Jerry Rawlings: “Man Of The People” Dies Aged 73
Courtesy of BBC
Ghana’s longest-serving leader, former flight lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings, who died on Thursday, had an enduring legacy as ‘the man of the people’. He led two coups, first in 1979, before twice being elected president in multiparty polls. A charismatic figure, he first seized power railing against corruption and was responsible for executing several former heads of state for their alleged graft and mismanagement. He was also seen as a champion of the poor, but came to be criticised for alleged human rights abuses. He died in hospital in the capital, Accra, after a short illness.
Jerry John Rawlings was born in Accra on 22 June 1947, the son of a Scottish farmer and a Ghanaian mother. He attended Achimotasecondary school, where he excelled on the polo pitch and was described by fellow pupils as outspoken and rebellious. In 1968 he enrolled in the military academy at Teshie, near Accra, and was later sent to a flight training school. Commissioned as a second lieutenant, he gained his wings and joined the elite Fourth Squadron of jet fighters based in Accra.
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By the time Rawlings had been promoted to flight lieutenant in 1978, he had become politically active. Ghana, the first African country to become independent from Britain, was suffering food shortages, inflation and economic stagnation. Rawlings vented his anger at what he saw as the indiscipline, corruption and mismanagement of the military regime.
When a ban on political parties was lifted in 1979, Rawlings won wide popularity as a prominent critic of the government, calling on it to do more to help the poor. Buoyed by this support, Rawlings launched his coup attempt in May 1979. It failed and he was arrested and sentenced to death.
Escape From Death Row; Military Leaders & Judges Killed
He escaped from jail thanks to the help of junior officers and other ranks and overthrew the country’s military leader, Gen Fred Akuffo. Rawlings took the reins of government as leader of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), prompting the memorable headline in one British newspaper: “Half-Scottish polo player takes over in Ghana”.
The AFRC had vowed to hold Ghana’s former leaders to account, and Akuffo and other military leaders were executed. He overwhelmingly won two presidential elections.
Rawlings launched what he termed a “housekeeping exercise” to rid Ghana of what the AFRC perceived to be the corrupt practices of the military regime. A number of senior judges and military officers were killed during this period. But, far from clinging to his newly gained power, Rawlings initiated an election within four months of his coup. The newly formed People’s National Party, led by Hilla Limann, came to power.
However, Limann was seen by many as a mere stooge for Rawlings and his failure to turn Ghana’s economy round soon brought his time in office to an end.
With foreign debt spiralling and inflation at more than 140%, public discontent began to spill over into unrest. And, on 31 December 1981, Rawlings intervened for a second time, staging a coup that brought a new government, the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC), to power.
The PNDC, with Rawlings at its head, sought to transform Ghana into a Marxist state. It introduced workers’ councils to oversee the country’s factories, workers’ defence committees sprung up in every community, and Rawlings turned to the Soviet Union for support. But just two years into its communist experiment, Ghana abandoned it. Perhaps sensing that the Soviet bloc was on the verge of collapse, Rawlings took steps to embrace the free market. He devalued the currency, stopped hiring workers for state enterprises and privatised Ghana’s nationalised industries, including its vitally important coffee and cocoa plantations.
But, although this transformation pleased theWest and the International Monetary Fund, the austerity that came in its wake fomented domestic unrest. Between 1983 and 1987, Rawlings survived five coup attempts. A government clampdown, in which opposition leaders were arrested and imprisoned, outraged human rights campaigners around the world. The situation was made even worse when a million Ghanaians were expelled from neighbouring Nigeria. But, by the early 1990s, his reforms had led the country towards a strong economic recovery and, in 1992, Rawlings won Ghana’s presidential election.
His landslide victory, with 58% of the vote, was judged fair by the Commonwealth and the Organisation of African Unity. And, thanks mainly to the country’s new-found economic stability, he was re-elected in another landslide in 1996. He boosted Ghana’s international image by contributing many of its troops to UN peacekeeping operations, most notably in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Lebanon and Iraq
In 2001, his second term completed, Rawlings took an almost unprecedented step for an African leader and resigned from office. Though he called for “positive defiance” against the government in 2002, an act for which he was questioned by police, Rawlings did nothing to secure a return to power. In later years, Rawlings campaigned for African nations to have their international debts written off. And in 2010 he was named as the African Union envoy to Somalia. Jerry Rawlings’ legacy is controversial and he divided opinion domestically and in the wider world. His detractors accused him of torture, corruption and worse. To his supporters, he brought order, security and prosperity to Ghana.
A week of national mourning has been announced in Ghana for the country’s longest-serving leader, who oversaw the transition to multiparty elections in what is now one of Africa’s most stable democracies. John Mahama, presidential candidate of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), founded by Rawlings, has announced that he is suspending campaigning for next month’s elections.
Brief Points Of Contrast With The Gambia’s Exiled Yahya Jammeh
Jammeh clang to power after the initial coup for 31 months whereas Rawlings organised an election within 4 months (Jammeh’s Comrade Peter Singhateh wanted elections in 6 months but lost the argument to Jammeh);
Jammeh was ill-educated. Rawlings completed his education at Achimota, then probably the best school in the whole of Africa (except possibly my own Starehe in Nairobi – lol);
Jammeh became irrational (mad) – the “Witch-hunting” madness and the “Walahi Bilahi Talahi” murder of prisoners, not to forget the totally crazy Aids-Cure treatment.
Jammeh refused to share power, and when the Daily News published my “Govt. Of National Unity” headline in 2011, Jammeh promptly closed down theDaily News. Freedomnewspaper published it too – but Pa was safely away in the USA.
Finally, as the Janneh Commision has shown, Jammeh turned into “Zoro The Robber” and looted The Gambia’s Central bank. By contrast, Jerry Rawlings left power after 20 years as a poor man by the standards of Africa’s Elite and Looting Rulers.
Rawlings was an African leaders with the visions of Thomas Sankara and General Murtalla Muhammad – the difference being that Rawlings survived to implement his vision for his nation. Jammeh, by contrast, spouted the Revolutionary ideas of these leaders – but remained a robber and a looter.
Rawlings was married to one African woman, a woman proudly black with no skin bleaching. Rawlings remained faithful and morally uprighted with his wife and family to the end. By contrast,Jammeh was a villain and rapist of helpless young women as we have heard at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRRC).
The contrast is why Jerry Rawlings retired as a respected African Elder Statesman and Jammeh had to run away to hide in the forests o Equatorial Guinea.Jammeh lives there as a wanted fugitive.
Rest-in-Peace, Jerry Rawlings, Mrtalla Muhammad and Thomas Sankara.
Notting Hill, London, UK.