Of the myriad of fulsome tributes paid to the late Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings (Jerry John), the one I find most intriguing and confounding is that which describes him as the “FOUNDER OF THE 4TH REPUBLIC”. That such a completely false descriptor is how some will choose to remember a self- confessed hater of & truncator of a Democratic Republic, is a very apt testament to the “wolf in sheep’s clothing’ life of Jerry John.
True, Jerry John Rawlings was the First President of the 4th Republic of Ghana, but he certainly was not its Founder. The fact is that he was forced into a reluctant return to the constitutional Governance he truncated on 31 December 1981. I was a fortunate eyewitness to the transition to the process (as Energy Policy Advisor to the PNDC), the dropping of the 11 years of ‘P’ to give birth to the NDC (National Democratic Congress).
There is no question that Jerry John championed the cause of the Under-Class & the majority Ruled in any environment he found himself in: championed in the sense that he was a very ACTIVE ENGAGER, in stark contrast to the typical ‘Humpty-Dumpty’ posture of the many Ghanaians who only wonder ‘WHAT HAPPENED?’
Jerry John was therefore the Quintessential REBEL WITH A CAUSE; that was the AGREEABLE Side of Him. However, the Other side of him, which was MOST DISAGREEABLE, was the non-conformist, nay, subversive manner that characterized every action he took to ‘RIGHT THE VERY WRONGS HE SOUGHT TO UNDO’. Thus, throughout his life, Jerry John Rawlings Almost Always meant well in INTENT, BUT THE MANNER OF acting out his corrective measures, inevitably left a very Bitter aftertaste.
I first met Jerry John when I entered Achimota School in September 1964, where he & Nana Konadu were three years ahead of me, (and as inseparable then as they remained until his untimely death). It took no time to get to know that he and his bosom pals, Tony Gbeho (Komla Dumor’s uncle) & Larry Lee (who he reportedly executed during the PNDC era) were the most notorious anti-establishment students of that era.
I vividly recall an incident in which the trio locked up the Senior Prefect of Achimota because they blamed him for the removal from office of their Hero (and my mentor) Albert David Osei, as Deputy Senior Prefect. As if by fate, my very last conversation with Jerry John was at Albert Osei’s funeral in August 2019. We recalled that infamous school ‘kidnapping and he boomed heartily “he (SP) should have been put in jail!”.
The next time I encountered Jerry John after Achimota was in early 1988 when Ato Ahwoi & Theresa Owusu persuaded me to return from the ‘mother country’ to assist with laying a sound foundation for Energy in Ghana’s socio-economic development. As Energy Policy Advisor & Executive Director of the National Energy Board, I quickly encountered the transformed Anti-Order rebel Jerry John, transformed into the consummate Fear & Trepidation Dictator Jerry Rawlings, who had been ruling Ghana since the last day of 1981.
My first official act was to revise a Cabinet Memorandum to the PNDC. When I inquired as to why the narrative did not match the recommendations, the response was that the Chairman (Rawlings) had publicly announced the recommendations already so the memorandum had to fit the pronouncement. When I revised it, I was invited to the PNDC meeting to show just cause for contradicting the “old man” To my utter surprise, Chairman Rawlings accepted my suggested tweak.
After 20 years of studying & political engagement in liberal democratic UK, I found the prevailing atmosphere in Ghana, of a daily check of the mood of the absolute ruler, eerily spooky. The phrase “Let’s Check If the Old Man is in a Good Mood this morning” was for me the most disturbingly haunting experience of public service under ‘Junior Jesus” Chairman Rawlings.
The foregoing was the backdrop of the campaign & actions leading up to the birth of the 4th Republic of Ghana after Eleven years of ABSOLUTE MONARCHICAL “PROVISIONAL” Rule, after Justice D F Annan’s National Commission of Democracy concluded that the overwhelming majority of Ghanaians were in favour of a return to Democratic Governance, and the mechanics for the 4thRepublic were fully engaged.
A Consultative Assembly duly did its ‘Master’s Bidding’ by producing a document which essentially created a ‘CONSTITUTIONAL DICTATORSHIP PRESIDENCY for Ghana’ of unchecked Executive Power with a totally shackled Parliament.
Article 58 (1) The executive authority of Ghana shall vest in the President of Ghana and shall be exercised in accordance with the provisions laid out in this Constitution.
Article 76(2) The Cabinet shall ASSIST the President in the determination of general Policy of the government.
Article 108: Parliament shall not, unless the bill is introduced or the motion is introduced by, or on behalf of, the President-
- Proceed upon a bill including an amendment to a bill, that, in the opinion of the person presiding, makes provision for any of the following
(i) the imposition of taxation or the alteration of taxation otherwise than reduction; or.
(ii) the imposition of a charge on the Consolidated Fund or other public funds of Ghana or the alteration of any such charge otherwise than by reduction; or
(iii) the payment, issue or withdrawal from the Consolidated Fund or other public funds of Ghana of any moneys not charged on the Consolidated Fund or any increase in the amount of that payment, issue or withdrawal; or
(iv) the composition or remission of any debt due to the Government of Ghana; or
- Proceed upon a motion, including an amendment to a motion, the effect of which, in the opinion of the person presiding, would be to make provision for any of the purposes specified in paragraph (a) of this article.
The above three articles of the Constitution and many other powers of appointment of key offices of state, such as to supposedly INDEPENDENT BODIES, coupled with the total lack of powers of Parliament to make any INDEPENDENT Financial Commitments, have reinforced the view that the 4th Republican Constitution simply establishes a CONSTITUTIONAL DICTATORSHIP.
Even the creation of a “designer -fit” Dictatorship Constitution was not good enough for Jerry Rawlings as he transformed himself from the longest provisional Military Dictator into the elected first President of the 4th Republic of Ghana, enabled by a totally suppliant Parliament devoid of any Opposition MPs.
The decision of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) to boycott the 1992 Parliamentary Elections (in the wake of its defeat in the earlier Presidential elections) proved an unexpected boost to Jerry Rawlings’ ability to continue to rule with an iron fist. To all intents & purposes, the PNDC government just kept rolling on.
Without an Opposition presence in Parliament, the 4thRepublic of Ghana started on 7 January 1993 in pretty much the ‘Change but No Change’ scenario. Yes, Chairman Rawlings shed his Military garb for smart Civilian formal & traditional clothing, but to all intents & purposes, the 19 year ‘Provisional’ became ‘CONSTITUTIONAL’, but Dictatorship remained firmly rooted, both in Style & key personnel in charge.
Unfortunately, the fortuitous good luck that facilitated the seamless transition did not satisfy Jerry John Rawlings. He continued to rally against Democratic Governance, using many public opportunities to bemoan & denounce the loss of his ABSOLUTE Rule. Additionally, he tried to entrench key events of his insurrection into the new Republic, declaring and celebrating them as national holidays.
It was within the above context that many Ghanaians embarked on a vigorous campaign of Extra Parliamentary Opposition to the newly sanitised Dictatorial Rule in Ghana. The two most notable centres of activity were The Press & the Legal professions. The former intensified its strenuous efforts, started in the run up to democratic rule, whilst the latter embarked on a series of landmark legal challenges. The common denominator for both campaigns was the Constitution of Ghana which prescribes rules & procedures for governance under democratic structures.
Having had to suspend my desire to become an MP, because of the NPP boycott, I quickly accepted the invitation of Kofi Coomson to write a weekly Op-Ed in the Ghanaian Chronicle newspaper. Further opportunities to row out the progress of the 4th Republic came from Kweku Baako in the various versions of the Guide, Crusading Guide and New Crusading Guide.
This volume contains a selected collection of my written & published observations of President Jerry John Rawlings’ 8-year tenure as the first President of the 4th Republic. The collection necessarily focuses on the President’s actions, both deliberate & unintended, to continue to rule as a Military Dictator bounded by Rules.
This is not a judgement call on the GOOD, the BAD & the UGLY impacts of Jerry John Rawlings on Ghana’s evolution and development. It is simply aimed at setting the records straight on the patently false narrative that he was the Founder of the 4th Republic of Ghana.
It is what it is, an eyewitness account of an instinctive Dictator struggling to come to terms with having to operate within the rules & dictates of Democratic Governance. It is a historic record, not an Obituary where one is obliged by traditional norms, not to “speak ill of the dead”.