By Gabriel Oguda
The stalemate in Burundi has asked me to go back and revise my notes on John Jerry Rawlings – the former President of Ghana, and, currently, the African Union Special Envoy to Somalia.
While on a state visit to Vietnam and China is 1966, Kwame Nkrumah – Ghana’s founding father – was deposed in a coup. The same thing that happened in Uganda when Iddi Amin overthrew Milton Obote while he was away attending a Commonwealth Summit meeting in Singapore. The easiest way to topple a regime in Africa, it is now emerging, is to run riot when the Headman is far away from his stomping ground.
However, overthrowing governments is always the easiest part. Sustaining a military take-over is the hardest, most treacherous task, for anyone intending to stand up and save the nation from further political ruin.
No example exemplifies this than the JJ Rawlings’ one.
“A coup will not succeed if the climate is not calling for it”, said JJ in one of his many interviews long after he had left office. He is right. But what he failed to mention is that a coup will never succeed if the leader is not charismatic enough to capitalise on the mood of the nation. And if there is anything John Jerry Rawlings had in abundance, it was free-flowing charisma, that was often mistaken for unbridled arrogance.
After leading several soldiers in a mutiny against the government of General Fred Akuffo, JJ Rawlings together with his six co-accused, were hauled into a public trial, intended to deter any future coups, and was broadcast for everyone in Ghana to see.
As the hearing was dragging on, Jerry Rawlings, resigned to fate, decided not to wait any longer. He got bored with the legalese going around between the prosecution, the lawyers and the bench, stood up and grabbed the microphone, going ahead to deliver one of the most passionately riveting speeches ever by a man in military fatigues:
“I don’t understand these legal terms you people are exchanging here, and neither do my boys (his fellow accused army men), I am standing up to take responsibility for the coup attempt and I ask you to leave my men alone.” After all, he was not a graduate of the prestigious Achimota School for nothing. That compelling speech resonated with a large section of the public that rose up in his defence.
Anybody who takes a bullet on your behalf is one for keeps. The young Airforce pilot, who had won the coveted speed bird trophy for being the best airforce cadet at the Flight Training School, was found guilty and sentenced to death. As he was awaiting execution, he was broken out of jail by his colleagues to lead the ‘June 4th Revolution’ which overthrew General Fred Akuffo, setting him off for an active political life that saw him resign from the military and serve Ghana for two terms.
It is being reported that the pro-Nkurunzinza forces are already gaining ground on the Burundi coup plotters. If they succeed to overturn the coup attempt and Nkurunziza comes back as head of state, that General and his men must be ready to face the sword, in all it’s glittering stealth. Unless he digs deep from his charismatic well, and rally the entire nation behind him.
Things are thick.