Ghana’s ex-president Jerry Rawlings died at age 73 from covid-19-related complications, according to a statement released on Thursday.
Rawlings was a hard – even ruthless – military man, an anti-imperialist and a revolutionary who seized power twice in military coups in 1979 and 1981. He was regarded as one of Africa’s late 20th century consequential democratic and economic reformers.
He oversaw Ghana’s transition to a multi-party democracy and won elections in 1992 and 1996 before stepping down in 2001. The West African country is now considered one of the most mature democracies on the continent.
“A great tree has fallen and Ghana is poorer for this loss,” Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo said in a statement, which also announced seven days of national mourning.
Government data from Ghana Health Service reported 49,808 confirmed coronavirus cases, 320 deaths and 48,019 recoveries since mid-March. Ghana has a reported 1,591 total cases per million population. By comparison, the U.S. has 32,511 cases per million population, according to Worldometers.
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During his tenure as leader of the West African country, Rawlings strongly advocated and passed a dual citizenship law that allowed those born of Ghanaian parentage to gain citizenship.
He also initiated heritage tourism based on the transatlantic slave trade and pan-Africanism. This initiative culminated in the “Year of the Return” in 2019 that saw many African Americans visit Ghana. Some relocated back to the country to reconnect with their African roots.
Liberian President George Weah said in a tweet that “Ghana, Liberia and Africa will miss a great leader”.
“Liberia remembers his immense contribution to the attainment and sustainment of peace during our dark days of our own history.”
Rawlings’ ruthless past included ordering the execution of senior military officers and two former heads of state for misuse of power to enrich themselves after he took over in a coup in 1979.