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Rawlings democratised out of fear he might end up like Nkrumah – Victor Smith

Late President Jerry John Rawlings relinquished power in 2000 after overseeing the establishment of the Fourth Republican Constitution.

But the decision to transit from a military ruler to a democratic president was, however, out of his hand and firmly as a result of an external push.

A one-time aide to Rawlings disclosed in a recent interview that it took a simple message from the United States government via an emissary delivered a note with the message: “Prepare the country for democratic rule.”

Smith who later on became Ghana’s ambassador to the United Kingdom spoke in an interview that aired on November 11, 2021, on Accra-based CTV’s Twi language morning show known as Dwabremu.

The programme was part of the one-year anniversary of Rawlings’ death which happened on November 12, 2020, at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital.

Asked whether Rawlings felt bad leaving office, Victor Smith said, it was the Americans who literally ordered Rawlings to remove his military attire for a civilian one.

“Did he have a choice?” Smith asked rhetorically to the question of if Rawlings might have left prematurely. He continued: “I don’t think so because that’s what he [Rawlings] told me.”

He recounted private chats in which Rawlings told him about how the American ambassador at the time had called on him with another official and delivered a note instructing him to democratise.

Smith continued that the government at the time knew some people had gone to the Americans to lobby, adding that Rawlings knew the capacity of the Americans to overthrow his government knowing their involvement in Ghana’s first coup.

Smith recounted Rawlings telling him: “Did I have a choice?… ‘I was not given a choice’.”

Smith said Rawlings was on his way out of town when he was notified that the ambassador and an unnamed official from the Department of State wanted to see him.

It was that other official who delivered the US government ‘order’ directly to Rawlings when the ambassador had left the room.

“Then, the other gentleman gave him [Rawlings] a letter. He opened it and looked at it and was trying to ask the gentleman questions. And, the guy was like: ‘I’m not to discuss this matter’.”

“Simply put, the letter said: ‘Prepare the country for democratic rule’. ‘He was not supposed to discuss it with you; he was supposed to hand it over to you to read’. I said: ‘Really?’ He said: ‘Yes’.

“So, at that point in time, he knew that the Americans had done it before; we all know they played a certain role in Nkrumah’s overthrow, so, if they’ve started to say that: ‘Prepare the country for democracy’, it’s either other people have gone to the Americans – and we know who went to the Americans to try and push for democratic rule – that is not to suggest that he didn’t want democratic rule but he wanted to see this country progress and transform quicker than … we were slow,” Smith recounted.

Rawlings after 11 years in office as head of the Provisional National Defence Council, PNDC, oversaw the coming into force of the 1992 Constitution that birthed the Fourth Republic.

He contested for two elections and left office in 2000 handing over to the then-opposition candidate John Agyekum Kufuor.

Till date, he is Ghana’s longest-serving head of state with close to two decades in charge. He died in November 2020 and was buried this year after a state funeral.





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