Friday , June 14 2024

Jerry Rawlings: Remembering Ghana’s Former President

Jerry John Rawlings (June 22,1947 – November 12, 2020) was a Ghanaian military officer and politician who led the country for a brief period in 1979, and then from 1981 to 2001. He led a military junta until 1992, and then served two terms as the democratically elected President of Ghana.

Rawlings 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 May 15, 1979, just five weeks before scheduled democratic elections were due to take place. After handing power over to a civilian government, he took back control of the country on December 31, 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 a presidential candidate in 2000. Rawlings served as the African Union envoy to Somalia. He died in 2020, at age 73 and was accorded a state funeral.

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 organisations to create the Network of Domestic Election Observers (NEDEO), which trained nearly 4,100 local poll watchers.

This organisation 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 leaders. 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 1992 constitution limits a president to two terms, even if they are nonconsecutive. Rawlings did not attempt to amend the document to allow him to run for a third term in 2000. He retired in 2001 and was succeeded by John Agyekum Kufuor, his main rival and opponent in 1996. It was the first time in Ghanaian history that a sitting government peacefully transferred power to an elected member of the opposition.

Kufuor won the presidency after defeating Rawlings’ vice-president John Atta Mills in a runoff in 2000. In 2004, Mills conceded to Kufuor after another election between the two.

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.

In October 2010, Rawlings was named as the African Union envoy to Somalia. In November 2010, he attended the inauguration of Dési Bouterse as President of Suriname, and took a tour of the country. He was especially interested in the Ghanaian origins of the Maroon people.

Rawlings delivered lectures at universities, including Oxford University in England. Rawlings continued his heavy support for the 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

Rawlings died on November 12, 2020 at Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra, a week after having been admitted for a “short term illness” in Ghana. According to some reports, his death was caused by complications from COVID-19. His death came nearly two months after that of his mother, Victoria Agbotui, on September 24, 2020. President Nana Akufo-Addo declared a seven-day period of mourning in his honour and flags were flown at half-mast. His family members appealed to the Government of Ghana to bury him in Keta in the Volta Region. A schedule for the signing of a book of condolence was opened in his memory. His funeral, originally planned for December 23, 2020, was postponed at the request of his family.

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