Ghana became independent from British rule in 1957. Ghana also saw its first military coup d’etat on 24 February 1966 led Lt Col E.K. Kotoka to overthrow the Pan-Africanist and socialist-oriented government of Kwame Nkrumah. The politics in Ghana has been shaped by the events of the aftermath of the 24 February 1966 which is now known, from the USA Central Intelligence Agency’s declassified files, to have been organized under the influence of western intelligence agencies.
The dichotomy in future Ghanaian politics was born during the anti-colonial struggle. Right within the leadership of the anti-colonial movement, there emerged the current which aimed at being rooted in the mass of the people and shaping a future independent of Africa’s marginalization on one hand and the current which just wanted blacks to enter into the structures to be left by the colonizers. Things came to a head just before independence when the former carried the slogan – ‘Self Government Now’ – with the latter’s slogan being ‘Self Government in the Shortest Possible Time’. Kwame Nkrumah’s independence declaration that the independence of Ghana was meaningless unless it was linked with the total liberation of the African continent gave further clarification to the vision around the former. This dichotomy created tension and conflict between the two currents.
In 1949, the Convention Peoples’ Party emerged to represent the former and the United Party, which brought together various splinter forces, went on to represent the latter. The immediate post-colonial period saw threats of destabilization to the government of the CPP, as early as 1958 a bomb was found an aeroplane on which the Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah was scheduled to travel to India. Call this terrorism at the dawn of the new country. This and other acts led to the passing of the Preventive Detention Act which from experiences round the world today nobody can imagine anything other than such a law in those circumstances. With one current opposed to Africa’s marginalization, this brought in the interests of external forces. As the declassified files of the CIA from the 1960s show, US felt that Kwame Nkrumah, President of Ghana, remained one singular obstacle to USA’s interests in Africa and therefore the CIA played a role in the overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah as President.
The overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah led to an attempt to consolidate the structures left by western colonizers and stop all attempts at introducing new structures which could assist reverse Africa’s marginalization.
Whilst at the level of the state the colonial system was being consolidated there was also mobilization for change. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, this dichotomy became visible again. Emmanuel Hansen aptly describes this manifestation in his book ‘Ghana Under Rawlings Early Years’. He wrote: “Among progressive groups and individuals the idea had persisted for sometime that Ghana’s post-colonial problems are such that only a revolution could respond effectively to them. What exactly this revolution was to entail has never been precisely articulated. There is, however, a consensus that it would involve the termination of the control of the local economy by foreign multinational companies, changes in the structure of production and production relations, changes in the class structure of the control of the state, creation of political forms which would make the interest of the broad mass of people predominant and realizable and a programme which would initiate a process of improving upon the material conditions of the mass of the people.”
Hansen wrote further that: “Those who entertained the opposite position that there was nothing basically wrong with the nature of the country’s structure of production or production relations or the nature of our economic relations with western capitalist countries or of the structure of power, class relations or the nature of the state power, and that only certain aspects of its functioning needed to be re formed”. The former position coincides with the former current in the preceding analysis of the anti-colonial struggle and the latter with the latter.
On 31st December 1981, Flt-Lt J.J. Rawlings led a coup to overthrow the People’s National Party (PNP) government of Dr Hilla Limann. In a coup speech to the nation, he said: “Fellow citizens of Ghana, as you would have noticed we are not playing the National Anthem. In other words this is not a coup. I ask for nothing less than a revolution, something that would transform the social and economic order of this country.
“The military is not in to take over. We simply want to be part of the decision-making process in this country.
“Fellow citizens, it is now left to you to decide how this country is going to go from today …..
“I am not here to impose myself on this country, far from it.
“We are asking nothing more than to organize this country in such a way that nothing will be done from the Council, whether by God or the Devil, without the consent and the authority of the people . . . . .
“I am prepared to, at this moment, face a firing squad if what I’ve tried to do for a second time in my life does not meet the approval of Ghanaians . . . . .
“There is no justice in this society and so long as there is no justice, I would dare say that let there be no peace.”
After the overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah, the first two attempts at civilian rule were short lived. The Second Republic lasted from October 1969 to January 1972 whilst the Third Republic lived from September 1979 to December 1981 before both were overthrown by military coups d’etat. It has been difficult for any of the experiments to match the experience of the First Republic under Kwame Nkrumah. These made the expectations from civil rule so high that they were easily brushed aside by soldiers and greeted with popular support. Initially, the National Redemption Council (NRC) military regime which adopted a pro-Nkrumah posture organizing Kwame Nkrumah’s state burial in April 1972 and mobilized for the Operation Feed Yourself programme appeared quite popular with even some people suggesting that the military should stay in power. This atmosphere was a product of a political build up since 24 February 1966 when Kwame Nkrumah was overthrown and Ghanaians were learning the price of Nkrumah’s overthrow and how enslaved to the west the country had become.
Groups were organized among young students and workers studying and organising around politics similar or close to the vision of Kwame Nkrumah. Literature came in from Convention People’s Party Overseas, based in London, which produced ‘The Dawn’ and Central Union of Ghana Students in Europe which published the ‘Amanee’. Friendship societies with the socialist-oriented countries were also quite active. By 1974, the military regime lost its good will and was being confronted the National Union of Ghana Students and the students movement that they should go back to the barracks. In 1976, the NUGS adopted scientific socialism as its guiding principle and the following year, on 13 May 1977, there was the biggest students’ demonstration ever with the participation of all three universities which was brutally crushed by the military regime and the universities closed. 13 May became the National Students Day. Despite this character of the students’ movement, the Professional Bodies Association and the Ghana Bar Association supported and worked with the students in their struggle against the military regime showing how acceptable Left wing posture had become in the country. In the late 1970s, when I entered university the main forum for mobilization was the Pan African Youth Movement (PANYMO).
The military regime tried to find a way out with the Union Government referendum which it rigged. Forces within the military saw that the mass struggle had pushed their backs so much to the wall that they have no alternative than to leave the scene. Acheampong, the head of the junta, was overthrown through a palace coup and replaced with Akuffo as the head. The newly structured junta lifted the ban on party politics and came up with a transition programme to civil rule. Surprisingly, on 15 May 1979, Ghanaians were informed that some air force soldiers have mutinied in the barracks with the intention of staging a coup and have been arrested and detained by the military authorities. The reaction of most people then was, why some soldiers wanted to bring up another military regime when there was transition to civil rule. Later, these soldiers were brought to trial and it turned out that they were led by one Flight Lieutenant J.J. Rawlings.
During the trial Rawlings attacked the military regime on the issues of corruption, which had been the pillar of the students’ mobilization against the military regime. This made Rawlings popular. Rawlings now appeared to be on the same side with the radical forces in the country although not articulating any clear ideological position. On 4th June 1979, troops broke his jail and released him and took him to the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) to broadcast to the nation that the “boys” cannot taken it anymore and were removing the Supreme Military Council. He next appeared at the University of Ghana to address students where he said he purposely chose 15 May as his day of action to coincide with the anniversary of the 13 May Aluta Day of the Ghana students’ movement. The students led by their SRC President, Kwasi Kamassah, went in bus loads in to town demonstrating demanding that the Supreme Military Council should lay down their guns and surrender to the fighting troops. After the Army Commander, Major General Odartey Wellington, was killed at Police Headquarters in Accra, the SMC government crumbled.
The Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) was declared the new government of Ghana with Flight-Lieutenant J.J. Rawlings as chairman and Major Kojo Boakye Djan as spokesman. The AFRC launched an anti-corruption campaign that made it very popular before ordinary people who cheered up seeing people they saw to be corrupt or profiteering being punished or for buying things at prices that they could pay for. The trial of Rawlings and the being chairman of the AFRC made Rawlings very popular in Ghana. After the handing over to the People’s National Party (PNP) regime under Dr Hilla Limann many of the AFRC members went abroad on scholarships. The perception people had from Rawlings remaining in the country wrongly or rightly was that he was committed to stay under the difficult conditions at home like everybody and not run away abroad.
By this time many of the radical forces had grouped into organizations like African Youth Brigade, African Youth Command, June 4 Movement, Kwame Nkrumah Revolutionary Guards, Movement On National Affairs, New Democratic Movement, Pan African Youth Movement and People’s Revolutionary League of Ghana. Some of the members of the of People’s National Party and the Social Democratic Front also shared sentiments close to the radicals. The registered political parties and main establishment professional parties held positions that could be said to be the Right Wing position.
The PNP regime led by Dr Hilla Liman faced a very difficult situation with the shops emptied by June 4 Era instant control price sales. There was also internal lack of cohesion in the ruling party as even Dr Limann’s leadership was being challenged. Some even were not prepared to recognize him as one of them as he had contested the 1954 Elections against the CPP in Tumu and was also a signatory to the 2nd Republic Constitution which described the Nkrumah Regime / The 1st Republic as a tyranny in its preamble. There was even a court ruling that he was not the leader of the party despite the fact that he was the President representing the ruling party. Later in 1981, the PNP Youth Wing had its national congress where it firmly declared itself ideologically Nkrumaist bringing it in conflict with the leadership of the PNP. The leader of the PNP Youth Wing felt he was wanted and went into hiding. The PNP regime also put Military Intelligence and Special Branch vehicles to follow J.J. Rawlings and Kojo Tsikata 24 hours wherever they were going. Most people in the Left sympathized with those being repressed in this way. Groups of people were circulating leaflets opposing this and calling for a Left-Wing party to bring forces together.
Unknown to them, there were others also plotting a coup as their response to this situation, so on 31 December 1981, when J.J. Rawlings broadcasted to the nation, most of the Left felt that the coup makers had pitched their tent with the Left. The 2nd Battalion of Infantry from Takoradi moved speedily and made a brave attempt to foil the coup leading to fierce fight in which process even some of the coup makers started fleeing. In the absence of a spontaneous support for the coup in the streets, with only about 80 people assembled at Accra Community Centre in support of the coup, it fell on Left-Wing cadres like Kwasi Adu, Judd Quarshie, Eric Bortey, the late Kwame Adjimah and others to go and mobilize people from Labadi and Nungua to add to the numbers for the first public demonstration in support of the coup in Accra.
Apart from the coup announcement, J.J. Rawlings himself had been acting as if he was pitching his tent with the Left, since Kwasi Adu and others invited him to become the Chair of the JFM together with Kojo Tsikata also as a member of the Steering Committee of the JFM. Members of the original JFM behaved as if the coup was their coup as most of the leading members of the JFM knew about the coup plot and some of the members were actively involved in the coup plot. Rawlings also granted an interview to a newspaper known as ‘Nigerian Call’ in August 1981 where he stated that he was not forming any party, not also working with any of the registered political parties but was working with the June 4 Movement, People’s Revolutionary League of Ghana and the New Democratic Movement. A statement like this even meant that the members of these organizations could be implicated in treason if the coup had failed. The same would have gone for other Left organizations who had working relations with these organizations.
This should also explain why the progressive organisations moved actively to help put some structure around what was happening. Apart from mobilizing for the demonstrations, their members were actively involved in putting together the National Coordinating structure of the Students and Youth Task Force. The Joint Coordinating Committee of Progressive Organisations was set which made various proposals for the organization of the defence committees. Some of the members of the PNP Youth Wing organized themselves under the leadership of Ato Austin and Kofi Duku as a component part of the Joint Coordinating Committee of Progressive Organisations. They named themselves Kwame Nkrumah Youth League. The National Leadership of the National Union of Ghana Students (NUGS) was actively co-opted in the process.
All the progressive organisations issued statements supporting, with some statements giving critical support with reservations. The first crack in the progressive organisations emerged when the leadership of the Movement On National Affairs (MONAS) were arrested allegedly for plotting to overthrow the PNDC regime. Kwasi Agbley, Kweku Baako Jnr, Yaw Adu Larbi, Freddie Blay, Stanley Armattoe and Nathaniel Ayivor from the MONAS leadership were detained for various periods up to two years. The activists had accused Kwesi Pratt Jnr as the one who sold them out whilst he said he only passed on some information to the Soviet embassy who later passed it on to the PNDC’s Chief of Security. In the process, there were clashes between the Right and the Left within and outside the regime.
The sharpest conflict emerged around the issue of the Economic and Political direction of the government. The participants around the government could also be divided among (1) the progressive organisations of the Left who were influential in generating ideas in the early days of the regime, (2) The military and civil bureaucracy with the military bureaucracy having more muscle, and (3) people who came around because they supported the coup and therefore saw themselves as followers of the person described as leader of the coup. This division played an important role how the importance of the first group diminished. Another point which was a problem was that J.J. Rawlings was anti-Nkrumah and pro-Kotoka (who overthrew the Nkrumah regime) but the Left felt that Rawlings could be made to come to better appreciate Nkrumah through educating him and that there are genuine criticisms which could be made of the Nkrumah period as even Nkrumah himself makes some of them in his reflections.
The Left united around the National Mobilisation Programme, which was to ensure that the pain the IMF and World Bank prescriptions were neutralized. The Left debate and exchanges from within the PNDC spread into the Armed Forces leading to a confrontation between Alolga Akata Pore and allies taking on the Left position and J.J. Rawlings and forces standing in for the bureaucrats therefore representing the Right. Things came to a head on 28 October 1982 and it is alleged that J.J. Rawlings and Kojo Tsikata left Gondar Barracks that night. Strangely, however, through whichever way this came to be naively interpreted by others victory and take over by Akata Pore. Emmanuel Hansen, wrote, “Later that morning, Accra was thrown into confusion when news was leaked out that the government had been overthrown. It transpired that a zonal meeting of the Accra Defence Committees, one of the cadres had reportedly announced that the government had been overthrown, Jerry Rawlings and Kojo Tsikata had fled and Alolga Akata-Pore had taken control of the government.”
This announcement was alleged to have been made by T. Kodjo-Ababio Nubuor of the People’s Revolutionary League of Ghana which was a component organization of the United Front of JFM and PRLG. There was a tense meeting of the PNDC membership on 27 October where there was a confrontation between Rawlings on one side with Akata-Pore and Chris Atim on the other side on issues of democratic running of the council as well as the political and economic direction of government policy. Among the progressive organisations was the rivalry between the June 4 Movement (later the United Front) and the New Democratic Movement which made divide and rule of the organizations very easy. Rawlings felt that the confrontation at the PNDC meeting, that in Gondar Barracks and the announcement at the Accra Defence Committees meeting were all linked. Nubuor fled the country after the announcement.
On 23 November 1982, there was an attempt to overthrow the PNDC led mainly by Northern officers, and Rawlings took advantage of this coup attempt to remove from within the fold all those he felt were a threat to him. Despite the fact that this coup was investigated and publicly tried, Rawlings framed up cadres in the defence committee structures as being involved in the coup. The NDM took advantage of the rivalry between the group and the United Front and moved in to replace the United Front cadres by 1983. On 19 June 1983, through a jail break coordinated by two of the soldiers associated with old National Defence Committee (Interim National Coordinating Committee), Umar Farouk and Baba Abraham Kankani, a number of those detained escaped and some who were caught while escaping like Kwame Adjimah, Matthew Awar, Dwomoh etc were killed by the PNDC’s Special Commando Unit led by W.O. Adjei Buadi, Agoha and co.
The internal conflict in the PNDC also degenerated into a conflict between Northerners and Ewes. By 1985, the NDM also lost influence and disengaged from the PNDC ending the influence by the organised Left. All the progressive organisations of the period are no more except the African Youth Command which is not as strong as it used to be. The organized Left were committed to building the organs of popular power like the defence committees, people’s shops and other structures introduced to counter the previous ones which gave unfair advantage to the privileged and wealthy ones, and was also committed to National Mobilisation content of the Economic programme. The dismantling of the organized Left meant the absence of organized struggle to strengthen the structures of popular power. The United Revolutionary Front of Ghana was established by those who broke away from the Rawlings regime in 1982-83 and oragnised publishing the Revolutionary Banner before internal problems divided it into a number of factions by 1989. The Kwame Nkrumah Revolutionary Guards and the New Democratic Movement also managed to release a number of press statements and had some press conferences till about 1990.
By 1991, opposition to the PNDC reorganized under the banner of the Movement for Justice. The issues of structures of popular power and the National Mobilisation content of the Economic programme were no longer issues around which the opposition was organized. The basis of unity was “Rawlings Must Go” and those who raised the issue that there should be an all inclusive front taking care of those who differed with the PNDC from the Left were treated with suspicion. Even fellow Leftists put out publications with ISBN numbers alleging that others were agents of Rawlings in exile just to incite others in exile against these people at threat of their lives. For example, I was described as a “collaborator of agents of Rawlings” in one such publication edited by Napoleon Abdulai with the article under the piece signed by Nyeya Yen. When therefore the PNDC and forces seemingly close to it set up the National Democratic Congress (NDC), the National Convention Party (NCP), the Democratic People’s Party (DPP) and Every Ghanaian Living Everywhere (EGLE) many who back in Ghana can be associated with the Left divide in Ghana politics joined this fold. The opposition committed itself to restoring the old order and as such it is not surprising that the Danquah-Busia tradition party of the New Patriotic Party emerged as the dominant force of this front. The struggle for popular democracy cannot be swept away by the 4 Republic arrangement. I will take on the struggle for popular democracy specifically in the next part of this write up.
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* Explo Nani-Kofi is the Director of Kilombo Centre for Civil Society and African Self-Determination in London, UK, and Peki, Ghana, which publishes the Kilombo Pan-African Community Journal and produces the Another World Is Possible Radio Programme currently on GFM Radio, London, UK. He is the Editor of the Kilombo Pan-African Community Journal (www.kilombo.org.uk) and one of authors of African Awakening The Emerging Revolutions, published by Pambazuka Press. He is a member of Counterfire (www.counterfire.org)
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