His Excellency came to power without any preparation for political leadership; a fact which he being a very intelligent person knew perfectly well and which furthermore should not have surprised anyone. Sandhurst after all did not set about training officers to take over Her Majesty’s throne but rather in the high tradition of proud aloofness from politics and public affairs…… Chinua Achebe in Anthills of the Savannah.
When I last read that former President Flt-Lt Jerry John Rawlings had made derogatory remarks about three of our former Presidents and had subsequently apologised for his unsavoury comments, my mind went back to an incident at an Aboakyer festival at Winneba, a year or two after I returned from postgraduate studies in development communication and global security issues in India.
After the studies in 1985, I returned home in 1986 and took interest in the management of the security around the Chairman of the PNDC, Flt Lt Jerry John Rawlings, because of developments in India in particular and South East Asia in general, where assassination and political murders were diffused and rampant.
Later , I read Chinua Achebe’s book, Anthills of the Savannah, an insightful commentary on military interventions in West Africa. I was a little exercised about how Flt Lt Rawlings was being managed, often disregarding prepared speeches and speaking on issues he fancied while those around him threw their hands in despair pleading the alibi that, that was his nature. He equally mixed so readily and easily with crowds without regard about his personal security and safety.
Having heard about how readily zealots could go to eliminate political leaders in South East Asia, each time Flt Lt Rawlings disregarded orthodoxy, my mind went back to Achebe. True, military training does not prepare soldiers for political leadership and thus whenever there was a coup, the soldiers would rally round those they considered to be capable and useful in guiding them to succeed, but when they realise that such people become sycophants, they assert themselves, despise advice and take on airs of dictatorship.
Indeed, I made a daring move at one Aboakyer Festival at Winneba. It was at a time that the late Ato Austin was the Central Regional Secretary. In speaking to the gathering at the festival, Flt-Lt Rawlings, halfway through the address as usual, diverted from the prepared speech and began to praise Dr Ayirebi Acquah, who was serving in the government at the time. But instead of focusing the comments on him as a person, he veered into the Winneba Chieftaincy dispute between the Ayirebi Acquah and Ghartey factions, by praising the Ayirebi Acquah lineage as against the Ghartey line.
He spoke on that tangent for a considerable time and I called the Graphic Reporter, Joe Bradford Nyinah, to ask whether nobody would draw the attention of the PNDC Chairman to the embers of fire he was stoking. When he said no one dared to do so, I threw caution to the wind gathered, courage and wrote a note to the effect that the people had become restless and inattentive so it was advisable that he concluded his speech.
Joe Nyinah sent my note to the high table and it was passed on to Flt Lt Rawlings. A few minutes after perusing the notes, he ended his speech. It was only myself and Joe Nyinah who knew the source of the note and at the end of the event, I concluded that if he was properly managed, he would focus on prepared speeches.
I felt some inner satisfaction but my mind returned to Achebe when he states in Anthills of the Savannah thus, “I should divine the thoughts of the Emperor better than the mesmerized toadies in daily attendance. But it is quite simple really. The Emperor may be a fool but he is not a monster. Not yet, anyhow: although he will certainly become one by the time Chris and company have done with him. But right now he is still Ok. That is why I believe that basically he does want to do the right thing… His problem is with so many petty interests salaaming around him all day, like that shyster of an Attorney-General, he has no chance of knowing what is right.”
So if today Flt Lt Rawlings can still throw away prepared speeches and say fanciful things, like Achebe, “I am not thinking so much about him as about my colleagues, eleven intelligent educated men who let it happen to them who actually went out of their way to invite it, and who even at this hour have seen and learnt nothing, the cream of our society and the hope of the black race.”