“I ended up in office not because I wanted to be chairman, to be head of state but it was just my passion to see justice done, my love for freedom, that’s what always put me in this position.”– Jerry John Rawlings (Former President)
Jerry John Rawlings was born in Accra, Ghana on the 22nd June 1947 to Victoria Agbotui and James R. Johns (Ghanaian and Scottish respectively) all of blessed memory. He was a former pilot in the Ghana Air Force and first came to prominence in May 1979 when he tried to overthrow the regime of Lieut. Gen. Frederick W. K. Akuffo. His efforts were thwarted and put in jail. Within a month, however, Mr. Rawlings was freed by fellow officers and quickly took charge of the Government.
Soon after his release, the ambitious young officer embarked on what he called a “housecleaning exercise” that sought to purge the country of corrupt politicians and business leaders and recalibrate Ghana’s national moral compass.
Although it would be years before Ghana would seriously put into practice the concepts of participatory decision making, Jerry J. Rawlings, initiated moves that sort to bring to life this policy. One of such moves was the setting up of the National Commission for Democracy (NCD). The commission’s principal functions were to engage in political education, advise the government on how to develop a participatory democracy, and monitor the government’s performance in fostering a democratic environment. One of the key achievements of the NCD was a report that introduced in October 1988, PNDC Law 207, which set out a new system of elected government at the district level. Voting for the 110 district assemblies began in some districts in November 1988 and was completed by the end of February 1989.
In 1990, the NCD spun its attention to national where it held several seminars that sought to sample views on the democratic structure of the central government. The NCD’s report, issued in March 1991, recommended the adoption of a multiparty system. It led to the constitution of the 260-member Consultative Assembly in August 25, 1991 (with 258 ultimate membership) charged with drafting the 1992 constitution. The drafted constitution together with the Transitional Provisions was subjected to a referendum on April 28, 1992, enacted on 8th May and gazetted on 15th May same year.
Also, the government in 1990, set up the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC), charged with formulating and implementing an enhanced economic strategy to consolidate the gains achieved by the Economic Reform Program (ERP) and to lay the foundations for accelerated economic growth and poverty reduction into the 21st century. The famous Ghana – vision 2020 strategy was formulated from these early efforts in the mid-1990s.
In 1992 under the watch of the man who some sect of the citizenry believed is/was Junior Jesus, with a new constitution reintroducing democratic rule, Presidential and parliamentary elections were held in November and December, respectively. The process of participatory decision making has continued and strengthened, leading to economic reforms that have produced mostly satisfactory results.
Being the man of the people, Flt Lt Rawlings committed a $50,000 World Food Prize as seed money for the setting up of the University for Development Studies, Tamale in 1992. This crucial role was in line with his government’s vision of accelerating the development of the then 3 Northern Regions. UDS became the fifth University to be established in Ghana.
Shortly after assuming office, the Rawlings administration was confronted with food shortages and famine (Go Slow 1983), but aggressive measures were implemented to avert such a crisis.
Subsidies on-farm inputs were distributed to farmers nationwide as a means of curtailing the problem. Also, the award incentives for best farmers was instituted
Under the agricultural policy and programme of the NDC from 1994-2000, the World Bank’s 1999-2000 Development Report recognized Ghana’s Food Production Index of 148% from 1995-1997 as the third highest achievement in its record, after Jordan (157%) and China (156%). Rawlings served two terms under constitutional rule and handed over to H. E. John Agyekum Kuffour in 2001.
In the area of telecommunication, the former military leader liberalized the airwaves and television stations ownership to encourage democracy. A lot of radio and TV stations together with newspapers were established. His regime partnered Telecom Malaysia to revolutionize the telecom space in the country. 279,000 fix phone lines and a lot of public pay phones were the outcome of this merger. Ghana became the 2nd country to have such benefits after Senegal.
To ease dependency on the central government, the District Assemblies’ Common Fund, the Ghana Education Trust Fund (GET Fund), the Road Fund, the EDIF, and the Energy Fund for the respective sectors were setup. Also, he Implemented a 10% and 12.5% Value Added Tax to finance public expenditure in the years 1998 and 2000 respectively.
As the world mourns his demise, many tributes had been coming in with one topic that stands out in all these – his mantra for probity and accountability. Many Ghanaians believe that Rawlings, more than any other individual in the country’s history, has led them through the difficult years of economic recovery and has given them back their self-respect and national pride.
The man whom we’ve all come to know as JJ held a complicated place in popular politics and the historical memory of the country.
Nii Okantah Ankrah Jnr is a NAFTI trained Broadcast Journalist. I was formerly working with JoyNews, a subsidiary of the Multimedia Group Ltd.
Aside from writing, I’m passionate about photography and thus indulge in it as and when I get the opportunity.
Through these two, I hope to positively affect the desired changes I want to see in this country and beyond.