There are certain dates in every nation's history that make an indelible mark on the national consciousness, whether for good or for bad reasons. You cannot wash such dates away with bleach or parazone even if they evoke only painful memories. Perhaps 31st December is one of the most controversial dates in our historical calendar, but you cannot talk about 31st December 1981 without mentioning June 4th 1979, and in turn May 15th 1979. Together, these three dates form a trinity, with the name JJ Ralwings as the common denominator.
Rewind the national tape to May 1979. The moustached General F.W.K Akuffo had unseated Kutu Acheampong barely a year earlier in a bloodless palace (or is it castle?) coup. Kalabuleism and the chit system continued unabated. The government had announced that we could play party politics again, and the idea was to hand over to civilian government later in the year. The scramble for power had begun on 1st January 1979, when the ban was lifted.
The CPP descendants came to together to form the People's National Party (PNP), with Alhaji Imoru Egala, Nana Okutwere Bekoe and Krobo Adusei among its big guns. The party symbol was the palm tree. In their campaigns, they reminded the people that the palm tree had so many uses. You could, for instance use the palm fruit for 'abenkwan', palm kernel oil or zomi palm oil, whilst the fronds could come in handy for waving about on Palm Sunday or making brooms. To demonstrate that the expression 'never say die' is very apt for the palm tree, they reminded the people that even a dead palm tree was still useful for tapping palm wine! Powerful and effective imagery though this was, quite how all this information made the party fit to rule us was beyond comprehension. But that is African politics for you. To lead the party, they PNP recruited a quiet career diplomat from the Ghana Mission in Geneva, one Dr. Hilla Limann.
The UP descendants were not to be outdone. They adopted the star (nsoroma), as their symbol and called themselves the Popular Front Party, or simply 'Pop'. Their leader was Victor Owusu, a seasoned politician and one time Foreign Minister in the Busia government. Their party machine swung into action and extolled the virtues of the star's shining qualities. After all, it was a star in the sky that led the three wise men to the infant Jesus, the redeemer of the world. Maybe the logic was that if we followed the party, we would be guided to redemption, they figured.
Other parties also materialised, like William Ofori-Atta (Paa Willie) and his United National Convention (UNC), with the open palm as their symbol- to indicate to the people that they were open and honest. Their chant was 'Convention-Eye Clean!' Some cynics, noting that the silver-haired Paa Willie was not exactly the epitome of energetic youthful exuberance, corrupted the party's signature tune to indicate that Paa Willie was destined for Osu cemetery. It all added to the fizz and the razzmatazz.
Col. Frank George Bernasko also came along tugging his Action Congress Party, with a mother hen and her chicks as the party symbol. One would suppose that Uncle Bernasko wanted to assure us he would protect and guide us with the tenacity of a mother hen. Dr. John Bilson, not to be outdone, hitched a ride on the bandwagon with his Third Force Party, waving about his lantern, the party symbol. Perhaps this was in solidarity with the common man, a reminder that in spite of Akosombo et al, a great number people still had no access to electricity. Of course, the Social Democratic Front ( 'S.D.F-The Party of Labour') led by Alhaji Ibrahim Mahama, was not to be forgotten.
That was not all. A few Independent candidates also clambered on stage with their symbols, slogans and tunes, knowing that they had absolutely no chance of winning the presidency. But it was fun, and they seemed content to be just vote- spoilers.
Kwame Nyanteh trudged along with his half- peeled, rather tantalising cob of corn as his emblem. Diamond Addy had his …well, his diamond. Also on show were Dr. R. P Baffour and Alhaji Imoru Ayarna. It was a truly crowded stage, as all these politicians tried to woo and smooch and beg us for our votes, using every trick in the book and promising us rainstorms of manna. Of course we knew they were lying through their teeth, yet we adored the buzz and the lavish attention we were getting from them. After all, they kept reminding that us our vote was our power, so whilst we had not yet cast it, we were rather happy to hold on to it and let them beg for it. The political air was thick with frenzy as the politicians combed the land electrifying the crowds during their rallies. The airwaves (It was only GBC Radio/TV then, mind you) were full of catchy party songs. It was fun.
Even though Gen. Akuffo and his SMC II had set 1st July 1979 for the return to civilian government, a number of men in the armed forces decided that this would happen over their dead bodies, literally speaking. On 15th May 1979, the nation was informed of a foiled coup attempt by some junior officers. Eventually, this turned to be just a slight tremor ahead of the earthquake that was to shake the nation to its foundations little over two weeks later.
The leader of the attempted coup, an angry young Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings, was arrested and court-martialled in Burma Hall. JJ was indeed very angry and very unafraid. During his trial, he gave vent to what many in the army had been afraid to say. He ranted against kalabuleism, the rottenness of the system, corruption, injustice, dishonesty and lack of probity. He railed against the poor man's plight. He was cheered to the rafters by the men that packed the hall. The government must have cursed itself for not shooting him quietly in a guardroom immediately after his arrest, rather than bother with the niceties of a court-martial. It was too late-the cat was out of the bag, clawing fiercely about, a menacing glint in its eye.
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