Portland City Councilor Pious Ali is not usually a lie-abed, however after a relaxing Veteran’s Day at home he stayed up later than usual on November 11 and woke around 5:00 a.m. on the morning of November 12 – instead of at his usual 4:00 a.m. The first thing he saw when he opened his phone was a text message from his brother in London, breaking the news that Ghanaian ex-president Jerry John Rawlings had just passed away at the age of 73. For Ali, the news touched off many personal recollections.President Jerry John Rawlings and ‘ace photographer’ Pious Ali
“Rawlings was the president during my youth, a leader who instilled a sense of pride in being African. He was a Pan-Africanist, in the company of fellow Pan-Africanists Nelson Mandela, Thomas Sankara, and Kwame Nkrumah, who led Ghana to independence in 1957,” Pious Ali recalled. During his formative high school years, Ali was involved in an after school program at the W.E. Dubois Center for Pan-African Studies, located in the house of the late W.E. Dubois, who had given up his American citizenship and moved to Ghana. The program focused on Pan-Africanism, or the movement to unify all indigenous and diaspora groups of African descent. “That after school program was made possible by Rawlings,” Ali reminisced.
Later, as an adult, before moving to the U.S., Ali worked as a photojournalist. One of his jobs was in the media company Ohenemedia or (OM Studios), run by his friend Abraham Ohene Djan. Among other shows the company produced was one called StoryTime, directed at children (see photo below). After learning of the death of ex-president Rawlings, Djan posted a photo Ali took of Rawlings for the company on his Facebook page, noting, “Pious Ali was one of the team.”
Story Time shoot on the presidential jet 1998 | photo Pious Ali
“I was fortunate to spend many years around the president when working in media,” Ali recollected.
On his Facebook page, Councilor Ali wrote, “Africa just lost one of its finest in recent memory. This one is painful. I hope it’s the last we have to endure. RIP comrade. Thanks for reviving and instilling the Pan African identity in so many of us when we were growing up.”
After stepping down from the presidency in 2001, Rawlings continued on as a force in Ghanaian politics. He served as the African Union’s representative in Somalia, as well as in other international diplomatic posts.
Africa’s leaders issued statements on the important role Rawlings has played in African history. Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo, who is from a rival political party, announced seven days of national mourning, saying, “A great tree has fallen, and Ghana is poorer for this loss.”
African Union Commission chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat tweeted, “Africa has lost a stalwart of Pan-Africanism and a charismatic continental statesman.”