A Black Star That Riseth
On June 22, 1947, a star was born in Accra, Ghana. educated at Achimoto College and the military academy at Teshie, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Ghanaian Air Force in 1969 after gaining his wings. He was assigned to the elite Fourth Squadron of jet fighters based in Accra. As a junior officer, he reached the rank of flight lieutenant and became an expert pilot that was skilled in aerobatics.
In June 1979 Rawlings and several other junior officers led a successful military coup with the intention of purging the military and the political arena of widespread corruption. General Ignatius Kutu Acheampong was a military head of state of Ghana who ruled from 13 January 1972 to 5 July 1978, when he was overthrown by Mr. Rawlings in a palace coup. General Acheampong was later executed by a firing squad. True to his call for a demilitarization of Ghanaian politics, Mr. Rawlings stepped down shortly after a free election Rawlings then yielded power to a freely elected civilian president, Hilla Limann. Linmann had been educated in Economics in London, and political science at the University of France.
Ghana was the first African country to gain its freedom from European rule. Mr. Rawlings was dedicated to ushering Ghana into becoming a first rate country, complete with competent leadership. One of the chief arguments against post-colonial rule in Africa was that the newly freed citizens were incapable of self governance. Mr. Rawlings sought to dispel such arguments. Acheampong was court martialed and executed along with General Edward Kwaku Utuka by firing squad on 16 June 1979, ten days prior to the execution of two other former heads of state, Akwasi Afrifa and Fred Akuffo, and senior military officers Joy Amedume, George Boakye, Roger Joseph Felli and Robert Kotei, following the 4 June military uprising that brought Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings and the AFRC to power who were young officers.
On December 31, 1981, just two years of weak civilian rule during which Ghana’s economy continued to deteriorate, Mr. Rawlings overthrew Hilla Limann’s administration, accusing it of leading the nation “down to total economic ruin.” Inflation had risen 140%. Mr. Rawlings condemned Linmann and his cronies as “a pack of criminals who bled Ghana to the bone.” Corruption was rife and was heading in the same direction as his predecessors. In 1983, Mr. Rawlings began to implement conservative economic policies, including dropping subsidies and price controls in order to reduce inflation, privatizing many state-owned companies, and devaluing the currency in order to stimulate exports. These measures proved very successful. By the early 1990's, because of Mr. Rawling's key moves, Ghana now had one of the highest growth rates in all of Africa.
In 1992, Ghana held its first presidential elections since 1979, and Mr. Rawlings was duly and democratically elected as president. He was reelected in 1996 and then true to his word, relinquished the presidency in early 2001. Although he came into power having led two coups, he left office voluntarily 22 years later. He had managed to serve two presidential terms brought about by free and democratic elections.
On November 12, 2020 Ghana lost it's native son at the age of 73. National Democratic Congress leader Hudu Yahya commented that Mr. Rawlings was intolerant of corruption. "He is a legend in Ghana's history. This was due to his commitment to promote those marginalized in society.” Yahya went to further state that that Rawlings was a true son of Africa who loved peace and helped to promote peace in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Rwanda. He was appointed by the United Nations to work for peace in Somalia.
His funeral had been postponed for weeks after his death. For two days his casket lay in state at the Accra International Conference Centre for the family and Ghanaians to pay their last respects. The Accra International Conference Centre is a symbol of Ghanaian independence from Great Britain Colonial rule. Foreign dignitaries attending Rawlings' funeral were Liberia’s President George Weah, Sierra Leonean President Julius Maada Bio, Togolese Speaker of Parliament Yawa Dzigbodi Tsegan and Nigeria’s foreign minister Geoffery Onyeama.
Commemorations for Rawlings lasted four days, beginning with a Sunday service at the Holy Spirit Cathedral. January 27th was the day of burial in which many previous Ghanaian leaders, past and present issued statements about the "Giant of Africa". In addition to his wife Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings, Rawlings is survived by thdree daughters: Zanetor Rawlings, Yaa Asantewaa Rawlings, Amina Rawlings; and one son, Kimathi Rawlings.
Mr. Rawlings' rise to power was similar to many others, especially in Africa around that time. What tends to happen is a forceful grab for power, and a refusal to turn over the reigns while the country plummets into an abysmal state of chaos. Or after a prolonged stay in power, once a personal fortune has been amassed, they flee the country. Mr. Rawlings' story while in power was not of this order. Although there were the usual heavy handed actions such as political rivals either jailed and/or executed, the uniqueness of Mr. Rawlings is that he aggressively improved the international profile and value of Ghana.
With the country in worse conditions than previous leaders, Mr. Rawlings brought Ghana under the aegis of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. He then drastically devalued the Ghanaian cedi, raised the price of the country’s most lucrative crop-cocoa, and fired a multitude of civil servants. Inflation dropped far below triple digits, and the country’s economy began to drastically recover. In may of 1992, he lifted the ban on political parties and held a democratic election in which he won. Upon his election, he gave a pay raise to the nation's civil servant workers.
Jerry Rawlings will forever be as controversial as he is mythical. To some he was a brute, having been at the center of human rights violations. To most he was a patriot. He transformed the popular nation from a military junta to a liberal democracy. Despite the tumultuous 1970's and 1980's, Ghana has now emerged as one of few consolidated liberal democracies in Africa. What he continuously showed was that he was willing to try different approaches to governance, while authoritarian at the nucleus. Despite his popularity with the majority population, several coup attempts were made against his regime. Just as with any head of state, he resorted to iron fisted tactics to crush dissent.
His popularity is perhaps second, to that of Kwame Nkrumah, the father of post colonial rule Ghana. He will be seen by most as the man of morality. No one was exempt from condemnation, imprisonment, and even execution, particularly political rivals such as Supreme Court judges who ruled against his party. These executions were widely condemned both domestically and internationally. Some political analysts and historians alike often cite these as tragically necessary evils to maintain respect for the letter of the law.
In his death, it is time to construct a new legacy rather than dwell in one of the past. The time is now to maintain his vision that Ghana will remain as a beacon of West African democracy that has far reaching influences. This was seen in 2019's, "Year Of The Return" in which blacks from around the world were urged to return to Ghana and bring their talents to the nation. The popularity of Ghana saw the visitations of the likes of Boris Kodjoe and his wife Nicole Ari-Parker, super model Naomi Campbell, Idris Elba, Steve Harvey, Ludacris, Danny Glover, Samuel L. Jackson, T.I., and a host of other celebrities. The Year Of Return interjected approximately $1.9 billion into the Ghanaian economy. In the early 1990's the King of Pop visited Ghana and then President Rawlings after his critically acclaimed Egyptian themed video, "Remember The Time" video. Much of this can be accredited to the decades of hard work to ensure a vibrant and viable Ghanaian nation. On behalf of a grateful nation, we honor you Your Excellency Mr. Jerry Rawlings, our black star of Ghana.