieutenants and acted accordingly to halt Rawlings in his tracks, he would surely have spared us twenty years of national anguish, agony, and infamy; and who knows, Limann could have saved his own life, might have been alive today, and might not have died so prematurely.

In conclusion I want to say that, all that I have sought to do in this short article is to draw our attention to the fact that we are not at all immune to coup d'etats, and that if it occurs it would not be the top brass of the military that would spring one on us. Not only that, but coup plotters have always come up with excuses, and Rawlings is right now creating some for them. He needs to be reined in. We therefore have to rise up as a nation and act to diffuse that time-bomb, because if we don't and it explodes, Ghanaians would just resign themselves to their fate and look on while the soldiers turn this country into their private playing fields. In fact, as I have already pointed out, some of us

B.K. Obeng-Diawuoh
Bardstown, Kentucky, USA
Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of Ghanaweb.


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