On the 15th of May 1979, the political landscape in Africa was introduced to a fresh player. His name was Jerry Rawlings. On this day, today, 30 years ago, there had been a mutiny by junior officers in the army in Ghana. On May 28, 1979, Rawlings, together with six others who were arrested earlier, appeared before a General Court Martial in Accra, charged with leading a mutiny of junior officers of the Ghanaian Armed Forces on May 15, 1979. There was strong public reaction, especially after his statement had been read in court, explaining the social injustices that had prompted him to act. The ranks of the Armed Forces, in particular, expressed deep sympathy with his stated aims.
When he was scheduled for another court appearance on 4 June 1979, Rawlings was sprung from custody. With the support of both the military and civilians, he led a bloody coup that ousted the Supreme Military Council (SMC) from office and brought the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) to power and he bacame the head of state. Six moths later, he relinguished power to a democratic civilian government.
On 31 December 1981, JJ as he had come to be affectionately known, deposed the same civilian government he had relinguished power to, and became chairman of the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC). Composed of both military and civilian leaders, the PNDC oversaw some of the most remarkable free market laws and regulations in Ghana to date. This is despite the fact that the international community was citing human rights abuses. In 1992 JJ was elected Executive President of the 4th Republic of Ghana, and went on to be re-elected in 1996. In 2000, he handed over power to John Kuffour of the opposition NPP party who had pipped his preferred choice JEA Mills.
This is by no means a short history. The man has come of age. Two quick observations. He is one of the few military rulers who handed over power to a civilian government. He is also one of the few leaders in Africa who went on to hand over power to an opposition party at the expiry of their term without trying to re-write the constitution.
Today, 30 years ago, JJ entered the African political jungle. You can judge for yourself.
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