The Rawlings Years- they began 24 years ago today…
The year 1981 was almost gone, and Ghanaians were waiting to usher in 1982, basking in the lull between the Christmas and New Year celebrations. Up and down the land, Christmas parties, fancy dress takeovermasquerades and Meet-Me-There beachside events had taken place, and the nation went to bed on 30th December 1981 awaiting the ultimate day in the calendar, when festivities would recommence as the countdown to midnight began in earnest.
But 31st December 1981 was to be no ordinary day. At the crack of dawn, the country was rudely awoken by a gruff voice announcing to the world that President Limann had been dismissed from office, the constitution suspended, parliament dissolved etc. Yes, there had been a military takeover in Ghana yet again. But there was something familiar about the booming voice that informed us of the ‘revolution’, as the takeover was referred to. Yes, it was JJ Rawlings of June 4 fame!! In an amazing display of political acrobatics perhaps unseen in African politics, he had handed over the sword of state with one hand to Limann in 1979 amidst pomp and pageantry and had come back nicodemously in the dead of night to take it back with another and stab him in the back with the said sword. Just as in the aftermath of Ghana’s numerous military coups, the people hailed the PNDC as next to angels and redeemers and took the streets to proclaim their joy at JJ’s comeback, which some dared to liken to the Second Coming of Christ. Ministers and MPs cowered under their beds as they were summoned to report to Gondar Barracks without fail. Embezzlers, tax evaders, crooks and corrupt businessmen/officials shook and quivered in terrified anticipation of the mighty thrust of revolutionary justice, having witnessed what the AFRC did after the 1979 takeover.
Mercifully, the takeover was bloodless, but the new junta were anything but cuddly teddy bears. Apart from the firebrand, fufu-pounding, sugarcane-chewing, gutter-clearing leader of the revolution himself, there were men like Chris Atim, Ebo Tawiah and Kwesi Botchway, all rabid socialists who hated the west with the very fibre of their beings and were never shy of saying so. And who can forget the indomitable Osofo Okomfo Damoah, he of the Afrikanna Mission, or indeed Capt. Kojo Tsikata, the grizzly National Security Capo who always seemed to have a serene, almost scary smile on his face?
When they informed us that their name was the Provisional National Defence Council we heaved a collective sigh of relief at the giveaway word ‘Provisional’. At least, we said to ourselves, they will hand over to the civilians once again after that had cleaned the stables of the admittedly weak Limann government. We were to learn that the word ‘provisional’ could have a very elastic meaning in certain contexts…
With the advent of the Rawlings revolution sprang the People’s Defence Committees (PDC), Workers Defence Committees (WDC), the Public Tribunals and an assortment of bodies to lubricate the wheels of the revolution. The Daily Graphic became the People’s Daily Graphic, whilst People’s Shops sprouted all over the country to provide essential commodities to the masses. It was the masses’ cocoa harvest, this revolution, which as we were constantly reminded, was certainly not a tea party. Any communist/socialist country became our comrades, but the two that stood out in particular were Castro’s Cuba and Gaddhafi’s Libya.
The early years of the Rawlings revolution were best remembered for runaway inflation; the murder of the judges; the crippling drought leading to humiliating mass hunger; severe petrol shortages; the bush fires; the mass deportation of over one million Ghanaians from Nigeria; numerous attempted counter-coups, the most famous of which was the Gyiwa attempt; and regular dusk to dawn curfews, which meant Ghanaians had to barricade themselves in their homes at 6pm, just as their chickens were settling in for the night in their coops.
It is interesting to note that if the Rawlings government had lasted just 27 months (i.,e until March 1984), which is exactly how long Limann was able to rule before being overthrown, history would have judged that government very differently. Most would agree that Ghana’s economy only began to lift out of the doldrums around 1984, when the PNDC realised that our ‘comrades’ in the Eastern bloc had problems of their own and that its anti-west rhetoric was doing the country no good. Subsequently, in a humiliating volte-face, we approached the IMF & World Bank for assistance, resulting in ERP , SAP , PAMSCAD and a whole lot of programmes prescribed by these bodies.
Conversely it is interesting to speculate whether Limann would have been able to achieve anything of note had he been allowed to serve his full term, and possibly a further term of office. Of course, these arguments remain academic and only dabble in the fantastic realms of ‘if only…’
Articles by Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng