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Jerry Rawlings: The rough-edged reformer

Discussion in 'International Forum' started by Ab-Titchaz, Jun 24, 2012.

  1. Ab-Titchaz

    Ab-Titchaz Content Manager Staff Member

    Jun 24, 2012
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    Jerry Rawlings: The rough-edged reformer


    Jerry Rawlings and his wife Nana. Photo/FILE

    Posted Friday, June 22 2012 at 01:00

    In a sea of well-cut Savile Row suits and ladies in mourning black and hats, the thickset, elegantly greying man cut an impressive figure in a black open-neck African shirt.

    That was during the requiem mass and burial of Internal Security minister George Saitoti.

    During the burial, the former president of Ghana impressed mourners with his eloquence, especially when he regretted humanity's inability to harvest the brain of a dead man and transfer it to a living one.

    But unlike his friend Prof Saitoti, whose manners he extolled Kenyans to "imbibe" and who was handpicked from a lecture theatre by retired President Daniel arap Moi and handed high profile State jobs, Rawlings is a bare knuckle politician who learnt his tricks from the school of hard knocks.

    As a junior airforce officer, he narrowly cheated death after being condemned by a court-martial for leading a mutiny.

    As a military president, Rawlings survived numerous coup and assassination attempts.

    Born Jeremiah Rawlings John in 1947 to a Ghanaian mother and a Scottish father and later renamed Jerry John Rawlings, JJ, as his he is popularly known among his followers, he is probably the most influential political figure in Ghana after the founding father, Kwame Nkrumah.

    After joining the Ghanaian airforce in 1968, where he distinguished himself by winning the coveted "Speed Bird Trophy" for excellence in aerobatic skills, the man who confesses to have had an obsession for drawing gorgeous women during his youth burst into the limelight when he led a mutiny in 1979.


    In a statement read in court on his behalf by his defence counsel, the 32-year-old Flight Lieutenant won hearts across the country by sensationally explaining that his actions were prompted by the social injustices bedevilling Ghana at that time.

    Apparently inspired by Rawlings' courtroom oratory, a group of officers with whom he had good rapport instigated a successful putsch in June 1979 and released him from prison.

    Through a ruling body named the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), Rawlings and his men executed two former military heads of state, General Ignatius Acheampong and Lieutenant General Fredrick Akuffo and five former generals, whom he accused of committing crimes against the people and the country.

    Other prominent people executed under what Rawlings and his junta termed as "house-cleansing exercise" included Supreme Court judges Kwadjo Agyepong, Frederick Sarkodie, and Cecilia Addo.

    Some Ghanaian historians have attempted to exonerate Rawlings from this heavy-handedness by claiming that the country was in a state of anarchy, with both civilians and lower cadres of the military baying for the blood of the deposed rulers.

    AFRC yielded power to civilian leader Hilla Limann, but returned through another coup in December 1981 to get rid of what it called a "weak civilian rule" which had led "the nation down to total economic ruin".

    After imprisoning Limann and another 200 politicians, Rawlings established the People's Defence Committees in neighbourhoods to monitor economic management in local factories.

    "When the failure of these and other populist measures had become clear by 1983, Rawlings reversed course and adopted IMF-friendly policies, including dropping subsidies and price controls in order to reduce inflation, privatising many State-owned companies, and devaluing the currency in order to stimulate exports," Encyclopedia Britannica notes.

    "These free-market measures sharply revived Ghana's economy, which by the early 1990s had one of the highest growth rates in Africa".

    Despite ruling the country with an iron fist for a decade before being democratically elected in 1992, economic experts have credited Rawlings' regime with initiating radical policies like decentralisation of government services from Accra to the rural regions, which created the foundation on which the Ghanaian democracy and economy stand today.

    After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, Rawlings aligned himself with the West, which saw the IMF and the World Bank pumping more than $5 billion into the Ghanaian economy, leading to a huge business growth and improved standards of living.

    This led to his being accused of "betraying the revolution" by his left-wing comrades.

    To qualify as a candidate in the 1992 multiparty elections, "JJ" retired from the army and founded the National Democratic Congress (NDC), on whose ticket he won the presidential race with a landslide majority of 58.3 per cent.

    The figure remains the highest score in the country's history and an endorsement of his policies.

    Although foreign observers declared the poll free and fair, the opposition, led by John Kufuor, who later became president, claimed there were widespread irregularities and urged their supporters to boycott the subsequent parliamentary elections.

    This saw the NDC win 189 of the 200 seats available in the national assembly, giving Rawlings a four-year term backed by a rubber stamp parliament.

    By the time he was seeking another term in 1996, Rawlings had already made history as the first democratically elected Ghanaian president to complete his term.


    His 19-year reign as both military dictator and elected leader were characterised by eccentricity and flamboyant displays that made him a household name not only in Ghana but also across the continent.

    Besides mobilising his wife and ministers to join citizens in digging trenches, cleaning sewers, sinking boreholes, and constructing roads, Rawlings' presidential motorcade would often give lifts to people on the road.

    Other times he would stop his entourage to borrow a cigarette from a man on the street, take a few puffs and put the stub behind his ear in a quest "to be equal with everyone," as he would later explain

    This outgoing mien was evident when he visited Kenya in May to update President Mwai Kibaki on the Somalia situation as the African Union Special Envoy to Somalia.

    During his stay at the Tribe Hotel in Nairobi, he easily mixed with ordinary people and took photos with the hotel staff and security guards.

    "I knew that Ghana would not be brought out of the political abyss of 1981 without a visionary, but more importantly, the people were yearning for nothing less than a popular democracy," Rawlings said during an interview with Reverend Jesse Jackson on CNN's Both Sides in 1999.

    "They were asking for nothing more than the power to be part of the decision-making process of their country… they wanted a voice in deciding their everyday life, as it is done in the West, and not for politicians to be dominant..."

    When he reached his constitutional eight-year term in 2000, Rawlings endorsed his vice-president, John Evans Atta-Mills, who was defeated by John Agyekum Kufuor of New Patriotic Party (NPP) in a run-off. Atta-Mills won the 2008 elections by a one per cent margin in a run-off.

    But the fact that his National Democratic Congress (NDC) and former vice-president is in power has not stopped the outspoken Rawlings from criticising and pointing out what he terms as weaknesses in the Ghanaian society.

    "I remember I used to warn ourselves that if we didn't restore the moral behaviour and ethical values of our society, we would sink deep," he said during a gala ball to honour a testimonial match for former Bayern Munich and Black Star player Sammy Kufuor.

    "All those big countries we see, they have not thrown their values overboard in spite of all the money they have. How could you adopt money to replace your values? I have said over and over and I will continue repeating it."

    Dubbed "Mr Boom" by the media for his explosive statements, Rawlings is yet again in the deep of Ghanaian politics, where he has openly asked his fellow countrymen to give his wife, Nana Agyeman-Rawlings "the chance to rescue the country from the current leadership crisis".

    Accusing "the current crop of NDC (the party he formed in 1992) members, especially those in leadership, of leading the party away from the principle and values on which the party was founded", Rawlings has been drumming up support for his wife in rallies across the country in what has been termed a ploy to rule by proxy.

    But after being rejected by NDC delegates as the party's presidential candidate last July (she garnered 90 votes against Atta Mills' 2,771), many commentators said the defeat confirmed JJ's fading clout.

    "This defeat was a clear sign that the NDC is fed up with Mr Rawlings," Jacob Manu, a governance expert, told the press. "Most Ghanaians have come to see Mr Rawlings as someone who thinks he is the only wise man in Ghana."

    Rawlings married Nana in 1977 and they have four children, three daughters and a son.

    The son, 24, is called Kimathi Rawlings after the famous Kenyan freedom fighter Dedan Kimathi, whom the former Ghanaian leader greatly admires, as he said during his recent visit to Kenya.

    Nana recently filed a lawsuit against NDC seeking to take back the party's umbrella logo, which she claims is her intellectual property.

    Among the accusations that the vocal, polo-loving Jerry Rawlings has levelled against the current regime is an attempt to revive and strengthen Kwame Nkrumah's Convention People's Party (CPP).

    Kwame Nkrumah was Ghana's founding president and a Pan-Africanist to boot.

    He was overthrown in February 1966 while on a State visit to North Vietnam and China by Emmanuel Kwasi Kotoka.

    President John Atta Mills has made several attempts to immortalise Nkrumah's legacy.

    Besides the country spending a whole year in 2010 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Nkrumah's birth, there is now a public holiday to mark the founding father's birthday on 24 September and an oil rig is named after him.

    While implying that he would like to see his former vice-president defeated by the opposition NPP in the next elections so that "we can take back our party" Rawlings, who has since been stripped of diplomatic privileges in Ghana and the country's missions abroad, minces no words.

    Big Brother

    "So long as they hold on to power and with some of our supporters persistently refusing to see the truth and what should have been done, then it becomes difficult to take back our party," he was quoted as saying in May.

    "Some are justified in saying those in office are not genuinely minded, NDC spirited, NDC-hearted people and want to destroy the party in favour of something else".

    With his initials JJ tweaked to mean "Junior Jesus" by fanatical supporters or "Junior Judas" by opponents at the height of his power during his two-decade reign, many Ghanaians appear tired of his "big brother" attitude.

    "I am not a bitter person and very much willing to forgive this ignorant political novice who has not matured beyond adolescence and still plagued by infantile tantrum when he does have his way," wrote columnist Phillip Kobina Baidoo in The Chronicle, a Ghanaian newspaper, of Rawlings."His actions during his 19-year--reign were eerily similar to the erroneous prescription of medieval parish priests who during those highly contagious fatal epidemics encouraged their congregants to gather in churches to pray for God's intervention while inadvertently spreading the contagion," continued The Chronicle.

    Despite sharp criticism at home, Rawlings remains relatively popular across the continent, as evidenced by invitations to major gatherings and being accorded respect by sitting heads of state, as was witnessed when he visited Kenya last week.

    In October 2010, the 64-year-old was appointed the African Union (AU) Envoy to Somalia by the union's chief Jean Ping with the task of "mobilising the continent and the rest of the international community to fully assume its responsibilities and contribute more actively to the quest for peace, security and reconciliation of Somalia".

    Besides being an AU envoy, Rawlings also gives lectures and talks around the world, the most famous being the one he gave at the prestigious Oxford University in the United Kingdom under the title "Security and Democracy in Africa".

    Asked about what he would like to be remembered for, Jerry John Rawlings turned philosophical in what many believers would term blasphemous form.

    "My legacy to the people of Ghana is that I never let God do anything for me. I did it first."