Jerry John Rawlings got involved in national politics as Ghana was in the throes of food shortages and a dire economy that had led to rampant inflation. People remember him for leading by example.
I remember watching him on the daily evening newscast on black and white TV as a little boy.
Video clips showed a bare-chested officer in a military jumpsuit leading teams of volunteers hammering in nails and lifting timber planks into place to build rail tracks needed to cart cocoa beans from farms deep inland to the harbours to earn much-needed export revenue.
Huge crowds turned out to hear him chastise the political elite.
People would be spellbound as he gestured, swayed his body, growled, and sometimes joked while emphasising his key message of ending rife indiscipline and corruption.
“Probity, transparency and accountability” were buzzwords he used frequently to describe the standard he expected from public officeholders.
His critics argued that he fell short of these expectations. They accuse him of human rights abuses, including the execution of two former heads of state and army generals accused of economic sabotage, abuse of power to amass wealth and misuse of state funds.
Political opponents also accused his administration of being intolerant to dissent while human rights campaigners were outraged at the arrest and imprisonment of opposition leaders.