Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Open letter to Rawlings: A man for all seasons?

Dear Sir, I noticed that there seems to be a lot of excitement among those Ghanaians who do not consider themselves as "left wingers or socialists or progressives". They appear to think that they (whoever or whatever that constitutes) are now winning the war in Ghana and their optimism seems to be based on the fact that Flight- Lieutenant Rawlings has been under attack recently from people who call themselves left wingers or socialists. The latest and most dramatic one being the statement read in Accra by Mr Fui Tsikata, lecturer in Law at the University of Ghana.

Before then, the most significant thing was the interview carried on the BBC's African Service of Sgt Alolga Akata Pore criticising his former colleague.

Right now everybody seems to think that because Mr Fui Tsikata has accused Chairman Rawlings of having abandoned the aims of the December 31 Revolution and of having reverted to old institutions and personalities that had been subdued in the past three years, it therefore means that Chairman Rawlings has, indeed, been converted in some mysterious way from his own revolution.

If such an assumption is made, it seems to me that the same mistake will now be made, as was made by the left wingers and socialists. When Chairman Rawlings launched his revolution with all the talk of Peoples Defence Committees and peoples power etc, the left wingers assumed that he was one of them and because it suited the Chairman at the time, he appears to have allowed them to think so. He allowed the rhetoric and actions of the PNDC in 1982 to be stridently left wing and overtly socialist. The newspapers and radio launched strong anti-American and anti-British attacks: there were anti-US cartoons everyday in the People's Daily Graphic and GBC was showing films of American atrocities all over the world, the US was accused daily of trying to overthrow the PNDC. PDCs and WDCS flourished, managers and senior officers went on the run and into hiding. The profit motive was deemed to be evil and businessmen went into exile or were jailed for tax evasion and landlords were in danger of having their houses confiscated. Judges were fair target for abduction and murder.

The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank were decried as capitalist instruments of oppression; in fact, Chairman Rawlings told a group of students in March 1982 that he had to stage his coup when he did because President Limann had been on the verge of mortgaging the whole country to the IMF. The socialists, not unsurprisingly, felt that Rawlings was one of them and proceeded to talk and act as though a pure socialist era had dawned in Ghana. Even serious newspapers like 'The Guardian' of London assumed that there was a socialist regime in Ghana which was under threat from the bourgeoisie with US support.

One day, Chairman Rawlings in one of his rambling speeches, lambasted newspaper editors and journalists for behaving as though his was a left-wing regime or that the PNDC were anti- western nations. He proclaimed surprise that anybody could have had such an idea... Whether he had not been reading the papers for a whole year nor been listening to the radio or watching television in the same period, was not explained, but those of us who live in Ghana, could have been equally guilty for thinking that Chairman Rawlings was indeed left-wing and anti-western nations.

Now people are pointing to all types of things as indicators that Chairman Rawlings is right wing, pro-western; and anti-socialist. They are pointing to the slavish implementation of IMF conditions, the dissolution of the National Defence Committee, the is. reintroduction of governing Boards for public corporations, the disbanding of PDCs and WDCs, the appointments of people like Mr Justice D. F. Annan and Geombeyi Adali-Morty (even if for a few weeks only). They are citing the speeches of the Governor of the Bank of Ghana who does not want any kind of controls in the economy, they are pointing to the imported goods on the streets of Accra being offered at prices that most people cannot afford, they hear speeches that say that higher education is a privilege that must be paid for at economic rates, they see workers being retrenched in their thousands daily and they see official happiness every time a British or US official comes to give the seal of approval to the PNDC and its Economic Recovery Programme in particular.

Those who do not see themselves as left wingers or socialists are therefore saying now that Chairman Rawlings is one of them. As stated already, believe this to be a dangerous assumption as the left wingers have found to their cost.

Where does Rawlings himself stand in all this? Nobody seems to know. Is it not likely that should the current experiment also collapse as did the left wing/socialist one in December 1981 Chairman Rawlings will simply get up again, dust himself off and blame it all on other people? This time instead of blaming it on the likes of Chris Ati Akata Pore, Amartei Kwei and the left-wingers, he will blame it all on Justice D. F. Annan, J. S. Addo, J Abbey, Kwesi Botchway? He will abuse the newspaper editors for giving the impression that his was a right wing and pro-western regime.

It is difficult to pin anything spec on the man Rawlings himself. Once a while he goes to the Airport to see from his soldiers the goods they seized (improperly?) from traders and travellers, but then the soldiers are there most of the time seizing goods.

Once in a while he takes off to Libya or Cuba, or Nicaragua and makes the proper left-wing and anti-western noises, but for most of the time, taking western hand-outs and sticking to IMF prescriptions with a vengeance. What he thinks or believes on the debate remains still in the realm of speculation. Justice Annan has made a very serious and far reaching claim of a certain direction for the revolution but nobody knows what Chai Rawlings' own thinking on the matter is.

I have nothing against a person changing his or her mind; in fact I believe it is an admirable trait that a person is persuaded by such an argument and abandons a position or changes his mind. We should know exactly what position he had in the first place and what it is changing to.

For a long time, many people were saying that the problem with the PNDC was people like Akata Pore, Chris Atim and people generally termed the "fire brands" - they have been gone for quite a while now. And then the focus was on to the Tsikatas - everything was blamed on them and now that it looks as though they are falling out with Chairman Rawlings, some people think they have won. Chairman Rawlings as his wont, is talking plenty, and saying absolutely nothing.

I do believe that it is time that the Chairman stated his own position quite clearly and leaves no ambiguity. What were the aims of the revolution and does he still believe in them or has he been forced to change because of “realistic facts on the ground”. What about his love affair with Col Gaddai and Castro of Cuba, and what about his guards”

Those who think that Chairman Rawlings has been converted to what they see as pragmatic, sensible middle of the road, friend of the West had better find out correctly what the man thinks himself. Otherwise they might wake up one fine day to find that they were sadly mistaken and Rawlings will tell them he didn’t know where they got the idea from in the first place that he was one of them.

Flt-Lt Rawlings cannot be all things to all men all the time.


P.S. Dear Editor, this is a longish letter but I hope you will publish it in full. If you will pardon my immodesty, I believe that it raises very fundamental issues that should be of vital interest to all Ghanaians and friends of Ghana. I did think about sending it to the Ghanaian press but on seeing that even Mr Fui Isikata a member of the most famous family in Ghana in the past three years, could not get a statement they published when he "appeared" to be critical of the Chairman, I decided to send it to you. I only hope that place that Chairman Rawlings reads your magazine. As I recall, he used to think very highly of you when you were on the Daily Graphic and some of us have never understood why you two fell apart.

Good luck.

Victor Kumordje, Accra

talking drums 1985-02-11 open letter to rawlings