Time flies. But for President J. J. Rawlings and many of his ministers, time must fly too fast. And, with it, change comes too quickly. And people observe much too keenly. I definitely do. Wasn’t it only 17 years ago, on the night of December 31st, that he and a band of idealistic, politically adolescent virgins took charge of the country and began The Revolution?
The idea, ostensibly, was to break clean from the past. Invent a new political system and ethos. Cure corruption. Free the masses. Feed the multitudes with the breadcrumbs and fish-head left over from the previous government. Re-arrange the world and eradicate anyone over 40. Rawlings was 34. Just. He was bushy-haired and lean. His cheeks were hollow like he was whistling a permanent anthem. He hung in his Air Force overalls as though they were unoccupied. But when he spoke, it was straight from the heart. His message of social and economic justice and cleansing seemed to shoot intravenously into the nation’s bloodstream.
He cut the image of the common-man’s man. He spoke for him. He was the common man. He was innocent and he spoke his mind. His truth. He made it trendy to be poor. That’s why they called him Junior Jesus. I for one, was impressed. His wife, Konadu, was 33 and simple. She wore her hair natural and kinky. I recall receiving a journalism award from her in the mid-eighties. My prize was a two-week trip to Lagos. She whispered to me like an older sister: “I wish you were going to Abidjan!” “Me too,” I whispered back. She was friendly and down-to-earth.
Rawlings’s Ministers, or Secretaries as they were called then, were nearly all in their thirties. Some were even in their twenties. They dressed in what hung from their bedroom doorknob: any old jeans and polyester shirt, and those ten-a-penny “Afro Moses”sandals roughly hewn out of spent lorry-tyres by teen-age apprentice-cobblers. They were the footwear of choice for Tsatsu Tsikata, Marxist chief-priest and revolutionary ideologue, and Dr. Kwesi Botchwey,anti-imperialist champion and Secretary for Finance and Economic Planning. I, too, wore them.
Kwamen Ahwoi kept a beard identical to Karl Marx’s, and his brother Ato, was a tax-dogder’s worst nightmare. Joyce Aryee was the Secretary for Information. She was meant to be the government’s equivalent of Goebbels but she smiled too much. She got transferred to Education. Mrs. Aanaa Enin was a member of the Provisional National Defence council, the inner sanctum of the whole shebang. But she got thrown out for ‘counter-revolutionary insubordination and indiscipline.’
At the Institute of Journalism, the new 28-year-old leftist director, Kabral Blay-Amihere, scrapped Advertising from the curriculum and replaced it with African Political Thought. Advertising, he argued, was a tool of capitalism employed to maximise profits at the expense of the oppressed. The campus news bulletin was called “Combat”, and I was happy to be the news editor. My job was to keep the gate clear of reactionary western seepage. A sort of info-bouncer, if you like. There were regular demonstrations at the American Embassy, led by red-eyed revolutionary activists, fired on all pistons by a mixture of psychedelic shrubs and a heart-felt desire to bond with Moscow. I myself went to Moscow once. But, as I said, all of these happened a long time ago.
The First Lady, for example, turned 50 in November. These days “Madam”, as she is now called, likes her headgear to be fairly elaborate like a garden, with matching shoes and bags in bright rather than sombre hues, which would’ve been out of place at the onset of The Revolution. And she’s got a lot to say too, which at her age, I guess, is understandable. She’s seen quite a bit.
Tsatsu is now CEO of the national petroleum corporation. He’s heavily involved in crude oil and gas exploration along principles that do not exclude capital harvested from the capitalist west. Tsatsu still lives modestly, though he’s gone slightly upmarket on the small matter of sandals. ‘Afro Moses’ don’t quite meet the boardroom standard at this point.
Kwesi Botchwey? He quit the revolution! He teaches at Harvard University, in the belly of the West, where Bill Gates was spawned! His replacement, Richard Kwame Peprah, turned nifty-fifty recently and had a big birthday bash for which he was roundly bashed for having a ‘counter-revolutionary party’ by those who still remember.
Kwamena Ahwoi has shaved; he’s a suit-clad Minister for Local Government. Ato is now a grey-haired cocoa, cashew and broadcasting magnate. Joyce Aryee was thrown out of the revolution. She smiled too much. She’s now a minister of her own church! Annaa Enin also became a born-again Christian, after which the Revolution forgave her and made her Ambassador to Italy so she could be close to The Pope. My journalism school director is now bald, and grey where he’s not. He discovered the pecuniary joys of capitalism and runs his own newspaper which happily carries adverts.
And remember the anti-American revolutionary activists who chanted down Babylon? The same people took ringside positions to sing and chant for Clinton when he visited Accra in March, ironically, the high-point of the Rawlings administration. Others broke ranks with the Leader of The Revolution when he started talking to the Americans, the Brits and the IMF. They promptly went into exile — in America and Britain.
As for Rawlings himself, he’s approaching 52. He’s round, large and grey. Youthful no longer describes him. He’s shed that down-to-earthness, and when the other day he leapt into a gutter to clean it up people were appalled rather than inspired. Nowadays when he speaks, he does so in strange circles as if to deliberately avoid the point. A few years ago, his staff called him The Old Man behind his back, a euphemism for The Boss. Now they mean it literally.
And guess what? The younger people in his governing NDC party are stirring a revolt against him. They say there’s too much corruption; he doesn’t listen to the common man; the masses aren’t free; only a few among the multitudes are getting the bread and fish; and the world is still hard and bad.
And me? I quit being an info-bouncer and became a freelancer.
(Published in BBC Focus on Africa magazine -January-March 1999 edition)