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A revered pan-Africanist and former President of Ghana, Jerry Rawlings, who initially came to power as a flight lieutenant of the Ghana Air Force following a failed coup d’état, died on Thursday from COVID-19 complications.
But many did not know that the late revolutionist killed three Heads of State to become President of the former Gold Coast now known as Ghana.
He was part of the Free Africa Movement, an underground movement of military officers who wanted to unify Africa through a series of coups.
On 15 May 1979, five weeks prior to civilian elections, Rawlings and six other soldiers staged a coup against the government of General Fred Akuffo, but failed and was arrested by the Ghanaian military.
He was publicly sentenced to death in a General Court Martial and imprisoned.
However, his statements on the social injustices that motivated his actions won him civilian sympathy.
While awaiting execution, Rawlings was sprung from custody on June 4, 1979 by a group of soldiers.
Claiming that the government was corrupt beyond redemption and that new leadership was required for Ghana’s development, he led the group in a coup to oust the Akuffo government and Supreme Military Council.
Shortly afterwards, he became the Chairman of a 15-member Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) which primarily comprised of junior officers.
He ruled for 112 days and arranged the execution by firing squad of eight military officers, including Generals Kotei, Joy Amedume, Roger Felli, and Utuka, as well as the three former heads of state: Afrifa, Acheampong, and Akuffo.
The executions were dramatic events in Ghana history, which had suffered few instances of political violence.
As a parting shot, we highlight 12 other things you may not know about Rawlings who served two terms as the democratically elected President of Ghana.
– John Jerry Rawlings was born Jerry Rawlings John on June 22, 1947 in Accra, Ghana, to Victoria Agbotui and James Ramsey John, a chemist from Scotland.
– Rawlings attended Achimota School and a military academy at Teshie.
– He was married to Nana Konadu Agyeman, who he met while at Achimota College.
– They had three beautiful daughters – Zanetor Rawlings, Yaa Asantewaa Rawlings, Amina Rawlings; and one son, Kimathi Rawlings.
– He finished his secondary education at Achimota College in 1967.
– He joined the Ghana Air Force shortly afterwards; on his application, the military switched his surname John and his middle name Rawlings.
– In March 1968, he was posted to Takoradi, in Ghana’s Western Region to continue his studies.
– He graduated in January 1969, and was commissioned as a Pilot Officer, winning the coveted “Speed Bird Trophy” as the best cadet in flying the Su-7 ground attack supersonic jet aircraft as he was skilled in aerobatics.
– He earned the rank of Flight Lieutenant in April 1978.
– During his service with the Ghana Air Force, Rawlings perceived deterioration in discipline and morale due to corruption in the Supreme Military Council (SMC).
– As promotion brought him into contact with the privileged classes and their social values, his view of the injustices in society hardened. He was thus regarded with some unease by the SMC.
– After the 1979 coup, he involved himself with the student community of the University of Ghana, where he developed a more leftist ideology through reading and discussion of social and political ideas.