Ghanaians across the country have received the news of the sudden passing of Former President Jerry John Rawlings with disbelief and sorrow.

The Founder of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) passed on Thursday at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, at 73, following a short illness.

At his Ridge residence and the headquarters of the NDC, the mood was sombre with many gathered in small groups to discuss the charismatic leader who ruled Ghana for 19 years as both a military and civilian leader.

Mr Rawlings was passionate about championing the cause of the poor and protecting the environment. 

He also espoused the principles of probity, accountability and integrity, while in government and thereafter. 

“Why now? Former President Rawlings should have seen the outcome of this election,” Mr Kwesi Mensah, a teacher, told the Ghana News Agency, in an interview in Accra. 

“I can’t believe he is gone!,” Sarah Anthony, an 80-year-old retired nurse, said. “I thought Rawlings was invincible. I mean everybody will die one day, but Rawlings was so full of life that I never imagined that he would go any sooner.”

Other people the GNA’s correspondents spoke to across the country, expressed shock at the news, with some expressing their condolences to his family.

Many expressed their love and admiration for Mr Rawlings, saying he contributed a great deal to Ghana’s socio-economic progress, especially the building of infrastructure.   

Mr Rawlings was the first president of the Fourth Republic, ruling from January 1993 to January 2001, having served the maximum two terms.

Before then, he was the Head of State from December 1981 to December 1992, coming to power through a military coup.

Born 22 June 1947, in Accra, Gold Coast, the former air force officer and politician first appeared on the Ghanaian political scene on 15 May, 1979 when he led a group of junior officers in the Ghana Air Force in an unsuccessful coup d’état that resulted in his arrest and imprisonment.

He was court-martialled in public and sentenced to death. Due to his display of patriotism in his defense speeches, he was widely seen across the country as a true son of Ghana, and was nicknamed Junior Jesus for his initials “JJ”.

Before he could be executed, another group of junior officers within the Ghana Army led by Major Boakye-Djan, overthrew the then military government of Lieutenant General Fred Akuffo in a bloody coup on June 4, 1979. Major Boakye-Djan and his men also set Rawlings free from prison, and installed him as head of the new government – the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC).

At the time of the coup, Ghana was already far into the process of returning to civilian rule and general elections were already scheduled. Hence, the AFRC went ahead to conduct an election and handed over power to Dr. Hilla Limann who won the popular vote in the election to establish the Third Republic.

Less than two years later, Dr. Limann’s civilian and constitutional government was overthrown again by Jerry Rawlings on 31 December, 1981.

He then installed the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) regime. In all Jerry Rawlings performed three coups d’état in Ghana, two of which were successful.

Rawlings was married to Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings and had four adult children: three females and a male. He was the joint recipient of the 1993 World Hunger Award.

Appointment as AU High Representative For Somalia

On 8 October 2010 the Chairperson of the Commission of the African Union (AU), Jean Ping appointed Mr. Jerry John Rawlings, as the AU High Representative for Somalia.

Meanwhile, the Flagbearer of the NDC, Mr John Dramani Mahama has suspended his six-day campaign tour, which began in the Ashanti Region on Tuesday.