Ex-President Jerry John Rawlings ruled Ghana for nineteen (19) controversial years. 

When he suddenly passed away on November 12, 2020, controversy greeted the news from all sides of the political divide.

The late Ghanaian President reportedly died of Covid-19 and even that was a source of great controversy as others have sought to dispute the cause of his death.

Before his sudden demise at 73, which followed immediately after the burial of his 101 years old mother, the ex-President controversially associated himself with his political opponents from the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) to the great displeasure of the leaders and supporters of the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) party, which he personally founded in 1992.

Both two main political parties sought to gain political sympathy from their association with the late leader prior to the December 7 general elections. 

After all, the ex-President had made it abundantly clear that he preferred the NPP, his political opponents in power to having his own NDC party rule against the foundational values and principles of probity and accountability, social justice and integrity that form the bedrock of the NDC party.

In their attempt to win sympathy votes, the NDC party including those described as ‘’babies with sharp teeth’’ who publicly denigrated the late party Founder for his open criticism of the NDC leadership, began to eulogize Jerry John Rawlings while asking Ghanaians to vote for the NDC party in the December 7 2020 election in honor of the former statesman. 

Rather than solemnly mourning the late party founder, the NDC held a vigil, which turned into political campaign rally in which speaker after speaker asked the population to vote for the NDC to give honor to the late President. 

The question of how voting for the NDC gives honor to the man who founded the party but grew out of it in his twilight, is yet to be answered.

But in a sharp rebuttal, the National Democratic Party (NDP), which is founded by Nana Konadu Agyeman–Rawlings, former first lady and widow of the late President Rawlings, called on the NDC to desist from using her late husband’s name in their campaign. 

In a press conference prior to the December 7 2020 polls, the NDP said the NDC, though founded by her husband had lost the moral authority to ride on the death of its founder for electoral fortunes since they failed woefully to honor him whiles he lived and even allegedly sponsored media attacks on him and his family.

“We are troubled that some of these same persons, upon the demise of President Rawlings, now seek to lead in mourning the man; they have begun to shed crocodile tears.  They spent thousands of dollars to sponsor videos made in Washington DC by one Kelvin Taylor, who is tipped to be information Minister in the event of a Mahama comeback, to insult President Rawlings in words, some of which we dare not repeat, and posted them all over the world through Facebook, WhatsApp, and other social media platforms’’.

To further isolate the NDC party and deepen the controversy over the legacy of its founder, Mrs. Rawlings first informed the President of Ghana, Nana Akufo Addo about the demise of JJ Rawlings without the knowledge of the leadership of the NDC.

Ghana’s President was the first to officially announce the passing of Rawlings rather than his family. 

And when the President and his entourage had signed the book of condolences at the Rawlings’ ridge residence, the book was taken away to prevent the NDC leadership and former President John Mahama from signing the book at the house. 

Later, the book was relocated to the international conference center for the public including the NDC party officials.

All these events created great controversy as Mrs. Rawlings appeared determined to take away any sympathy or political advantage that may accrue to the NDC party as a result of the passing of its founder. 

At the same, she did everything possible to give such political advantage, if it indeed existed, to President Nana Akufo Addo and the ruling NPP.

Rawlings was not only a former President of Ghana for 19 years. He was also a traditional statesman, a chief of his hometown Anlo in the Volta region of Ghana. 

In a deeply rooted traditional society like Ghana’s, it is sacrilegious to ignore traditional protocols upon the death of an elder of the society. But Mrs. Rawlings single-handedly and in an incorrigible manner planned and agreed with government of Ghana to hold the state funeral for the former president J.J Rawlings. 

So far, it has proven to be much easier to ignore political protocol and push the NDC aside than traditional protocols. And that is why the controversy over the passing of Rawlings escalated with the intervention of the Anlo traditional council who became outraged by the announcement of the final burial rites for the late former President Jerry John Rawlings.

A statement signed by Ambassador James Victor Gbeho, said to be the Head of the Funeral Planning Committee, on Monday, November 30, 2020, announced that the family and government have consulted and agreed that the state funeral for the ex-president will take place on Wednesday, December 23, 2020. 

The statement also added that the funeral ceremony will take place at Independence Square in Accra. 

But it appeared later the extended family and clan elders of the ex-President were left out of the decision reached with government of Ghana. 

The Awadada of the Anlo State, Togbi Agbesi Awusu II, said in a statement that the late former President was a properly installed chief of Anlo and so, honour must be accorded the customs, traditions, mores, and usages of Anlo tradition.  

 “Our anger stems from the fact that president JJ Rawlings was not only a former Head of State and President of the Republic of Ghana, he was also a properly installed Chief of Anlo land whose unfortunate demise must be dealt with in accordance with customs and traditions of Anlo’’.

He continued, “It needs to be brought to the attention of the public that the traditional council had brought to the attention of the immediate family its concerns on how to proceed with the funeral arrangements and was to have met them for final input into the funeral arrangement,” it said.

The announcement of the Funeral Planning Committee took the traditionalists by surprise and they saw this as “a total affront to Anlo custom, traditions, usage and mores of our people and we call on those behind this to take urgent remedial steps to enable us accord our dear departed a dignified send-off.’’

In what seemed like a veiled threat, the Anlo traditional council said ‘’ it reserves the right to take steps to ensure that “this error is remedied appropriately.

“We take this opportunity to inform H.E. Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo who we know is royal to ensure that the right procedures are adhered to.”

Weeks after the expression of outrage by the Anlo traditional council, the President of Ghana Nana Akufo Addo, a traditional royal himself, saw the wisdom in the stance taken by the traditionalists and he sought to de-escalate the situation by cancelling the state funeral date of December 23 2020 through the office of the late President.

On 17th December 2020, the office of the ex-president Rawlings announced a cancelation of the funeral date in a statement signed by Kobina Amoakwah Andoh of the communications directorate. 

The statement added, “a new date will be communicated to the public in due course.”

This temporary cancellation of the funeral of the ex-president of Ghana gives room for traditional and state protocol to be observed properly for an amicable and less controversial farewell for a man who arguably is the most controversial politician of Ghana in the past half century. 

Rawlings shot to fame as a revolutionary junior army officer who rose to the occasion to speak for the people at a time the masses of the country were boiling in anger over corruption and social and economic degradation among the political, business and military ruling classes in the country. 

Rawlings became the voice of the people for a long time when he ruled for 11 years as a dictator. But in 1992, he succumbed to the general will of the people when he transitioned the country into the 4th republican constitutional and multi-party democratic rule becoming the first President of the 4th republic of Ghana. 

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He founded the National Democratic Congress (NDC) on whose ticket he run and won elections to rule as a democratic leader for 8 years between 1992 and 2000.

And because he ruled with iron fists in the first 11 years as a dictator, the political opposition and the dissident community became his bitter ‘political enemies’. 

It therefore surprised many observers that in his twilight, Rawlings rose above his political history by making friends with President Nana Akufo Addo who spent the better part of his political life as a ‘bitter political enemy’ and opposing the Rawlings’ rule.

 If for nothing at all, the ex-president crossed the political bridge in the country during his lifetime and has earned himself a befitting state funeral with all political factions sympathetic to his memory and his legacy. But as the man lived his life with great controversy, he cannot finally depart from this life without a final dose of controversy over his funeral. 

Will the funeral controversy be the last great controversy surrounding Rawlings? Will there be greater controversies about him after he is gone? Will his unpublished biographical manuscript be a source of the next great controversy about the late Ghanaian leader? So many questions remain unanswered including the new date for the state funeral of Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings.

Story By: Sacut Amenga-Etego