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Friday, 1 December, 2000, 16:53 GMT
Rawlings: The legacy
Jerry John Rawlings on horseback
The man in overalls hailed as the people's saviour
Besides its first President, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, no political leader has had as much of an impact on Ghana as Jerry John Rawlings.

Rawlings has been good to Ghana. This country would have been in ruins without him

Long-term aid
And perhaps he was destined to lead.

Secondary school friends remember him as outspoken and rebellious.

Kojo Boakye-Djan, a retired army major and co-conspirator in the 1979 coup, recalls how the Catholic Rawlings was the only person who dared to associate with him school back in 1963 after he had told the authorities he believed in traditional ancestral worship.

He is like a comet which we all looked up to for extra light only to be engulfed in darkness

Former associate
"When I informed the authorities about my religion and everyone was looking at me strangely, Jerry was the only student who walked up to me and whispered, 'Hey, I support you'."

Stoned idealists

Mr Boakye-Djan led troops to free the then Flight Lieutenant Rawlings from behind bars after a failed mutiny in May 1979.

JJ Rawlings and President Limann
Handing over to President Limann in 1979
That jail-break and subsequently successful coup saw Rawlings and his associates seize power.

The following month saw the establishment of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), mostly a pack of stoned and brutal idealists with Rawlings as its Chairman.

The desperate masses hailed him as Hero, Lord, Saviour, Junior Jesus.

Thus empowered, he had eight generals executed and oversaw a chaotic though popular three-month rule before handing over to President Limann who won the hastily arranged general elections in June.

People's revolution

Two-and-a-half years later Rawlings was back, this time for the long haul.

I don't know any law and I don't understand economics, but I know it when my stomach is empty

JJ Rawlings
He rode in on the back of his earlier appeal and the people's impatience with the Limann administration's inability to provide a quick fix for their economic and social woes, and he called his return a people's revolution.

He established a People's National Defence Council (PNDC) at the Castle, the seat of government in Accra, and people's defence committees at grassroots level, designed theoretically to 'give power to the people'.

The thrust of the PNDC's agenda was socialist, his advisers were uncompromisingly leftist.

But Rawlings himself was never particularly keen on ideology.

"Don't ask me what my ideology or economic programme is," he once told a group of journalists.

"I don't know any law and I don't understand economics, but I know it when my stomach is empty."

Common touch

He would smoke half a cigarette and store the remainder behind his ear to light up later, in the manner of a poor workman for whom a full stick was a luxury.

JJ Rawlings
Rousing orator
His skill was to work the masses into giddiness; to provide leadership trimmed of pompous political embroidery; to talk the people's talk and walk their walk.

He left the structural adjustments and economic re-wiring to intellectuals.

World Bank romance

Within three years, however, the din was dying down and the euphoria waning.

The PNDC days were a period of sheer terror and repression

Kweku Baako
After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1984, Rawlings turned right to western donors and the IMF and World Bank.

Hardened left-wing comrades accused him of 'betraying the revolution'.

There were coup attempts and a parting of the ways. Coup-plotters were executed and opponents of the new westerly direction were jailed or fled into exile.

Anti-radical backlash

Kweku Baako is the publisher of the Crusading Guide newspaper and was a supporter of Rawlings first coup but he does not hold fond memories of the PNDC days.

"The PNDC days were a period of sheer terror and repression".

President Rawlings with his family
Family man
Mr Baako was jailed for nearly two years without trial for opposing the PNDC.

He says he knows scores of people who were led out of cells at night at the time and have not been heard of since.

In 1982, three judges and a retired army officer were abducted.

They were killed gruesomely at a military range in circumstances that have led to accusations of complicity being levelled at Rawlings and his wife.

An official enquiry at the time exonerated them, but there are growing calls from families of the victims for fresh investigations.

Darling of the West

Despite his questionable human rights record, Rawlings nevertheless became a darling of the Western donors who poured at least $5b into the Ghanaian economy after the regime signed on to economic reforms.

Close associates say he was gifted not only with a sixth sense, but also an extra pair of nostrils, for survival

Subsequently a lot of basic social facilities were restored and commerce increased.

There were modest new foreign investments as scores of state enterprises were privatised.


And then, in 1992, Rawlings finally swapped his airforce fatigues for smart suits and ran for president, winning multi-party elections on the ticket of his National Democratic Congress, NDC.

President Rawlings with Queen Elizabeth II
Royal respectability
Four years later, he repeated the feat although the opposition, led by the New Patriotic Party (NPP), said both elections were stolen.

Over the last eight years, he has managed an uncanny diplomatic balance act between coddling Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha and speaking on behalf of Libyan leader Muamar Gaddafi, and receiving US President Bill Clinton and the Queen of England.

Close associates say he was gifted not only with a sixth sense, but also an extra pair of nostrils, for survival.

What is the legacy?

But now Rawlings must go.

How should he be remembered?

"Rawlings has been good to Ghana. This country would have been in ruins without him," says his long-time aide Valerie Sackey.

Wrong, says Yao Graham, editor of Public Agenda, and one of a group of young Marxists who worked with Rawlings in the early eighties.

"He's turned Ghana into a colony," Mr Graham said.

"He is like a comet which we all looked up to for extra light only to be engulfed in darkness."

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