Rawlings, the ‘Junior Jesus’: The Enigma of a Leader

Former President Jeremiah John Rawlings is arguably the most charismatic and admired leader after Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana’s political history since the dawn of our auspicious independence in 1957.

This is because these men entered the political arena as revolutionaries, Young Turks, visionaries, even though of different pedigrees and circumstances, and most importantly, these men were the kind that could eat with Kings and still have their common touch with the people intact.

The politics of these political figures seemed to have been predicated on the love for the common man and woman who were hitherto, unrepresented by the politics of the elite and quasi bourgeois class of politicians riddled in the history of Ghana politics.

It can be said that these men had a common touch with the people because of who they were and where they came from. Both Osagyefo and Rawlings were raised by strong single mothers without the father figure present, and also because these charismatic leaders grew up without the proverbial silver spoon that feeds a privileged child into an over entitled adult who is filled with condescension towards the common man and his common plight.

According to popular knowledge and even criticisms from his adversaries and even himself, “he used to borrow “red-red” (cooked beans with gari and plantain) from a woman who was kind to the young Rawlings during his school going age”.

And also this was a man who told his superiors that he “had no PhD in economics but rather, he had a PhD in going to bed hungry without knowing where the next meal is going to come from”.

Former President Rawlings, affectionately called “Papa J” by the masses, was an exemplary civilian, soldier, and statesman, but most of all, he was a free bird, an eagle for that matter, in all the three facets of his life.

He was the kind of reconstructionist leader our dear country needed at that pivotal period to usurp the status quo and steer it in the right direction, our kind of leader America found in Abraham Lincoln to finalize the amalgamation of the United States through war, which was necessary at that time.

Papa J’s coup d’Etats, or revolutions, as some proponents have come to call them, were necessary, from 1979 to 1981, to stem out the evil streak that has been perpetrated against the 1st Republic, to reset the system on its right footing, history bears me witness to this truth.

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Personal wisdom and research into the lives of revolutionaries and the secret of their charisma point me to the fact that revolutionary and charismatic leaders are not shy or hesitant to come to the level of the masses at any given time, any day, but the reactionist politicians are alienated and afraid to come to the level of the masses except during electioneering campaigns in every four years.

Papa ‘J’ was our own Caesar, an exemplary civilian, soldier, and statesman who came, saw, but did not just stand by or walk on, but conquered that which was anathema to his political and altruistic human nature.

He was born common but died divine and uncommon, a larger-than-life kind of existence that will influence future generations in a hundred years. Papa ‘J’ has epitomized the perfect and most admired Ghanaian spirit, the one that loves people who take the bull by the horn and confront their demons in the dark with the light of principle.

That the Ghanaian spirit is a warrior spirit, the one that fights on the side of truth, on the side of the masses. That is what the Ghanaian people love, individuals who can show us the true nature of the Ghanaian by their own larger-than-life existences such as Osagyefo and Papa ‘J’.

Papa ‘J’ showed us his mettle right from the auspicious inception of his revolutionarism, during his first foiled coup attempt with his comrades on May 15, 1979, and was put on trial with his cohorts, but he being the self-sacrificing leader we know him to be, took sole responsibility and charge for the attempted mutiny at the peril of his life just for his junior cohorts to live and not be punished for a charge he supposedly ordered them to execute, when he was just 32 years.

It was at the tribunal for the high crime of treason that he earned his hallowed moniker the “Junior Jesus”, for the fact that the young Rawlings was willing to die for what he believed in and stood for. This is the Papa ‘J’ we have known through the years without any bit of ostentation, the consummate civilian, soldier, and statesman who lived for probity, Transparency, and accountability throughout his political life.

Papa ‘J’, like any other leader, had his bad side and excesses, his critics would hammer, but he wouldn’t be a human being without any infallibility, for he was no God but just a man.

Yet as we know, there can never be any big achievement without an equally big sacrifice to go with it. Thus, his big achievement of laying the foundation for the 4th Republican dispensation of this country could not have been had without the excesses that came with this feat, as unfortunate and abhorrent as it is.

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This is no attempt to justify the excesses of the epoch and times of the revolution save only to stand on a conciliatory ledge to beg pardon from us all who were afflicted and by us all who executed such afflictions on us all.

But to us, the younger generation and inheritors of this great revolutionary legacy, the only criticism we have of the great Papa ‘J’, was his devaluation of the Ghanaian educational system from the Ordinary Level (O-Level) to the Junior Secondary School (JSS) and the Advanced Level (A-Level) to the Senior Secondary School (SSS) in the 1990s, with these latter school systems being only rote in theory without any heuristic application that was wont with the former system.

This devaluation of the educational system has reduced the quality of the human resource in the country, which is the most valuable resource of our beloved country, yet instead of enriching this valuable resource with good and quality education, the powers that be, are just under-tooling this highly renewable resource with rote education that only train us for sharp memory to pass examinations with no lifetime impact in sight.

For example, this is the educational system that teachers, instead of teaching real technical courses that are applicable to life, rather draw tools on the board, name the parts and thus, tell the students to perpetuate it in their notebooks and memorize the parts for exams.

Some critique of the JSS and the SSS systems were penned in a research paper titled “Educational Reforms In Ghana: Past And Present” by S. Adu-Gyamfi, W. Joselyn Donkoh and Adinkrah Addo, published in the Journal of Education and Human Development states that “Not only is it inadequate in not going far enough, but it has proved inefficient in its results.

Inadequate, because it fails to provide facilities for that secondary and higher education which is essential…Inefficient, because the character training necessary to citizenship and leadership has been largely omitted in the existing system”.

The paper went on to posit that “Nkrumah’s development of education was to achieve three goals: first, it was to be used as a tool for producing a scientifically literate population. Second, for tackling mainly the environmental causes of low productivity; and third, for producing knowledge to harness Ghana’s economic potential.

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Dr. Kwame Nkrumah was noted to be determined to initiate educational policies that were useful for the growth of the economy. Dr. Kwame Nkrumah paid particular attention to technical education in Ghana.

He believed that technical education was essential to Ghana’s route for accelerating technological and economic growth. Through apprenticeship schemes with industries, technical education was linked to labour market requirements and outstanding students were encouraged to pursue their education to university level”.

The problem of education is the number one denominator in the development and the upward progression of society in any country, both formal and informal. It is the only method of renewing the most valuable resource, the human resource, and any system or leader who jokes with this most valuable resource is not a serious system or leader.

And it is that kind of laxity that is accorded to the Ghanaian educational system, is the root of our recurrent problems at all levels of our lives. This is the burden of the future if we want to carry it or not depends on us, as the acceptance of every inheritance is.

As it’s been said, Papa ‘J’ was a brave man, who became a king, ate with kings, and still didn’t lose the common touch with the masses. As the Latin adage says: Fortis Fortuna Adiuvat, to wit: Fortune Favors the Brave. Thus, Papa ‘J’ was a brave soul who points us to the fact that the people of Ghana love selfless leaders who will stand for the people, with the people, and to the people.

Papa ‘J’ practiced politics like the “work of God”, as Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah implored us to “seek the political kingdom first and everything else shall be added unto you”. That was exactly what Papa ‘J’ did, and inspired us to do, to follow what is worthy for our dear mother Ghana.

My humble portend to us all will have to be read in Twi, thus: Osofo mpae ne ho, Osafo nsa ne ho, Odeneho nso nde ne ho, biribi a wo Oboadee ho. Nipa begyee ne dinn, nipa ambepre nyinkye!


By Barima Kwabena Yeboah|3news.com|Ghana

The author is an intern with the Media General Group. Views expressed in this article are entirely the author’s.