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04.06.2005 Feature Article

Ghana in 1979-Do You Remember? (Part II)

Ghana in 1979-Do You Remember? (Part II)
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On 4th June 1979 the nation was rocked to its very foundation by its fourth military coup. The word 'bloodless' can hardly describe the events of that day and of subsequent days, if not months. Flt-Lt. Rawlings was sprung from jail, where he had been since the botched May 15 attemoted coup. The uprising was led by Captain Boakye-Djan. Maj-Gen Odartey-Wellington, Army Commander and member of the SMC II was killed in the heat of fierce battle that rocked GBC as the capital as the two sides fought for soul of the nation. Eventually the young coup-makers triumphed as the generals hid under their beds quacking with fear. The new government's name was fear-inducing. It was called the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC).

Predictably, as they had done in 1966 and again in 1972, the people cheered and poured into the streets to celebrate the end of the Acheampong/Akuffo road show and to proclaim the new leader, for the SMCI & SMC II were seen as different sides of the same coin. Jerry John Rawlings became 'Junior Jesus' Rawlings-a hero and a saviour to the common, downtrodden man in 'charlie wote'. Obviously JJ's fans had not taken their religious studies and Sunday School lessons seriously when they were younger, else they would have known there is only one Jesus of all time, and that there is no senior or junior version. And it is said that this Jesus will come back from the heavens dressed in shining white and on horseback to announce the Last Judgment, not from the barracks dressed in military fatigues and gunning his way to GBC atop an armoured tank to announce the overthrow of the government…

The AFRC made it clear from the beginning that they were not in town to stay. They insisted that the house called Ghana was filthy and uninhabitable, made so by the generals who had ruled the country for seven years and strewn their filth about, and who were now about to hand over to the civilians so that they could retire and enjoy their spoils. This would not happen for so long as Ga kenkey and 'shito' were natural bedfellows they swore. They assured us that being patriots who loved their country, all they wanted to do was a bit of house-cleaning. Some vigorous sweeping, dusting and polishing, installation of a few air fresheners and sweet-smelling roses, and hey presto, the house would be clean again for the good people of Ghana to live in. Their cleaning agents were guns and bullets and sheer military muscle.

The people agreed (as if they had a choice!) and gave the young mixed race firebrand their ringing endorsement, led by the workers and university students. They chanted 'JJ, do something before you die'. No more Kalabule! 'Let the blood flow!' And the new leaders happily obliged to create rivers of blood. Seven military officers, who had occupied various positions in the SMC government, and Gen Afrifa of the 1966 coup fame were rounded up, tried for various offences by the People's Court and shot at the Teshie military range in Accra.

On 18th August 1979, Makola No: 1 Market (currently Rawlings Park), deemed the citadel of 'Kalabule', 'hoarding' and 'profiteering', was simply bulldozed to the ground. The market mummies wailed in agony and gnashed their teeth as the source of their livelihoods crumbled to dust before their very eyes. The common man cheered. 'Kalabule' was destroyed, chanted the workers. They failed to note that the problem was systemic, eating into the very fabric of society like cancer. There were reports of all sorts of charms and amulets and funny things found in the market, like a snake in a bowtie which was supposed to vomit money.

The AFRC's revolutionary broom kept sweeping, kicking up clouds of dust as the house-cleaning exercise got under way. Probity and accountability became buzzwords of the era as the government threw its searchlight on organisations like the GNTC-seen by many as a kalabule hothouse-and dealt with them ruthlessly. Retail traders sold their goods above 'control price' at their own risk- you could be guaranteed a public lashing in the scorching sun or a prison sentence if caught or reported by some 'okro mouth' for selling a loaf of bread for 2 cedis 70 pesewas instead of the approved 2 cedis. Former government officials and politicians were rounded up and quickly tried for corruption. Some received jail sentences of 90 years for various crimes against the state. Quite how these sentences were to be carried out in practice against these mortals was beyond comprehension, but of course only the very brave dared question the sense in the length of these sentences. Nsawam prisons groaned with the overload. Fear swept the land as the soldiers paraded the streets and 'disciplined' wayward citizens.

The AFRC kept its word and continued from where we had left off in the build-up to civilian elections. And so like little children whose 'Kokofu' football game had been interrupted by the local strong boy, we were allowed to return to electioneering. We looked over our shoulders rather nervously every now and then as elections approached. Eventually, the election fever hit a high pitch again. When the cloud settled, Dr. Limann and his PNP won the day. And so on 24th September 1979, the soldiers did as their predecessors had done in 1969-they handed power over to an elected civilian government and returned to the barracks to clean their guns and polish their boots.

We had a shiny new, fragile republic-the third since independence. And we all held our breaths and hoped that the military people would stay in their barracks and concentrate on what they did best and were trained to do-fighting and defending the nation against foreign aggressors. If only wishes were horses… Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

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