Since 1963, Africa south of the sahara has witnessed many coup d’ tat, counter coups and abortive coups. Ghana, found in the western part of the African continent was not an exception. Since her independence as a British colony in 1957, the then Gold Coast had witnessed a number of coups and counter coups resulting in frequent changes in governments.
The intermittent incidence of coup d’état in the African diaspora has been attributed to a number of factors which includes but not limited to the following; inordinate ambition of the soldiers, tribalism and nepotism, desire of some leaders to perpetuate their rule, desire of opposition to capture political power as well as external interventions.
June 4th, 1979 was yet another historic day in the golden pages of Ghanaian politics. A group of junior officers in the Ghana Armed Forces led by Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings staged an uprising against senior army officers in the Supreme Military Council I and II (SMC I and II). It was preceded by an abortive attempt on May 15th 1979, when Flt. Lt. Jerry john Rawlings and others were arrested. Their trial only served to make the popular till they were eventually released on the morning of June 4th by young officers inspired by Rawlings.
The aim of Rawlings and his team was to perform a swift surgical operation to ‘clean-up’ the armed forces and punish both soldiers and civilians who, through bribery, corruption, hording and other malpractices, had contributed to the economic ruins of Ghana.
However, there has been an ever lingering debate among scholars as to whether or not the June 4th uprising was a deviance or not on the part of the charismatic leader, Jerry John Rawlings and his team who later formed the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC).
Deviance behavior by definition, it is the deviation from societal norms.
Although June 4th became a noted date as far as Ghana’s political history is concerned, it has been alleged to be a date that brought a lot of pain to people who either lost loved ones, lost businesses or had to flee the country.
Also, the AFRC headed by Jerry Rawlings was also alleged to be an affront to democracy as a result of the hurriedly conducted trials and executions- what was termed as ‘house- cleaning’.
Another short coming of the AFRC that can be said to be deviance is the kind of punishments meted out to civilians who committed minor offences. These punishments which include flogging and demolishing of houses which rendered many homeless were to some extend inhumane, excessive and out of proportion to the gravity of the offences.
It’s an undisputable fact that the AFRC introduced to some extend a form of indiscipline into the Ghanaian society through some of its methods adopted to restructure the society. This is evidence from the fact that some soldiers took it upon themselves to punish and humiliate their senior officers while some workers locked up or dismissed their top management personnel all in the name of ‘house cleaning’.
Inasmuch as the AFRC had a number of shortcomings, its achievements and policies adopted in restructuring the socio-political conditions are far greater. It is my argument, however, that based on the charisma and achievements of Rawlings’, any consideration to classify the June 4th revolution a deviance is outrageous because of the following:
The leader of the revolt- jerry john Rawlings, as passionate as he was about the condition of the ordinary Ghanaian, he justified the need for the revolution on various grounds including: economic mismanagement; bribery and corruption; denial of fundamental human rights; imposition of union government; unfulfilled promises etc. In the words of Rawlings, himself, “I am not an expert in economics, and I am not an expert in law. But I am an expert in working on an empty stomach wondering when and where the next meal will come from”.
The reason Rawlings and the other officers gave for taking power just weeks before national elections was that the new Union Government would be no more stable or effective than previous governments. They were not stopping the elections themselves, but they did execute several members of the military government, including the former leader, General Acheampong, who had already been unseated by Akufo with the view of inculcating the values of probity and accountability into the Ghanaian society.
Free and fair elections do not often take place in the middle of revolutions. It is, of course, an important commentary on the nature of the revolution envisaged by Rawlings and his fellow members of the AFRC which rule Ghana from 4th June to 24th September 1979, that the elections arranged by the displaced SMC regime for 18th June should have been allowed to go ahead as planned. To the amazement of most foreign observers, the elections were held on schedule under conditions of unexpected calm and fairness.
The revolution as defined by Rawlings himself, was more an attempt a moral reformation than structural transformation, primarily concerned to reassert the principle of popular accountability in Ghanaian political and public life- a fundamental principle in any serious political dispensation.
Jerry Rawlings and his military juntas were motivated by a burning desire to ensure that the incoming administration was given the right atmosphere to take all necessary steps toward the stability and prosperity of the nation. This conviction motivated Rawlings to supervise and returned the country back to a republican rule under the third republican constitution which saw President Hilla Liman as the democratically elected president on the ticket of People National Party (PNP) in 24th September 1979.
Decrees reminiscent of the “housecleaning” exercise under the Rawlings regime in 1979 resulted in a sharp fall in rents and transportation charges, and new monetary measures led to modest declines in commodity prices.
Rawlings dedicated his administration to making democracy really work for the ordinary man, not just for a small group of people to exploit them and ride over their misery. “Let the world know,” he affirmed, “that Ghanaians want a government with an agenda, not just a talking shop, and that this is a democratic revolution to assure for our people the basic conditions of their survival”.
The new AFRC government tried to clear up corruption in all walks of life, especially the kalabule system (the “black” or “parallel” market) which had affected the cost of living and which the state suspected to be responsible for the spiraling inflation in Ghana. In fact, the shortages and low production of the past regime were the causes. Much of Rawlings’ energy and activity in those hectic months, however, was bound up with talking with people whom he constantly urged to be aware that this was their revolution and it was they who were calling
their past rulers to account for their past deeds, and that the future of Ghana was in their hands.
Of course, the norms of the Ghanaian society prior to June 4th uprising which was audible to the death and visible to the blind was that of corruption, infringement of human rights, economic mismanagement etc.
Its on this grounds that Jerry Rawlings and his team deemed it necessary to transform the society of its malaise and restructure the mayhem caused by some leaders. Many Ghanaians believe that Rawlings, more than any other individual in the country’s history, has led them through the difficult years of economic recovery and has given them back their self-respect and national pride. Without his strength of character and unwavering determination, according to Chazan (1983), Ghana would not have survived the Economic Recovery Programs (ERP). Rawlings saw part of his role as the head of state to be that of a “watch dog” for the people; in that role, it was not unusual for him to speak his mind and intervene in issues whenever he saw what he considered to be an injustice, corruption or gross incompetence.
In conclusion, considering the political, social and economic conditions of Ghana since her independence in the late 1950s, you would realize that such a revolt was necessary in order to keep the hopes of the Ghanaian people alive, hence cannot, to a larger extend be considered a deviance, should it be called a deviance, a ‘positive deviance’ would be suitable, if there ever exist such thing.
Finally, once again I argue that the leadership qualities by Rawlings’ – effective, transformational, and visionary – all espoused by Rawlings, have provided Ghana with a political system that could endure for a long time. Rawlings seized the rare opportunity of guiding the affairs of his country, saw it through several political and economic transitions and obtained financial aid from institutional donors to implement the various recovery programs, entrenched an economy that is growing through long-term structural adjustment, and sustained a democracy that is not only a work-in-progress but an institutionalized political system.
Overall, Rawlings under the AFRC, left a legacy where Ghanaians, as a people and society, have the enviable opportunity to enjoy the quality of life and also reap the benefits of a systemic development in an ever-changing global, political and economic environment.
Ministry of Information. J.J. Rawlings, Selected Speeches vol. 1-8, 1982-1992. Accra, Ghana: Ministry of Information, 1990.
Adedeji,J.L. 2001. “The Legacy of J.J. Rawlings in Ghanaian Politics”. African Studies Quarterly 5(2): 1. [online] URL: http://web.africa.ufl.edu/asq/v5/v5i2a1.htm
Krause, J. “Ghana’s Shift from Radical Populism.” Current History vol.86, no.520, May 1987. p.227.
Herbst, Jeffrey. The Politics of Reform in Ghana, 1982-1991. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1993.
Chazan, N. An Anatomy of Ghanaian Politics: Managing Political Recession, 1969-1982. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1983.
Chibber, A. “Tackling Inflation during Reforms in Africa.” Finance & Development, March 1991. p.28-31