Thanks for the opportunity given me to make a statement on the birthday of former President JJ Rawlings.
On November 12, 2020, Ghana was struck by a massive earthquake that shook its very foundations and uprooted a giant oak tree. Former President Flt Lt Jerry John Rawlings, bade farewell to his beloved country, sending shock waves across the length and breadth of the globe.
It is less than one year of his passing to eternity. Mr. Speaker, I am honoured that as a former special aide of this great statesman, you have offered me the opportunity to eulogise him on the occasion of what would have been his 74th birthday.
Former President Rawlings was admired locally and globally for his charisma, sincerity, passion, drive, patriotism and commitment to the pursuit of the anti-corruption agenda.
Since he led an uprising against the political and economic decay confronting the country 42 years ago, Chairman Rawlings, as he was then known, never wavered in his pursuit of the ideals of freedom, justice, probity and accountability.
His avowed pursuit of these ideals brought him into conflict with some, but also won him mass acclaim not only in Ghana but globally. In our own region, Nigerians are never tired of expressing their regret that Ghana had such a personality leading her instead of their country. Indeed after his sudden demise, Nigerians wept as hard as Ghanaians. They were equally bereaved.
Chairman Rawlings founded the National Democratic Congress (NDC), which remains a huge force to reckon with in Ghanaian politics. Mr. Speaker, you and 137 members of Parliament are direct descendants of this political force whose birth changed the political dynamics of Ghana and has contributed to the most stable political period in our country’s history.
President Rawlings is seen as the father of the Fourth Republic and has been celebrated for his willingness to hand over power when his tenure of office ended. With that singular act, he created the precedent that has blessed this country with three more seamless leadership transitions. The peace and tranquility we enjoy today is a legacy of this hero who, as a young man, won the coveted Speed Bird trophy during training to become one of Ghana’s most celebrated Air Force pilot.
Post-Presidency, His Excellency Jerry John Rawlings continued to pursue his ideals with the firm belief that if we all put our hands on deck and pursued our agenda with sincerity and integrity, we will develop our country in the right direction and ensure that we are all beneficiaries of social justice.
Ghana’s road to economic and political recovery after the retrogression of the 1970s was initiated by His Excellency Jerry John Rawlings, when he launched the pragmatic Economic Recovery Programme to revive the financial health of Ghana and engender economic growth and sustenance.
As a leader, his objective was to institutionalise participatory governance that allowed people at the local level to determine their own developmental priorities. To quote him, “Our objective is to end, once and for all, the parasitic relationship that enables the urban elite not only to live off the sweat of the rural dweller, but to dictate to him the conditions of his existence.” Today, the District Assembly concept is a reality, and that was engineered during the tenure of this illustrious son of Ghana.
J. J. Rawlings focused on human-centred policies in order to improve the all-round status of Ghanaians and Ghana. The list of projects during his tenure as Chairman of the PNDC and President of Ghana under NDC are endless. With food security as his priority, Ghana recorded a food production growth of 148 per cent for the period 1995-1997, ranking third after Jordan and China.
Under his leadership, the Ghana Export Promotion Council was created in 1994 to help diversify exports in Ghana and promote incentives.
President Rawlings is recognized for literally bridging the divide between northern and southern Ghana with the construction of major roads that have today ensured that traveling to or from those parts of the country is not a multiple-day journey. Electricity distribution was expanded across Ghana, bringing in its wake a whole new dimension to the cause of rural and national development.
His Excellency Rawlings was not only Ghana-oriented. He remained committed to peace and stability on the African continent and pursued a policy of nurturing neighbourly relations. He contributed to conflict resolution in countries such as Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Liberia. In 1994, he became the ECOWAS Chairman during the first Liberian war. Under his chairmanship, the Akosombo Accord and Accra Peace Agreement were signed. Liberians are forever grateful for the effort Ghana made to help end the civil war in that country.
In the area of tourism and Panafricanism, former President Rawlings ensured that under his tenure the concept of the Panafrican Historical Theatre Project (PANAFEST) was given life when in 1992 the first PANAFEST event was held. The event which together with the Emancipation Day have become regular commemorative days in this country, have also helped to boost tourism tremendously. Prominent African-Americans such as Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick, Isaac Hayes and Jermaine Jackson have all taken advantage of the celebrations to visit Ghana. What is now rechristened as the Year of Return took place long before today.
In 1993, he received the Prestigious Hunger Award and donated the $50,000 cash prize as seed money for the establishment of the University of Development Studies. Today the University is one of Ghana’s major Universities, with campuses in Tamale, Wa, Nyankpala and Navrongo.
President Rawlings was never inactive. He commented on social and political issues without fear or favour.
The list of awards, honorary doctorates and citations is endless and will take a whole day to list here. But we cannot forget his contribution to the easing of the conflict in Somalia as the African Union’s High Representative for Somalia. We cannot also forget his role as United Nations Eminent Person on International Volunteerism.
As part of his 70th birthday in 2017, a symposium was held under the theme “Protecting and Safeguarding National Environment for Future Generations”. Experts from academia; individuals and other state actors spoke extensively on Climate Change in Ghana; Small Scale mining; Sustainable use of our Coastal and Marine environment drawing particular attention to vulnerable communities.
This brave, affable, passionate and proud advocate would have been 74 today.
I am proud to inform the House that the Rawlings Foundation, established to build on the legacy of this great son of Ghana and Africa, will this coming weekend organise a tree-planting project at the Achimota School, his alma mater, to mark his birthday and to immortalise the environmental credentials of the greenest of Ghanaian leaders.
Mr. Speaker, Jerry John Rawlings, came, saw and conquered and his legacy should be one that this house should encourage the youth to emulate.
In the end, despite his political ideologies and leanings, our brothers on the other side did not hesitate to court his counsel and friendship. His talismanic political prowess was admired by all.
The legend lives on! Rest in Peace, Flt Lt Jerry John Rawlings.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker for this honour.