Ghana's former President Jerry Rawlings arrives for the the swearing-in of Ghana's new President Nana Akufo-Addo in Accra,…
FILE - Ghana's former President Jerry Rawlings arrives for the swearing-in of Ghana's new President Nana Akufo-Addo in Accra, Ghana, Jan. 7, 2017.

ACCRA, GHANA - Shock and sadness swept over Ghana on Thursday, following news that former President Jerry John Rawlings died at age 73.

Seen by some as divisive and by others as a hero, Rawlings seized power twice in military coups but went on to bring democratic rule to the West African country.   

He founded a major ruling party in Ghana, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), and became the first president of the 4th Republic, serving two terms as the democratically elected leader from January of 1993 to January of 2001. 

FILE - Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, flanked to the right by Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings, shakes hands with one of over a dozen Ghanaian tribal chiefs lined up to greet her, at an outdoor ceremony in Accra, Nov. 8, 1999.

Prosper Bani, a former chief of staff and minister in the 2012-2017 NDC administration, had a good working relationship with Rawlings, and said he would be "very much missed by the Ghanaian people."  

"He had been very instrumental in raising the voice of the voiceless, championing efforts to recharter the economy and politics in Ghana, and for that matter, we can concretely also remember him as the leader who moved Ghana from a series of coup d'états and dictatorial services of previous regimes into one of democratic rule," Bani said. 

'Everybody is thinking about him'

Patrick Kwame, a shop owner in Accra, was listening to the news on the radio and was mourning the loss. His friends and family had been calling him to talk about the former president's death, which he said was a huge loss for the nation. 

"Everybody is thinking about him, they are remembering him and want to remember him from his past," Kwame said. 

Nearby, nurse Sarah Tngey said she heard the news over social media and was "sad and shocked." 

"We've known him for his good morals and good rules because, during his time of regime, there was a strict respect to everyone," she said. 

FILE - Former Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings speaks at a campaign rally for opposition presidential candidate John Atta Mills, in Tema, Ghana, Dec. 5, 2008.

Vladimir Antwi-Danso, the dean of academic affairs at the Ghana Armed Forces Command and Staff College, said Rawlings was both a unifying and divisive figure in Ghana. He was in power for 20 years in all, and his impact was significant.  

"The biggest legacy I will grant him is his readiness to accept democracy in the post-Cold War era where several monolithic governments didn't want to hand over," Antwi-Danso said. "But what he did was place himself as part of the game and came to power again in 1992 under a constitutional rule, and therefore ushered in what we now have now, as our pride." 

Week of mourning

Rawlings had been hospitalized for the past several days. There was no immediate word on the cause of death. 

As Ghana prepares for its presidential election on December 7, current President Nana Akufo-Addo and opposition leader John Mahama both announced a suspension of all campaigning across the country.

Flags are to fly at half-staff as the nation enters a week of national mourning.