The Legacy of J.J. Rawlings in Ghanaian Politics, 1979-2000

by John L. Adedeji

Abstract

Jerry John Rawlings, Ghana’s leader since the December 31, 1981 coup until the 2000 elections, was a Flight Lieutenant in the Air Force and a militant populist when he led the first coup of June 4, 1979, that overthrew the regime of Gen. Fred Akuffo, who had, in turn, deposed his predecessor, Gen. I.K. Acheampong, in a palace coup. According to Shillington (1992), Rawlings was convinced that after one year of the Akuffo regime, nothing had been changed and the coup amounted to a “waste of time,” and “it was then up to him to change not only the status quo, but also put the country back on track” [1].

Rawlings, unlike many other leaders in Ghana’s history, subsequently led the country through the difficult years of economic recovery and succeeded in giving back to Ghanaians their national pride. Chazan (1983) observes “without Rawlings’ strength of character and unwavering determination, Ghana would not have survived the Economic Recovery Programs (ERPs) of the 1980s put in place by the ruling Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC)” [2]. Rawlings saw his leadership role to be that of a “watchdog” for ordinary people and he addressed problems of incompetence, injustice and corruption.

Rawlings also instituted a transition from authoritarianism to multi-party democracy by attempting to decentralize the functions of government from Accra to other parts of the country [3]. When the PNDC established the People’s Defence Committees (PDCs), a system of cooperatives, it became a unique move never before seen in Ghana’s political economy.

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John L. Adedeji is with the Doctoral Program at the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan, U.S.A.