Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

 You are in: Talking Point: Debates: African
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Monday, 18 June, 2001, 14:01 GMT 15:01 UK
What should be done with former presidents?
Ghana's former president, Jerry Rawlings, is refusing to go quietly.

On the anniversary of the June 4 coup that brought him to power, he gave a speech warning that the army could turn against the new president, John Kufuor. A few days later, the security forces raided Rawlings' home in a search for weapons.

Was this an appropriate way for an incoming administration to deal with a former head of state? And what about Rawlings? Should he keep his mouth shut or should he speak his mind?

What should new governments do with former heads of state, especially those who have held power for years?

This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Any former head of state should have the liberty to freely speak his mind as a citizen. The former Tanzania president Ali Hassan Mwinyi was at times severely berated by his predecessor President Nyerere but took it as part of the democratic process the country was committed to. We are a stronger nation in part because of such tolerance. Ghana need not fear President Rawlings' utterances.
Sadiki Madale, Tanzania

We have to be begin treating our ex-presidents with respect

Akwero, The Netherlands
We have to be begin treating our ex-presidents with respect, dignity and let them be judged according to our democratic laws. If you don't have enough evidence to put them away, don't violate their civil rights. What is wrong with African leaders? Those leaders are part of our history, just wake up and leave people like Rawlings in peace.
Akwero, The Netherlands

I am solidly in support of President Kufuor in any manner he might treat Rawlings. Whenever African misleaders sorry leaders lose power they resort to misguided utterances to cause confusion in their lands. Take for example comments credited to Nigeria's former dictator Buhari that Moslems in Nigeria should not vote for a Christian president come 2003 - if I had been Obasanjo, I will teach him a lesson he will never forget in generations to come. If African ex-leaders are being tried for their misdeeds during their tenures, I don't think somebody like Rawlings can make a statement capable of tearing Ghana apart. He should please shut up and enjoy his stolen money in peace.
Chinenye Ezeilo, A Nigerian in The Netherlands

I am sick and tired of these stupid African leaders completely wrecking our countries and being let off Scot-free. Remember that other parts of the world went through what Africa is going through now, a corrupt imperial elite, tolerated until the suffering of the masses had become so bad that revolution was the only recourse and usually ended with the beheading of the monarch. This happened in England, Russia, Spain and France. The only problem is that modern technology means revolution is much harder and foreign emergency aid keeps giving Africans one last resort. Truth be told, we need a violent revolution in Africa with severe punishment for the corrupt and uneducated ruling [thieving] classes. That way we can wipe the slate clean and put in place a healthy deterrence for people with inappropriate political ambitions [bleed the country dry and leave].
Amoroso, Kenya

Rawlings has no moral or constitutional rights to celebrate the anniversary of an illegal coup d'etat

Henry Baiyeshea, USA
Rawlings has no moral or constitutional rights to celebrate the anniversary of an illegal coup d'etat. The new govt should watch him as he is a proven survivalist and may encourage his loyalists in the armed forces to destabilise the incumbent regime. He has done it before and may do it again.
Henry Baiyeshea, USA

African democracies or most young democracies for this matter have a lot to learn from the older ones such as those in Canada, Western Europe and USA on how former presidents should be treated. On one hand, after holding the highest office in the country, a former president should not be considered as a mere citizen in his country, but a valuable asset, rich in wisdom and governing experience, ready to advise the new government on various matters. On the other hand, towards retirement each president should make sure that the country knows what his/her new ambitions in life are. Unfortunately forefront politics is not one of them.
Innocent Kanyarwanda, UK

Rawlings must step aside and leave the new president to lead the country. I think what he is supposed to do is advise the new president and not intimidate him. Long gone are those days of life presidency of the likes of Kamuzu Banda of Malawi and Bokasa of Central Africa.
George Byabato, Tanzania

I believe Rawlings as a citizen has the right to speak his mind

Samuel Juah, USA
I am a Liberian. I went to Ghana during the April 6 1996 renewed hostilities in Liberia. I saw what Rawlings did for his country. Before our civil war, we in Liberia saw what the Ghanaians went through because of civil unrest in that country. I believe Rawlings as a citizen has the right to speak his mind, but equally the use of threat that will encourage the military is not good for Ghana. The country is one place that the neighbouring countries can find rest. Let's keep it peaceful.
Samuel Juah, USA

"An idle mind is the devil's workshop." Former presidents. and all retirees for that matter, should involve themselves with meaningful pursuits. They should use their special standing in the society to work on humanitarian causes. Anything else will be a waste and a sin to God who has elevated these people to such high positions.
Masaro, Tanzania

There is no democracy without the rule of law

Esayas Kifle, Ethiopian/ USA
There is no democracy without the rule of law. The former president, Mr Rawlings has every right to express his like or dislike of the present condition of his beloved country. But he should also understand he can't yell 'fire' in a crowded hall.
Esayas Kifle, Ethiopian/ USA

He should be tried if he has done anything wrong while he was in power. No one can escape from the long arm of the law, even the former president. It is naive of him to expect to live in Ghana with impunity

Former Presidents like all other retirees in Africa should be given not only retirement benefits but should equally enjoy their rights as citizens. Why should President Rawlings have to shut up when he sees that those structures he had laboured to put together stand the risk of crumbling? Ghanaian politicians should not forget that President Rawlings salvaged that great and beautiful country from the dust. Today Ghana has become an icon of democracy in Africa. The man should be given the chance to have a peaceful retirement.
Peter Kenah, Sierra Leone

Rawlings will have to keep the comments from his warped mind to himself. He ruled Ghana for nearly 20 years and crushed anyone who spoke against him. It takes someone who lived in Ghana under his rule to know what a hypocrite he is. He had the most corrupt government Ghana has ever experienced.
Kofi Akuoko, UK

President Kufuor needs to focus his energy and attention on economic development

Osei, USA
The problem stems from the National Security Advisor, Lt. Gen. Joshua Hamidu who is determined to become president himself and is using his position to harass perceived enemies. His conduct, if unchecked by President Kufour and the Minister of Defence, will create an atmosphere and appearance of instability in Ghana. President Kufuor needs to focus his energy and attention on economic development.
Osei, USA

It is very interesting to see someone like Rawlings crying foul and still having the moral sense to expect to be treated with dignity. Every former president of any country should be treated with honour and respect. Every breaker of the law should be dealt with according to the law. If Rawlings stops behaving and talking as if the country belongs to him and he is above the law he will not be able to enjoy the rest of his days.
Wayne, Japan

The new NPP government will give Rawlings the respect due a former President; even though he did not extend that courtesy and decorum to any former ruler in Ghana. His 20-year rule has brought a lot of hardship and indiscipline to the country. People lived in fear all these years. We can now breathe fresh air. We do not want any intimidation and threatening speeches from Rawlings. Could he leave us in peace?
BeNon, Ghana

Democracy must prevail at all costs

Brenden, Kenya
Any inflammatory utterances by any ex-president should be investigated exhaustively. It is proper to pay attention to a situation that could be a potential source of anarchy and disorder. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the action the new government deployed. This was done for the sake of security. Rawlings may have been speaking his mind but he should be ready to face the consequences of such careless talk. At the same time the ruling government should treat Rawlings fairly just like any other citizen. This can be achieved by ensuring that there is no bias in the investigation concerning this case. Democracy must prevail at all costs.
Brenden, Kenya

Good one Dr Rawlings! Now the NPP will have a taste of how it feels to be criticised. When Rawlings was President, he had to take in all their criticism and now it is their turn. Transparency is the spirit of democracy.
William, Atlanta, USA

President Kufuor has to be careful how he treats former President Rawlings as he did a lot to save Ghana. Messing with Rawlings will put the country in chaos. If you play with fire it will burn you
Henry Peabody, Liberia

His role should be an advisory one

Adeniyi Olayisade, London
I think it is proper for Rawlings to have a say in the country where he laboured so hard in making it what it is today. But his role should be an advisory one and his views on national issues should not be for public consumption, he should in no way be confrontational. When he has learned to follow this process the new president will value his suggestions and advice
Adeniyi Olayisade, London

Bravo, Rawlings, let us put the new Ghana government to test. What is democracy all about if one cannot speak his/her mind? We, Africans, have a fluid sense/conception of democracy and try to fit it to what we want. If we accept the tenet of freedom of speech, why can't Rawlings have his say? Or is he not a citizen of Ghana anymore? Let us look before we leap and accept principles as they are without bending them to suit our personal preferences/tastes.
Mohamud M. Jibril, Ethiopia

It was very right for Kufuor to search the ex-president's residence because his (Rawlings) utterances were a threat to the security of the nation. No one is above the law and if an ex-president thinks he can get away with his words, he got it all wrong. On the other hand President Kufour should not be too harsh on a once head-of-state. He should try to win him over because if he antagonises Rawlings, it could be to his detrimental to him. You never know the mind of an ex-fighter, Mr Kufour.
Lilian Kimeto, Kenya.

Unfortunately, George Orwell's ominous portrayal of the corrupting nature of power, finds its way into real-life African politics again and again. Leaders who were once progressive and came into power with a promise to restore liberties for all, suddenly start to trample upon the promise and the idea of true democracy. Revolutionaries who set out to rid governments of entrenched power, in turn, become the old guards who can't seem to give a fair chance to new ideas and to accept a constantly changing world. Indeed, it is a mockery to those who gave up their lives for Africa's freedom.
Henry Phiri,Los Angeles, CA, USA

It will only encourage disgruntled elements to attempt to seize power

R. Sweden
What more do they want? What does Rawlings want from Ghanaians? Hasn't he had enough? After more than sixteen years in power, the best Rawlings can do for Ghana is to calm down, philosophise and keep his stature of elder statesman. Maybe even write a book to tell us how justifiable his tenure had been. His successors could then learn from his errors by picking the meat and discarding the chaff. Rawlings' comments on military intervention are unstatesmanlike. It will only encourage disgruntled elements to attempt to seize power. There should be an opposition in Ghana which will provide the incumbent with the necessary checks and balances. Rawlings should keep quiet!
R. Sweden

What happens to corporate citizens, or those who were at the help of multinationals in big companies around the world? After stepping down or having been forced to vacate their seats, they retire early and continue with life as the common men on the street. Why should it be any different for past presidents? Sure, we applaud their achievements if good and are appalled for the wrong ones, but they should be allowed to carry on their lives whilst being subject to common law like every African.
Ripuree Daniel Haakuria, Namibia

Rawlings like any other Ghanaian has the right to speak his mind. However, he should remember that freedom goes with justice in Ghana. If the present government fails the people of Ghana, the same ballot box will be used to vote the government out of power. Rawlings should forget about using the soldiers to destabilize the country's democracy. The soldiers have an important role to play to bring stability in the sub-region.
Ken Nyama, South Africa

Decisions on democratic performance in Africa had falsely been seen as the job of the military. If a government is not doing well, the military thinks it is their right to intervene. Unfortunately, the ballot that placed the leader is still there to get him/her out. Ex-Presidents have a place in the system. They can use their position to be advocates of democracy and can be involved in programmes that have direct bearing on the people and complement the government of the day.
Dagyat, Gabriel, Nigeria

I believe that a true lover of democracy will sit back and criticise a ruling government constructively but not through intimidation. Rawlings should shut up and allow the current government to do what he was unable to do in his 20 years of tyrannical oppression.
James Quaning, U.S.A.

I do not believe that ex-president Rawlings of Ghana has any desire of coming back to power. I think the gentleman is mainly concerned about the welfare of Ghana. It's like a man who spends his entire fortune building a house. He would want to make sure the house stays in perfect order even in the flow of the most imperfect storm. Rawlings created democracy in Ghana. Does he not have the right to enjoy that creation? He may be a former head of state, but he is entitled to the benefits of democracy, especially that fundamental one: freedom of speech. Let the man enjoy the fruit of his labour. At least he deserves it.
Mohamed Yahya Sillah, USA

Rawlings should retire in peace and not try to threaten the power of the new leader. He has to respect the rule of law and get used to life as a private citizen. New regimes also need to respect former presidents, what was done to Kaunda was shameful. Rawlings should follow the role of Nyerere and Mandela and involve himself in something meaningful, like mediating the Sierra Leone conflict.
Che Ng'ombo, Tanzanian/New York

He did a good job putting Ghana back in the right path towards economic stability

Oumar Jabbie, Sierra Leone
The people of Ghana, especially the new government should be very grateful for the level of stability and economic development the Rep. of Ghana went through under the Rawlings Regime. We all know their were shortfalls in his government as all government have, but overall he did a good job putting Ghana back in the right path towards economic stability and advancement at least as compared to other countries in the sub-region. I can still remember before Rawlings what Ghana use to be, those from Ghana use to come to Sierra Leone and elsewhere in the sub region in search of greener pasture.
Oumar Jabbie, Sierra Leone

Rawlings is a good leader. I expect to see someone like him in power. On the other hand, he should give the others a chance to use their ideas. Ghana is a very good country in which to live. I am a Liberian but I will some day come home to Ghana.
Benjamin K. Tambah, Charlotte, NC

If a leader has dutifully served his country and his people, and has as a result won their respect and admiration, then they should continue to be highly esteemed and respected even after they've left office. A good example of this was seen in Tanzania where Nyerere continued to be regarded with respect and honour. But former leaders like Nyerere and Mandela were servants of their people, more concerned with the welfare of the masses than of maintaining positions of power and affluence. Moreover, these leaders did not attempt to undermine the power of their successors, instead they provided services such as advising, consultation and acted as mediators when requested. It is these remarkable qualities that will ensure that in history these men will have their place of honour, and they are proof that Africa did have some strong and admirable leaders.
Benilde, Mozambique

In a free, democratic society, ex-president Rawlins has the right to speak his mind. If you don't want him to, then change into a communist government or dictatorship and let him know he no longer has the freedom of speech. But please, don't pretend to be defending democracy by raiding his home and/or denying him the right to criticize or even mention the government.
Fabrice Noucti, Cameroonian in the US

One day he too will become an ex-president

Josephine Sesay, Sierra Leone
I write to comment on the way President Kufuor is treating ex-president Rawlings. I want him to remember that one day he too will become an ex-president so he has to make sure he ensures President Rawlings the full benefits befitting an ex-President.
Josephine Sesay, Sierra Leone

Rawlings should keep quiet and enjoy the fruits of his labour. There is no need for him to destroy his reputation. The job with the United Nations is enough to keep him busy. No matter what people say, Rawlings has been a very good leader. He has at least put Ghana on the right path. I wish we had such a leader in Cameroon. The new president should try hard not to stain the image of the country by fighting with Rawlings.
Gasimu, USA

Former leaders like Rawlings as long as they don't disrupt society should have their right to speak. But those leaders who have washed their hand with innocent blood like, Mengistu of Ethiopia should be brought to justice at home or abroad.
Salim, Dijibuti

Rawlings should keep quiet, he ruled Ghana with an iron fist for many years without any opposition he should learn to keep his views to his private party and stop intimidating others.
Tony Afam, UK

Jerry Rawlings should not have made such a comment against the new president if he really believes in democracy. His comment gives me the impression that Rawlings still thinks real power lies with the bullet rather than the ballot. Perhaps is he thinking of coming around in his old fashion of military coups?
Dagne Tolla, Ethiopia

See also:

30 Dec 00 | Africa
Historic win for Ghana challenger
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more African stories