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Opinions of Tuesday, 30 November 1999

Columnist: Maxwell Oteng

LOOKING BACKWARD, MOVING FORWARD (I)


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The spontaneity of euphoria emanating from the momentous victory of Mr. John A. Kuffour and his National Patriotic Party (NPP) under the aegis of the of the other opposition parties and the historic smooth transfer of political power from one democratic party to another is well in order and not unexpected. There is no doubt that a new era has dawned on the Ghanaian political landscape. So we should be forgiven if our excitement about what has happened politically goes a bit overboard.

However, the rush of euphoria should not in any way dull our memories and sensibilities, nor should it warp our judgements about the grandiose introspection we all have to do about the muddy waters our political course has chartered.

We have been there and done that before: Ghanaians have broken with the Dictator's World before only to show again that the break was transient because apparently there are some among us (or is it all of us?) who never lose their taste for military rules and their concomitant melodramas. So any deep-thinker should understand the apparent concern of the new President about our highly politicized military apparatus.

LOOKING BACKWARD

With the dawn of a "new era", it is needless to say that the enormity of the task facing our nation enjoins us to dim the search-light for past transgressions and reserve and preserve all the re-charged batteries for the journey ahead. But the sages say that though life must be lived forward, it can only be understood backwards. Hence the self- and collective-introspection all of us must do.

The jury is still out there on the [almost] two decades of Rawlingstocracy so it is appropriate to leave it to the historians to make their verdict in the not-too distant future. Having said that, I think a passing remark on Rawlingstocracy may not be out of order after all.

No matter how we oppose Rawlingstocracy [and I bet there are a significant number of us who loved to hate it], it marked a period of heightened political consciousness among the vast majority of the populace, which by and large was a positive achievement. Let us give credit where credit is due.

However, Rawlingstocracy, with all its shallow ballasting, was all symbolism without substance. It became an acolyte of a ballooning government of sinecure opportunities for its loyalists. Rawlingstocracy marked a period of time when hot-tempered political ideologues, and sometimes, tribal demagogues of varied intellectual persuasions (some of them intellectual heavyweights by our standards) were given freewheeling political access to shamefully paw the ground. These people used the template provided by the state media to become our routine killjoys.

What is more, it is very ironic that a Rawlings regime would have an atavistic resemblance of any of the previous-accused regimes by witnessing the alchemizing of some party faithful from penniless deadbeats to filthy billionaires - who in some perverse osmotic fashion, accumulated appurtenances to suit their new airs and developed sweet teeth for the perquisites of the arriviste life. Hopefully posterity will help us know the details of this sudden metamorphosis.

Worse of all though is the magnification effect of Rawlingstocracy on the tribal fault-lines in our country in the last two decades. The voting patterns in the recent elections may be our best barometer yet of the kind of ethnic wattage in our country now. It is a shame that the unspoken goal of some self-aggrandizing politicians was to attempt to exploit ethnic differences for their political gains, culminating in the lost of some precious Ghanaian lives in some instances. Thank God, however, that somehow the farcical, horsewhip of the tribal coup de grace elicited a low-culture response. But with the benefit of hindsight and in consideration of the larger picture of safeguarding our bond of national unity, shouldn't we have more frequently and forcefully resisted these eggheads and their fiendish agenda? There is no doubt that all this diablerie could go on because we Ghanaians are apparently products of mass-culture reference points of obsequiousness and authority - and personality-worshipping, for better or for worse.

THE CHARISMA OVERDRIVE

If one trait dominantly defined the era of Rawlingstocracy, it was clearly the overdrive of the so-called "charisma" of its Chief Enforcer, Mr. Rawlings. Oh this charisma thing! Some of us were captivated by it, some were enfeebled by it, and even some sought therapeutic comfort for their daily socio-economic grinds from this very charisma of Mr. Rawlings. And Mr. Rawlings being no fool, theatricalized this asset of his at the center-stage of our national politics, essentially to disguise his weaknesses in other areas of leadership. But why did we fail to see that charisma never equates to competence? Some of us still haven't yet figured out that the relationship between charisma and competence can be spurious to a very large extent.

Already, some people have started making comparisons between the new President, Mr. Kuffour and the ex-President, Mr. Rawlings, with the former being accused of being uncharismatic, of having a "poor delivery" in reference to his oratory, and even suggesting that he is unqualified for the presidency on the basis of that. How ridiculous can some people be! Unfortunately, these comparisons and characterizations have been made by so-called educated people.

It's only natural that people would compare the two presidents but to imply that being uncharismatic makes one incompetent is an unpardonable intellectual folly. Those whom history is not a wallflower, and are thus familiar with the history of world politics, know that the vast majority of the great political leaders of the 20th century the world saw were not known for their charisma. Take for example the two military men who guided the Allies to victory in World War II, Dwight Eisenhower and George Marshall. Both men were noted for their high degree of discipline, and competence, but they were extremely dull. Then there were Konrad Adenauer, the first Chancellor of post-war Germany, and Harry Truman, the first post-war American President. These two men are credited with being responsible for the recovery of the non-Communist world from the atrocities of Hitler and World War II. Adenauer was a gray, colorless pedantic bureaucratic, the perfect "organization man". He was once even kicked out by the British as politically incompetent. However, while he lacked charisma, he had vision, a sense of duty, unbending religious faith and a willingness and determination to work very hard. Harry Truman, often referred to as the "accidental President", had even less charisma than Adenauer did. Yet he saved post-war Europe from degenerating into anarchy, communism and hopelessness. His only assets were his deep sense of duty, moral seriousness, a willingness to get the best advice and a determination to work very hard. On the flip side, larger-than-life charismatic leaders - Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler and Mao - did some of the greatest damage in the 20th century. The lives of these giant charismatic leaders tell us that what charisma does is make people paranoid and maniac. It creates arrogance - the classic historical example can be found in General Douglas MacArthur, the charismatic American military leader. Charisma without a program is ineffectual - our own Rawlings is a testimony to this. Thus what matters is not charisma, but rather visionary leadership with a sense of mission and direction. Thus, in the end, Mr. Kuffour would not (and should not) be judged by his charisma, but how competent he would be in leading the nation through the difficult time s ahead.

The task ahead of the new regime in particular and Ghanaians in general is a herculean one. What divides Ghana now is a crisis of direction, inclusiveness and unity - it's a summons to visionary leadership. It will require untold skill and wisdom for the new President to keep his footing in the mending of the apparent undercurrent of ethnic antagonism and mistrust in the country now. The immediate task requires grace in managing the nations the nation's vanities - with ethnic innuendoes perched atop - as well as great fortitude in managing its shattered policies - the economy being the numero uno.

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