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Opinions of Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Columnist: Adam Reese

The Rawlingses: Ghana's ever-enigmatic former First couple

One of the 2012 election’s most interesting features has been the theatrical sideshow of Ghana’s best-known political family: the Rawlingses.

Husband Jerry John Rawlings has spread his loyalties around, alternately offering support to the governing National Democratic Congress (NDC) and his wife’s breakaway National Democratic Party (NDP).

Having overseen the establishment of the NDC decades ago, Rawlings fell out of favour with the party in 2009 when he became a fierce critic of its direction under then-President John Evans Atta Mills.

Wife Nana Konadu also has a long history in politics, and as an NDC member she challenged the late President Mills to the NDC flag-bearership in the 2012 primary but lost badly. 

As early as September 17th she began publicly hinting that she might accept the NDP flagbearership, which she did at the NDP’s October 13th Congress, pledging to focus on women and youth as the keys to development. 

In short, both halves of this powerful couple have been at odds with the NDC in the lead up to the election. 

JJ and the NDC

The NDC nevertheless invited Mr. Rawlings to speak at the party’s August 30th National Delegates Congress. There, he pledged to support President John Mahama’s reelection campaign so long as Mahama showed dedication to ridding the party of “babies with sharp teeth.” 

A classic Rawlingsism, this now-famous term refers to young party members who routinely attack other politicians with vitriolic language. These insults fly not just across party lines but also within the NDC, and Rawlings has more than once found himself the subject of this caustic scorn. 

In his October 13th speech to the NDP Congress, Rawlings articulated other grievances with the NDC, accusing it of becoming a haven for inferior politicians who, through nefarious dealings, beat more qualified NDC candidates during primaries. 

Once in office, Rawlings said, these MPs pursue their own personal agenda, adding in an October 24th lecture on corruption that they often award valuable government contracts to friends and fellow party loyalists.

During these speeches, Rawlings heavily criticized the Mills administration, which he said had done too little to combat and punish corruption. Midway through his corruption speech, however, he praised Mahama for blocking the sale of Merchant Bank, which he said was a holdover from the corrupt dealings of the Mills era. 

At the NDP Congress, he predicted that the NDC’s politicking and corruption would lead to a revolution within the party and inevitably cause it to lose a significant number of seats in Parliament, adding that he does not personally wish failure for the NDC.

JJ’s October 12th meeting with opposition candidate Akufo-Addo caused some observers to wonder if this meeting, in conjunction with his support for the NDP, indicated a desire on JJ’s part to hurt the NDC by supporting its opponents. 

However, the two men kept their discussion focused on the issue of security for voters of the losing party. They have not met publicly since and Rawlings has not endorsed Akufo-Addo. 

Konadu and the NDP

Having failed to issue a manifesto or articulate a very specific agenda, the NDP seems more concerned with shaking things up in the NDC camp than offering the nation a new guiding vision. 

Not only did Konadu and other NDC members break away to form the NDP and take NDC icon JJ Rawlings as their spokesman, they even borrowed the NDC’s party colours. 

Furthermore, during his speech at the NDP Congress, JJ all but called the NDP a tool to push the NDC towards greater accountability. He said that the governing party had lost the moral high ground that it had won under his own stewardship and that before breaking away, his wife had tried to steer it right from within. 

He even admitted that once the necessary changes take place within the NDC, he expects the two parties to join ranks again. 

On October 18th, the Electoral Commission (EC) disqualified Konadu’s candidacy on the grounds that certain forms submitted by the NDP were incomplete, a ruling that Konadu pledged to fight. 

During a speech a week later, JJ said, “even if it doesn’t work this time, [the NDP] has the ingredients, the qualities, the integrity that others will come back to… and that’s why for me, I see this party as the party of the future.” Read these words carefully: the NDP is the party of the future because it is governed by values that others should return to, but not necessarily because it will literally lead the nation. 

November 6th was an interesting day for the Rawlingses: hours before JJ announced that he would campaign for the NDC, Konadu, her court battle ongoing, appeared on Adom FM urging voters to reject NDC candidates for failing to deliver on a 2008 campaign promise to reduce poverty and corruption. 

She also urged NDP Parliamentary candidates to stay in the race so that they can make their mark on the Parliamentary front.

What does it all mean?

If JJ is to be taken at his word, his renewed support for the NDC indicates that he has been convinced of President Mahama’s intentions to confront corruption, to discourage the unruly flinging of insults, especially against Rawlings, or both. 

His frustrations, as he said all along, were with Atta Mills as well as the impertinent and self-interested elements within the party, not with Mahama himself.

While Konadu maintains that her goal is to change the country’s direction, critics will surely continue to paint Konadu as bitter, self-centered, and power hungry in light of her ongoing attacks against the NDC.

Is her gripe really that she remains disillusioned with the NDC because of its performance since the 2008 election? Has Mahama really restored JJ’s faith in the party? If so, what did he do to guarantee that party members will tone down their rhetoric, especially against the former president?

Given the Rawlingses’ enigmatic nature, the public may never learn what motivated this unusual election season drama. And for all we know, the last act may be yet to come.