Ghana’s first president in the Fourth Republic, Jerry John Rawlings, has died at the age of 73.
The former president died in the early hours of Thursday 12 November 2020 at the Cardiothoracic Centre of the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra, following a short illness.
The founder of the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) buried his late mother, Victoria Agbotui, who died at the age of 101, late last month.
One of the last public statements the former president made was his congratulatory message to President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice-President-Elect Kamala Harris of the United States, following their victory in the 2020 US election.
“Congratulations to President-Elect @JoeBidenand Vice President-Elect @KamalaHarris. The world is expectant as a new era of United States leadership dawns. We look forward to the leadership that embraces unity, compassion, and maturity,” Rawlings said in a tweet.
Tributes continue to pour in from ordinary members of the public, celebrities, political leaders, and sports stars.
The presidential candidate of the opposition NDC, John Mahama, offered his condolences as he suspended his tour of the Ashanti Region and all NDC campaigns in honour of the party’s founder.
Mahama tweeted: “I have announced the suspension of my tour of the Ashanti Region and all NDC campaigns across the country, following news of the passing of our Founder and former President of Ghana, Jerry John Rawlings. May his soul Rest In Peace.”
The former Black Stars captain Asamoah Gyan, aka Baby Jet, has also taken to Twitter to express his condolences along with an emotional snap in which he poses with the late Rawlings.
‘‘R.I.P. Thank you for everything. Ghanaians will always remember you [as a] hero,’’ his post read.
The Nigerian Afropop star Davido wrote on Twittee, simply, “RIP Jerry Rawlings.”
The Ghanaian actor-cum-politician John Dumelo also reacted to the demise of Rawlings. ‘‘Rest In Peace Founder,’’ he wrote on Twitter.
Born on 22 June 1947, Rawlings attended Achimota Secondary School, where he acquired an O’ level certificate in education in 1966. In August 1967 he enlisted as a flight cadet in the Ghana Air Force, earning selection for training at the Ghana Military Academy in Teshie, Accra.
He moved in March 1968 to Takoradi in the Western Region, where he continued pursuing his course. In January 1969 he passed out as a commissioned pilot.
His dedication and hard work earned him the rank of flight lieutenant in 1978. He had a good rapport with his colleagues and showed the highest efficiency in his line of work.
In the air force
During his time in the Ghana Air Force, he became increasingly angered by what he saw as the general moral decay and decline of discipline in Ghana.
Like many junior officers in the armed forces, he blamed the national decline on the corruption in the ruling Supreme Military Council (SMC). The SMC, they reasoned, was the body in charge of ensuring that Ghana succeeded in its efforts to promote development.
His diligence as a junior officer earned him promotion, giving him the opportunity to associate with the more privileged echelons of society.
He became ever more indignant about the social injustices that were the commonly accepted way of life in Ghana and began to mobilise among his fellow officers. He was regarded with great unease by the SMC, which began to hound him.
First and second comings
Rawlings began to hatch a political and social scheme with a growing circle of colleagues and friends who were in agreement with his plans, and at the same time read widely. This awareness-raising culminated in his first coup attempt of May 1979, followed by a successful coup d’état on 4 June 1979 in which friends and supporters freed him from jail.
Among the early actions of the new Armed Forces Revolutionary Council government were the executions of eight senior military officers, including three former heads of state.
He stood down after democratic elections that year which were won by Hilla Limann’s People’s National Party (PNP). He staged a second coup on 31 December 1981, however, ousting Limann and launching the self-styled revolution out of which his Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) was born.
The 31 December Revolution was followed by in-camera military tribunals and a slew of extra-judicial killings, notably the murders in 1982 of three senior judges and a retired military officer.
In 1992, under some pressure from within and outside Ghana, including international financial institutions, he returned Ghana to civilian rule, introducing the Fourth Republican constitution and standing as the presidential candidate of the new party that he founded, the National Democratic Congress (NDC).
He served two terms as a civilian president, handing over on 7 January 2001 to John Agyekum Kufuor of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), who defeated John Evans Atta Mills, Rawlings’s chosen successor as leader of the NDC.
Rawlings continued to play the role of senior statesman and both guiding light and critic of the NDC.
He is survived by his wife of 43 years, Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings, the leader of the National Democratic Party, three daughters and one son. His eldest child, Zanetor Rawlings, is the NDC MP for Klottey Korle in Accra.
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UPDATE: This article was corrected at 5.40am on 13 November to amend an error which misstated the year of execution of the eight senior military officers who served in government before the advent of the AFRC.