Article: That Man Rawlings; Beware of Him, He Seldom Loses His Fights!

At almost 63 years of age, Ghana’s former president, Jerry John Rawlings, should be enjoying a comfortable retirement and not fighting for political relevance against the party he founded in 1991 and whose re-election he worked so hard for in December 2008. What is in the Rawlings make up that appears to make him a fighter without end? Rosemary Atiemo, has been looking into the archives, and has dug up a fascinating personal history of a man to whom fate has always been kind. “Beware of Rawlings, he seldom loses his fights” appears to be the summary of the life history of the man who, at almost 63 years of age, is still engaged in an internecine struggle within his own party, the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC), for political relevance, if not survival. His background presents an amazing tale of a man who has won more battles against the odds than he has lost. Even when his personal capabilities have woefully failed him, fate has always been kind in that other have ridden to his rescue. His profile is rich enough to warrant a full-length book. But for the focus of this biography, we will restrict ourselves to his early years. Jerry John Rawlings was born in Accra on June 22, 1947. According to his official (and conventional) biography, “he is the son of a Ghanaian Ewe woman and a Scottish father.” But this is a claim which, despite the boldness of the conventional accounts, even his inner circle of friends and political allies are not prepared to be specific about. His mother is a “Ghanaian Ewe” all right. But his father? Even members of his inner circle, including Kofi Awonoor, Chairman of the Council of State, are not so sure. Awonoor, a former university lecturer, poet, politician and author of several books, was one of the intellectual pillars that kept Rawlings’ PNDC and NDC governments afloat for 19 years – from 2001 – when Rawlings handed over power to President John Agyekum Kufuor. An Ewe like Rawlings himself, Awonoor wrote the book, “The Ghana Revolution”, dedicated to the early turbulent years of the Rawlings era. In the book, Awonoor tried to solve the “mystery” of Rawlings’s paternity but ended up compounding it even more. “Rawlings is a Ghanaian,” Awonoor wrote. “His father happened to be a Scotsman. His mother is an Ewe from the well known Agbotui family.” Awonoor is famous for his majestic prose and command of the English language. So he must know what he was writing about when he used a definite “is an Ewe” to describe Rawlings” mother, but “happened to be a Scotsman” in the case of his father. There is an air of finality about “is an Ewe”, but not to about “happened to be a Scotsman.” One of the people who grew up with Rawlings and who really knows him inside out, from his boyhood to his days in the Ghana Air Force is Osahene (retired Major) Boakye Djan. In a 2001 interview with the London based New African magazine, Djan said Awonoor was caught up in his own contradictions. “It is a paternity they don’t want to talk about,” Djan said. “Nobody knows Rawlings’ father for sure, except perhaps his mother. Incidentally, Rawlings’ mother doesn’t want to talk about her son’s father, so the identity of the man is still a mystery.” Djan said if he were writing, he would not have used “happened to be a Scotsman” to describe Rawlings father, as Awonoor did. I would say he is of mixed parentage, with the father’s side unknown” Djan said. “Nobody knows for certain that his father was a Scotsman. Rawlings himself tried to find out. He came to Britain trying to trace his father, but the man opened the door and slammed it back on him. He didn’t want to see him. That was what he (Rawlings himself) told me when he returned to Accra. He was bitter.” Djan Continued: “So nobody, including Rawlings himself, has been able to establish with any authenticity who his father is, or was. I had long discussions with him on this issue. On one hand, his father was supposed to be called a Jerry John Mackenzie from South Africa who worked for the United Africa Company (UAC), the multinational company with British roots. And Mr. Rawlings was another person altogether from Scot-land. “That is why Rawlings used to be called Jerry John. It was much later in life that he added Rawlings to it. So Jerry John Rawlings is a combination of two separate names. People don’t know this,” Djan added.