FORMER President J.J. Rawlings says his criticisms of certain policies of President Mills’s administration is not an attempt to spite the government he helped to bring to power but rather a means of preserving his freedom of expression.
Speaking at an international symposium at the Great Hall of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) last Saturday as part of activities marking the 10th anniversary of the enthronement of the Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, Flt. Lt. Rawlings said he respected the office of President Mills and had confidence in him to deliver but so long as the country had committed itself to a path of democracy “I reserve my right to freedom of expression”.
The symposium, which brought together five former heads of state, was on the theme: “Deepening Democracy in Africa”.
The other former heads of state were Mr Festus Mogai of Bostwana, General Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, Alhaji Ahmed Tejan Kabbah of Sierra Leone and Mr Jose Maria Aznar of Spain.
Flt. Lt. Rawlings, who was the first speaker, stated that a number of political leaders on attaining political power tended to neglect the electorate and only remembered them when elections were due.
Democracy, he noted, was about what the people needed and not what the rulers needed.
He also pointed out that democracy must have the basic tenets of probity, accountability, freedom and justice.
Looking back at the past military interventions of 1979 and 1981, the former president said even though there were excesses for which he regretted, he still believed that the two events prepared the grounds for the current democratic dispensation, which had received international recognition.
He was critical of the past government for what he described as harassment of members of the previous administration and said if the nation was to go forward, vengeance should be discarded.
When he took his turn, former President Magai stressed the need for African leaders to show transparency in the management of national resources if they wanted to succeed.
He condemned power-drunk African leaders who wanted to remain in power through any available means even after their terms of office had expired.
“I would not want to mention names but we have had examples in West Africa and Southern Africa. These leaders who were respected by their people later turned villains,” the former President said.
He said former President Rawlings was respected in Africa because he left office quietly after his two terms had expired.
He suggested that African nations put in place adequate pension packages for their former Presidents.
When he mounted the podium, Gen. Obasanjo said no two democracies in the world were identical but what was important was that they must be relevant to the needs of the people.
The former Nigerian leader said transparency, participation of the people and education were all ingredients that enriched democracy.
He said there were no bad elections but bad politicians because it was the politicians who corrupted elections to make the process bad.
Gen. Obasanjo commended Otumfuo for his foresight, which continued to bring hope to his people.
For his part, Alhaji Tejan Kabbah said the system of checks and balances must prevail, because without it a democracy could not be said to be effective.
He said any system of democracy a nation adopted should lead to improvement in the lives of the people.
In his comments, the former Spanish leader, Mr Maria, said in spite of the strides made by some African nations in their development efforts, the developed world regrettably saw Africa as a problem continent.
He said it was important for African nations to pursue policies and programmes that would address poverty, ignorance and disease so that they could prove the develop world wrong.
In attendance were Otumfuo Osei Tutu and a host of his chiefs.
A Ghanaian academic, Prof. David Abdulai, Dean of the University of South Africa’s School for Business Leadership, chaired the ceremony.