“There was never a man, or would ever be a man like Jerry John Rawlings. He was loved and hated, praised and vilified all in one breadth ─ the same way he divided opinions ─ a common trait of liberators!”
He was a very rare specie, the kind of man you meet once in a thousand years. No wonder, at the height of his emergence, he was famously nicknamed “Junior Jesus”, in recognition of his idealistic enthusiasm for the country he loved so much, the Ghana he tried to save from corruption and decay.
There was never a man or would ever be a man like Jerry John Rawlings. So paradoxical were his attributes that he was both loved and hated, praised and vilified in much the same way as he divided opinions ─ a common trait of liberators.
His graces were generational ─ bombastic, revolutionary, raw, charismatic, enigmatic, dramatic, idealistic, dominant, fearless, ballistic, adventurous, combative, vexatious, scheming, retributive, controversial, bitter-sweet, generous, passionate, explosive, loveable, handsome, humorous, affable, unstructured, unmitigated, principled, definitive, secretive, and this one ─ adorable lover!
When he first burst into the scene on June 4, 1979, I was only a boy. But I remember that eventful day so vividly, for while playing football with my friends, a nearby radio blasted patriotic songs throughout the day, only interrupted at brief moments by announcements instructing military officers to report to various military installations and barracks for their own safety.
Of course, I was too young to understand things fully, but Ghana has never been the same since June 4th 1979. After ruling the country for 112 days, the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) led by Jeremiah John Rawlings yielded power to the Limann Administration, only for him to stage a come-back coup on December 31, 1981. The new military junta, the Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC) ruled for 11 long years, until national and international pressure forced the country to return to civilian rule, hence the birth of the Fourth Republic in 1992 with “civilian” Rawlings as President.
As a military dictator, JJ’s captivating charisma and raw zeal earned him mass following and public support throughout the length and breadth of Ghana. He enraptured students all over the country with his unique physicality, dress code, communication style and revolutionary fervor so much so that it became common place for students to dress, speak and act like JJ.
It is no exaggeration to say that Jerry Rawlings ignited patriotism among students and the public in a manner that had not been seen before in the history of Ghana. He led university students to clean choked gutters, carry cocoa beans from farms and deserted places to warehouses, formed community based organizations for communal labor and development programs. JJ lit the flame of nationalism and love for country almost unilaterally by virtue of his personality.
But there were excesses too, a lot of it. Unruly soldiers engaged in widespread acts of brutality never seen before in Ghana. JJ hated rich men. He blamed them for the country’s woes and made them pay. An elderly man in whose house my family lived, and who worked very hard on his cocoa farm to make his money was stripped naked by armed soldiers and publicly whipped to pulp for amassing illegal wealth. You can imagine the consternation this generated in my young heart.
Military adventurists seized properties of hard-working Ghanaians and sold them at control price. I recall one instance where everyone who had 50 cedi notes had to take them to the bank for exchange. Many Ghanaians complied with the directive, hoping to get their moneys back probably in lower denominations. But that was the end of story. Nothing was ever heard of those monies!
Under his military rule, people were whisked away by military men at night, never to be seen or heard of again. The atrocities of the time forced many people to go into exile, or risk being captured and roasted by trigger-happy military junta.
But JJ could not possibly have known about every act of wickedness his soldiers committed in every town or village in Ghana. But as the leader, it was his duty to reign in his troops. The breakdown of law and order is entirely blamable on him.
But forget about the execution of the military officers by the AFRC in 1979, and forget about the disappearances that accompanied both coups. Perhaps, it is the price we all had to pay for the democracy, the peace and stability we are enjoying under the Fourth Republic.
Papa J is no more, but as long as the Fourth Republic endures, his memory will live on. He meant well and risked his life for the good of this country. The excesses of his military adventurism notwithstanding, he remains the biggest name in Ghana’s recent political history.
May his gentle soul find eternal rest and peace from God our heavenly father!