News December 06, 2016 at 02:01 pm

Before Obama: Africa’s Experience with Presidents with Immigrant Roots

Mark Babatunde December 06, 2016 at 02:01 pm

December 06, 2016 at 02:01 pm | News

Photo Credit: Alchetron

Photo Credit: Alchetron

Jerry Rawlings

More than three decades before Obama was elected, Ghana became the first nation in Africa to have a leader with immigrant roots. Born in Ghana to a Ghanaian mother and an English immigrant father, Rawlings, like Obama, is biracial.

Rawlings received much of his education in Ghana. He attended the prestigious Achimota College, married a Ghanaian woman, Nana Agyeman, and identifies as a Ghanaian.

In 1979, Rawlings, then a flight lieutenant with the Ghanaian air force, became head of state in the most dramatic of circumstances. In May of that year, Rawlings and six other soldiers were arrested by the Ghanaian military government led by General Fred Akuffo for a failed coup attempt. He was promptly sentenced to death by a military junta.

On June 4th, 1979, a group of junior army officers broke into the prison stronghold where Rawlings was being held and set him free. He would go on to lead a successful coup in which he seized power and became the military head of state of Ghana.

Rawlings went on to conduct what he described as a “house-cleaning exercise” that led to the execution of most senior government officials accused of wide-scale corruption and indiscipline.

Despite being the son of an immigrant Englishman, Rawlings faced little discrimination or resentment from Ghanaians on account of his biracial heritage.

Rawlings led Ghana from 1979 to 2001, before handing over power to John Kufour. His legacy includes a zero tolerance for indiscipline and corruption in the public finance system and he is also credited for laying the foundation for a modern vibrant multi-party democracy in Ghana.


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