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Opinions of Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Columnist: Bonsu, Akua

Are Dictators Strong Men or Cowards?

Akua Bonsu

There are two kinds of men – brave once and cowards. The brave ones exude confidence, fearlessness, and strength. Because of their confidence in themselves, they rarely take advantage of the weak and unarmed. In the movies, when they have cornered their unarmed adversaries, they have been known to put their weapons down and duke it out mano-a mano. Those are brave men.

Then there are cowards. They are the ones that jump when a cockroach moves in their direction, or hide behind their female dates at the sight of a really bad scene in a horror movie. Those are the noticeable ones. But the closet cowards parade themselves as strong men. They lord it over everyone because they have weapons. They are never strong without their weapons. They complement their intellectual deficit with a gun so that no one dares to say no to their negligible ideas. In Africa, and indeed the world over, the media characterize them as “strong men;” I call them the biggest cowards.

Since 1979 Flight Lt Jerry John Rawlings has terrorized the entire nation of Ghana and its law abiding citizens. He shot his way to power and handed over power to a democratically elected government of Dr. Hilla Limann. That qualified him as a hero in many quarters, and may be rightfully so. After all the senior military officers, Acheampong and Akuffo, were running our dear country to the ground, and no one seemed able to stop them. Thus removing them was an act of bravery by Rawlings and Captain Boakye-Gyan. But then they committed their first act of cowardice. They tied these corrupt leaders and shot them in cold blood, a proceeding which runs contrary to the principles of the armed forces.

In spite of those killings, Ghanaians quickly forgave the junior officers when they quickly returned the government to civilians. What they did not forgive was Rawlings returning two years later to overthrow the popularly elected government of Dr. Hilla Limann. But who dared to voice their disapproval? For 19 years, even with the last eight in the guise of a civilian administration, anyone who wanted to live kept his or her opinions to himself or herself if those opinions were not in agreement with those of Rawlings and his henchmen. Ghanaians witnessed judges being kidnapped and burned. The student brother of Captain Boaky-Gyan, the very person who rescued Rawlings from prison to head their Armed Force Revolutionary Council (AFRC), was picked up at KNUST and killed as revenge because Rawlings could not get his hands on Boakye-Gyan who criticized him from London.

A Ghanaian student abroad who had the nerve to date and later dump Rawlings’ daughter was picked up at when he arrived at Kotoka International Airport, and taken to the Castle to be given a hair cut with broken bottles. Corporal Sereboo who actually broke the padlock when they rescued Rawlings from jail on June 4, 1979 was killed because he failed to toe the line with him. Captain Boakye, who helped Rawlings by bending the rules so that the young man could pass his Flight classes after three unsuccessful tries, was himself killed for taking a $1,500 loan from the bank. The killings and intimidations went on and on such that people looked over their shoulders before voicing their opinions during that era. Even today, after Ghana is praised the world over for her democratic credentials, people inside the country fear criticizing Rawlings openly because they would be victims of “armed robbery.”

The problem I have with this behavior is that it smacks of shame. When I was younger, growing up with my younger sister, every time we would get in a fight, my mother would blame me without even asking about what transpired. Her rebuking always began with why I was not picking on someone my own size. I see the same scenario here. If Rawlings has made it his hobby to call everyone names in such crude fashion, he should be able to take the same types of insults without resorting to armed violence on unarmed people. That is cowardice pure and simple. If he cannot stand up to people based on intellect and based on ideas, then he must be willing to admit to his own intellectual deficit. He should not go around the world accepting awards from questionable institutions or accepting compliments from naïve United States Congresswomen for purportedly leading democratically when he knows his ways are anything but democratic.

Look Ghana made a mistake, but I know Ghanaians will get it right. The fact that we are quietly watching does not mean we are afraid of Rawlings. In fact, those in the NDC who have made it their singular mission to victimize people of a certain tribe by inciting tribal hatred must know that the road they are following always leads to a point of no return where those who appear to have the advantage today find themselves at the mercy of very people they victimized. It never fails. It happened in Rwanda, in Liberia, in Sierra Leone, and in the former Yugoslavia. To that end, is that road really worth pursuing? Especially when the other road leads to peace and unity where all Ghanaians live together as one?

Ghana is for all of us to build. We have committed to the democratic form of governance because it is the best for of government. Some may say we do not have problems because we are the subject of global acclaim. But we all know our democracy is tainted with political violence. No matter how right we think we are, and how wrong we think another person is, that disagreement is not worth taking a life. It is just not worth it. Killing someone because you own a gun, and that person does not, does not make you strong; it makes you weak. The world has gotten to a stage when the strong only prevails over the weak in terms of intellect. To this end, my advice to former president Rawlings and the NDC is that they must refrain from using violence to achieve their political means. Ghana will be here when we are all gone. Then what would we have achieved?