Ghanaians and African leaders yesterday mourned and extolled the virtues of the former Ghanaian president, Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings, who died from suspected COVID-19 complications.
The ex-president died at Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra, capital of Ghana, yesterday morning.
A military ruler, who later joined politics, Rawlings ruled Ghana as a soldier from 1981 to 1992 and later 1992 to 2000 as democratically elected president.
Before his death, he was a supporter of former President John Mahama’s re-election plan against current President, Nana Akufo Addo, for the election slated on December 7.
He had on July 2 warned Ghanaians about the danger of COVID-19. He had tweeted: “Fellow citizens, it does not appear that we can afford the comfort of thinking the COVID-19 virus has gone weak or lessened its grip. It is there and very much around, waiting to infect and claim the lives of those of us who will underestimate its danger.”
On July 9, he had closed his office due to the spread of CVOVID-19 virus. According to Kobina Andoh Amoakwa of his communications directorate, the decision was aimed at protecting staff and potential visitors. While stating that the decision would be reviewed in two weeks time, he used the opportunity to warn Ghanaians again. “The former president once again urges all Ghanaians to be mindful of their personal discipline and care as we work to combat the disease. He calls on all to wear their masks, maintain appropriate social distancing, cough etiquette and general hygiene protocols,” Amoakwa had said, urging those with urgent messages to send them through email.
His last tweet was on November 7, when he congratulated Joe Biden. He wrote: “Congratulations to President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. The world is expectant as a new era of United States leadership dawns. We look forward to a leadership that embraces unity, compassion and maturity.”
NIGERIAN President, Muhammadu Buhari, in his condolence message to the government and people of Ghana, said the entire African continent “will sorely miss the sterling qualities of the great leader.”
According to him, the passion, discipline and moral strength that the former Ghanaian leader employed to reposition his country over many years will continue to reverberate across the continent and beyond.
The President noted the unique role the former President played in strengthening political institutions in his country and Africa, stimulating the economy for sustainable growth and championing the African cause by urging many leaders to work towards interdependency on the global stage, especially in areas of competitive advantage.
Buhari said the ideas Rawlings postulated, particularly for development in Africa, and his sacrifices in working in various countries as an envoy for peace and democracy would always be remembered.
Also, former President of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, condoled with the people of Ghana.
OBASANJO, in a letter to President Nana Akufo-Ado, a copy of which was made available to journalists through his Special Assistant on Media, Kehinde Akinyemi, in Abeokuta, he eulogised the late leader.
He said Rawlings “was passionate about peace, security and leadership issues in Africa.”
According to Obasanjo, Rawlings will be missed for his exemplary leadership across Africa but particularly for his contribution to nation-building in Ghana where he served, first as the military Head of State of the country from 1981 to 1992 and later as a democratically-elected President from 1992-2001.
“Like many of his contemporaries too, former President Rawlings provided the much-needed leadership and direction which impacted positively on the social stability and democratic progress recorded thus far in Ghana. A quintessential patriot and courageous leader, he will be remembered for his critical role in the evolvement of modern democratic Ghana,” Obasanjo stated.
Former Vice President of Nigeria, Atiku Abubakar, described Rawlings as an African giant. “His tenure as leader of Ghana remains emblematic with the restoration of that country. Even after office, he stood tall for African unity and renaissance,” he tweeted.
Former Nigerian Senate president, Bukola Saraki, also conveyed his condolences. He tweeted that he had extended his condolences to the President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo.
RAWLINGS was born to a Scottish father and Ghanaian mother from Volta Region.
He went to Achimota School where he secured a General Certificate of Education ‘O’ Level in 1966.
After his ‘O’ Level education, he joined Ghana Air force as Flight Cadet, around August 1967 and later joined the cadet-training unit in Ghana Military Academy and Training School, Teshie, Accra as officer.
In 1969, he graduated as a commissioned Pilot Officer and won the highest “Speed Bird Trophy” as best cadet in flying and airmanship. By 1978, he rose to the rank of Flight-Lieutenant.
A flight lieutenant of the Ghanaian Air Force, Rawlings first staged military coup as a young revolutionary on May 15, 1979, five weeks before scheduled elections to return the country to civilian rule.
A charismatic figure, he seized power to fight against corruption and was responsible for executing several former heads of state for their alleged graft and mismanagement.
He later expressed regret about the killings. The execution by firing squad of Supreme Court judges also left a stain on his legacy.
“I am still aware that we in Ghana do not like bloodshed,” he said at the time.
“I personally do not like it. I mean, I’d rather, let’s say, confiscate a man’s wealth and bring him down to the level to which he’s brought us just to give him a taste of what life has been, what he’s done to us.”
Two years later he led a second coup and was the head of a military junta until introducing multi-party elections in 1992, when he was first elected president. He stepped down in 2001 after serving two terms and endorsed his vice-president, John Atta Mills, as presidential candidate in 2000.
Rawlings, who was born on June 22, 1947, began his time in power as a committed socialist but later introduced free-market reforms.
He ushered in a long period of political stability that has continued in Ghana, after a tumultuous series of coups in the 1960s and 1970s.
In later years, Rawlings campaigned for African nations to have their international debts written off.
In 2010, he was named the African Union envoy to Somalia.
His legacy is controversial and he divided opinion domestically and in the wider world.
His detractors accused him of torture and corruption; but to his supporters, he brought order, security and prosperity to Ghana.