Jerry John Rawlings
The late Jerry John Rawlings

One hot afternoon in 1979, I was scurrying home as a seven-year-old from school when I heard a flurry of activity near the Regional Administration in Sunyani.

A large excited crowd was gathered and ever-curious, I got to know that the new military Head of State, Flt Lt Jerry John Rawlings, was soon to arrive to address the expectant audience.

I located a mound of sand and positioned myself at a safe distance.

Soon enough a convoy of Ghana Army Pinzguaer utility vehicles appeared at top speed and before the vehicles could come to a halt, the door to the first vehicle opened and a lanky looking Jerry Rawlings jumped out and clambered onto the top of the vehicle the moment it came to a halt.

I understood little of what Chairman Rawlings said. I was enamoured by his charisma and the overjoyed crowd who kept chanting his name as he addressed them.

That was my first encounter with JJ and he left a lasting impression.

For decades after that I only saw him on television. I was eager to watch state events such as the Independence day parades where, upon arrival with his ever colourful wife, he would shimmy and get his clothes in order while waiting for Naa..Naa to walk around the vehicle and accompany him on the Presidential walk.

Jerry John Rawlings was a showman and I lapped it up like an excited Labrador.

I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would ever work for or come close to one of the most striking personalities Ghana has produced.

But out of the blue, in 2008, I was introduced to President Rawlings and asked to assist with a project on a temporary basis.

I was certainly overawed by his presence even though he treated me as an equal and always referred to me as “Chief”.

His tall, confident posturing and the thumping of his boots on the wooden floor were frankly intimidating, but over time I came to realize that JJ was a simple, jovial and generous personality who had few airs about him.

Though he still had the authoritative military cloak all around him, he was accessible and easy to communicate with.

One of the most uncomfortable situations he placed me in was to invite me to lunch or dinner at his residence almost every day.

With Madam (Mrs. Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings) and their adult kids present, I found this so uncomfortable.

Disarmingly he would insist that some particular dish was so tasty I should try it, and matters were not helped when Mrs. Rawlings offered, without waiting for a response, to serve me.

The long and short of the matter was that sooner rather than later my response to every meal invitation was, “I have already eaten, Mr. President.” The invitations eventually tapered off when it became obvious poor Kobina was intimidated by the meal invitations.

Jerry Rawlings had the most unassuming personality and never fell prey to the trappings of his position as former President.

I travelled with him extensively and he would always insist I have a copy of his hotel room key so that in the mornings, when we had official engagements, I could let myself into his room and wake him up. Sometimes when it was difficult to wake him by calling, I would pinch his toes which would then elicit a few fake snores before he would eventually open his eyes and ask me how much time we had.

kobina andoh amoakwa

My memories of our departed boss, friend, former President and statesman cannot be squeezed into one short tribute. He impacted on me in so many ways.

Confident and not hesitant to speak his mind; human and sometimes very temperamental, President Rawlings had the humility to say sorry when he thought he was wrong – a lesson that will always serve as a guide in all I do.

On at least two occasions when he had snapped at me, he either called or sent a message to express his apologies.

Those times were very unnerving for me but that was who he was. Stubborn sometimes, but sensitive to the people around him and his surroundings.

Rest in peace, Mr. President. You came, you saw, you conquered. You impacted on this world more than you could ever imagine.

Many across the world were overawed by your presence and by the principles you stood for and stoutly defended.

Your demise has left a huge vacuum in all of us. Its suddenness hurts even more. We know you are at peace and pray for your eternal rest!

Kobina Andoh Amoakwa was a senior Aide to former President Rawlings