The volume of tributes that has so far been paid to the memory of former President of Ghana, Mr Jerry John Rawlings, is further proof of the precise words of William Shakespeare in his work, Julius Caesar. In that book, the English playwright said, “When beggars die, no comets are seen, but the Heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.”
Was Rawlings a prince? No! A king and more. The Ghanaian son of a Scottish father bestrode the political space like the colossus he was, metaphorically and also physically. He was a fine man who had a profound gift of the tongue. For him, words could and did move mountains and he used same to take control of affairs of state of Ghana for close to 20 years.
His death in the hands of the dreaded Coronavirus (COVID-19), without doubt, has further depleted the rank of former African leaders who had formed a desirable pool of wisdom that presents a fall back option for current leaders in moments of crisis and even indecision.
What many recall are his days as the democratically elected President of that country named by the British colonial masters as Gold Coast. Within that period, like wine, he had matured with age. But that was not the leftist ideologue and fire-eating revolutionary Flight Lieutenant in the Ghanaian Air Force who took the country by storm. It was he who, in righteous indignation, set out to cleanse the nation’s political space in 1979 and ended up eliminating some past Ghanaian leaders who he thought to be the problem with the society. He was, himself sentenced to death for planning a failed coup but rose, like Phoenix, the bird in Greek mythology, from his own ashes, to rule the country from 1981 to 2001. He led a military junta until 1992, when he exchanged his starched khaki for kente, the Ghanaian cultural wear and then served two terms as the democratically elected president of Ghana.
Rawlings was born Jerry Rawlings John on 22 June 1947 in Accra, Ghana. He attended Achimota School and a military academy at Teshie. Rawlings finished his secondary education at Achimota College in 1967, joined the Ghana Air Force shortly afterwards. He was posted to Takoradi, in Ghana’s Western Region, to continue his studies. He graduated in January 1969, and was commissioned as a pilot officer, winning the coveted “Speed Bird Trophy” as the best cadet in flying the Su-7 ground attack supersonic jet aircraft as he was skilled in aerobatics. He earned the rank of flight lieutenant in April 1978.
As President, Rawlings established the Economic Recovery Programme (ERP) suggested by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in 1982 due to the poor state of the economy after 18 months of attempting to govern it through administrative controls and mass mobilization.
His link up with the Bretton Woods institutions was a recognisable ideological shift informed by the realities of the time which favoured less government control of the economy. His country was haemorrhaging and demagoguery was not doing much to put food on the table of the average Ghanaian family. It wasn’t just the economy but also the life of the country in other spheres.
Between 1992 and 1996, Rawlings eased control over the judiciary and civil society, allowing a more independent Supreme Court and the publication of independent newspapers. Opposition parties operated outside of parliament and held rallies and press conferences. He encouraged multi-party politics and the kind of electoral process that made it possible for his candidate to be defeated in an election, a rarity in most African countries of his time where imposition was the order of the day.
Out of power, Rawlings participated in international activities, events and conferences to promote volunteerism under the auspices of the United Nations. In October 2010, he was named the African Union envoy to Somalia. The late Ghanaian leader was remarkable in more ways than one. In particular, his influence is still felt as he laid a solid foundation for democracy in that country to flourish. Rawlings’ profundity and political sagacity combined brilliiantly with the diplomatic dexterity of his compatriot, the Late Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the United Nations to display Ghana prominently on the international scene.
His death came to many as a rude shock and in appreciation of his contributions to modern Ghana, President Nana Akufo-Addo declared a seven-day period of mourning with national flag flown at half-mast.
Rawlings was married to Nana Konadu Agyeman, whom he met while at Achimota College. They had three daughters: Zanetor Rawlings, Yaa Asantewaa Rawlings, Amina Rawlings and one son, Kimathi Rawlings. This newspaper joins his family, the government and people of Ghana in praying that he finds peace with the Lord.
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