The lecturer asked the class to state and justify some of the great leaders Africa has ever had. Names like Nelson Mandela, Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta, Thomas Sankara, Patrice Lumumba, were commonly cited by my colleagues. Curiously, former President of Ghana, Jerry John Rawlings, was also mentioned frequently. I was not pleased with the adoration being given to Rawlings, so I stepped forward and destructively crusaded against him, whilst I worshipped Nelson Mandela and Kwame Nkrumah.
Fast forward 2018, I have noted that l was wrong and superficial in my judgement of Rawlings and his achievements in the political landscape of Ghana and Africa by extension. The 36th anniversary of the 31st December, 1981 Revolution commemoration held in Ho on the 31st of the past month afforded me the time to review the legacy of Papa J. It became crystal clear to me that until this day, Rawlings is only second best to Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana’s political history.
Since independence, Ghana has had Kwame Nkrumah, Lieutenant-General Joseph Arthur Ankrah, Brigadier Akwasi Afrifa, Edward Akufo-Addo, General Ignatius Kutu Acheampong, Lieutenant-General Fred Akuffo, Hilla Limann, Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings, John Agyekum Kufuor, John Evans Atta Mills, John Dramani Mahama, and Nana Akufo-Addo who happens to be the man currently in the reign as head of state.
There are merits of all persons who have served in the position of head of state of Ghana. However, not all of them could be considered as legendary. Take for instance, Lieutenant-General Joseph Arthur Ankrah, Brigadier Akwasi Afrifa, Edward Akufo-Addo, General Ignatius Kutu Acheampong, Lieutenant-General Fred Akuffo and Hilla Limann. All of these are not even remembered as one-time leaders of Ghana these days until it is time for a roll call, mainly due to their relatively paltry contributions to the development of Ghana.
Neither have John Agyekum Kufuor, John Evans Atta Mills and John Dramani Mahama made a sufficient quantum of work to be listed amongst the torchbearers of Ghana’s political leaders.
Whilst the late John Evans Atta Mills and John Dramani Mahama would meekly admit their fates, John Agyekum Kufuor and the New Patriotic Party (NPP) would embrace the reality much less amicably. But what John Kufuor and his political fraternity seem to forget is that the contributions of Mahama and that of Kufuor to Ghana’s progress are very much similar. Initiatives like the construction of roads, stadia, schools and hospitals, power plants, extension of electricity and water to deprived areas, agricultural incentives, so called excellent diplomatic relationship, and other mundane actions cannot be a yardstick used in declaring that a President has excelled.
It takes nothing but insanity to denounce Kwame Nkrumah as the greatest leader Ghana has had yet, it therefore leaves me to assess the case of Jerry John Rawlings. Of all the twelve indigenous leaders the nation has had, Jerry John Rawlings served the most period as a head of state. He had three stints as the main man: a short period from June to September, 1979, when he led the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) to depose Lieutenant-General Fred Akuffo. Rawlings returned to lead the country again via another revolt in 1981, this time under the command of the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) and at the expense of Hilla Limann. After 11 years in power, Rawlings oversaw a transition from military rule into civilian rule, the 4th Republic which we currently enjoy. He subsequently won two terms as a democratically-elected president from 1992 to 2000.
Papa J’s critics point to the two coup d’états he has led and dishonestly paint him as a brutal dictator. But these very acts of revolution define Rawlings’ greatness. When Rawlings staged his first coup d’état on June 4th 1979, Ghana was on a time ticking bomb; ‘kalabule’, used to describe corruption, was so deep-rooted in the country that Ghana was like a soup prepared by your grandmother that you could fetch at will.
Again in 1981, the coup d’état was necessary to salvage a country on the brink of collapse. 1981 Gross Domestic Product growth was -3.5%, and Gross Domestic Product per capita growth -6.2% whilst inflation was 116.50%. One may not be an economist, but he feels these indicators when he gets to know that basic provisions like soap, salt, sugar, charcoal and the likes were not easily accessible to the people. Ghanaians bought uncooked kenkey, which they would later boil in their various homes, because of severe hunger.
The 1981 revolution was the crowning moment of Rawlings’ emancipation efforts which he started 1979. It was necessary due to a failed civilian rule (under Hilla Limann). There is no essence of civilian rule if it doesn’t offer the citizens socio-politico-economic sovereignty. A revolt on both occasions were inevitable, so the important thing was the spirit of the uprising. Graciously, Rawlings was the embodiment of this spirit of patriotism. It was easily possible that another corrupt soldier captured power in 1981 for instance, and the roller coaster of military take overs would have continued maybe even until today.
Rawlings stepped into the game and brought the much needed change. He sealed socio-political freedom for Ghanaians by bringing us real democracy in 1992. By 1992, our economy rebounded; Gross Domestic Product growth was recorded at 3.9%, and inflation was as low as 10.1%. There are many other economic achievements of Papa J that I do not have the space to list. Rawlings set the tone for future growth by securing a solid foundation for the country socially, politically and economically. As such, all the proclaimed developmental achievements of all other fourth republican presidents- John Agyekum Kufuor, John Evans Atta Mills, John Dramani Mahama, and current President Nana Akufo-Addo- are owed to Rawlings.
The headline footballer is the one who drags his team when it’s trailing to victory, not the player who merely comes on as a substitute when his team is already leading. Rawlings has earned Ghana a comeback victory, and he deserves all credit.
Just like Nelson Mandela and Kwame Nkrumah, Jerry John Rawlings has led a revolution worthy of honourable mention. He answered Ghana’s biggest questions after independence.
By: Kizito Aidam. (email@example.com)
The views expressed in this article are my personal opinions and do not reflect, in any form or shape, those of Global Fm.