Dateline – Friday, August 2, 2019. Venue – Christ the King Cathedral of the Catholic Church, opposite Jubilee House. Time circa 0730hrs.
I arrived there, fully dressed as a lawyer, for court, in bibs, to make a brief appearance at the ongoing burial service for the late Lt Col Habadah, grandfather of one of the female secretaries in our law offices, Sheila.
At the entrance to the Cathedral, some of the officers saw me, and one asked: “oh my God, what a difficulty. Where can we sit?
Honourable?…please, can you sit next to the former President?
“Why not?” I replied, whereupon he escorted me inside, right to where the casket laid, the very front pew to see Flt Lt Jerry John Rawlings, in white top over black trousers, seated there, alone. I nodded in acknowledgment.
That was the last time I saw JJ in person, until November 12, 2020: “Breaking News – JJ dies…”
I took a personal decision that I will NOT say one word to anybody about his death in the nature of a tribute, commentary, eulogy or whatever until after his burial.
Now that he has been buried, post January 27, 2021, after more than 50 days in the mortuary, JJ Rawlings is no more part of humanity. He now belongs to HISTORY.
Reader, the one thing I fear most in life which always gives me sleepless nights is HISTORY – the judgment of HISTORY. When you are no more, when you are dead and gone, what will HISTORY say of you?
On every blessed day, thousands of children are born, and thousands die, every blessed day – so what makes you different? What will you be remembered for? What name did you leave behind?
Who knows that you ever existed?
As you drive along the countryside, you pass by countless cemeteries – you see tombs, some fresh and some decaying due to neglect and so on – TIME kills what is dear to us today into nothingness.
What is important is NOT your tomb, your statue or any earthly structure – time will reduce its significance. What is ETERNAL, what cannot be washed away by the sea waves of time is the VALUE of works you left behind.
And, you know, HISTORY is merciless, and has no time for finesse and style and frivolities. The judgment is swift – ASKIA, the Great. Alexander the Great, Charlemagne, the Great Jenhis Khan the mongol leader, Kwame Nkrumah of blessed memory, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela…perhaps the greatest man of all time, JULIUS CAESAR.
So, what shall we describe Flt Lt Jerry John Rawlings? A Revolutionary? A despot? A dictator? A democrat? A nation builder? A unifier? A murderer? A what? Shorn of polemics, what is his bio data?
He was born in 1947, he was educated in Achimota School, enlisted into the Ghana Armed Forces, Air Force, attempted to stage a coup on May 15, 1979 and failed.
Other ranks in the Army rescued him from the ongoing General Court Martial and made him Head of State of Ghana and Chairman of the “Armed Forces Revolutionary Council” – then he lined up EIGHT Generals including three former Heads of State and executed them by firing squad; in the name of “probity and accountability”.
He handed over three months later to an elected civilian administration of President Limann, then came back on December 31, 1981 and ruled as Head of State and Chairman of PNDC until 1992 when he was forced by civil society and World Bank to change into civilian costume as President for eight years, then he handed over to President JA Kufuor and his NPP Administration.
Even though I knew JJ Rawlings so very well, from 1975 through his friend Captain Boakye Gyan, and I related with him very well, the scene of his face I will never forget was on January 7, 2001 when as a freshly elected MP for Berekum I attended JA Kufuor's inauguration at the forecourt of State House, and after Rawlings had handed over, I took a good look at him, a few minutes ago President of Ghana, now no more, surrounded by women adulating him, and he, in some whitish smock, beaming with smiles, just about three feet away from where I was standing, at the forecourt of State House.
Now, twenty years after, he is dead and gone, like all mortals.
Who was he?
Can Rawlings be classified as “Revolutionary”?
Vladimir Lemin of Russia and Joseph Stalin who prosecuted the communist Revolution in Russia; Chairman Mao Tse-Tung of China, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya and his Green Book; Fidel Castro of Cuba – can JJ Rawlings be compared to any of these statesmen, men of ideas and action? Perhaps, possibly, but of a much lower order.
Was JJ Rawlings a cold murderer?
Let me rephrase the question – murderer is too strong a word – was he a killer?
The facts on the ground show that a lot of people lost their lives during his heady lawless days of June 4 and 1982, but was Jerry personally responsible?
All those Generals who were slain – were they tried? Was due process followed in their run up to execution? The most tragic of all those eight Generals was Commodore Joy Kobla Amedume – Navy Commander, killed for using his position to take a bank loan of 50,000 cedis (today's 5 Ghana cedis!!) secured with collateral!!!
Colonel Roger Felli was lined up and executed just because they wanted a tribal balance to the list of those facing execution!!!
What did General Kotei do? Just a happy go lucky soldier, commanding the Army!!!
But not only those Generals – there was countless disappearances and summary executions – Cpl Halidu Gyeiwa and others, including my bosom friend of blessed memory, Staff Sgt Mathew Awaar (May he rest in perfect peace in his unmarked grave!!)
He was the one single head of state in the history of Ghana who signed execution warrants for more than 50 people, were they ALL fairly tried? Appeals dismissed?
How about the kidnap and cold blooded murder of the three Justices of the High Court and the retired Army Officer Major Acquah?
What is the degree of the culpability of JJ Rawlings to the kidnap and murder of the Judges?
It will not be fair to put all the blood on the hands of Jerry Rawlings, except that the Akans say if an elder is in the house and they are counting eaters of snakes among the children, the elder will not be left out!!!
I predict that ultimately, the judgment of history will be that Rawlings was not a killer but he presided over a “bloody failed regime”.
How about the man himself? Who was he?
I knew him personally, across five years, but what I can vouch for is that he oscillated between two extremes – intense love for the poor, the disadvantaged and the oppressed, and intense hatred for the rich, the privileged and those in comfort.
He could not stand debate of ideas and was always wont to use crude force to impose his will – including countless slaps and brutal physical attacks of soldiers and politician's – he physically beat up his Vice President Kow Arkaah in the Cabinet Chamber!!!
Was Rawlings a democrat?
No. He was anything, but a democrat.
There was this Greek politician, DEMOCRITUS who propagated the doctrine of rule by the majority – generally credited by academia as “father of democracy”. And so a Democrat is any politician who aspires for high office on the principles of the will of the majority.
Most democrats, like Bill Clinton, Barrack Obama, Abraham Lincoln, Tony Blair, Nana Akufo-Addo – they enjoy debate, they thrive on controversies, exchange of ideas, battle of wits – JJ is not one of these, at all. Come with me to Signal mess at Burma Camp in 1976 to see him locked up in a heated debate with colleague officer – fellow old Achimotan Captain Boakye Gyan – at one point the girl in the kitchen preparing fufu rushed to ask me – “why, do they want to fight?”
What was the mantra of the 31st December Revolution? Patronage for Workers Defence Committees (WDC) and People's Defence Committees (PDCs) who could not shake the system. So, they were downgraded into “Organising Assistants” subordinated to political appointees, led by the Dzelukopenafia (read Kofi Awoonor's book 'The Ghana Coup'.)
By 1985, the “Revolution” had waned, and the long road to capitalist free enterprise begun – it took two years to do local Government Elections in 1988 and four years to do elections for civilian rule.
No. Rawlings was NOT a democrat. He was forced to embrace democratic elections and constitutional rule, putting brakes on his wish to stay in power.
Was Rawlings a nation builder?
I will answer that question by comparing him to Kwame Nkrumah. Nkrumah took power as Leader of Government Business in colonial Gold Coast from 1951 to 1957 – six years, then Prime Minister of Independent nation state of Ghana from 1957 to 1960, then President of a Republican State Ghana until soldiers influenced by CIA and the World Bank booted him out in 1966.
Rawlings took power in 1981 and ruled as a military leader with WDCs and PDCs for a time, then purely a military regime, until 1992 when he brought all his “revolutionary appointees” together under the banner of NDC and ruled us for eight years.
Compared to Nkrumah, who built Ghana?
I was MP for Berekum from 2001 to 2008 and our NPP Administration took over from the Rawlings NDC era on January 7, 2001. I remember so well one meeting we had at Teachers Hall and Yaw Osafo Marfo, Finance Minister told us that the finances of Ghana were in total disarray.
Apparently the NDC Administration used to give different figures to World Bank/IMF on the state of the economy and told Parliament something else. You remember inflation in those days?
All national institutions were either in deep state of neglect, collapse or disintegration. The railway had long collapsed with no single train moving. Ghana Airways had collapsed. STC had collapsed. Omnibus Services Authority had collapsed…Rawlings, a nation builder?
On the whole, what will history finally say of Flt Lt JJ Rawlings? He was not a good dream for Ghana.