Rawlings or Nkrumah: Who was a dictator?

Kwame Nkrumahcpppppp The late Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah

Mon, 5 Oct 2020 Source: Arhin Otoo

If you happen to read any social studies textbooks in Ghana or any government textbook used at the secondary school, Kwame Nkrumah is the very name you will come across as a valid example of a dictator, apart from this vilification in official textbooks, there has been constant attacks on his legacy and vision for this great nation.

Another personality of distinguish important is JJ Rawlings; the man who many sees as the foundation of the current democratic system, in spite of his military atrocities. In this write up, I attempt to analyze by comparing JJ Rawlings political leadership to that of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah for any truth seeking Ghanaian unblinded by political interest to make a sound judgment.


According to the Oxford dictionary on lexico.com, ‘ a dictator is a ruler with total power over a country, typically one who obtained control by force.’2; ‘a person who behaves in an autocratic way.' And defines autocratic as, ‘relating to a ruler who has absolute power, domineering , or taking no account of other people’s wishes or opinions.’

To aid you the reader and I the writer's efforts to determine which of these two personalities fits the above definition, I will outline the following categories as a guide for our comparison; method of attaining power, scope of political power, treatment of supposed enemies, and constitutionalism.

Method of attaining power

Kwame Nkrumah became Prime Minister after the 8th February 1951 elections when the CPP won 34 out of the 38 seats in direct contest. The party further won the 15th June 1954 legislative assembly elections, 17th June 1956 legislative assembly elections and 89.07% of the total votes cast on 23rd April 1960 went in favor of Kwame Nkrumah to be the president of Ghana against Joseph Boakye Danquah.The above facts indicates that Kwame Nkrumah won elections by landslide victory even behind bars under the British auspices to become president .

On the other hand, Jerry John Rawlings first staged a successful coup on 4th June 1979 with the purported aim of purging out corruption in governance, ruled with his armed Forces Revolutionary Council for 112 days and gave up power to an elected civilian government headed by Dr. Hilla Limann. Rawlings staged a second successful coup on December 31st 1981 accusing Limann of leading the nation to economic ruin.

He ruled until 1992 where he Oversaw the enforcement of the 1992 constitution and won the 1992 election to be the president of Ghana. Between Nkrumah and Rawlings who used force to gain political power and who do you think was powerful enough to influence election results based on historical context and power relations leading up to their election as head of state.

Scope of political power

Provisional National Defense council headed by JJ Rawlings served as the center of political power without constitutional mandate for eleven years. it defined its own power and what constituted law by decrees.

In other words, Rawlings’ opinions were the laws of Ghana for over a decade. The 1992 constitution further indemnify all the atrocities of the AFRC /PNDC junta, placing them above the law. Thus, no one can sue Rawlings for all the crimes he has or might have committed. By these facts, Rawlings is the longest serving leader of this country without popular mandate nor a popular document defining the scope of his power.

However, Kwame Nkrumah served as president with executive power for six years with the CPP as an elected government, and later the only legal state party following the 31st January 1964 constitutional referendum, which had 99.91% yes votes in favor of the CPP. Which of these leaders ruled by their personal whims and caprices.

Treatment of enemies of the era

A dictator will by our above definition repress others opinion viciously with dictatorial intent, that is not to say any democratic and tolerant leader should allow criminals to run havoc in the state. When Kwame Nkrumah was leader of government, Preventive Detention Act was passed at a period of increased terrorism to detain such suspects without trial. This saw the detention of JB Danquah who later died in prison.

He had earlier received a presidential pardon from Nkrumah in 1962 even after Danquah's was convicted for plotting to murder him. Danquah was under police surveillance and arrested again following the arrest of police constable Seth Ametewe.

The police found a speech Danquah had prepared to read after Nkrumah's murder on 2nd January 1964. In sharp contrast, Rawlings begun his rule with the execution of ‘enemies of the state' . Through military tribunal, many accused were executed or put behind bars,Market women, civil servants past coup makers and students had a share of the brutalities and executions. These executions created the condition for the murder of three High Court judges. Which of these method best achieves the result of intimidation and silencing opposition? Out right killing or detension for treason.


By constitutionalism, I would like us to focus on how they ruled by law and their role in the making of constitutions during their leadership. Rawlings appointed a Committee of Experts to draft a constitution ten years after he had overthrown the 1979 constitution.

'The PNDC slide into the draft constitution an indemnity clause that made it a criminal offense to sue Rawlings and his coup makers after a consultative Assembly has approve the document', according to the chairman of the Committee of experts Nana Dr. S. K. B. Asante. After the constitution was endorsed in a referendum, with a 92.59% yes votes, a clear indication of the crave for transition to civilian government, Rawlings saw it his ‘birth right' to sign the 1992 constitution before it can become law, rendering the document's enforcement a decree. For he signed the constitution not as an elected representative nor as a civilian but by the title flights lieutenants Jerry John Rawlings.

This and other dictatorial accusations caused a number of parties to boycott the 29th December 1992 parliamentary elections( New Patriotic Party,Peoples National Convention, National Independence Party and People's heritageParty).

During Ghana's transition to a republic while Nkrumah was prime minister, a constituent assembly made up of elected representatives sat to draft the 1960 constitution which was endorsed in a plebiscite held on 27th April 1960. Even though Kwame Nkrumah was the prime minister he had no mandates to act as executive to sign a constitution into law and he did not do so as Rawlings did.


The one who pays the piper plays the tune.

Indeed if our educational institutions could speak truth to power our textbooks would have had a different narrative of who fit the description of a dictator. The education service has become an instrument for advancing what the ruling government want and not the fact. Who endorsed the curriculum that seeks to demonize our founder? Who paid them? During whose era did such narrative begin? Were they paid workers?

Nkrumah did not fit the description of dictator as Rawlings did in the above analysis but how dare you call Rawlings out. Rawlings is above the law.

We observe in this epoch a union between Rawlings and the Busia-Danquah faction headed by Akuffo Addo, in their fatal attempts to erase the memory of Nkrumah and to tanish his image officially in textbooks, holidays and laws. Nkrumah was never a dictator and as we celebrate our founder, let remind ourselves of these facts. Nkrumah Never Dies.

Columnist: Arhin Otoo
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