Jerry John Rawlings (born 22 June 1947) is a former head of state and president of Ghana. Rawlings initially came to power in Ghana as a flight lieutenant of the Ghana Air Force following a coup d'état in 1979 and, after initially handing power over to a civilian government, took back control of the country on 31 December 1981 as the Chairman of the Provisional National Defence Council. In 1992, Rawlings resigned from the Armed Forces, founded the National Democratic Congress and became the first President of the Fourth Republic. He was re-elected in 1996 for a further four years. He currently serves as the African Union envoy to Somalia.
Rawlings attempted a coup d'état on 15 May 1979, leading a group of military personnel in a coup attempt on General Fred Akuffo which resulted in him being arrested, imprisoned and facing a death sentence. However, a speech he gave during his trial resonated with a large section of the public that rose up in his defence. Consequently, on 4 June, soldiers sympathetic to his motivations broke him out of jail, and he led a revolt of both the military and civilians which overthrew General Akuffo and the Supreme Military Council, effectively leaving him in charge. Rawlings and the soldiers around him formed the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) and conducted what it termed "a housecleaning exercise", whose aim was to purge Ghanaian society of all the corruption and social injustices that they perceived to be at the root of their coup d'état.
The AFRC organized an election which was won by Hilla Limann of the People's National Party (PNP). On 31 December 1981 Rawlings and together with some soldiers and civilians took advantage of new year festivities organized by Limann and overthrew the Limann government, citing economic mismanagement. Rawlings then installed the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) with himself as the Chairman.
In 1992, Rawlings retired from the military and set up the National Democratic Congress (NDC). He legalized political parties and organized Presidential and Parliamentary elections, in response to demands for a more democratic process concerning the governing of the country. Rawlings and his party won with 58.3 percent of the vote, with outside observers declaring the voting to be "free and fair". In 1996, Rawlings went on to win a second term as President.
After two terms in office, barred by the constitution from standing in any election, Rawlings endorsed his vice-president John Atta Mills as presidential candidate in 2000.
Jerry John Rawlings was born in Accra, Gold Coast, to Victoria Agbotui (born 9 September 1919 in Dzelukope near Keta in what is now the Volta Region of Ghana), and James Ramsey John, a chemist from Castle Douglas in Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland. James Ramsey John was married in England to someone else and his descendants now live in Newcastle and London. Rawlings attended Achimota School. Rawlings' family had little influence in his ideology, as the tribes his family belonged to, the Nzema and the Ewe, were sub-groups of minimal importance, and he was the only child born to his mother. It is in fact this lack of a prominent lineage that became a political advantage for Rawlings, as it signaled freedom from family or tribal pressures. Rawlings is married to Nana Konadu Agyeman, who he met in Achimota College, and they have three daughters: Ezanetor Rawlings, Yaa Asantewaa Rawlings, Amina Rawlings; and one son, Kimathi Rawlings.
Education and Military Career
Rawlings finished his secondary education in Achimota College in 1967 and had no education outside of Ghana. He joined the Ghana air force shortly afterwards. 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 the Su-7 ground attack supersonic jet aircraft. 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. After the 1979 coup, he involved himself with the student community of the University of Ghana, where he developed more leftist ideology through reading and discussion of social and political ideas.
1979 Coup and Purges
Rawlings grew discontent with Acheampong's government, which had come to power through a successful coup in January 1972. Acheampong was not only accused of corruption, but also of maintaining Ghana's dependency on pre-colonial powers that led to economic decline and impoverishment.
In May 1979, Rawlings, together with six other soldiers, was arrested by the Ghanaian Military for a mutiny labeled as a coup attempt (because the military was in power at the time) against the government of General Fred Akuffo, and Rawlings appeared before a General Court Martial, charged with leading a squad of soldiers on 15 May 1979.
While awaiting his execution, Rawlings was sprung from custody on 4 June 1979 by a group of soldiers.
Claiming that the government was corrupt beyond redemption and that new leadership was required for Ghana's development, he led the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), composed primarily of junior officers, to oust the Supreme Military Council. On the night of 4 June, lives were lost in both the forces fighting against the military government and those fighting on the side of the insurgency. Shortly after the coup, Rawlings executed by firing squad 8 military officers, including Generals Kotei, Joy Amedume, Roger Felli, and Utuka, as well as the 3 former heads of state, Afrifa, Acheampong, and Akuffo. The killings of the Supreme Court justices (Cecilia Koranteng Addo, Frederick Sarkodie, and Kwadjo Agyei Agyepong), military officers Major Sam Acquah and Major Dasana Nantogmah also occurred during this time. The executions were dramatic events in Ghana history, which had suffered from few instances of political violence. These executions may have been carried out in response to massive public demand.
Rawlings later implemented a much wider "house-cleaning exercise" involving the killings and abduction of over 300 Ghanians.
Meanwhile, following a programme already set in motion before the 4 June insurgency. The AFRC did not intervene in civilian rule and allowed elections to proceed, peacefully handing power over to elected President Hilla Limann on 24 September 1979, whose People's National Party (PNP) had the support of Nkrumah's followers.
1982 Coup Overthrowing Limann
Rawlings believed the Limann regime to be unable to resolve Ghana's neocolonial economic dependency and led a second coup against Limann and indicted the entire political class on December 31, 1981. In place of Limann's People's National Party, Rawlings established his Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC) military junta. The PNDC claimed to be true representatives of the people, but was lacking experience in creating and implementing economic policies, leading to issues of unrealistic price controls and destruction of the Makola No.1 market. No elections were held until January 1991, when the PNDC came under pressure due to the 1983 economic crisis and agitation to return to multiparty democracy.
Transitions to Democratic Rule
An economic crisis in 1983 forced Rawlings to embrace structural adjustment. Although Ghana’s economy grew, the poor became even poorer under the influence of World Bank ideology. Rawlings found that the only way to retain power was by submitting himself to a popular vote. Rawlings the dictator became Rawlings the democrat. He won Presidential elections in 1992 and 1996.
To prepare Ghana for constitutional rule, Rawlings called for the formation of the National Commission on Democracy (NCD), which was to put together a study of views expressed at regional fora held throughout the country between July and November of 1990. Among other recommendations, the NCD also produced a report from views expressed around the country called "The Evolving Democratic Process: Summary of the NCD's Work Towards the Establishment of a New Democratic Order". Based on the NCD's report, the PNDC recommended the establishment of a committee to draft a proposal for a constitution using past Ghanaian Constitutions as a base. The draft Constitution was later submitted for public approval in a referendum. In May 1992, the PNDC announced the lifting of the ban on party politics and passed a law governing the formation of political parties.
In Jerry John Rawlings' first official speech subsequent to the removal of Hilla Limann, he announced the creation of the National Commission on Democracy (NCD), which began decentralisation and dissemination. Opposition to the PNDC, agitated for a return to multi-party democracy. The National Commission on Democracy was put into high gear to begin the process to return to multi-party elections. National Commission for Democracy (NCD) was empowered to hold debates and formulate some suggestions for a transition to multi-party democracy. 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 it was approved in a referendum. Political parties were legalised by Rawlings—-with the provision that none could use names that had been used before—and a timetable was set for presidential and parliamentary elections.
When 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 limits to the freedom of the press had been slightly lifted, no single candidate could match him. Election returns on 3 November 1992 revealed that Rawlings had won 58.3 percent of the vote, for a landslide victory.
Almost immediately, the opposition parties claimed that the presidential election was not fair, and that widespread abuses had occurred. The leaders encouraged their followers to boycott subsequent Ghana parliamentary and presidential elections, with the result that NDC officials won 189 of 200 seats in the parliament. Answering questions about polling place irregularities, he said he will initiate a new voter registration program.
Rawlings and the NDC again held onto the Ghana parliament in 1992 and 1996.
Per his constitutional mandate, Rawlings' term of office ended in 2001; he retired in 2001, Rawlings was succeeded by John Agyekum Kufuor, his main rival and opponent in 1996.
Kufuor succeeded in defeating Rawlings's vice-president John Atta Mills in 2000. In 2004, Mills conceded to Kufuor and Kufuor ran for another four years.
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, Jerry John Rawlings was named African Union Envoy to Somalia.
He has given lectures at universities, including Oxford University. Jerry John Rawlings has continued his heavy support for NDC.
Awards and honours
- October 2013: Honorary degree (Doctorate of Letters) from the University for Development Studies in northern Ghana.
This award recognised Rawlings's contribution to the establishment of the University. In 1993 he used his US$50,000 Hunger Project cash prize as seed money to sponsor the establishment of the state-owned university (founded in May 1992), the first of its kind in the three northern regions.
- October 2013: Global Champion for People's Freedom award by the Mkiva Humanitarian Foundation.