Akwasi Amankwaa Afrifa– Democracy's finest General
He died on 26th June 1979, caught up in the whirlwind of the June 4th revolution. This piece is not designed to test the merits or otherwise of his execution; what it is aimed at is telling the world at large and Ghanaians in particular, to re-appraise the role of General Akwasi Amankwaa Afrifa in the struggle for democracy in Ghana.
His biography is well known, and so we will not dwell on it here; born in the Ashanti Region, he studied at the Adisadel College and then went into the army. He rose steadily through the ranks so that by his thirties he was a Major.
On February 24th 1966 his life changed when in the early hours of that day he burst into the Ghana Broadcasting House (GBC), announced himself to the world, and told us to stand by for an announcement from Colonel Kotoka.
For the CPP, this was the biggest act of treachery in Ghana's history: however, more level-headed minds tell us that for all that the CPP, under Kwame Nkrumah achieved, the one fault they can never wriggle out of, or explain, is the one-party state of 1964. This act, according to those who supported the coup or at least understood why it was necessary, left Ghanaians with no peaceful means of removing the CPP if they ever wanted to.
CPP supporters on their part, suggest civil resistance by the people was they way forward if anyone wanted to remove the CPP. My point here, however, is not to argue on this issue. The fact of the matter remains that Afrifa and others felt the need to remove Nkrumah and return Ghana to constitutional rule complete with civil liberties and competitive electoral systems.
In March 1966, as evidence of this commitment, the new government the National Liberation Council (NLC), began measures culminating in the 2nd Republican Constitution.
We should also note here the role of Afrifa in thwarting General Ankrah's efforts to cling on to power in some form, even after the restoration of democracy. In April 1969, Ghanaians were surprised to hear General Joseph Ankrah, Head of State and Chairman of the NLC had resigned, and had been replaced by General Afrifa.
This was strange, as we had only about six months to go to the handover. What later emerged was that Ankrah had been secretly trying to either lead a political party and so become Prime Minister, or become ceremonial President in the Second Republic.
This was unacceptable to the NLC in general and Afrifa in particular. For the NLC, there was to be no attempt to remain in power after the handover.
The Presidential Commission, made up of three members of the NLC, was only to be a stopgap until the new President was elected, and, as far as leading a political party and thus becoming Prime Minister was concerned, this was something that was completely off limits to every single one of them.
Thus when Ankrah's activities become known, Afrifa confronted him. Ankrah initially denied he was seeking to extend his stay in political office, but later on admitted what he had been up to, and tendered his resignation. Afrifa succeeded him and handed over to the Progress Party (PP) administration in late 1969.
After being out of the limelight for almost two years, Afrifa was back fighting for democracy in January 1972. On 13th January of that year, Ignatius Kutu Acheampong announced himself as our new leader. He did not allege abuse of civil liberties and the absence of a mechanism to remove the party in power.
What he did tell us, was that times were hard and the PP had lost its way in its efforts to manage the economy.
Thus he had been compelled to topple the PP and place Ghana under the guidance of the National Redemption Council (NRC). Two days after the coup, Acheampong, in an interview with the Daily Graphic, said that Afrifa had tried to kill him, and thus he had been forced to throw the latter into custody. It emerged that apparently on the day after the coup, Afrifa had sought audience with Kutu to take him to task on the reasons for the coup.
The two, being the best of friends from their days in the army in Kumasi, Acheampong granted Afrifa audience. Afrifa had not been searched before his meeting, and although details are sketchy, it was obvious that if Afrifa had had his own way, Kutu would have ruled Ghana for less than 48 hours. He was looking for an opportunity to shoot him, but was found out before he could get an opportunity to pull the trigger!
Afrifa's reasons for this attempt were that Kutu had no business overthrowing the Progress Party, and that if the people of Ghana did not like the PP administration, they would remove that party using the ballot box.
Afrifa had hoped that by killing the leader of the new regime, the shaky hold that the NRC had on government would be loosened, and this could pave the way for the recapture of power by forces still loyal to the deposed Prime Minister, Kofi Busia.
After his release in 1973, Afrifa again vanished from the limelight for a while. However, as we all know, he kept up the pressure on Kutu telling him that the armed forces' place was in the barracks, and that he, Kutu, should hand over power to civilians and quietly leave the scene.
Kutu Acheampong however had other plans, and it was his desire to remain in power under the umbrella of his Union Government (UNIGOV) concept that led Afrifa to spring into action again. With a collapsing economy in the late 1970s, Kutu had changed tack in his justification for remaining in power. No longer did he castigate the PP for its economic shortcomings.
Now he claimed the entire constitutional order was wrong, and that multi-party systems were the bane of our political instability and lack of economic advancement, thus, it was necessary for us to have a political system that did not revolve around the CPP, PP and any other political party you could think of. More discerning observers knew what Acheampoing was up to - he was trying to do what Ankrah had tried - he was planning to hand over to himself. In fact, I remember badges appearing in early 1978 with Acheampong's face on them, proclaiming him as the next President of Ghana, under the UNIGOV concept.
Afrifa played a key role in the formation of the Peoples' Movement for Freedom and Justice (PMFJ) to resist Acheampong's designs. With K. A. Gbedemah and others, he criss-crossed Ghana calling for resistance to the coming referendum on the UNIGOV idea.
The referendum went ahead as planned. Acheampong emerged victorious, and Afrifa went into exile. I clearly recall meeting an uncle who was a soldier and he told me the armed forces were on red alert in April 1978, because they had intelligence that Afrifa was to lead a mercenary attack on Ghana to topple the Acheampong regime! Whether this was true or not, the fact remains that it was evidence of the wide belief that he was determined to see multi-party democracy and constitutional rule in Ghana at all costs.
Acheampong was removed by his own colleagues in July 1978, and the struggle for political power through the ballot box commenced once again. Afrifa was a key player in the formation of the United National Convention. He wanted to lead that party into the general elections, but the party chose Mr William Ofori-Atta instead.
He lobbied to become the running mate, but then who in Ghana could be President with his vice being Akwasi Amankwaa Afrifa? Not surprisingly, he was denied this role too.
However, undeterred, he was only too happy to become an MP, and was duly elected to represent Mampong, although he never took his seat.
During this period of political activity, he presented himself, on his own volition, before the Sowah Assets Committee, established to investigate past office holders, and he was cleared as being devoid of any corruption during his tenure as a member of the NLC.
Afrifa has been demonized as being in the pay of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), as part of his role in the overthrow of the CPP. He was also attacked during the National Reconciliation Commission hearings, as being responsible for lining up people to be shot on the day of the 24th February coup. I hold no brief for him, but if anyone on duty at GBC was shot dead on Afrifa's orders, surely we would at least have the list of names of the victims - no one has given us this, and so many people remain sceptical of this allegation.
Second, the CIA stated that it was aware of the plotters intention to topple Nkrumah, but nowhere is it said in their declassified files that they were part and parcel of the plan.
Third, as pointed out in the early part of this piece, Ghana, under the latter part of the CPP rule, was hardly the kind of democracy we have today, with political power shifting back and forth on the say so of the electorate.
The role of General Afrifa in our history seems to be stuck in first gear - he was a "traitor" who toppled Nkrumah and deserves to be castigated forever. Perhaps, we need to move on from this view and expand our examination of his role. He was not an angel, neither was he a devil.
He had his success, and he also had his faults. But, given the twists and turns in our political history, I think a good case can be made that in the struggle for our democracy, Akwasi Amankwaa Afrifa emerges as the finest general.