Former President of Ghana, Flt Lt (rtd) Jerry John Rawlings turns 71 today, Friday, June 22, 2018.
Rawlings known for his vociferous nature is admired for his contribution to Ghana’s democracy and development. He is also known for his anti-corruption credentials and for his unwavering advocacy of social justice, political and socio-economic empowerment of Ghanaians.
Last year, as part of activities to mark his 70th birthday, the former President spent time with over 600 children at Chorkor, a fishing community in the Ablekuma South Constituency, to read and encourage them.
He was born in Accra, Ghana, to Victoria Agbotui and James Ramsey John, a chemist from the United Kingdom.
He was twice the head of state of Ghana. His first political appearance on the Ghanaian scene was on May 15, 1979, when an unsuccessful coup d’état he led resulted in his arrest, imprisonment, and a death sentence. But before he could be executed, his friends in the Ghana military led by Junior Officers and the ranks overthrew the then military government of General Fred Akuffo in a coup on June 4, 1979.
The Junior Officers and the ranks set Rawlings free from prison and installed him as head of the new government – the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC). The AFRC handed over power to Dr. Hilla Limann who won the popular vote in the election to establish the Third Republic. Less than two years later, Dr. Limann’s civilian and constitutional government was overthrown again by Jerry Rawlings on December 31, 1981. He then installed the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) regime.
After two terms in office, barred by the constitution from standing in any election, he anointed his vice-president John Atta-Mills as his choice to replace him as President. Ghanaians rejected his choice in the 2000 election by voting for the opposition NPP’s candidate, John Kufuor.
He is a product of Achimota School and married to Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings with whom he has four children: three girls and a boy.
In March 1968, he was posted to Takoradi in the Western Region to continue his studies. He graduated in January 1969 and was commissioned a Pilot Officer, winning the coveted “Speed Bird Trophy” as the best cadet in flying and airmanship. He earned the rank of Flight Lieutenant (Flt. Lt.) in April 1978.
During his service with the Ghanaian Air Force, Rawlings perceived a deterioration of discipline and morale, reflecting the corruption of the Supreme Military Council (SMC) at that time. As promotion brought him into contact with the privileged classes and their social values, his view of the injustices in society hardened. He was thus regarded with some unease by the SMC. He read widely and discussed social and political ideas with a growing circle of like-minded friends and colleagues.
On May 28, 1979, Rawlings, together with six others who were arrested earlier, appeared before a General Court Martial in Accra, charged with leading a mutiny of junior officers and enlisted men of the Ghanaian Armed Forces on May 15, 1979. There was a strong public reaction, especially after his statement had been read in court, explaining the social injustices that had prompted him to act. The ranks of the Armed Forces, in particular, expressed deep sympathy with his stated aims.
When he was scheduled for another court appearance on 4 June 1979, Rawlings was sprung from custody. With the support of both the military and civilians, he led a coup that ousted the Supreme Military Council from office and brought the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) to power. The AFRC, under the chairmanship of Rawlings, carried out a much wider “house-cleaning exercise” aimed at purging the armed forces and society at large of corruption and graft as well as restoring a sense of moral responsibility and accountability in public life.
On 24th September 1979, the AFRC handed over power to a civilian government led by the People’s National Party (PNP), under President Hilla Limann.On 31st December 1981, a Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC), composed of both civilian and military members, was established with Rawlings as Chairman. In his second tenure in power, Rawlings’ policies became more centrist, and he began to advocate free-market reforms.
However, despite the country’s economic success, the Ghanaian government was criticized both at home and abroad for committing numerous abuses of human rights. In the early 1990s, the economy of Ghana was still not performing as well as it had in the early 1970s, on the other hand, the basic needs of the citizens were being met, many of them by domestic products and the economy showed steady improvement with guidance from the International Monetary Fund.
Rawlings’s reputation on foreign policy received a boost when he acted as a key figure in a mediated peace settlement between factions in nearby Liberia, a nation burdened by five years of civil war.
Citizens began demanding a more democratic form of government as the 1990s progressed. Rawlings answered this demand by forming a National Commission for Democracy (NCD), empowered to hold regional debates and formulate some suggestions for a transition to multi-party democracy. Although opposition groups complained that the NCD was too closely associated with the PNDC, the commission continued its work through 1991. In March of that year, the NCD released a report recommending the election of an executive president, the establishment of a national assembly, and the creation of a prime minister post.
The PNDC accepted the report, and the following year Rawlings legalized political parties–with the provision that none could use names that had been used before–and set a timetable for presidential elections. When these presidential elections were held in 1992, Rawlings stood as the candidate for the National Democratic Congress (NDC), the successor party to the PNDC. Although his opponents were given access to television and newspaper coverage and to the freedom of the press had been lifted–no single candidate could match the popularity of the sitting head of state. Election returns on November 3, 1992, revealed that Rawlings had won 58.3 per cent of the vote, for a landslide victory. Foreign observers declared the voting to be “free and fair.”
Almost immediately, the leaders of the country’s opposition parties claimed that the presidential election was not fair and that widespread abuses had occurred. The leaders encouraged their followers to boycott subsequent parliamentary elections, with the result being that NDC candidates won 189 of 200 seats in the new parliament. Rawlings was therefore accorded a four-year term backed by an elected assembly of supporters for his platform. Answering questions of polling place irregularities, he promised to initiate a new voter registration program to be completed in time for elections in 1996.