Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Reporting Ghana... from the glass, darkly

Ebo Quansah

After reading all those articles on Ghana recently published in the Western media which create the false impression that the PNDC government's policies have produced excellent results for Ghanaians, Ebo Quansah, a Ghanaian journalist, tells the story from the other side.
The parody is baffling... Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings, the retired airforce pilot who rules the ex- British model colony of Ghana through the barrel of the gun, seems to have warmed the hearts of the Western media in a manner that is as astonishing as the events that returned the junior officer to the power base of Ghanaian politics.

Instead of drawing attention to the danger posed by a regime that employs the intimidating powers of executions, political assassinations and other forms of torture to misdirect the fortunes of this West African nation of 12 million people, the foreign media have succeeded in drawing international sympathy towards the Provisional National Defence Council and thus buttressed the otherwise shaky junior officer's junta.

It was the socialist inclined British quality newspaper, the Guardian, whose correspondent Victoria Britten, set the pace on President Hilla Limann with naked lies, distortions and half- truths in her frantic attempt to convince the world that the usurpation of power on December 31, 1981 by the former pilot and his hardline leftist accomplices was the best event ever to have taken place in the West African sub-region.

When the power struggle within the ruling body intensified and Rawlings appeared to have abandoned the socialist goals for a flirtation with the International Monetary Fund whose prescription directed the ship of state away from Col. Gaddafi's Green Book, the ink in Miss Brittan's pen dried up in Ghanaian affairs.

The mantle to defend Rawlings has recently fallen on the capitalist- oriented media. A few weeks ago, the London-based Independent Television programme, 'Weekend World' lavished praises on the PNDC for ending a policy responsible for food surpluses in what its presenter, Brian Walden, called an almost starving nation.

The programme recommended Ghana as a model to Africa and prayed international donor nations and organisations to aid the PNDC in its effort at economic revival.

According to the programme, Ghana was a starving nation and, but for the pragmatism of the PNDC, things could have been as bad as Ethiopia or Sudan. Ironically, the film illustrating the programme showed the late Gen. Acheampong on his UNIGOV campaign.

The Time magazine of May 17, under the banner 'A Tale Of Two Leaders', traced the human rights record of Rawlings and his protegé, Captain Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso, and concluded that unlike the situation brutalities that characterised the reign of African leaders like Idi Amin of Uganda and Jean Bedel Bokassa of Central African Republic, Rawlings and Sankara have always been guided by human decency and humane relationship with the governed.

One need not be an economist to appreciate the fact that when income cannot match one's basic needs, life ceases to be meaningful... 'Service to the people', to borrow the term from the conservative party of Britain's philosophy, 'must go hand in hand with individual success in life'.

The purpose of this article is not to take issues with these respected media. It is my aim to share a few truths with readers in the hope that it will help future newsmen gathering information on Ghana especially, to probe beyond official handouts. My conviction is that the powerful public relations outfit of the PNDC is preventing the foreign press with all their resources from getting to the truth, just as the Amnesty International report on Ghana failed to catalogue a number of atrocities committed in the name of Rawlings' Holy War.

It is a fact that the supply of food and goods in general has improved considerably from what could be obtained at the early stages of the coup. But to put the blame on the ousted civilian government entirely is, to say the least, unfortunate. While one cannot exonerate the PNP for failing to motivate the people to be self-sufficient in food production, it will be equally fallacious to gloss over factors that aggravated the problem in the first two years of the PNDC.

Under the guise of reducing inflation, the PNDC withdrew all C50 notes, then the highest denominator, from circulation. The exercise affected farmers who had mostly been paid with the notes for cocoa sales. While a number of them were unable to hire labour to expand their farms for the new season, others simply became apathetic when the new government failed to honour its pledge to refund the fortune seized from them. This was aggravated when, without any explanation, the government introduced 100 and 200 cedis denominations.

With shrinking acreage under cultivation and the rains failing, the only positive way to avoid a catastrophe would have been massive food importation which has been practiced over the years. Rawlings and his aides thought otherwise. To them the defence of the new "lease of freedom" could not be sacrificed at the altar of food importation.

Their response was the closure of the country's borders while heavy importation of arms and ammunition went through the roof-top buttressed by advertisement of the heroic deeds of the liberators. This language of liberation, having been heard several times before, failed to motivate anybody and when the government froze the bank accounts of customers with C50,000 deposits with a clause that those who deposited C50,000 after December 31 could operate their accounts, Ghanaians lost no time in explaining the motive behind the strange economic policy.

In a country where the right to information is the exclusive prerogative of those who wield the gun, rumour-mongering is the only means of getting to know the news behind the news. The rumour mills never failed to churn out information to the effect that the only reason the PNDC had for inserting the December 31 clause, was to allow soldiers who looted money and other valuables in the wake of the 'Holy War' operation, to replace the affluent in the society.

Powerless against the might of the gun, most Ghanaians preferred to remain indifferent to events while hunger, unprecedented in the annals of the nation's history, reduced the people to walking skeletons for almost two years.

It is pertinent to note that the famine that forced otherwise affluent members of the society to pawn their valuables for food rations was recorded in 1982 and 1983 under the confused government of the PNDC and not when the civilian administration of President Limann was directing the ship of state as the ITV programme sought to portray.

The PNP was surely not the type of government Ghanaians dreamt about when they cast their vote to return the country to constitutional rule in 1979, but to accuse it for the misdeeds of the revolutionaries is like giving a dog a bad name to justify its hanging.

I find it extremely difficult to rationalise the contention that the PNDC's economic recovery programme has started delivering Ghanaians from poverty and that what is required is the goodwill of the people. One need not be an economist to appreciate the fact that when income

cannot match one's basic needs, life ceases to be meaningful. The almost 90 percent shrinking of the cedi decreed by the government without a corres- ponding rise in people's incomes has made most people apathetic to the national cause. "Service to the people," to borrow a text from the conservative party of Britain's philosophy, "must go hand in hand with individual success in life."

As for human rights, it is an insult to the integrity of Ghanaians to attempt to attach that tag to the notoriously brutal regime of Flt-Lt. Rawlings. While there may not be justifiable reasons to equate Rawlings to Idi Amin or Emperor Bokassa in the sense that no mass graves have been uncovered in Ghana, it would be equally hypocritical not to trace a semblance of the atrocities that characterised the rule of these two deposed African dictators to the three and a half years' dictatorship of the PNDC.

The hysterical extermination of Military Intelligence and Special Branch personnel, numerous executions of people allegedly plotting to overthrow the PNDC after secret trials, the political assassination of people on suspicion of aiding or capable of aiding so-called dissidents are all factors that cannot be erased from history.

The abduction and murder of three judges and an army officer by agents acting on behalf of members of the government is a stain which not all the water of the Atlantic Ocean could cleanse.

One interesting development was the conduct of Flt-Lt. Rawlings himself and his Special Adviser, Capt. Kojo Tsikata. When rumours were doing their rounds that the three judges had been seized by revolutionary soldiers, the Head of State appeared on television to announce to a stunned nation that enemies of the revolution had carried out the deed as part of their campaign to reverse the revolutionary process.

When the bodies were discovered at the Bondase Military firing range, a government statement said they were discovered in the Accra Plains, a vague area spanning over 100 miles square.

One inexplicable fact is that the keys to the truck used by the murderers was kept by Rawlings' wife Mrs (Nana) Yaa Agyeman Rawlings.

As for the Special Adviser, he kept mute until the very day he was named as the brain behind the murder before holding a televised press conference to accuse the Federal Republic of Germany of preparing to overthrow the PNDC. At the same conference, ex-Capt. Tsikata said the Asantehene had held a meeting with the American Ambassador at the Manhyia Palace in Kumasi at which negative assessments were made of the PNDC.

The diversionary tactics. failed to sway many Ghanaians and when members of the press who covered the Special Investigation Board's proceedings at which Tsikata's name was linked to the sordid deal were harassed by the then Secretary for Information, Mr Ato Austin himself, accusing fingers were directed at the castle.

Incidents are too numerous to cite, but the murder and the burning of Odeefo Asare, leader of a spiritual church's body in the centre of Kumasi by soldiers, the slaughter of a native doctor and his aides in the Volta Region and the cold-blooded execution of military officers in Takoradi all stand in the name of building a society in which everybody has a say in decision-making!

That this inflated rhetoric can be summoned to describe a society in which a handful of armed men hold 14 million people in bondage gives no clear evidence that the government itself exist for those who had reason to take to arms on December 31, 1981.

If the Western media, which contemporary history remembers as the only organ capable of setting the agenda for the overthrow of dictatorial regimes in the third world, would not register their outrage at these acts of violence. and vandalism, they would do well not to open the scar of the otherwise healing Ghanaian wound.

talking drums 1985-06-24 kwame nkrumah Gold Coast end of empire