Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Not structures: but the future of our youth

by Kwaku Kpatakpa Gyampo

Chaos can be turned around through responsible leadership… To achieve this requires looking beyond the contentment offered by the immediate trappings of power and the glamour of attention
Jerry Rawlings’ arrogant contempt for the ballot box as an instrument of the leadership selection process reiterated in an interview with Radio France Internationale was disappointing and myopic. He revealed an attitude that focuses attention on the instant gratification from the rewards of incumbency at the Osu Castle and neglects to see the Ghanaian quest for a viable form of national governance that will fashion a future for our youth in whom our hope and strength as a nation lie.

It is disappointing because just as everybody thought some sanity was coming after three and a half years of management by grasping, he unleashed a bombshell that shattered the hopes of those who thought things are turning around for the better.

It must be most disappointing to those who languish under the illusion that the PNDC is willing to ‘hand over” power to some kind of civilian administration. As Rawlings made clear, power is not something you can “hand over”. The implication is that you are either elected into power - a process he spurns or you take it.

The people have power only to the extent that the current holders of power claim they do, no matter the realities.

But above all, his remark is myopic because for the better part of 3 years, when his conception of people democracy ought to have gelled or at least be minimally perceptible, we are all at a loss ast to what the nature of this true democracy is. Obviously it must be very difficult to institute a system of representation that takes selection procedures other than the ballot. It is doubly difficult to go back on one’s word when the method has be rejected overnight.

However we cannot dismiss lightning the question of leadership selection and representation. There are some who believe that we can reach back onto our cultural heritage for an acceptable method of leadership selection procedures. Here a tale that happened in my little village of Kokoropon when the decision was made to find a suitable candidate for a youth leader or Mmrantehene who incidentally happened to be my father.

After the local people decided on the candidate they kept it a firm secret from the preferred candidate. One evening, when my father hat settled down to a delicious palm soup with his good friends Kwami Aifu and Kewku Baah arranged from the familiar paths. After exchanging the usual greeting the two men asked permission to speak since they did not want to interrupt the dinner.

All of a sudden, they grabbed my father from the dinner table, about fifteen other strong men emerged from the bush and came to their assistance . The drums began to play and and the women accompanied them with their chants: "nana reba o! nana reba o! (here comes nana! here comes nana!). The old man was carried shoulder high, and paraded through the fifteen or so villages, his hair and entire body sprinkled with white clay (hyire).

Overnight, my father had become the Mmrantehene with all the responsibilities to boot. But that was for a small population. Clearly, a nation of 12 million people with myriad local traditions cannot reach into her traditional past for methods of leadership selection that will be acceptable to all. That is why selection by the ballot box makes common sense.

It is true that the ballot box has been abused in the past, and it may be abused again in the future, especially, when people are intent on power. However, that does not make the process intrinsically bad.

Rawlings' statement is myopic be- cause it fails to take into account the future of the coming generations. The present generation of young men and women between the ages of 18 and 25 have known no proper leadership selection procedures at the national level. As such, their role models do not often go beyond their immediate school peers and the few relatives they have in the professions.

Hardly do they look to any "national figure" for emulation. For those with political and public service ambitions, the army has emerged as the only potent institution for acceding to political office or national prominence.

Thus, it was that one of my college- mates decided after the 1966 overthrow of the Nkrumah regime that he would join the army and became the president of Ghana one day. He started working on his coup speech from the Sixth Form through college. As soon as he graduated from the university, he joined the army and rose to the rank of major.

Not surprisingly, I read that during the Limann administration, he had been discharged from the army for plotting to overthrow the government. When Rawlings returned the second time, he was reinstated. Maybe this college-mate will fulfill his dreams. But that is not the kind of aspiration and future a majority of ambitious Ghanaian youth would like to espouse. The current generation of young men have witnessed the civil service bastardized, the state corporations pillaged, and local businesses haunted and maligned by military regime after military regime, with civilians throwing in their fair share of the spoilage.

At the school level, the lack of a firm national commitment to prepare the youth of the future created an atmos phere of benign neglect which sent our bright youth to other countries, only to be humiliated after they had satisfied the needs of the host countries. With the Agege dream vaporized, the future is that of frustration and bitterness.

It is a generation that has witnessed violence become a national norm. Death sentences are dished out with reckless abandon; soldiers strip women and search their private parts for smuggled goods, and dehumanize the very citizens over whom they claim to be leaders.

But I believe that this hopelessness and chaos can be turned around through responsible leadership. What is required is a crop of leaders who will be the beacon to our youth and generate a sense of purposefulness for the future. To achieve this requires looking beyond the contentment offered by the immediate trappings of power and the glamour of attention. The first step to nurturing this leadership lies in an acceptable process of selecting our leaders, and that it is important that Jerry Rawlings should reconsider his hard line stance on the ballot box. always wet".

For Justice D. F. Annan, one gets the impression that he is not up to the task. Like the cliche-ridden pseudo leftists before him, he has been caught in the whirlwind of repeating the same leitmotifs after Rawlings. Thus, he parrots along: "we are forming new structures . . . we want participatory democracy... we are looking for a true democracy ." One gets the funny sense that he is a spent force. It is also possible that he is party to a conspiracy to deceive Ghanaians by merely showing his grey hair.

Noam Chomsky, in another context, has profiled the motivations of such people. He notes that intellectuals who have achieved power and influence in the larger society have a stake in accepting and perpetuating the status quo, no matter how much in need of reform or renewal it may be.

Therefore, it makes sense to speculate, as the Talking Drums has done in a previous editorial, that he is window dressing the PNDC. My impatience with Mr Annan in this context is that it seems he will spend a life-time searching for the elusive "Holy Grail" of true democracy.

But it is not enough to criticize his haggard behaviour. Therefore, I suggest that for a start, he should, with the approval of Rawlings, and those who matter within the PNDC oligarchy, assemble some 60 people comprised of the following identifiable bodies: 10 conservatives, 10 socialists/communists, 10 real people (made up of chop bar fufu pounders, kelewele friers, and bottle sellers etc), 10 farmers, 10 soldiers and police constables, and 10 Mokola women - it's high time they too had a voice -- (the list may be expanded to not more than 100 people); shut them off at the Peduase Lodge, and enjoin them to come out with a framework for the "true democracy".

There should be a firm commitment from the PNDC that what these people come up with would serve as the basis for national debate, with a definite time table to implement the essential elements of the framework. If Mr Annan fails to give us something concrete, but babbles along what we already know, we can only come to the inevitable conclusion that he is a charlatan.

Just in case he is concerned about a perfect system, let him reflect on the following words by Ortega Y Gasset who once remarked that "an authoritarian state is like a magnificent galleon with all sails set-beautiful to behold. The difficulty is that when the galleon hits a rock, it sinks to the bottom. Democracy, in contrast, is like a raft. It never sinks but your feet are always wet”

As regards Jerry Rawlings' contempt of the ballot box, I submit that it's not too late to change his mind, nor is it shameful to do so. We all change our minds. As individuals, we fall in and out of love, marry and divorce, make plans and drop them. So it is in national affairs, for in all human affairs, the only constant thing is change. If Rawlings were to have a change of mind, he may cause a true "revolution" by supervising a truly historic clean elections which will be the model to follow in the future.

He may then recede into the background to reflect upon his several years in national limelight, write a book or two, and form a political party, if he so chooses for a true comeback after say five or ten years. He may call the party People's Democratic Congress (PDC) Workers' Democratic Congress (WDC), National Democratic Congress (NDC) or better yet, The Congress of Democratic Revolution- aries (CDR), Whatever the name, it is possible that he can coast on his current popularity and charisma and may become the elected leader of Ghana, an authentic representative of the people. He has youth on his side.

Of course, the other path, the easier one, is to pretend that one is always right and hang on until a lucky adventurer yanks power away from him, and thereby satisfy what seems to be his preferred method of power acquisition. If that happens, all his years of idealism will have been to naught, and Ghana would remain the eternal sufferer, and the future of the youth compromised.

talking drums 1985-07-15 guinea sekou toure's legacy - writing for young africa