J.J Rawlings on trial again - In a December 31 musical

BY: Review by Nanabanyin Dadson

Before May 15, 1979, there was no Jerry John Rawlings. Then there was! A 31-year-old Air Force officer standing trial by a court martial in Accra on a charge of treason who caught the nation’s attention.

Thirty–eight good years after that trial, J.J. Rawlings has continued to be on trial over and over on various platforms and during his various designations as AFRC Leader, as PNDC Chairman, as NDC Founder, as a two-term President and even now as a private individual.

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The latest trial yet to begin on December 31, a few days hence, is of a totally different nature – a musical drama performance titled The Trial of J.J. Rawlings based on a 1986 book of the same title written by Kojo Yankah.

Anyone who has had the opportunity to read Kojo Yankah’s book cannot miss noticing the great admiration that the writer has for J.J. Rawlings, the much younger military officer under whose administration Yankah served in various capacities as editor of Daily Graphic, as minister of state and as member of parliament.

He writes in his book: “this account of the trial of the leader of Ghana’s revolution is the study of an individual whose personality has made him an enigma for all time”.


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Curiously, Kojo Yankah seems to have maintained his great admiration for Rawlings all these years although he suffered considerable distress at the hands of his leader who unceremoniously removed him as Ashanti Regional Minister in 1999.

He recounts in his 2017 book, Our Motherland – My Life, “President Rawlings had had enough of me and desired to humiliate me.

I had sensed this much earlier. Thank you, Mr Rawlings”. And 19 years later, Yankah feels cool enough to pen a musical to celebrate Rawlings?

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A celebration indeed is what it is when one appreciates the dramatic work in progress with the help of the National Theatre of Ghana and Prince Kwasi Mensah who provides the music and lyrics to this musical that captures the events leading to the morning of June 4.

Quite an historical performance The Trial of J.J.Rawlings is destined to be considering the fact that almost half the total population of Ghana would not have been old enough to fully appreciate what went on during the much spoken about June 4 period.

When the drama opens, it does on the streets of Osu in Accra where the atmosphere is charged with enthusiasm but Old Man Kwame, one elderly man who may have lived through such situations over and over expresses his pessimism.

“They took out Osagyefo. They took out Busia. They are now taking themselves out. Soldier goes, soldier comes. This is becoming the norm in Ghana”, the old man says.

For one soldier, however, the “norm” situation should not be allowed to fester. That soldier is J.J. Rawlings and as soon as he steps on stage, he makes his intentions clear: “Have you heard about the abuse of office and other malpractices committed by the military administration?”, he asks.

Old Man Kwame appears not totally convinced. “Your name comes up as one soldier who cannot stand what the military is doing to Ghana. It is interesting. A soldier standing against soldiers?”

Rawlings replies: “I am a soldier but I am a citizen first. My duty is not to government. It is to the people.” The basic conflict of the drama thus established, the characters proceed to literally make a song and dance of a potentially explosive national situation.

And what an interesting mix of characters there are. Of course there is Nana Konadu, wife of Rawlings; the fake pastor Agbo; Major Bukari, the philandering officer; Atsu, the ambitious student; and Don Kyi Wele, the mad man whose songs make sense than most .“I no dey fit buy gari; I no dey fit buy kooko; every day I dey worry; every day ibi chobo”, he sings.

Perhaps there could not have been a better time for The Trial of J.J.Rawlings than this when the present government insists on confronting corruption in the Ghanaian society head on. As Shakespeare’s Hamlet says, “the play is the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king”.