Ghana’s former leader, Jerry John Rawlings died on Thursday at the age of 73.
He led two coups, first in 1979, before twice being elected president in multiparty polls.
Rawlings who seized power twice in military coups in 1979 and 1981 died in hospital in the capital, Accra, after a brief illness, according to a statement by Ghana’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo.
“A great tree has fallen and Ghana is poorer for this loss,” he said.
A week of national mourning has been announced in Ghana for the country’s longest-serving leader, who oversaw the transition to multiparty elections in what is now one of Africa’s most stable democracies.
John Mahama, the leader of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) party that Rawlings founded, said in a Twitter message that he had suspended campaigning for the 7 December presidential election.
The election will pit Akufo-Addo against Mahama, a former president who lost to the incumbent in a 2016 election, and other candidates from smaller parties.
The son of a Scottish father and Ghanaian mother, Rawlings first came to power in the 1979 coup when he was an air force lieutenant.
He transferred power to civilian rule soon after, but then led another coup two years later, decrying government corruption and weak leadership.
He ruled as chairman of a joint military-civilian government from 1981 to 1993.
Rawlings started out as a populist inspired by the leftwing policies of the Soviet Union and Cuba, but he eventually turned to the free market to boost Ghana’s suffering economy.
As president, he liberalised the economy and encouraged investment in the oil and gold sectors.
He also heeded the calls for multi-party democracy that swept Africa in the early 1990s, and held Ghana’s first elections since 1979 in 1992.
With all the levers of power at his disposal, he beat the opposition and claimed re-election four years later in 1996.
In 2001, he handed over power to John Kufour of the opposition party, who had defeated his vice-president in the previous year’s election.
Today, Ghana is considered one of West Africa’s most mature democracies and regularly sees power change hands between its two main parties.
Rawlings remained a power broker in Ghanaian politics after stepping down, while serving in various international diplomatic posts including the African Union’s representative in Somalia.
Meanwhile, African leaders have paid tributes.
“Africa has lost a stalwart of pan-Africanism and a charismatic continental statesman,” the AU commission chair, Moussa Faki, said on Twitter.
President Muhammadu Buhari, in his tribute said “the entire African continent will sorely miss the sterling qualities of the great leader”.
“The passion, discipline and moral strength that the former Ghanaian leader employed to reposition his country over many years continue to reverberate across the continent and beyond,” he added.
Liberian President George Weah said “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,” he added in a tweet.
“On behalf of the government and people of the Republic of Liberia, and in my own name, I wish to convey deepest and profound sympathy to the government and people of Ghana, the Rawlings family and the entire Africa for the death of a great statesman, Former President….. pic.twitter.com/HoGxb1owRP
— George Weah (@GeorgeWeahOff) November 12, 2020
With The Guardian (UK), BBC reports