The exit of Jerry Rawlings

ON November 12, former President of Ghana, retired Flight Lieutenant John Jerry Rawlings, passed on. For a long while, he had arguably morphed into one of the most notable patriotic leaders on the African continent following an illustrious political career. According to media reports, Rawlings died of the Covid-19 pandemic at Ghana’s Korle Bu Teaching Hospital. Born on June 22, 1947 to madam Victoria Agbotuyi and a Scottish chemist, James Ramsey John, in Accra, Rawlings attended the prestigious Achimota College. After graduating from the college, he enrolled in the Ghana Air Force and trained as a pilot. It was during his military training programme that his name was switched and his middle name, Rawlings, became his surname.

Before graduation, he was seconded to Takoradi in West Ghana for further training and graduated from the Air Force Academy in flying colours as a pilot officer in 1969. He won the much coveted prize, the speed bird trophy, an evidence of the masterful skills which he demonstrated during his military training programme. Meanwhile, he had met and courted Nana Konadu Agyeman at Achimota College, and he married her in 1978. He served in the Ghana Air Force and became a Flight lieutenant in 1977. Rawlings led a squad of young military officers to topple the government in 1979. They failed, and were promptly arrested and detained, tried, found guilty and sentenced to death. However, Rawlings’ speech during his trial gave him the civilian sympathy that he needed to organise another coup while in detention.

This time around, the coup attempt was successful and the main characters in then regime were rounded up and executed. Rawlings returned to power again via another coup in 1981 and ruled Ghana until 1992 when he resigned to form a political party under which he ran for the presidency of Ghana as a civilian. By that time, Ghana’s economy had stabilised enough for the country to pursue the path of a steady political and economic growth. Rawlings ran for president twice as a civilian, as the Ghanaian constitution provided, until 2001 when he handed over to his deputy, John Atta Mills. It is on record that under his watch, Ghana returned to economic and political stability after a period of chaos and impoverishment during which it was bound to the apron strings of colonialist, and plagued by corruption.

It is quite interesting how Rawlings combined his populism with authoritarianism in his unique style of governance. It was common during his administration to cultivate a down-to-earth relationship with the people, clearing drainages and controlling traffic. He did not indulge in the easy life that the power elite were associated with. He also successfully threw in his charisma for effect and that really helped in facilitating effective leadership.

There is no doubt that the African continent could use people with the Rawlings mindset  in leadership positions in order to liberate itself from the shackles of dependency on the powers that shared the continent among themselves during the Berlin conference. Such purposeful and focused leadership could turn the fate of the continent around and make it a more commodious home for its people. We mourn the demise of Africa’s illustrious son, retired Flight lieutenant John Jerry Rawlings.


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