Jimmy Carter, one of the most revered world leaders became the 39th American president in 1977. A Democrat from the state of Georgia, Atlanta, he served only one term but went on to leave behind a legacy Americans, and especially those from Georgia, will be very proud of for a long, long time to come.
Like many other US Presidents, Jimmy Carter’s time at the White House is well documented at the appropriately named Carter Centre in Atlanta, Georgia. The centre houses many interesting personal items including photographs, books, and old passports. The centre also has a library stocked with books available to researchers, journalists, students and anyone interested in accessing the wide variety of materials available. For those interested in mental health, there is also much documented information about his wife, Rosalynn Carter’s work in bringing the issues of mental health to public prominence.
I had the privilege of driving to the centre on Sunday afternoon after lunch at Five Points, a culturally conscious suburb in a city that boasts interesting tattoo shops, a variety of restaurants and bookshops and a karaoke bar where I sang, badly, some Ghanaian highlife tunes.
The Carter centre sits on a large parcel of land a few miles away from the famous Emory University. In front of it is a water fountain and hoisted flags from a selection of countries, signifying a reflecting of the international stance of the Centre.
A documentary about Jimmy Carter’s life was coming to an end when I entered the main conference hall. I caught the tail end of the documentary and then started my tour. Everything at the centre is simple and self-explanatory, so visitors don’t need guides and can enjoy the tour at their own pace.
I started at the beginning, with pictures of his birth on the farm in Plains, where his family famously cultivated peanuts. Grouped with these pictures were his birth certificate, his first school chair, photographs of his family and many other personal items. Everything was grouped in a way that made it easy for anyone to comprehend the details.
Another section has the items he used at the White House; chairs, table, cups for his early morning breakfast, pens, telephone facility and news briefs. All of these were arranged very nicely and gave an insight into the private moments of the world leader. To add to the authenticity, a radio in the background broadcasted some of his memorable speeches during his presidency. I closed my eyes and could visualize him in the room with me, talking.
Homage is made to all the country’s presidents, past and present. There are photographs and details about the centres dedicated to those presidents. The centre dedicated to Bill Clinton is in Little Rock, Arkansas, there is a centre dedicated to the both President Bushes – senior and Junior – in Taxes, and no doubt, very soon there will be a centre dedicated to Barack Obama.
The Carter Centre hosts published works of both Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn. Some of the books included the memoir: KEEPING FAITH: Memoirs of a President, a 5,000 pager, which captures important meetings during his time as president.
“He used that wealth of information in writing this book, which recounts his experiences as president of the United States. Coming to office with high hopes and large ambitions, Carter found himself thwarted as he attempted to make his mark as president.”
The book captures arguably his darkest period as president following the 1979 invasion of the US embassy in Tehran, which resulted in the hostage taking of diplomats who suffered 444 days in captivity. It was one of the lowest points of his presidency. Walking down the streets of Georgia, I spoke with many people about Jimmy Carter in relation to the Tehran hostage situation. All were quick to say it was that very event that cost him the presidency. During my tour of the Carter Centre, Jimmy Carter, in one of the many video footages which for part of the material available to visitors, acknowledges what the people on the street had said.
Though the centre receives funding from other sources, Jimmy Carter relies on proceedings from the book for his personal upkeep. He receives no pension from the American government, only the meager handshake he was given when he left office after serving one term. This situation is no different from any other President who has served the American people. This contrasts sharply with the political environment of my country, Ghana.
In Ghana, the two living ex-Ghanaian presidents (Rawlings and Kufour), both retired from office-after eight years-with ridiculously gluttonous packages. Granted, Rawlings served eleven years as a military leader before contesting and winning democratic. That notwithstanding, neither he nor Kufour have ever considered or suggested that centres be built in their names so their periods in office could be documented and shared with the public.
Leaving a legacy has never been important to them. Leaving documentation and paraphernalia that would be important to researcher, journalists, scholars, students and the public about the work of a president is not important to them. What they are concerned with is how many cars, houses, and fat bonuses they can further squeeze out the Ghanaians who they spectacularly pushed deeper into the poverty cycle during their tenures as presidents.
On a daily basis, we read news items about the two ex-presidents bitterly complaining about not been properly taken care of by the state. Aides of former President Rawlings never missed the opportunity to lambast the current administration about leaving Mr. Rawlings homeless, after his house was burnt down. Not wanting to be left out, the Kufuor’s camp continually complain that he hasn’t been paid his monthly emoluments. They claim the man is going hungry. The claims of these two would be laughable if they were not so pathetic, especially, coming from people who held the highest office of the land.