Jerry John Rawlings (22 June 1947 – 12 November 2020) was a Ghanaian military officer and politician who led the country from 1981 to 2001 and also for a brief period in 1979. He led a military junta until 1992, and then served two terms as the democratically elected President of Ghana. He died on 12th November, 2020.
Rawlings initially came to power in Ghana as a flight lieutenant of the Ghana Air Force following a coup d’état in 1979. Prior to that, he led an unsuccessful coup attempt against the ruling military government on 15 May 1979, just five weeks before scheduled democratic elections were due to take place. After initially handing power over to a civilian government, he took back control of the country on 31 December 1981 as the Chairman of the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC). In 1992, Rawlings resigned from the military, founded the National Democratic Congress (NDC), and became the first President of the Fourth Republic. He was re-elected in 1996 for four more years. After two terms in office, the limit according to the Ghanaian Constitution, Rawlings endorsed his vice-president John Atta Mills as presidential candidate in 2000. He served as the African Union envoy to Somalia. He died on 12 November 2020 at Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra, Ghana.
Jerry John Rawlings was born on 22nd June 1947 in Accra, Ghana, to Victoria Agbotui, an Ewe from Dzelukope, Keta and James Ramsey John, a chemist from Castle Douglas in Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland. James Ramsey John was married in England to someone else and his descendants now live in Newcastle and London. Rawlings attended Achimota School and a military academy at Teshie. Rawlings is married to Nana Konadu Agyeman, who he met while at Achimota College. They have three daughters: Zanetor Rawlings, Yaa Asantewaa Rawlings, Amina Rawlings and one son, Kimathi Rawlings.
Education and Military career
Jerry John Rawlings finished his secondary education at Achimota College in 1967. He joined the Ghana Air Force shortly afterwards, on his application, the military switched his surname John and his middle name Rawlings. In March 1968, he was posted to Takoradi in the Western Region of Ghana 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. During his service with the Ghana Air Force, Rawlings perceived a deterioration in discipline and morale due to corruption in the Supreme Military Council (SMC). As promotion brought him into contact with the privileged classes and their social values, his view of the injustices in society hardened. He was thus regarded with some unease by the SMC. After the 1979 coup, he involved himself with the student community of the University of Ghana, where he developed a more leftist ideology through reading and discussion of social and political ideas.
1979 coup and expel
Jerry John Rawlings grew discontent with Ignatius Kutu Acheampong’s government, which had come to power through a coup in January 1972. Acheampong was accused not only of corruption, but also of maintaining Ghana’s dependency on pre-colonial powers that led to economic decline and neediness.
Jerry John Rawlings was part of the Free Africa Movement, an underground movement of military officers who wanted to unify Africa through a series of coups. On 15 May 1979, five weeks prior to civilian elections, Rawlings and six other soldiers staged a coup against the government of General Fred Akuffo, but failed and was arrested by the Ghanaian Military. Rawlings was publicly sentenced to death in a General Court Martial and imprisoned, although his statements on the social injustices that motivated his actions won him civilian sympathy. While awaiting execution, Rawlings was bound from custody on 4 June 1979 by a group of soldiers claiming that, the government was corrupt beyond redemption and that, new leadership was required for Ghana’s development, he led the group in a coup to oust the Akuffo Government and Supreme Military Council. Shortly afterwards, Rawlings established and became the Chairman of a 15-member Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), primarily composed of junior officers. He and the AFRC ruled for 112 days and arranged the execution by firing squad of eight military officers, including Generals Kotei, Joy Amedume, Roger Felli, and Utuka, as well as the three former heads of state: Afrifa, Acheampong, and Akuffo.
The executions were dramatic events in Ghana history, which had suffered few instances of political violence. Rawlings later implemented a much wider “house-cleaning exercise” involving the killings and abduction of over 300 Ghanaians. Elections were held on time shortly after the coup. On 24 September 1979, power was peacefully handed over by Rawlings to President Hilla Limann, whose People’s National Party (PNP) had the support of Nkrumah’s followers. Two years later Rawlings ousted President Hilla Limann in a coup d’etat on 31 December 1981, claiming that, civilian rule was weak and the country’s economy was deteriorating. The killings of the Supreme Court justices (Cecilia Koranteng-Addow, Frederick Sarkodie, and Kwadjo Agyei Agyepong), military officers Major Sam Acquah and Major Dasana Nantogmah also occurred during the second military rule of Rawlings. However, unlike the 1979 executions, these people were abducted and killed in secret and it is unclear who was behind their murders, though Joachim Amartey Kwei and four others were convicted for four of these murders, which involved all three Justices and Acquah, and were executed in 1982.
1981 coup and reforms
Believing the Limann regime to be unable to resolve Ghana’s neocolonialism economic dependency, Rawlings led a second coup against Limann and indicted the entire political class on 31 December 1981, in place of Limann’s People’s National Party, Rawlings established the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) military junta as the official government.
Although the PNDC claimed to be representative of the people, it lacked experience in the creation and implementation of clear economic policies. Rawlings, like many of his predecessors, attributed current economic and social problems to the “trade malpractices and other anti-social activities” of a few business people. In December 1982, the PNDC announced its four-year economic program of establishing a state monopoly on export-import trade with the goal of eliminating corruption surrounding import licences and shift trade away from dependency on Western markets. Unrealistic price controls were imposed on the market and enforced through urgent acts, especially against business people. This resolve to employ state control over the economy is best demonstrated by the destruction of the Makola No.1 Market. The PNDC established Workers’ Defence Committees (WDCs) and People’s Defence Committees (PDCs) to mobilize the population to support radical changes to the economy. Price controls on the sale of food were beneficial to urban workers, but placed undue burden on 70% of the rural population whose income largely depended on the prices of agricultural products. Rawlings’ economic policies led to an economic crisis in 1983, forcing him to undertake structural adjustment and submit himself to election to retain power. Elections were held in January 1992, leading Ghana back to multiparty democracy.
Jerry John Rawlings established the National Commission on Democracy (NCD) shortly after the 1982 coup, and employed it to survey civilian opinion and make recommendations that would facilitate the process of democratic transition. In March 1991, the NCD released a report recommending the election of an executive president, the establishment of a national assembly, and the creation of a prime minister post. The PNDC used NCD recommendations to establish a committee for the drafting of a new constitution based on past Ghanaian Constitutions, that lifted the ban on political parties in May 1992 after it was approved by referendum.
On 3 November 1992, election results compiled by the INEC from 200 constituencies showed that Rawlings’ NCD had won 60% of the votes, and had obtained the majority needed to prevent a second round of voting. More specifically, the NCD won 62% in the Brong-Ahafo region, 93% in the Volta region, and majority votes in Upper West, Upper East, Western, Northern, Central, and Greater Accra regions. His opponents Professor Adu Boahen won 31% of the votes, former President Hilla Limann won 6.8%, Kwabena Darko won 2.9%, and Emmanuel Erskine won 1.7%. Voter turnout was 50%.
The ability of opposition parties to compete was limited by the vast advantages Rawlings possessed. Rawlings’ victory was aided by the various party structures that were integrated into society during his rule, called the “organs of the revolution”. These structures included the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution (CDRs), Commando Units, the 31st December Women’s Organization, the 4 June movement, Peoples Militias, and Mobisquads, and operated on a system of popular control through intimidation. He had a monopoly over national media, and was able to censor print and electronic media through a PNDC newspaper licensing decree, PNDC Law 221. Moreover, Rawlings imposed a 20,000 cedis (about $400) cap on campaign contributions, which made national publicity of opposition parties virtually impossible. Rawlings himself began campaigning before the official unbanning of political parties and had access to state resources and was able to effectively meet all monetary demands required of a successful campaign. Rawlings travelled across the country, initiating public-works projects and giving public employees a 60% pay rise prior to election day.
Opposition parties objected to the election results, citing incidences of vote stuffing in regions where Rawlings was likely to lose and rural areas with scant populations, as well as a bloated voters’ register and a partisan electoral commission. However, the Commonwealth Observer Group, led by Sir Ellis Clarke, approved of the election as “free and fair” as there very few issues at polling stations and no major incidences of voter pressing. In contrast, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) issued a report supporting claims that, erroneous entries in voter registration could have affected election results. The Carter Center did acknowledge minor electoral issues but did not see these problems as indicative of systematic electoral fraud.
Opposition parties boycotted subsequent Ghana Parliamentary and Presidential elections, and the unicameral National Assembly, of which NDC officials won 189 of 200 seats and essentially established a one-party parliament that lacked legitimacy and only had limited legislative powers. After the disputed election, the PNDC was transformed into the National Democratic Congress (NDC).
Rawlings took office on 7 January 1993, the same day that, the new constitution came into effect, and the government became known as the Fourth Republic of Ghana.
Policies and reforms
Rawlings established the Economic Recovery Program (ERP) suggested by the World Bank and the IMF in 1982 due to the poor state of the economy after 18 months of attempting to govern it through administrative controls and mass mobilization. The policies implemented caused a dramatic currency devaluation, the removal of price controls and social-service subsidies that favoured farmers over urban workers, and privatization of some state-owned enterprises, and restraints on government spending. Funding was provided by bilateral donors, reaching $800 million in 1987 and 1988, and $US900 million in 1989.
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.
Given the various issues with the 1992 elections, the 1996 elections were a great improvement in terms of electoral oversight. Voter registration was re-compiled, with close to 9.2 million voters registering at nearly 19,000 polling stations, which the opposition had largely approved after party agents had reviewed the lists. The emphasis on transparency led Ghanaian non-governmental organizations to create the Network of Domestic Election Observers (NEDEO), which trained nearly 4,100 local poll-watchers. This organization was popular across political parties and civic groups. On the day of the election, more than 60,000 candidate agents monitored close to all polling sites, and were responsible for directly reporting results to their respective party leader. The parallel vote-tabulation system allowed polling sites to compare their results to the official ones released by the Electoral commission. The Inter-Party Advisory Committee (IPAC) was established to discuss election preparations with all parties and the Electoral Commission, as well as establish procedures to investigate and resolve complaints. Presidential and parliamentary elections were held on the same day and see-through boxes were used in order to further ensure the legitimacy of the elections. Despite some fears of electoral violence, the election was peaceful and had a 78% turnout rate, and was successful with only minor problems such as an inadequate supply of ink and parliamentary ballots.
The two major contenders of the 1996 election were Rawlings’ NDC, and John Kufuor’s Great Alliance, an amalgamation of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the People’s Convention Party (PCP). The Great Alliance based their platform on ousting Rawlings, and attacked the incumbent government for its poor fiscal policies. However, they were unable to articulate a clear positive message of their own, or plans to change the current economic policy. As Ghana was heavily dependent on international aid, local leaders had minimal impact on the economy. The Electoral Commission reported that Rawlings had won by 57%, with Kufuor obtaining 40% of the vote. Results by district were similar to those in 1992, with the opposition winning the Ashanti Region and some constituencies in Eastern and Greater Accra, and Rawlings winning in his ethnic home, the Volta, and faring well in every other region. The NDC took 134 seats in the Assembly compared to the opposition’s 66, and the NPP took 60 seats in the parliament.
In accordance with his constitutional mandate, Rawlings’ term of office ended in 2001; he retired in 2001, and was succeeded by John Agyekum Kufuor, his main rival and opponent in 1996.
Kufuor succeeded in defeating Rawlings’s vice-president John Atta Mills in 2000. In 2004, Mills conceded to Kufuor and Kufuor ran for another four years.
In November 2000, Rawlings was named the first International Year of Volunteers 2001 Eminent Person by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, attending various events and conferences to promote volunteerism. He established the constitution of 1988
In October 2010, Rawlings was named African Union envoy to Somalia.
He has given lectures at universities, including Oxford University. Rawlings has continued his heavy support for NDC. In July 2019, he went on a three-day working trip to Burkina Faso in the capacity of Chairman of the Thomas Sankara Memorial Committee.
In September 2019, he paid a tribute on behalf of the president and people of Ghana, when he led a delegation to the funeral of Robert Mugabe, the late former president of Zimbabwe.
The former President, Jerry John Rawlings was reported dead on Thursday, November 12, 2020 at the Cardiothoracic Center of Korle Bu Teaching Hospital. He was said to die of an undisclosed ilment after being admitted at the hospital for about a week.
The incident occurred two months after the death of his mother, Victoria Agbotui, on the 24th of September, 2020.
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Story by: Precious Aseye Anipah