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Hero or Villain: Jerry Rawlings’ 8 Most Impactful Actions In Ghana And Africa



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Jerry Rawlings may be dead but Africa—particularly Ghanaians—continue to live his legacy. His political influence in the West African nation may only be compared to Kwame Nkurumah. While some regard him as a hero, others have a more bizarre opinion about him. Born to a Ghanaian mother and a Scottish father, tribute continues to pour in for the ex-leader and flight lieutenant.

According to a BBC report, Jerry Rawlings died from a heart attack. This is coming less than a month to the 2020 Ghana presidential elections. He died at Korle Bu Teaching Hospital. Before his death, the 73-year-old ex-president was in support of the re-election of former President Mahama. To honor the former leader, President Nana Akufo Addo has suspended his re-election campaign. The campaign team describes Rawlings as an “iconic figure and founder of the National Democratic Congress (NDC)”.

Ascend to power

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In 1969, Jerry Rawlings was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Ghanaian air force. Consequently, he became a flight lieutenant with a special skill in aerobatics. Leading a robust team of junior officers, Rawlings led a successful military coup in June 1979. However, he led a successful civilian transition to President Hilla Limann.

Limann quickly retired Jerry Rawlings from the air force. Two years later, Rawlings overthrew Limann accusing him of leading the nation “down to total economic ruin”. Following the introduction of multi-party elections in 1992, Rawlings contested and won in 1993. After serving two terms, he stepped down in 2001. Nevertheless, he continues to wield a strong influence on the country’s democratic process.


8 most impactful actions of Jerry Rawlings in Ghana and Africa

Like an onion, Jerry Rawlings had layers that kept changing at a different point in his life. At some point, he was a fierce fighter and at another, a socialist. However, there are a number of things that he did which will resonate for many years to come. Below are a handful of them.

#1. Overt detest for corruption

Twice, Jerry Rawlings had to overthrow the government as well as jail or execute people he tried and found guilty of mismanaging public funds. However, some accuse him of crimes against humanity due to the executions. One of these controversial killings was the execution of Supreme Court judges by firing squad.

#2. Challenged the government

Following the lifting of the ban on political parties in 1979, Jerry Rawlings became active. Consequently, he channeled his popularity into government criticism.

#3. Lover of the poor

Several times, Jerry Rawlings called on the Ghanaian government to do more to help the poor. It is not surprising that he ran a socialist government for some time after ascending to power.

#4. Championed political stability

It was the coups of the 1960s and 1970s by Jerry Rawlings that ushered in a long period of political stability. Today, Ghana is one of the most peaceful nations in West Africa.

#5. Spearhead debt relief

In the later years of his life, Jerry Rawlings was committed to a better Africa. Consequently, he campaigned for the writing off of the international debts by African nations.


#6. Peaceful electoral transition

More than once, we hear of African leaders doing everything to stay in power. Some go as far as altering the constitution to seek a third term in office. Jerry Rawlings was different. After serving his two tenure, he stepped down in 2001.

#7. Reviving Ghana’s economy

When his populist measures were not working, Jerry Rawlings quickly reversed to conservative economic policies. This includes privatizing lots of state-owned companies, dropping subsidies and price controls, and devaluing the currency. These free-market measures led to a speedy revival of Ghana’s economy.

#8. Boost Ghana’s international image

By committing many Ghanaian troops to UN peacekeeping missions, Rawlings was able to boost Ghana’s international image. The majority of the peacekeeping operations were in Iraq, Lebanon, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

12 Impactful quotes by Jerry Rawlings

Jerry Rawlings’s death is coming a few weeks after the burial of his mother. There are unconfirmed reports that his death may be due to COVID-19 complications. During his reign from 1993 to 2001 as the president, Rawlings made some memorable remarks that often hint at his character and belief. Here are some of his most iconic quotes.


  1. The test of religious belief is not in pious platitudes and cautious charity but in positive and creative action.
  2. I, Rawlings will not turn round and commit the very crime for which another man lost his life.
  3. People with conscience are sometimes appalled by the extreme insensitivity displayed by some political appointees. The unprecedented levels of corruption, offensive show of power, and opulence by some at a time when our country requires prudence and frugality is something that I call on President Mahama and his vice to set their eyes on
  4. I have a right to my identity. Don’t take it away. Christianize me if you want but do not westernize me.
  5. We are yet to win our freedom from the black men that took over from the white men.
  6. I am not an expert in law, I am not an expert in economies. However, I am an expert in working on an empty stomach while wondering when and where the next meal will come from. I know what it feels like to go to bed with a headache, for want of food.


  1. Nothing beats logic than a government that forces itself on its citizens. A genuine conducted electoral process should be without the harsh use of the armed forces, and without fear of intimidation. This is the best way to assure people that their will has prevailed, thus produces a cleansing effect in the society.
  2. What is needed is the ability to empower the people and the integrity of leadership. Leadership should not be used to intimidate our citizens, rather it should empower them.
  3. Food is a political weapon…Africa’s foremost defense is self-sufficiency in food. Until we attain a substantial measure of freedom from food dependency, we are vulnerable to manipulation by the wealthier nations.
  4. Democracy is not realized merely by having machinery for registering voters and getting them to vote every four years, but also by there being machinery for identifying the needs of those voters in between the election periods and monitoring the realization of those needs.
  5. We can vote people in and out but what we need to do inside this country is to establish a situation where even if it is the devil that rules Ghana, by virtue of certain procedures and practices, the devil will not get away with what he wants. Rather, he will do what the people expect of him.
  6. The denial of the will of the people and its attendant corruption is what used to generate the coups of the past. If we want to distance our political dispensation from coup d’états then it is incumbent upon us to maintain the sanctity of the right of choice and the electoral process.

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