Jerry John Rawlings is addicted to politics. Son of a Scotsman and a Ghanaian, he twice led coups against what he saw as corrupt governments and he acknowledges that his regime committed "a few punishments here and there," during 19 years as head of state of Ghana. Yet, he gave up power in 2001, after losing an election in 2000, and made way for multiparty democracy. Now 62, the former Ghanaian Air Force captain, who stepped down nine years ago, still has a lot to say about his small West African country, which celebrated its 53rd year of independence on March 6.
When The Root interviewed the former president, he was blunt and forthcoming about the evolution of African countries since independence and about his disappointment with his fellow Africans and their former colonial rulers.
The Root: Many African countries celebrate their 50th anniversary of independence in 2010. How do you assess their progress?
Jerry Rawlings: Well, I would have wished that we had made a lot more progress—social, economic and our political sense of purpose—in line with the aspirations of our forefathers, what they were fighting for. But it appears the colonial battle was not as atrocious as the new colonial battle. It has proven to be a lot more difficult, and more and more we are losing ownership of the resources of our continent. And not many of our leaders have a decolonized mind.
TR: The link between France and its former African colonies is very strong. Do you see the same linkage between England and its former African colonies?
JR: I don't know. Some may be close in one respect and weak in others, while others may be close and strong in another respect. But don't forget that Britain does not come alone: Sshe comes along with the English-speaking—the U.S., Germany and all. Whereas France, I think, has attempted to maintain a stronger monopoly or grip on the resources of its colonies. I may be wrong, but that's what it looks like to us.
And it appears that there is a lot more assimilation between francophone Africans and France. On the one hand, you could easily get the impression that they enjoy a higher quality of relationship than Africans and the British. But when you look deeper, and go deeper into the history, you're running to some very atrocious and very sordid historical experiences that really put you off.
TR: Is it too soon to implement the "United States of Africa" strongly proposed by Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana?
JR: It's not too soon. It's long overdue, but Africa has been so badly disintegrated in spite of the regional groupings we created to create markets for our own products. Our colonial relationship was so strong that it was undermining our attempts to unify.
TR: Some say that the Western form of democracy is a poison for Africa. What do you think?
JR: It would not have been a poison for Africa if we could adapt it to our own indigenous form of democracy. Our form of democracy listens to all parties, and out of it we distill what is best for all of us. Western democracy is "winner take all," … which is not healthy. They end up silencing the opposition, treating opposition like enemies; everything is for them, and they deny everything to the opposition. And this is what makes it tough for us.
TR: What did you think of President Barack Obama's speech to Africa in Accra on July 11, 2009?
JR: He just said what anybody else would have said.
TR: Nothing new?
JR: It's not fair to say nothing new, but even if it was nothing new, it was coming from the right person. He was a man with a sense of dignity; he was a man who has restored international morality back into politics; he has restored the international morality that Tony Blair and Bush destroyed. He managed to bring it back by virtue of his stature, … his beliefs, his sense of ethics and things like that. He believed in the might of right, while the other people believed in the right of might.
TR: You came to power twice through coups. Today, would you have done things differently?
JR: No. I would have done things exactly the way I did.
TR: So you think that sometimes coups are necessary when there are no other means to get change?
JR: So it seemed in those days. As to whether it's still applied today, this is what I cannot say. But in those days, I know it was a necessity.
TR: Do you miss being president?
JR: It was a very tiring job for me.
TR: You did it twice…
JR: Yes, I had to come back again because if I hadn't, there would have had another explosion. I stood for elections because when I heard the messages from those multiparty characters [I thought] they would wind the clock back. So for me it was a very tiring job, really. Some people enjoy it, I did not.
TR: You did not, but you don't really seem to have retired…
JR: How can I retire? In Africa, it's difficult to retire! Because what I fought for has not changed. I mean, Jesus Christ taught us a lesson some 2,000 years ago, and we're still teaching the same thing. So it is with politics in Africa, I guess. So long as the nonsense continues, I will continue to speak out.
TR: Aren't you afraid of interfering with the action of your former vice-president and current Ghana President John Atta-Mills? That you might create confusion about who is the head of state?
JR: They may or they may not [be confused]. But I will because I did not come for my party or my president, I came for a principle. And so long as you step aside or you want to keep up with that principle, you will hear me. I will talk.
TR: Some report tensions between [current Ghana president] John Atta-Mills and you.
JR: Yes. To some extent, it's true because I keep telling him he has surrounded himself with people who shouldn't be there. He has surrounded himself with people who keep stabbing the party, and some of us, in the back. I keep warning him that if he does not change, if he does not improve, he will be a one-term president. He's not listening now, and by the time he starts listening, I think it's almost too late. People are disillusioned with him and the people around him.
Habibou Bangre is a writer lving in France.