Ghana’s Longest Serving President, Known for Calling Church Leadership to “speak up” Dies

Late Jerry John Rawlings, Ghana's longest-serving President.

Ghana’s longest serving President, Jerry John Rawlings, a practicing Catholic who is known for calling on the leadership of the Church to keep State officials in check has passed on aged 73.

Ghana’s President, Nana Akufo-Addo announced Thursday, November 12 the passing of the former Head of State who was at the helm of the West African nation from 1981 to 2001. 

“It is with great sadness that I announce to the nation that the 1st President of the 4th Republic, His Excellency Jerry Rawlings, has joined the ancestors. This tragic event occurred at 10:10 am on Thursday, 12th November 2020 at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital where he was receiving treatment after a short illness,” President Akufo-Addo announced Thursday, November 12.

Declaring a seven-day mourning period during which the National Flag shall be flown at half-mast throughout the West African nation, President Akufo-Addo added, “A great tree has fallen, and Ghana is poorer for this loss.” 


A son of a Ghanaian mother and a Scottish father, the late Rawlings who was an air force flight lieutenant spearheaded the overthrowing of the government of General Frederick Akuffo in 1979.

He handed over power to civilian rule soon after but then led another coup two years later, decrying the government’s corruption and weak leadership.

From 1981 to 1993, he ruled as chairman of what was a joint military-civilian government. He was elected President under a new constitution in 1992 and served until 2001. 

President Rawlings is being remembered for his acknowledgement of the significant role of religious leaders, especially the church leadership, in the West African nation.

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“The Catholic Church and other formal and traditional churches still maintain a high level of respect and credibility and must speak up,” the former President said while addressing Archbishop John Bonaventure Kwofie of Ghana’s Accra Archdiocese and his delegation when they paid him a courtesy visit in March 2019

He added, “You’re letting us get away with too much. We are getting immune. The Church has been monetized and in giving undue publicity to charlatans and frauds posing as religious leaders we help not only to expand their activities and influence but we also contribute to keeping people ignorant.”

In February this year, during the climax celebration to mark 75 years since the establishment of a Church in Ghana’s Accra Archdiocese, former President Rawlings called on Christians in the country to “back their prayer of thoughts and words with actions to achieve desired responses and results, as prayer alone was insufficient to solve their problems.”


The former Head of State added, “To be a Catholic is a responsibility that must be taken seriously by all who profess the Catholic faith.” 

Leaders from around the continent have paid their tributes, remembering the former President as “a great statesman” who contributed toward peace and a sense of stewardship among Africans.

“Africa has lost an icon and a great statesman whose contribution to peace and prosperity of the continent will be remembered for generations to come. We will forever be grateful for his efforts to open the eyes of Africans especially on the management of their resources to develop their own countries,” Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta said

President Kenyatta added, “His leadership style transformed the minds of many people of this continent to see their possibilities in achieving the best with what they have.” 

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On his part, Liberia’s President George Weah expressed his sympathies to the people of God in Ghana, the Rawlings family and Africans in general for “the death of a great statesman.”

“Ghana, Liberia and Africa will miss a great leader,” President Weah posted on Twitter and added that his country remembers Rawlings’ “immense contribution to the attainment and sustainment of peace during the dark days of our own history.” 

The Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki, said, “Africa has lost a stalwart of Pan-Africanism and a charismatic continental statesman.”

On his part, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has eulogized the former President of Ghana as “the sterling quality of the great leader” that “the entire continent will sorely miss.”

Damian Avevor in Ghana contributed to this story

Magdalene Kahiu is a Kenyan journalist with passion in Church communication. She holds a Degree in Social Communications from the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA). Currently, she works as a journalist for ACI Africa.