Ghana’s former leader Jerry Rawlings, who seized power twice in military coups but went on to bring democratic rule to the West African country, died on Thursday at the age of 73, the country’s president said.
President Nana Akufo-Addo said Rawlings died on Thursday morning at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in the capital, Accra, where he had been receiving treatment after a short illness.
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“A great tree has fallen, and Ghana is poorer for this loss,” the president said.
Akufo-Addo ordered flags around the country to be lowered to half-mast for seven days of national mourning from Friday and said he was suspending campaigning for the upcoming election in December.
Rawlings was born in 1947 to a Scottish father and a Ghanaian mother who died in September at the age of 101.
Rawlings, who trained as an air force officer, came to power in 1979 after leading his first coup, and then transferring power to civilian rule soon after.
In December 1981, he staged a second coup and was Ghana’s military leader until he introduced multiparty elections in 1992 that returned the country to democracy.
He won the elections and was sworn in as president in 1993 and served two elected four-year terms, leaving office in 2001.
Rawlings handed over power to John Kufour of the opposition party who had defeated Rawlings’ vice president in the previous year’s election.
After stepping down, Rawlings remained a power broker in Ghanaian politics while serving in various international diplomatic posts, including as the African Union’s representative in Somalia.
African Union President Moussa Faki Mahamat tweeted that the former Ghanian leader was a “stalwart for pan-Africanism”.
It is with great sadness that I learnt of the passing of former president Jerry Rawlings of Ghana. Africa has lost a stalwart of Pan-Africanism and a charismatic continental statesman. My sincere condolences to his family, the people and the government of #Ghana
— Moussa Faki Mahamat (@AUC_MoussaFaki) November 12, 2020
Michael Amoah of the London School of Economics told Al Jazeera via Skype that Rawlings, a very populist figure, had a “very large influence” not only in Ghana, but across the African continent.
“He came at a time when he thought there was a lot of corruption from the upper and middle classes,” Amoah said.
“He wanted to bridge the gap between the rich and poor – and was therefore very popular among poverty-stricken people.”
Amoah added that Rawlings is likely to be remembered in Ghana as a “results-oriented person” and someone who was “bold and proactive”.
The former Ghanian president is survived by his wife, Nana Konadu Agyeman, whom he met while at Achimota School.
They have three daughters: Zanetor Rawlings, Yaa Asantewaa Rawlings, Amina Rawlings; and one son, Kimathi Rawlin