In the 1980s, Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings launched heritage tourism as a means to economic development in Ghana. Under his initiative, Ghana’s forts and castles – where enslaved Africans were forcibly put on slave ships to cross the Atlantic Ocean into slavery in the Americas – were turned into heritage sites for tourism. It united Africans and African descendant people living in the disapora.
Rawlings was Ghana’s youngest and longest-serving post-independence leader. He led military uprisings in 1979 and 1981 and served as elected president from 1992 to 2000. When Rawlings came to power in 1981, Ghana faced numerous challenges. Food was scarce, medicines unavailable, over a million Ghanaians were deported from Nigeria, and the economy was almost bankrupt. Rawlings understood the capital investment necessary to rebuild the economy.
However, Ghana’s 1979 revolution had criticised the former regime’s ties to the West and Western imperialism, so private investment dried up. Eastern bloc nations gave minimal support. Rawlings was compelled to secure World Bank and International Monetary Fund assistance, a tactical acquiescence that proved pivotal for heritage.
Rawlings rarely gave interviews. This abbreviated interview with him was the first time he spoke publicly on heritage tourism and development. It comprises several conversations in 2018 and 2019.