One of our keenest fears and concerns at the GhIIA.org revolves around the question of records in West Africa. Poor archiving and historical practices mean that a large part of the of the sub-region and continent’s record is lost or in danger of being lost.
Added to this is the fact that records which exist are not easily accessible, are often tainted by bias and anecdote, often consist of top-line summaries only, and is not disseminated or popularised. For instance, a detailed record of the negotiations that led to the Ghana-Mali-Guinea Union is not readily available in the general-knowledge of West Africa.
There is a keen need to capture the records-recollections, interviews, archives of the key players in West Africa lest they’re lost to memory. Alas, our keenest fears have come fruition as one of the most pivotal actors in West African affairs has passed unexpectedly.
Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings, Head of State in Ghana from 1982-2000, was a charismatic, lightning-rod figure who charged Ghana and the sub-region for over two decades.
His impact on diplomacy and Foreign Affairs in West Africa and Africa was immense. Indeed, there is extant narrative that his brand of ‘revolution’ created panic in many African capitals, with governments worried over coups through ‘clone-Rawlings’.
Many a popular insurrection was inspired by Rawlings – which often saw the leaders of such activity turn to Rawlings for advice. Indeed, as recently as a few weeks ago, the military junta in Mali made a point to visit him as they negotiated the period after their coup. Indeed, a major repository of the key record of diplomatic and strategic affairs in West Africa has been lost, as outlined in this obituary from the Guardian.
One of the deepest tragedies of this era, in our humble opinion, is that we will not be able to access first-hand information from President Rawlings. How will we find out his thoughts and knowledge about what came to be known as the Soussoudis Affair?
How did he get over the diplomatic and strategic difficulties caused by the expulsion of Ghanaians from Nigeria in 1983, to forge such strong links with Nigerian leaders like Generals Babaginda and Abacha?
What compelled him to keep Ghanaian peacekeepers in Rwanda when many others cut and run? Is it true he and President Museveni planned to airdrop troops into Ouagadougou, with Libyan support, to save Captain Sankara? Outside Nkrumah, JJ Rawlings has been the imprimatur on Ghanaian/ECOWAS foreign Policy, and his passing truly marks the end of an era.
We wish his family and loved ones, and the people of Ghana, our deepest sympathies.