Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Comment - Ghana The Illusion Of Calm

Stranger things, quite possibly, have happened in this world.

There was Ghana, in 1981, a country that had gone through more than its fair share of trauma in over twenty years of nationhood, trying to pick up the pieces and build a society under tolerable conditions for all its people.

Mistakes were being made, and pointed out, and acknowledged, even if grudgingly sometimes, the majority of people having shown in open elections that they preferred to live under a constitutional form of government.

Economic conditions had become rough for many people and the elected government kept saying that there were no magic wands to solve the country's problems, the slow process of economic recovery and political stability was possible only through the united will and hard work of the people.

Then enter centre stage Flight-Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings, insisting things had to be done in a hurry and threatening an entire new political system which he claimed would ensure a more equitable society.

He reserved the main thrust of his wrath for the high prices of goods which had made life intolerable for the majority of people. He then unleashed an unprecedented reign of terror and anarchy on the country.

Kidnapping and political murders entered Ghana's political history while he set Ghanaians against each other fighting his own contrived and imaginary class war.

A little over a year ago, the nation's religious leaders, appalled by the state of affairs called upon Flt-Lt. Rawlings to hand over the reign of government to a constitutionally elected civilian government. Predictably the reaction to this request was to add the churches to the ever growing list of enemies that the Flight-Lieutenant had found among the Ghanaian population. Churches were sacked and priests beaten up by officially inspired groups of hooligans masquerading as workers. Anybody who dared to criticise the chaos that had become Ghana was named a subvertionist and thrown into jail.

In the meantime, the economic situation had deteriorated far beyond what anybody could have dreamt of and the market women who had kept retail trade going in the country for centuries, were chased out of their livelihoods.

When he had brought the whole country to its knees and chased a sizeable proportion out of the country Flight-Lieutenant Rawlings then decided that 'populist nonsense' must give way to order and sanity.

The new political concept that he thought was so important for the country exemplified in the People's Defence Committees and Workers' Defence Committees, in other words, the organs of 'populist nonsense' were now to lose the very essence of their being.

More important than every other consideration, two years of having to endure the degradation and humiliation of life under Fit-Lt. Rawlings and hunger on a massive scale and intimidation from trigger-happy soldiers had sapped the energy and defiance from the majority of the people.

Fit-Lt. Rawlings then felt confident enough to lift the two and a half year old curfew he had clamped on the country from day one of his coup and to open the country's borders.

Thus, after two and a half years of suffering the achievement of Fit-Lt. Rawlings' regime, according to his own reckoning, is that he has replaced apathy with hope and impotence with confidence.

If that were true, it would be quite an achievement, but the fact remains that what he is taking for acceptance of him and his friends on the part of the Ghanaians is simply the acquiescence of a tired and hungry people.

It is strange indeed that managing to let the people live without a curfew and opening the country's borders is being hailed as an achievement.

If there has been an easing of tensions it can hardly be chalked up as a PNDC gain because the tension was introduced into Ghanaian society by the PNDC in the first place in much the same way as was the curfew and the closure of the border. Compared with a year ago, the food situation has mercifully improved, but again the improvement is only in comparative terms to what Flt-Lt. Rawlings brought upon Ghana and NOT the situation he claimed to be intolerable on December 31, 1981.

The appearance of commodities on some street corners and market stalls is also being cited as evidence of a PNDC breakthrough. It is important to recollect here that one of the main reasons that Fit-Lt. Rawlings adduced for the necessity of his coup was that goods were being sold at intolerable prices. The reappearance of these goods, including instant mashed potatoes and expensive whisky at prices far beyond the prices of pre-coup Ghana, cannot be an achievement.

It is very tempting for those who have gone without food for weeks to lose all perspective when faced with their first bowl of plain boiled rice. That can be the only explanation for the new pastoral letter issued by the Catholic bishops in Ghana.

Flt-Lt. Rawlings created the chaos in the first place. If to make life more tolerable for himself he is forced to ease his stranglehold a bit, Ghanaians owe him no gratitude, just as the lifting of the curfew would elicit no odes either. It might be useful to ask the church leaders if they think that the 'easing of tensions' to use their words, means that a return to constitutional rule was no longer important. Did they in their statement of 1983 call for a return to constitutional rule because of the curfew and the terror and are therefore silent on the subject this year because no judges have been abducted and killed?

The seeming easing of tensions as the good Bishops must surely know, can be a most deceptive calm before the storm. People might be returning to Ghana because they have reached their elastic limit in the suffering they can endure while in exile and those in Ghana might be quiet because some have been terrorised into submission, and others do not know how to make their frustrations known.

But disaffection there is and as far as the country is concerned, it bodes no good that there should be this deceptive calm. For, Flt-Lt. Rawlings might think that he has overcome opposition by starving people into silence but history is not on his side. The Ghanaian love of debate and freedom will triumph in the end.

talking drums 1984-08-13 Commodities on the streets - Happy days in Ghana