Jerry Rawlings, a former Ghanaian Air Force officer who led two military coups before steering his country toward democracy with an authoritarian hand, died on Thursday in the nation’s capital, Accra. He was 73.
His death, in a hospital, was announced by Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo. No cause was immediately given.
Mr. Rawlings entered Ghana’s stage as an archetypal African military ruler, seizing power in 1979. He executed former heads of state, ordered the flogging of market women accused of profiteering and jailed dozens of businessmen for corruption. His entourage called it a “house-cleaning exercise.”
By the time he left office 22 years later, he had served two presidential terms brought about by free elections. Mr. Rawlings had established Ghana as a rare democratic example on the continent. Today peaceful handovers of power are routine in the country, hardly the case with the country’s neighbors.
Mr. Rawlings’ contradictory legacy — brutal beginnings, uncompromising military rule, then free elections — underscores the difficult path to democratic rule still faced by many nations on the continent. But in Ghana at least, where Mr. Rawlings is regarded as something of a founding father after the country’s difficult first steps, democracy is an assumption.
A full obituary will be published shortly.