African viewpoint: Messy divorces

Jerry Rawlings and John Atta Mills
Jerry Rawlings (l) no longer calls the shots with President John Atta Mills (r)

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Ghanaian writer and opposition politician Elizabeth Ohene says that that the break-up of a political marriage is as painful as a real-life divorce.

A former first lady of Ghana lost an election most emphatically on 9 July, the same day that the new Republic of South Sudan was born.

While the events in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, were a joyful affair, the events in Sunyani, the capital of Ghana’s Brong Ahafo Region, were very painful to watch.

Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings, wife of former President Jerry Rawlings, was contesting an election to become the presidential candidate of the governing National Democratic Congress (NDC) party in polls due next year.

Her opponent was President John Atta Mills, who was Mr Rawlings’ protege and had come to power in 2009 with the firm backing of the Rawlings.

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Pre-nuptial agreements never bring equal solace to both sides.”

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Both events, in Sunyani and Juba, came out of a relationship gone bad – a marriage that had broken down.

Whereas in all cultures we have devised elaborate rites for marriages, the process of breaking up remains mostly unstructured and messy.

The problem often is that it is very rare for both sides in a relationship to conclude at the same time that a marriage has broken down irretrievably.

The African Union (AU), like the Catholic Church, is resolutely against divorce.

What god (or in Africa’s case, the colonial powers) has put together, cannot and should not be put asunder.

‘Marital property’

The African map, as drawn by the colonial powers, is sacrosanct – no matter how absurd.

The AU, though, reluctantly endorsed South Sudan’s independence.

As I watched the birth of the nation and the joy on the faces of the crowds in Juba, I looked at at the face of Omar al-Bashir, now president of a half Sudan.

I could tell he was hurting. Maybe, it had something to do with the sharing of the marital property and the oil revenue going to the south.

South Sudanese dance in Juba to celebrate independence South Sudan won independence after decades of conflict with the north

The problem is that even pre-nuptial agreements never bring equal solace to both sides.

Then, my mind went to a May dawn in 1994 in Pretoria at the inauguration of a certain Nelson Mandela.

Not exactly a divorce that one, but not quite a marriage either since this “new” South Africa did not require a new domain name or a new football team as South Sudan apparently does – but it did get a new flag and a new national anthem.

That, too, was a relationship among different races that had collapsed and was being re-engineered after years of trouble.

We all wished them well and have been watching their progress sometimes with anxiety but more often with a lot of pride.

‘Delirious’

A year ago they did Africa proud by hosting a successful football World Cup tournament and one got the impression this new marriage was working even if the partners were still adjusting to the shift in power.

My mind then went to a country much nearer to the new state of South Sudan – Eritrea.

It divorced from Ethiopia in 1993 after a long liberation war.

Like the crowds in Juba on 9 July, the Eritreans were delirious at nationhood but the divorce was traumatic for Ethiopians.

The sharing of the spoils had turned Ethiopia into a landlocked nation overnight, as the country’s only port fell in Eritrea.

A group of people with their livestock in Somaliland Somaliland’s independence has not been recognised by any other country

But an even more interesting example is that of Somaliland, which broke away from Somalia 20 years ago.

That divorce has not been recognized by officialdom but Somaliland has certainly left the marriage and we wait for the formalities to be concluded one day.

Which all brings me back to events in Sunyani.

The fall-out between the Rawlings and their one-time protege – Mr Atta Mills – was played out in full glare of the public.

It seemed to me this was a classic case of an abusive relationship where the marriage had broken down but one side was still trying to hold on to it.

I have not quite worked out who filed for divorce, but the truth is that the marriage is over.

Mr Atta Mills has spoken about working for unity, but that is just empty talk.

This was a divorce and we await the sharing of the spoils.

If you would like to comment on Elizabeth Ohene’s column, please do so below.

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