Jerry Rawlings Ghana’s former leader is dead. Rawlings, who seized power twice in military coups but now regarded as the father of Ghana’s stable democracy, died on Thursday at the age of 73, from complications of COVID19 his party said.
His takeovers in 1979 and 1981 were marked by authoritarian rule and the executions of senior military officers, and corrupt officials including General Frederick Akuffo, whom he overthrew in the first coup. His Rule saw a successful Ghana transition to democracy, winning election in 1992 and 1996 before stepping down in 2001.Today, Ghana is considered one of West Africa’s most mature and stable democracies.
“A great tree has fallen, and Ghana is poorer for this loss,” President Akufo-Addo said in a statement on Rawlings’ death. John Mahama, leader of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) party that Rawlings founded, said in a Twitter message he had suspended campaigning for the 7 December presidential election. The election will pit Akufo-Addo against his main challenger Mahama, a former president who lost to Akufo-Addo in a 2016 election, and other candidates from smaller parties.
We will recall that Jerry was the son of a Scottish father and Ghanaian mother, Rawlings first came to power in the 1979 coup when he was an air force lieutenant. He transferred power to civilian rule soon after but then led another coup two years later, decrying government corruption and weak leadership.
From 1981 to 1993, he ruled as chairman of a joint military-civilian government. In 1992 he was elected president under a new constitution, taking up that office the following year. As president, he liberalised Ghana’s economy, encouraging investment in the oil and gold sectors.
In 2001, he handed over power to John Kufour of the opposition party, who had defeated Rawlings’ vice-president in the previous year’s election. After stepping down, Rawlings remained a power broker in Ghanaian politics while serving in various international diplomatic posts, including as the African Union’s representative in Somalia.