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Opinions of Friday, 17 September 2010

Columnist: Sarfo, Samuel Adjei

Of Rawlings, Atta Mills And The Meaning Of Justice

By Samuel Adjei Sarfo
Two years ago, when my sister Cecilia Adjei visited me here in the US, I had a long-running argument with her concerning a prospective Mills presidency. Like most Ghanaians, she was of the opinion that an Atta Mills presidency would mark the virtual return of J.J. Rawlings to power, since he would be so beholding to his political benefactor that he would swallow Rawlings’ spittle, dance to his tune and play to his whim. This was more so since Mills himself had declared in open public that he would consult Rawlings twenty-four hours a day. I vehemently disagreed with my sister. Rather, I was of the opinion that Ata Mills, a law professor, was not going to succumb to the dictates of Rawlings, and that if Rawlings pushed him too hard, the two men would become virtual antagonists. I even went on to predict that Rawlings would find life under the Kufuor administration far more comfortable than life under the Mills administration. People can either give me their tithe for being a prophet or dismiss my statement here as ensconced in the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.
Be that as it may, my prediction was simply derived from the close scrutiny of the nature of power as it operates within the human experience. Nonetheless, I impugn no commonality to the obvious, since this simple fact seems to be lost on J.J. Rawlings, a man who wielded power in Ghana for close to two decades. The man displayed a palpable ignorance about the dynamics of power when he decided to hand-pick Atta Mills as his successor. Knowing how weak the man was and the deference and fear in which he held him, Rawlings simply decided that what he could not accomplish through constitutional means he was going to achieve through the rule by proxy.
The NDC failed to win power in 2000, and the humiliation Rawlings endured under Kufuor made him more determined to return to power through Atta Mills. His objective: to use the power to punish those who had denied him recognition and respect and taken away his privileges. His template for revenge was the theatre of the eighties: wild and cacophonic accusations of corruption, followed by show trials in kangaroo courts; death sentences, or in lieu of this, multi-decade incarcerations. To Jerry Rawlings, this was the meaning of justice, patriotism, nation-building, leadership, power and national progress.
Those who know the man will attest to the fact that nothing has happened to his mind for over thirty years. He came to power with no intellectual track record, no self achievement, no philosophy of leadership and no social standing and class respectability. He survived for two decades without any manifest mental development. Within this spate of time, he preached the oxymoronic principle of democratization of violence, promoted crass disrespect for established authority, suggested the truncation of medical training as a means to retain doctors in Ghana. He saw economic progress in the narrow confines of being credit-worthy with the IMF. He was a dictator who practiced a variegated kind of socialism which he soon exchanged for pseudo-capitalism, and finally to Western democracy in order to keep himself in power. He continues to wear the trappings of “father of democracy” conferred on him by his supporters who are deaf to his daily tirade against democracy. Of his power-drunkenness, killings, maiming and confiscation, much has already been written and documented by people whose descriptive skills are superior to mine. Here, it suffices to state that a blanket of fear fell on the land, and a palpable silence prevailed amongst the people.
In retrospect, one wonders about the catatonic inertia of the people, and how it came to pass that a whole nation was cowered by the charism of a single non-achieving individual; someone who had nothing to show by way of academic, social, economic and intellectual achievement. In short, J.J. Rawlings’ leadership was an emblem of incongruity and a talisman for grotesqueness. But in spite of what seemed like a joke, one would have thought that the man would recognize the profoundness of his function and apply himself to intensive study. There was the hope, albeit an infinitesimal one, that he would apply himself to learning in order to acquire a quantum of scienter about how to steer the ship of state. Alas, throughout his stewardship, he read no book, wrote no theory, developed no ideas and learned nothing to qualify him into the pantheon of leadership. Rather, he saw it fit to destroy the coveted institutions of this country-the court system, the school system, the traditional institutions, the business enterprises and the economic fabric of the nation. Indeed, he lived an alternative meaning of Julius Caesar’s crisp exclamation, ”I came I saw, I destroyed. To date, there is no economic, educational, health and employment legacy bequeathed to Ghana by the two decades of the Rawlings interregnum. Yet nobody can sufficiently explain the palpable ennui, and the despair that characterized his leadership. Whatever glorious achievement Rawlings is prone to declare for his regime today inured to the benefit of only his family, friends and cronies. Rawlings equated power to the people with power to himself, standing proudly in loco of all the people. Indeed, generations will come and marvel at his colossal figure and wonder why our nation was so emasculated.
But one thing is crystal clear: Long after Rawlings relinquished power, his untrammeled lust for control remained ossified in his brain. Many of us were in our early teens when Rawlings came to power. We were enchanted by his charisma and followed our elders in hailing him as junior Jesus. In the period since this mass delusion, we have grown out of this enchantment, we have gone to school, secured undergraduate, graduate and even doctorate degrees and improved upon our general philosophy of life. But Rawlings has been frozen in time and intellect. In short, the river of knowledge and wisdom have passed him by, and while those who cheered him on have became enlightened, the man has remained in the comfort zone of his ignorance.
No doubt he has a huge charisma, a delusion of grandeur and a heightened sense of superiority……but they are not authenticated by the facts of his upbringing, the style of his leadership, the quality of his philosophy, his sense of justice and his notions of patriotism. Now he is breathing down the neck of Atta Mills to prosecute the functionaries of the Kufuor administration. He has openly declared that the anger of the people will be adequately assuaged were such functionaries jailed. To him, the economy is secondary, the school system can collapse, employment can be postponed, the health system can deteriorate…..He seems to proclaim, “Return Ghanaians to the pogrom of the eighties, and all the people will yell in mass relief.” He once complained that the Mills government had not taken a single piece of advice from him. The question ought to be which good advice has he ever given to Mills that is not tainted with his agenda of revenge. And when the Attorney General followed his advice and prosecuted some NPP stalwarts, what happened?
If Rawlings has remained the proverbial Rip Van Winkle who got drunk and slept for forty years, he should do a better job of nudging himself awake and re-educating himself about what happened while he snoozed. Today, we have procedures and processes duly established by dint of law and tested against rigorous standards of justice both at home and abroad. Evidentiary rules are construed to secure fairness to the end that truth may be ascertained and proceedings adequately determined. And it is simply not enough to make shrill noises about a citizen’s culpability. The weighty burden lies on the prosecution to prove every element of a criminal charge beyond all reasonable doubt before depriving any person of his liberty. Among many rights, an accused enjoys a speedy and public trial and to be duly informed of the nature and cause of the accusations against him, to benefit from an impartial process for obtaining witnesses, and the right to the assistance of counsel. These are all citizens’ rights that are enshrined in our constitution and spread through our system of criminal justice, and they are not to be re-invented or derogated to satisfy one citizen’s warped notion of justice.
If Rawlings has narrowly defined justice and national progress in strictly personal terms, his meaning can remain in his head. After all, nobody can force a person to think his thoughts. However, his program of vengeance will also remain caulked in his skull; it will never be executed by the presidency of Atta Mills. The personality and training of the president, coupled with the national democratic mood and experience, repudiate this travesty of justice…….
In conclusion, despite the delusion of his spell-bound foot soldiers, Rawlings will never accede to power again. Although he remains entrapped in his delusion of grandeur, the country has grown past his type of worldview. The prerequisites and dynamics of leadership now exclude his moribund concept of governance. Thus if he remains in his tumescent anger, he will be progressively isolated until he leaves this world a broken man. In the end, he may forfeit his influence in his own party, the company of his friends, the charisma of his stature, and the love of his wife.

Samuel Adjei Sarfo is studying for his Juris Doctor degree in Houston, Texas. You can reach him at