Shock waves reverberated across the length and breadth of the country late yesterday morning as the disturbing news of the demise of former President Jerry John Rawlings broke.
The former President, who had ruled the country from 1981 to 1992 as Chairman of the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) and from 1993 to 2000 as a democratically elected President, died at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra.
The family, which confirmed the sad news of his death, said he had passed away after a short illness.
A statement signed by a daughter of the former President, Dr Zanetor Rawlings, requested privacy “at this difficult moment” and gave an assurance that funeral arrangements would be announced in due course.
Like a thunderbolt, the death of the 73-year-old Rawlings, Ghana's longest-serving Head of State, hit the nation hard and all the heated political activities have been grounded until further notice.
President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo declared seven days of national mourning, from today Friday, November 13, 2020, in memory of former President Rawlings.
The President has also directed that all national flags should fly at half-mast throughout the country for the next seven days. The flag at the Jubilee House has started flying at half-mast.
“In honour of the memory of former President Rawlings, the Vice-President and I have suspended our political campaigns for the same period,” he said.
President Akufo-Addo, who together with the Vice-President, Dr Mahamudu Bawumia, announced the suspension of their campaigns, also conveyed the deep condolences of the government and the people of Ghana to the wife of the late President and former First Lady, Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings, their children and the family “in these difficult times”.
The presidential candidate of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), former President John Dramani Mahama, has also suspended his six-day campaign tour of the Ashanti Region following the death of the founder of the party.
Mr Mahama described the one-time military leader and two-time President of the Fourth Republic as an "iconic leader", and that the NDC needed time and concentration to mourn his passing and celebrate his legacies.
Many associates of the former President, including those who served in his government, have been visiting his Ridge residence to commiserate with the family of the former President, who supervised the burial and funeral of his mother only about three weeks ago.
Personalities who visited the Rawlings residence included International Evangelist and former cadre, Rev. Dr Lawrence Tetteh; boxing legend, Professor Azumah Nelson; a former Minister of Health, Mr Samuel Nuamah-Donkoh; a former Minister of Education, Dr Ekwow Spio-Garbrah; businessman, Mr Alfred Agbesi Woyome; a former Minister of Transport, Mrs Dzifa Attivor; a former Minister of Defence, Dr Ben Kunbuor; a former Deputy Minister of Finance, Mr Kweku Ricketts-Hagan, and a former Central Regional Minister, Mr Aquinas Tawiah Quansah.
The news of the passing of the former President, whom many describe as a charismatic leader, has broken the hearts of many in the regions, with some expressing surprise at the sudden death.
While social media is buzzing with messages of condolence from across the world, people who worked closely with him are yet to come to terms with the untimely death of the celebrated statesman.
In a tweet, former President John Agyekum Kufuor, who succeeded Flt Lt Rawlings as the second President of the Fourth Republic, said: “Rest in peace, Jerry John Rawlings.”
While a former Minister of Finance in the Rawlings administration, Mr Kwame Peprah, who was also Rawlings’s classmate, could not brave through the shock to comment on the passing of his former boss, Rawlings’s former lawyer and close associate, Mr Tsatsu Tsikata, said he was still trying to process the news, for which reason it was too early to make a comment.
A retired journalist of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC), Mr Teye Kitcher, who covered Mr Rawlings for 14 years as a military ruler and civilian President between 1986 and 2000, described his death as a “big blow” to the country.
“The death is shocking to me; I am devastated and down-spirited. No one will escape death, but I least expected his death at this time,” Mr Kitcher, who also had a close relationship with the late former President, said.
He described the former President as a remarkable man who loved his country and put the plight of the ordinary person above everything else.
“He was a leader who thought about the good of his country and the plight of the masses. The provision of basic life necessities, such as water, food and electricity was his hallmark,” he added.
According to the media stalwart, the former President was “a statesman par excellence” whose contribution to the development of Ghana would remain indelible.
While expressing his condolences to Rawlings’s family, Mr Kitcher encouraged the widow, the children and the immediate family to be strong and feel proud that the former President would rest well with his Maker.
Background of Rawlings
The late Jerry John Rawlings was born in Accra on June 22, 1947 to a Scottish father and a Ghanaian mother from Dzelukope, near Keta, in the Volta Region.
He had his secondary education at Achimota School, where he obtained his General Certificate of Education 'O' Level in 1966.
In August 1967, he enlisted in the Ghana Air Force as a Flight Cadet and was subsequently selected for officer cadet training at the Ghana Military Academy and Training School, Teshie, in Accra.
In March 1968, he was posted to Takoradi in the Western Region to continue his course.
In January 1969, he passed out as a commissioned Pilot Officer, winning the "Speed Bird Trophy" as the best cadet in flying and airmanship.
He earned the rank of Flight Lieutenant in April 1978.
His promotion to that rank gave him an opportunity to witness what was described as the deterioration of discipline and moral values.
With that exposure, he had hard feelings with the corruption of the regime of the Supreme Military Council (SMC) at the time.
On May 15, 1979, he led a mutiny of junior officers and men of the GAF in an abortive coup.
On May 28, 1979, Flt Lt Rawlings, together with six others, appeared before a General Court Martial in Accra, charged with leading the abortive military intervention.
When he was scheduled for another court appearance on June 4, 1979, he was freed from custody by some loyal men in uniform.
He subsequently led a revolt, with the help of the military and some civilians, to oust the SMC from office and brought the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) into being.
As the chairman of the AFRC, Flt Lt Rawlings carried out what was called a "house-cleaning exercise," aimed at purging the armed forces and society of corruption and graft.
The exercise was also meant to restore a sense of moral responsibility and the principles of accountability and probity in public life.
Meanwhile, following the programme already set in motion before the June 4 Uprising for civilian administration, elections were held and Dr Hilla Limann elected President of Ghana.
On September 24, 1979, the AFRC handed over power to the civilian government of the People's National Party (PNP), led by Dr Limann.
However, on December 31,1981, former President Rawlings, dissatisfied with the turn of events, again led a section of the armed forces to overthrow the PNP administration.
The PNDC, composed of both civilian and military members, was established, with Flt Lt Rawlings as the Chairman.
He retired from the GAF on September 14, 1992 but took up the title of its Commander-in-Chief.
Occasionally, during national events such as Independence Day Parade and the passing out ceremonies of officer cadets, former President Rawlings was seen sporting his military ceremonial outfit fit for the Commander-in-Chief.
With the coming into being of the Fourth Republic in 1992, he formed the NDC, which contested and won the presidential and parliamentary elections of that year.
He again won the 1996 presidential election to serve a second term as President.
Having served two terms, former President Rawlings peacefully handed over power to another democratically elected President, as enjoined by the 1992 Constitution, on January 7, 2001.
He was succeeded by former President J. A. Kufuor, who won the 2000 presidential election.
The feat earned him and Ghana the respect of the international community, praising Ghana as a beacon of democracy and shining example in Africa, at a time when there were many military juntas and dictators across the continent.
During his era as leader of the country, especially as a military ruler, Rawlings displayed the qualities of a servant leader by holding on to the mantra of “leadership by example.”
As a young and charismatic military leader, he rallied farmers, students, market women and people from all walks of life to participate actively in the nation-building process, a move those opposed to his views described as populist.
On some occasions, he led clean-up exercises aimed at ridding the country of filth, by cleaning chocked drains and gutters
During his time as a democratic leader in the Fourth Republic, the tough-talking former President, advocated the need for public office holders to live by the principles of integrity, probity and accountability.
He missed no opportunity to hit hard at his own political party, the NDC, anytime he felt it had swayed from the principles on which it was founded, and he would usually use the June 4 commemoration to speak on national issues.
Even after he had left office and was a statesman, he continued to speak out against the graft and mismanagement of the country’s resources by leaders, including those of his kith and kin.
His patriotism and love for his country was exemplified in his participation in almost all national events irrespective of which political regime it was.
The former President was even seen directing vehicular traffic to ease movement when he once chanced on a bad situation at Prampram junction in the Greater Accra Region.