Rawlings Wins Reelection to Ghana’s Presidency Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

After taking power in 1979 by military coup, Jerry John Rawlings saved Ghana from government corruption and from the devastating conflicts experienced in neighboring countries. In 1992, he stood for election, and although fraud was claimed, he won the presidency and was reelected in 1996.

Summary of Event

As the first sub-Saharan African state to receive independence (1957), Ghana was intended to be a model for African political stability. Its independence leader, Kwame Nkrumah, won a landslide victory for the presidency. Persistent economic problems, however, led him in 1964 to declare Ghana a one-party state with himself as president for life. By the beginning of 1966, a military coup, allegedly staged to end abusive and corrupt government, ousted Nkrumah from power. A caretaker regime composed of four army officers and four police officers took control until August, 1969. Revolutions and coups;Ghana Its elected head, Kofi Abrefa Busia of the Progress Party (PP), maintained power for twenty-seven months until economic difficulties—high foreign debts, inflation, and tax increases coupled with wage freezes—undercut his support. Busia’s austerity policies alienated the army officers. Lieutenant Colonel Ignatius Kutu Acheampong, temporarily commanding the first brigade around Accra, led a bloodless coup that ended the Second Republic in 1972. Elections;Ghana Ghana, government [kw]Rawlings Wins Reelection to Ghana’s Presidency (Dec. 8, 1996) [kw]Reelection to Ghana’s Presidency, Rawlings Wins (Dec. 8, 1996) [kw]Ghana’s Presidency, Rawlings Wins Reelection to (Dec. 8, 1996) [kw]Presidency, Rawlings Wins Reelection to Ghana’s (Dec. 8, 1996) Elections;Ghana Ghana, government [g]Africa;Dec. 8, 1996: Rawlings Wins Reelection to Ghana’s Presidency[09590] [g]Ghana;Dec. 8, 1996: Rawlings Wins Reelection to Ghana’s Presidency[09590] [c]Government and politics;Dec. 8, 1996: Rawlings Wins Reelection to Ghana’s Presidency[09590] Rawlings, Jerry John Rawlings, Jerry John Limann, Hilla Busia, Kofi Abrefa Akuffo, Frederick Atta-Mills, John Kufuor, John Nkrumah, Kwame

To justify their takeover, coup leaders leveled charges of corruption against Busia and his ministers. In its first years, the National Redemption Council (NRC) drew support from a public pleased by the reversal of Busia’s austerity measures. Acheampong’s popularity continued into 1974 as the government successfully negotiated international loan agreements and rescheduled Ghana’s debts. However, as world oil prices continued their steep climb in 1974, demonstrations against the NRC mounted. The military broke up student demonstrations and repeatedly closed the universities, which had become centers of opposition to NRC policies.

In July, 1978, in a sudden move, the other Supreme Military Council (SMC) officers forced Acheampong to resign, replacing him with Lieutenant General Frederick Akuffo. The SMC apparently acted in response to continuing pressure to find a solution to the country’s economic dilemma. Inflation was estimated to be as high as 300 percent that year. The decree lifting the ban on party politics went into effect on January 1, 1979, as planned. The constitutional assembly that had been working on a new constitution presented an approved draft and adjourned in May. All appeared set for a new attempt at constitutional government in July, when a group of young army officers overthrew the SMC government in June, 1979. The leader of the coup was a little known flight lieutenant named Jerry John Rawlings, who had earned his commission the year before.

Rawlings was born in 1947 to a Ghanaian mother and a Scottish father. Disciplinary problems prevented him from receiving a high school diploma, and he enlisted in 1967 as a flight cadet in the Ghanaian air force. Increasingly alienated from the SMC, Rawlings led a mutiny of junior officers on May 15, 1979. He was arrested two weeks later and appeared before a court-martial. Instead of defending himself, Rawlings used the trial to denounce the shortcomings of the SMC that caused him to seek its overthrow. As he sat in jail waiting for another court appearance on June 4, 1979, a large group of military and civilians freed him from prison and proceeded to overthrow the SMC, which was replaced by the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) with Rawlings at its head.

Ghanaian president Jerry John Rawlings addresses a crowd in Accra in December, 1996, days before national elections.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

Rawlings wasted no time in ridding Ghana of its former power structure. The three former military dictators were executed, along with five other generals, and most senior officers were dismissed. Having completed the purge, Rawlings organized free elections. On September 24, 1979, Hilla Limann of the People’s National Party was elected president. Two years later, Rawlings removed Limann for incompetence and corruption. Rawlings ruled as chairman through a mixed civilian and military board of seven members, termed the Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC). He justified his action through a self-declared role as guardian of the revolution. Supporters quipped that Rawlings’s initials stood for “Junior Jesus.”

From 1980 to 1990, Rawlings ruled Ghana through the PNDC without a constitution and with little tolerance for criticism. He experimented with using production and price controls, workers’ councils to achieve the goals of economic self-sufficiency, and a higher living standard for the poor. As the economy began to stabilize, and with assistance for economic recovery given by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, Rawlings began instituting more conservative fiscal policies. He also created 110 districts that elected officials with policy-making powers in areas such as health, education, and general public welfare. He then decided that multiparty national elections had long been overdue. He resigned his military commission to shed the image of military dictator.

When elections were held in 1992, Rawlings ran as a candidate from the National Defense Council (NDC), the successor party to the PNDC. Rawlings won with more than 58 percent of the vote, and NDC candidates won nearly 95 percent of the parliamentary seats in an election judged free and fair by foreign observers but denounced as fraught with irregularities by opposition candidates. Running for a second term in 1996, Rawlings instituted fairer registration processes. When the election was held in December, about 7 out of 9.3 million eligible voters went to the polls.

Rawlings’s victory in the 1996 election was partly the result of opposition coalition parties failing to select joint candidates in a timely manner. The coalition parties were certain that a runoff election would have to be held; however, Rawlings was able to negate this by winning a simple majority of the vote. His victory was also the product of solid support in rural areas where heavy investments were made in improving the infrastructure and delivering basic services such as potable water and electricity.


Rawlings’s victory was a clear democratic mandate to govern and a clear sign that military dictatorship had no place in Ghana’s future. His stated goal was simply to produce a democratic system free from corruption and backed by a sustainable economy. As the year 2000 approached, Rawlings made no effort to change the two-year term limit set by the 1992 constitution. Instead, he named John Atta-Mills as his party’s successor. In the election, the victor was John Kufuor, candidate of the New Patriotic Party, who was the main opponent of Rawlings in the 1996 election. Kufuor was reelected in a first ballot victory in December, 2004, when he again faced Atta-Mills.

With the exception of Kwame Nkrumah, no political leader has had a greater impact on Ghana as Jerry John Rawlings. In a region permeated with incessant civil wars, rampant corruption, brutal dictatorship, and continued economic deterioration, he used a mild form of military dictatorship to reduce civil unrest and produce economic stability. At the right time, though perhaps in a two-step movement, he presided over the transition to democratic government. Fifty years after gaining independence, Ghana serves as a model for other African states, for stability and democratic government. Elections;Ghana Ghana, government

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Amoah, Michael. Reconstructing the Nation in Africa: The Politics of Nationalism in Ghana. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Deals with the behavior of groups within the Ghanaian political system to uncover national problems rooted neither in modernity nor in Western concepts of the nation. Bibliography and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gocking, Roger. History of Ghana. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2005. Concise history of Ghana by a specialist in the subject describing its turbulent history and clearly delineating major developmental themes. Contains time line, photographs, maps, and an appendix of biographies of notable figures.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Nugent, Paul. Big Men, Small Boys, and Politics in Ghana, 1982-1994. New York: Pinter, 1995. Analysis of Ghanaian politics within both the national and regional context. Contains bibliographic references and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Shillington, Kevin. Ghana and the Rawlings Factor. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992. Interpretive study by a noted historian of Africa on Rawlings’s impact on Ghanaian development. Bibliography and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Yeebo, Zaya. Ghana: The Struggle for Popular Power—Rawlings, Savior or Demagogue. London: New Beacon Books, 1991. Political and economic analysis of Rawlings’s policies as well as his charismatic appeal to the Ghanaian masses. Provides and insider’s view. Bibliography and index.

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Categories: History