Jerry Rawlings and Martin Amidu. Two men, who are giants in different ways, from within the same party. Two men who offer us lessons in loss, leadership and legacy.
A seemingly unlikely pairing, but on closer inspection a chance to identify invaluable lessons as a nation when it comes to history, politics, progress and especially power.
The news of Jerry John Rawlings death brought global headlines. A towering figure in NDC politics, he was beloved and beleaguered. A man who built a political party and devastated lives. One who is the longest serving head of state in our nation, and to whom the phrase ‘the ballot and the bullet’ is especially apt.
Full disclosure, my family was profoundly hurt by the actions of Rawlings in his 1979 coup. My father, Kwesi Armah, was on a hit list and would be incarcerated for several years. For me, he was never the same afterwards. My family and I were deeply affected. For the children of those judges who were dragged from homes and beds, faced firing squads and now lie in unmarked graves, his passing is a particular bile.
Do not speak ill of the dead the saying goes. Truth. But we can – and should – speak the fullest truth of the life the now dead have lived.
Rawlings is a lion of a figure surrounded by controversy, pain, power and politics. To his children who lost their father, he is mourned. To the children who lost a father due to his actions, whose voices were silent and silenced, whose stories and experiences have gone untold and unacknowledged by a nation, he is remembered differently.
A nation turned what was for them a murderous devastating time in which they lost family, a home, and a nation into a celebration. For that, my heart breaks for you, it goes out to you. I am so sorry. The pain is unimaginable. The burden you carried unacceptable. The nation celebrating a time that was so devastating, unconscionable.
There is duality here. Difficult duality.
Rawlings is also a man who stood up to the West and is beloved and admired across the Continent and by black people in the Diaspora because of that. Here in Ghana, by leading a political party that belonged to the people, ordinary Ghanaians felt this was theirs, that this was a fight against corruption. That is an important legacy. Bringing politics to the people mattered. In Ghana, elitism is cancerous. It teaches too many that their path to greatness is limited – not because of who they are, but because of who they are not. Rawling’s political party shifted that for millions. The engaging of women by his widow, Nana Konadu Rawlings, was a crucial reminder of the power of women and the importance of engaging them in this topsy-turvy turbulence that is party politics. The move from the bullet to the ballot, that has become a staple of Ghana’s politics is to be commended.
Holding these dual truths matters, we must hold both. Too often we do not. He is lionized by some, bastardized by some. Both are valid. It is about a total legacy of a life lived, blood shed, political party built and a nation changed.
From that dark, bloody chapter, our nation needs a healing, and a reckoning. A legacy of untreated trauma due to this chapter in history lingers in the lives, bodies, and possibilities of those impacted, and in a nation’s history. We exclude that trauma from Rawlings’ legacy at our peril. Trauma shapeshifts who you are, who you become, your relationship to yourself, to your nation, to power, to politics.
The state funeral is befitting, a full remembering is beneficial, and a reckoning is inevitable. There can be no healing without one. And there needs to be healing. Silencing the voices of those who walk with this trauma means it can metastasize. Many have done extraordinary things with their lives. That in no way suggests that the blood of their loved ones that stains this land should not be publicly and fully accounted for – at the very least publicly acknowledged – as both a personal, painful loss, but also a significant part of a bloody, dark chapter of history.
Rawlings was a man who built, who bullied, who was beloved, who was beleaguered. He leaves a legacy of burden and building, of trauma and change, of power and pain.
He was a man who, in many ways within his party and the nation, became an institution – and that power fed politics.
It is in this world of institutions that Martin Amidu and his shock resignation must be explored.
Amidu is a giant of a man when it comes to anti-corruption, integrity and public calling to account of ogas – whether in politics, public life or the business world. Beloved by the people, beleaguered for those politicians whose activities he was willing to publicly and fearlessly condemn and prosecute. Sworn in as Special Prosecutor, he filled the headlines. There was an almost giddy belief that this tower of a man would confront corruption and deliver Ghana from this particular cancer.
He too was lionized and bastardized depending on what his position meant to your power – as the people of Ghana, as a politician, as opposition, as threat, or as truth.
His resignation forces us to confront harder truths about corruption. His resignation letter was revealing about the ways he was hampered by this administration, his hands tied, and his actions limited.
A resignation so close to a presidential election cannot fail to feel like writing on the voters wall about a leadership not committed to corruption despite the appointment of a man such as Amidu. At his appointment, I cheered the action as a step in making corruption a fight beyond party politics. I now engage the resignation as a lesson in individual vs institution.
In Ghana, we imagine individual ability transcends institutional power. It does not. Corruption is an institution, not an individual. Martin Amidu’s resignation is a profound example of an individual confronting an institution. He didn’t fail. The institution of corruption won. Such people – with integrity and backbone – like Martin Amidu are crucial. As brilliant as individual as he is, and as significant a loss as his resignation is, the institution of corruption-fighting must be built, upheld and sustained. Mourn the individual loss, but build the institution. Make it strong and sustainable.
In Ghana, the politics of truth-telling ascribes corruption to a particular party. Our history reveals that is a lie. Corruption is not unique to party, corporation, institution. The wealth of scandals by all three reveals that. Those who capitalize on Amidu’s resignation,
seizing this moment to play politics and imagine point scoring can be achieved in the countdown to ballot-casting should pause. They simply reveal the depth of the issue, and the part they play in being the issue. Rooting out corruption should not be a matter of party politics, but of nation-strengthening.
The long deep roots of politicization of position and power is one reason the institution of corruption flourishes. Government is a powerful institution. The people of a nation can be an even more powerful one.
So, what now for Mr. Amidu? The speculation, discussion, commentary will continue.
Loss, legacy, leadership. Martin Amidu walked away from a position, choosing the office of the people over the office of the president.
Individually we may often feel powerless, small, but ‘The People’, the citizens – when organized, collectivized, and focused – can become a formidable institution.
The office of the People is the highest office of this nation. We forget that too often.