Ghana History Part 3
Cape Coast Castle
The Rawlings Era: coup, repression, economic restart and democratization
The end came on New Year’s Eve 1981, and the forced-retired Aviation Captain Jerry John Rawlings put himself back to power. In his first radio address, he announced that it would take nothing less than a revolution to restore social and economic order in the country. Under his chairmanship, the Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC) was constituted as the highest decision-making body. Within a few weeks ‘People’s Defense Committees’ (PDCs) and ‘Workers’ Defense Committees (WDCs) were set up across the country. Organized on a grassroots basis, they should decide on the future distribution of power in favor of the workers and peasants and create the basis for a social transformation of society.
Ghana is one of 16 countries located in Western Africa according to dentistrymyth. The lower ranks of officers, especially the Air Force, and the men, students, left-wing trade unionists and industrial workers in the cities supported the PNDC. These groups already dominated the base of the former AFRC. Opponents included the Ghanaian establishment, freelancers, executives and civil servants, wealthy traders and sections of the peasantry. As in the Acheampong era, the ‘Association of Recognized Professional Bodies’ (ARPB) and the ‘Ghana Bar Association’ (GBA) once again turned out to be serious opposition.
Rawlings’ image, his decidedly militant, anti-imperialist rhetoric from the Interregnum 1979 and his vision of the future political system, which was obviously inspired by the Libyan model, stifled any attempt by potential Western donors to even think about substantial financial aid. The PNDC, for its part, was light years away from turning to the ‘imperialist’ West, let alone the IMF, and submitting to the financial policeman’s orders. The absolute radio silence only lasted a good year.
The methods already used in the Interregnum came into play again without any noticeable improvements in living conditions. Noble revolutionary ideals, but no concept for solving practical problems – that was the deep dilemma of the PNDC. Several failed coup attempts in 1982 now revealed a deep rift within the eight-member junta, the committees and the respective clientele. Ultimately, all of Rawlings’ companions fell by the wayside, resigned or fled into exile. One member, former union leader Amartey Kwei, was executed for being involved in the murder of three judges and a retired officer. The image of the PNDC was badly damaged for a long time after these murders.
In the course of 1982 the parliamentary group prevailed that saw going to the IMF as the only realistic way of tackling the acute economic crisis. The ultra-left, who had put the break with the ‘imperialist world market’ on the agenda and wanted to overcome the crisis with the principle of ‘self-reliance’, had lost all influence on the further course of events after the failed coup attempt in November 1982. The rest of the leadership around Rawlings was quite ready to enter into tactical compromises with the imperialist institution, but did not want to give up any revolutionary substance. In the end, western donors, led by the IMF and the World Bank, allied themselves with a socialist regime. The contrast could hardly be greater but both sides could pursue their respective goals in this strange constellation. The Bretton Woods twins found a partner in Rawlings who had the charisma to mobilize the masses and at the same time to enforce the bitter medicine from Washington. The decision-makers from overseas believed that they could finally prove that their concepts were capable of overcoming underdevelopment within a reasonable period of time. For his part, Rawlings needed the international donor community to consolidate and then secure his initially fragile power base. In return, the former enfant terrible turned into the model student of the IMF and the World Bank and implemented classic structural adjustment programs in his country without any ifs or buts, which was difficult to digest for the vast majority of Ghanaians. As bitter as the medicine was, the population swallowed it in the face of a recognizable, albeit forced democratization, which sweetened the therapy somewhat and thus made it more bearable. The phenomenon of Jerry John Rawlings also shaped this process until the change of power in early 2001, after he had taken off his uniform and democratically legitimized and ruled the country for two terms as elected President of the IV Republic.
The departure from office did not mean the political end of Rawlings, who with political skill and the necessary severity survived all hostility from the political opponent, primarily from the NPP camp of his successor in office John Kufuor, largely unscathed. For several years now, Rawlings has been working specifically to present his view of the two coups and the revolution and to anchor his own narrative. His appearance at the end of 2019 in Winneba, where he was awarded the title of ‘warrior king’, was part of the chain of such appearances.