Ghana: funeral of Jerry Rawlings, former president, in the midst of the battle for his political heritage

#Other countries : Ghana is preparing to finally bury its former president, Jerry Rawlings, who died on November 12, whose two main parties in the country, recently battling in extremely close elections, are still fighting for the legacy.

National tributes begin Sunday and will last four days, before the funeral on January 27 in the capital Accra.

First scheduled for December 23, the funeral was canceled at the last moment, then postponed for more than a month, after battles between his family, traditional chiefs, and political leaders.

Jerry “JJ” Rawlings, who came to power in 1981 after two successive coups d’etat, remained there for 19 years, including 11 years of military dictatorship and two presidential terms. He remains today a tutelary figure in this West African country, but also a symbol of Pan-Africanism on the continent.

A few days before the funeral ceremony, which will take place on Independence Square, symbol of victory over colonial England, the site and the adjacent avenue were already swarming with soldiers.

READ ALSO: Ghana: former president Jerry Rawlings died on Thursday

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“They are afraid that there is mayhem. Everyone wants to get their hands on our former president,” said Esther Amoo, a neighboring shopkeeper, watching the soldiers who had come to train for the ceremony, assault rifle in the air. ‘shoulder. “Ever since JJ died, it’s been a mess everywhere!”

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The organization of the funeral has indeed become a highly coveted political trophy, especially since Jerry Rawlings died in the middle of the presidential campaign, just a few weeks before the poll.

His status gives him the right to a state funeral, but the National Democratic Congress (NDC), his party, currently in opposition, demanded to be associated with their organization.

A party official even threatened to go and dig up his body so that “the party he founded” could bury him “once again”.

Democratic roots

Yet in 2009, the break was well and truly consumed between Jerry Rawlings and the NDC, whose elders he described as “old evil dwarves” and the younger ones as “babies with sharp teeth”.

READ ALSO: Presidential in Ghana: the tone hardens between the camps of the two favorites

He even helped Nana Akufo-Addo, the current president, to win his first election in 2016, against John Mahama, the NDC candidate. In 2020, the two longtime opponents clashed once again, but Jerry Rawlings was no longer there to referee the duel.

“This whole affair of political affiliation is a big joke,” says Emmanuel Gyimah-Boadi, Ghanaian political scientist and co-founder of the Afrobarometer think tank.

Jerry Rawlings was deeply democratic-skeptical and never missed an opportunity to express his distaste for multipartyism. For him, it was an invention of the West that did not suit Africa. It is therefore absurd that our current parties claim this today! “.

Paradoxically, however, it is Ghana’s solid anchoring in democracy that constitutes Jerry Rawlings’ main legacy. A turn initiated with bad grace, after 11 years of military dictatorship.

“Ghanaians have always considered single-party politics an aberration,” assures Emmanuel Gyimah-Boadi.

READ ALSO: Presidential in Ghana: Nana Akufo-Addo reelected with 51.59% of the vote, the opposition contests

Under popular pressure and fearing to be dislodged by a coup d’état like his predecessor Kwame Nkrumah, Jerry Rawlings had the Constitution of the Fourth Republic adopted in 1992, intended to demilitarize political life and establish a multiparty system.

In 2000, at the end of his two successive authorized mandates, Jerry Rawlings agrees to everyone’s surprise to cede power to the opponent John Kufuor, winner of the presidential election.

By respecting its own Constitution, it allowed Ghana to enter into political alternation.

Close to Sankara and Kadhafi, Jerry Rawlings had undertaken, at the time of his seizure of power, to restructure the economy around socialist principles and dreamed of an egalitarian society liberated from “imperialism”.

Economic pragmatism

And yet, the devastating famine of 1983 caused by a terrible drought forced him to agree to a deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and made Ghana one of the first African countries to embark on the new economic liberalism.

READ ALSO: Ghana: national funeral for Koffi Annan

While applying the adjustment policy prescribed by the IMF, Rawlings manages to maintain its social course: public investments, social assistance, compensatory measures on wages …

“This pragmatic about-face by Rawlings saved the country from the abyss and laid the foundations for its growth”, summarizes Emmanuel Gyimah-Boadi.

However, there remains a shadow on the table: more than 300 extra-judicial executions were recorded under his regime, and until his death, Jerry Rawlings always refused to offer an apology or reparation to the families of the victims.

“His line of defense was to say that some deserved it, or even + that one does not make an omelet without breaking some eggs”, sighs Emmanuel Gyimah-Boadi. “For me, this is the darkest aspect of his legacy: he also left us this impunity.”

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