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JJ Rawlings’ June 4 Coup: National progress or retrogression?

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JJ Rawlings’ June 4 Coup: National progress or retrogression?

A loud voice with a menacing message penetrated the airways of Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC), the country’s lone radio station, early on June 4, 1979, 45 years ago.

“The ranks have just got me out of my cell; in other words, the ranks have just taken over the destiny of this country! Fellow Officers, if we are to avoid any bloodshed, I plead with you not to attempt to stand in their way because they are full of malice. Hatred, hatred we have forced into them through all these years of suppression. They are ready to get it out the venom we created. So, for Heaven’s sake, do not stand in their way! They are not fools. If you have any reason to fear them, you may run. If you have no reason to feel guilty, do not move”.

Self-identifying as Flt Lt Jerry John Rawlings, the voice said.

Fear and silence swept the country following the declaration made by the Flt Lt, who was on trial before a military tribunal for spearheading an unsuccessful coup attempt the month before. On the streets, opinions were divided. While some people welcomed the news of the new administration, others found it hard to understand why a coup would be staged just before elections.

Later in the day, General Neville Odartey Wellington, the Head of the Army, declared on GBC that the military coup had failed, which increased the level of unease in the nation. What happens next?

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Another military commander stormed the airwaves as people accepted whatever fate had in store for the nation:

“I’m pleased to declare that Acheampong and Akuffo’s hypocrisy, which dates back to 1972, has ended. For their own protection, all regime members are to report immediately to the Air Force Station or any nearby Police Station. We want to reassure you that the election process will go according to schedule. The interest of the country is served. We have endured much too much suffering. God bless this country.

General Joshua Hamidu, the Chief of Defence Staff, made the announcement that the coup had, in fact, been successful this time. Many consider Gen. Hamidu to be the greatest defector, having broken with the Akuffo Government to support Rawlings and help make the coup a success. Later on, he was designated as the government-army machinery liaison officer.

The soldiers executed Rawlings Court Martial President Col. Joseph Enninful and his wife, as well as General Odartey Wellington, who heroically resisted the coup.

To manage the government’s operations until the elections were concluded, Rawlings was appointed Chairman and Head of State of the 15-member Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC).

The official spokesperson, Captain Kojo Boakye Gyan, the members of Major Mensah-Poku and Major Mensah Gbedemah, Lieutenant Commander H. C. Apaloo, Captain Baah Achamfour, Warrant Officer (II) Harry K. Obeng, Staff Sargeant Alex Adjei, and Corporal Owusu Boateng were the other members of the AFRC.

The remaining individuals were: Private Owusu Adu; Leading Aircraftman John N. Gatsiko; Lance Corporal Peter Tasiri; Ansah Atiemo; Lance Corporal Sarkodie-Addo; Corporal Sheik Tetteh; and Member.

The mutiny hero Captain Henry Smith was put in charge of the Foreign Affairs Ministry and “Special Duties.”

Ghana, a once favourite travel destination for many Africans, was seen to be severely debilitated by social inequality prior to the June 4 coup. Ghanaians experienced severe social and economic hardship due to a number of factors, including high inflation, widespread corruption, severe food scarcity, smuggling, and the prevalence of black racketeering, or “kalabule.” Getting around was really difficult.

The country was beset by bushfires, especially in the farming areas, and it seemed as though fate was taking deliberate revenge on the country as the rains had also halted.

Donald I. Ray accurately summed up Ghana’s predicament in “Ghana: Politics, Economics, and Society”:

“The corruption, or ‘kalabule,’ of the Acheampong period, starting in mid-1974, has stood out as the height of decadence. It included everything from overcharging for goods and services to a system in which young women who prowled the corridors of power offered themselves for libidinal pleasure in exchange for favors and top officials issued chits (giving loans or import licences) to them.”

On Tuesday, May 15, 1979, Rawlings led a botched coup attempt against the Ghanaian military against this backdrop of perceived bad government and junior ranks dissatisfaction with senior officers.

“The corruption, or ‘kalabule,’ of the Acheampong period, starting in mid-1974, has stood out as the height of decadence. It included everything from overcharging for goods and services to a system in which young women who prowled the corridors of power offered themselves for libidinal pleasure in exchange for favors and top officials issued chits (giving loans or import licences) to them.”

On Tuesday, May 15, 1979, Rawlings led a botched coup attempt against the Ghanaian military against this backdrop of perceived bad government and junior ranks dissatisfaction with senior officers.

The way Capt. Boakye-Gyan’s responded over the radio was interpreted as a low blow to a former coworker and friend in arms. He said that Rawlings had even failed his promotion exams five times! On the sixth try, Boakye-Gyan, the Chief Examiner, helped him out by massaging Rawlings’ scores!

“Capt Boakye-Gyan claimed that Rawlings harbours animosity and jealousy toward anyone who is superior to him.”

Many Ghanaian families would like to forget the three-month AFRC regulation altogether. General Kutu Acheampong, General Utuka, Lieutenant General Akwasi Amankwaa Afrifa, Lieutenant General Fred Akuffo, Commander Joy Amedume, Brigadier Robert Kotei, Colonel Roger Felli, and Air Vice Marshall George Yaw were all killed by the AFRC, which they saw as a ruthless dictatorship.

In his book Politics in Ghana, Professor Mike Oquaye states on page 156: “There were several extrajudicial executions of civilians, abductions, torture, disappearances, illegal property seizures, stripping and whipping of civilian women and men (even in the groin) for engaging in illegal business, ‘hoarding of essential commodities,’ including empty beer bottles… Curfews were enforced from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., which provided the three-month junta’s perpetrators with the justification to inflict the most vicious, sadistic atrocities on defenseless Ghanaians, never before seen in the country’s history.

Based on sources from “The Library of Congress Country Studies,” Special courts performed hearings from July to September 1979, during which time 155 military commanders, retired officials, and wealthy businesspeople were convicted to terms varying from six months to 95 years in prison. In addition, the AFRC pursued the return of overdue taxes from a number of public servants and threatened to take control of their belongings if they failed to reimburse the state for money they were accused of embezzling or stealing. Additionally, hundreds of military officers were found guilty of corruption by the AFRC and given lengthy prison sentences. Many government employees also lost their jobs as a result of the purge.

Following the putsch’s triumph, army discipline was hardly noteworthy. The Ghanaian Armed Forces appeared to have been schooled in indiscipline for years, as evidenced by the subordinate ranks seizing numerous senior officers and giving them “patriotic shavings”—rough haircuts—for their support of the former military regime.

Attacks occurred on foreign companies owned by Lebanese and Syrians. The excited military and police did not spare the anguish they inflicted on local businesspeople. A number of market women had their merchandise unlawfully confiscated, and some of them were even publicly flogged for accumulating limited supplies!

However, Rawlings insists that all that occurred was a necessary sacrifice and rejects any wrongdoing. Speaking as the Guest of Honor at an International Youth Fellowship regional camp in Adidome, the Volta Region, he discussed the executions and stated, “We had no choice.” Let’s let two go, we thought. Acheampong and a someone named Utuka are highly dishonest generals. They served as sacrifices. It was insufficient. Ladies and gentlemen, ten days later, we were forced to sacrifice six more commanders, some of them were decent, innocent individuals, but it was necessary due to the very high level of rage in the nation.

“This revolution is not a wedding party,” declared Rev. Kwamina Damuah in a June 1979 article published in the Catholic Standard. Now is the time to baptize the country as a whole. Our love for our nation is greater than our affection for those who are executed. Although they are not the whole solution, executions are undoubtedly a component of it.

Others, such as Prof. Baffour Agyemang Duah, a political scientist at the Center for Democratic Governance (PDFD), believe that Rawlings’ values of accountability, transparency, and probity still hold true today. He praises Rawlings for his steadfast commitment to upholding the values of integrity, openness, and responsibility.

It is debatable if the things Rawlings’ admirers hail him for—order, security, and wealth for Ghana—were actually accomplished. Therefore, depending on which side of the political divide one chooses to perch on, Rawlings will continue to be a mystery to Ghanaians.

 

Vesta Daily
Author: Vesta Daily

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