The Second Coming of Rawlings, 1982- 87

Ghana Table of Contents

The new government that took power on December 31, 1981, was the eighth in the fifteen years since the fall of Nkrumah. Calling itself the Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC), its membership included Rawlings as chairman, Brigadier Joseph Nunoo-Mensah (whom Limann had dismissed as army commander), two other officers, and three civilians. Despite its military connections, the PNDC made it clear that it was unlike other soldier-led governments. This was immediately proved by the appointment of fifteen civilians to cabinet positions.

In a radio broadcast on January 5, 1982, Rawlings presented a detailed statement explaining the factors that had necessitated termination of the Third Republic. The PNDC chairman assured the people that he had no intention of imposing himself on Ghanaians. Rather, he "wanted a chance for the people, farmers, workers, soldiers, the rich and the poor, to be part of the decision-making process." He described the two years since the AFRC had handed over power to a civilian government as a period of regression during which political parties attempted to divide the people in order to rule them. The ultimate purpose for the return of Rawlings was, therefore, to "restore human dignity to Ghanaians." In the chairman's words, the dedication of the PNDC to achieving its goals was different from any the country had ever known. It was for that reason that the takeover was not a military coup, but rather a "holy war" that would involve the people in the transformation of the socioeconomic structure of the society. The PNDC also served notice to friends and foes alike that any interference in the PNDC agenda would be "fiercely resisted."

Opposition to the PNDC administration developed nonetheless in different sectors of the political spectrum. The most obvious groups opposing the government were former PNP and PFP members. They argued that the Third Republic had not been given time to prove itself and that the PNDC administration was unconstitutional. Further opposition came from the Ghana Bar Association (GBA), which criticized the government's use of people's tribunals in the administration of justice. Members of the Trade Union Congress were also angered when the PNDC ordered them to withdraw demands for increased wages. The National Union of Ghanaian Students (NUGS) went even farther, calling on the government to hand over power to the attorney general, who would supervise new elections.

By the end of June 1982, an attempted coup had been discovered, and those implicated had been executed. Many who disagreed with the PNDC administration were driven into exile, where they began organizing their opposition. They accused the government of human rights abuses and political intimidation, which forced the country, especially the press, into a "culture of silence."

Meanwhile, the PNDC was subjected to the influence of contrasting political philosophies and goals. Although the revolutionary leaders agreed on the need for radical change, they differed on the means of achieving it. For example, John Ndebugre, secretary for agriculture in the PNDC government, who was later appointed northern regional secretary (governor), belonged to the radical Kwame Nkrumah Revolutionary Guard, an extreme left-wing organization that advocated a Marxist-Leninist course for the PNDC. He was detained and jailed for most of the latter part of the 1980s. Other members of the PNDC, including Kojo Tsikata, P.V. Obeng, and Kwesi Botchwey, were believed to be united only by their determination either to uplift the country from its desperate conditions or to protect themselves from vocal opposition.

In keeping with Rawlings's commitment to populism as a political principle, the PNDC began to form governing coalitions and institutions that would incorporate the populace at large into the machinery of the national government. Workers' Defence Committees (WDCs), People's Defence Committees (PDCs), Citizens' Vetting Committees (CVCs), Regional Defence Committees (RDCs), and National Defence Committees (NDCs) were all created to ensure that those at the bottom of society were given the opportunity to participate in the decision-making process. These committees were to be involved in community projects and community decisions, and individual members were expected to expose corruption and "anti- social activities." Public tribunals, which were established outside the normal legal system, were also created to try those accused of antigovernment acts. And a four-week workshop aimed at making these cadres morally and intellectually prepared for their part in the revolution was completed at the University of Ghana, Legon, in July and August 1983.

Various opposition groups criticized the PDCs and WDCs, however. The aggressiveness of certain WDCs, it was argued, interfered with management's ability to make the bold decisions needed for the recovery of the national economy. In response to such criticisms, the PNDC announced on December 1, 1984, the dissolution of all PDCs, WDCs, and NDCs, and their replacement with Committees for the Defence of the Revolution (CDRs). With regard to public boards and statutory corporations, excluding banks and financial institutions, Joint Consultative Committees (JCCs) that acted as advisory bodies to managing directors were created.

The public tribunals, however, despite their characterization as undemocratic by the GBA, were maintained. Although the tribunals had been established in 1982, the law providing for the creation of a national public tribunal to hear and determine appeals from, and decisions of, regional public tribunals was not passed until August 1984. Section 3 and Section 10 of the PNDC Establishment Proclamation limited public tribunals to cases of a political and an economic nature. The limitations placed on public tribunals by the government in 1984 may have been an attempt by the administration to redress certain weaknesses. The tribunals, however, were not abolished; rather, they were defended as "fundamental to a good legal system" that needed to be maintained in response to "growing legal consciousness on the part of the people."

At the time when the foundations of these sociopolitical institutions were being laid, the PNDC was also engaged in a debate about how to finance the reconstruction of the national economy. The country had indeed suffered from what some described as the excessive and unwise, if not foolish, expenditures of the Nkrumah regime. The degree of decline under the NRC and the SMC had also been devastating. By December 1981, when the PNDC came to power, the inflation rate topped 200 percent, while real GDP had declined by 3 percent per annum for seven years. Not only cocoa production but even diamonds and timber exports had dropped dramatically. Gold production had also fallen to half its preindependence level.

Ghana's sorry economic condition, according to the PNDC, had resulted in part from the absence of good political leadership. In fact, as early as the AFRC administration in 1979, Rawlings and his associates had accused three former military leaders (generals Afrifa, Acheampong, and Akuffo) of corruption and greed and of thereby contributing to the national crisis and had executed them on the basis of this accusation. In other words, the AFRC in 1979 attributed the national crisis to internal, primarily political, causes. The overthrow of the Limann administration by the PNDC in 1981 was an attempt to prevent another inept administration from aggravating an already bad economic situation. By implication, the way to resolve some of the problems was to stabilize the political situation and to improve the economic conditions of the nation radically.

At the end of its first year in power, the PNDC announced a four-year program of economic austerity and sacrifice that was to be the first phase of an Economic Recovery Program (ERP). If the economy were to improve significantly, there was need for a large injection of capital--a resource that could only be obtained from international financial institutions of the West. There were those on the PNDC's ideological left, however, who rejected consultation with such agencies because these institutions were blamed in part for the nation's predicament. Precisely because some members of the government also held such views, the PNDC secretary for finance and economic planning, Kwesi Botchwey, felt the need to justify World Bank assistance to Ghana in 1983:


It would be naive and unrealistic for certain sections of the Ghanaian society to think that the request for economic assistance from the World Bank and its affiliates means a sell-out of the aims and objectives of the Ghanaian revolution to the international community. . . . It does not make sense for the country to become a member of the bank and the IMF and continue to pay its dues only to decline to utilize the resources of these two institutions.

The PNDC recognized that it could not depend on friendly nations such as Libya to address the economic problems of Ghana. The magnitude of the crisis--made worse by widespread bush fires that devastated crop production in 1983-84 and by the return of more than one million Ghanaians who had been expelled from Nigeria in 1983, which had intensified the unemployment situation--called for monetary assistance from institutions with bigger financial chests.

Phase One of the ERP began in 1983. Its goal was economic stability. In broad terms, the government wanted to reduce inflation and to create confidence in the nation's ability to recover. By 1987 progress was clearly evident. The rate of inflation had dropped to 20 percent, and between 1983 and 1987, Ghana's economy reportedly grew at 6 percent per year. Official assistance from donor countries to Ghana's recovery program averaged US$430 million in 1987, more than double that of the preceding years. The PNDC administration also made a remarkable payment of more than US$500 million in loan arrears dating to before 1966. In recognition of these achievements, international agencies had pledged more than US$575 million to the country's future programs by May 1987. With these accomplishments in place, the PNDC inaugurated Phase Two of the ERP, which envisioned privatization of state-owned assets, currency devaluation, and increased savings and investment, and which was to continue until 1990.

Notwithstanding the successes of Phase One of the ERP, many problems remained, and both friends and foes of the PNDC were quick to point them out. One commentator noted the high rate of Ghanaian unemployment as a result of the belt-tightening policies of the PNDC. In the absence of employment or redeployment policies to redress such problems, he wrote, the effects of the austerity programs might create circumstances that could derail the PNDC recovery agenda.

Unemployment was only one aspect of the political problems facing the PNDC government; another was the size and breadth of the PNDC's political base. The PNDC initially espoused a populist program that appealed to a wide variety of rural and urban constituents. Even so, the PNDC was the object of significant criticism from various groups that in one way or another called for a return to constitutional government. Much of this criticism came from student organizations, the GBA, and opposition groups in self- imposed exile, who questioned the legitimacy of the military government and its declared intention of returning the country to constitutional rule. So vocal was the outcry against the PNDC that it appeared on the surface as if the PNDC enjoyed little support among those groups who had historically molded and influenced Ghanaian public opinion. At a time when difficult policies were being implemented, the PNDC could ill afford the continued alienation and opposition of such prominent critics.

By the mid-1980s, therefore, it had become essential that the PNDC demonstrate that it was actively considering steps towards constitutionalism and civilian rule. This was true notwithstanding the recognition of Rawlings as an honest leader and the perception that the situation he was trying to redress was not of his creation. To move in the desired direction, the PNDC needed to weaken the influence and credibility of all antagonistic groups while it created the necessary political structures that would bring more and more Ghanaians into the process of national reconstruction. The PNDC's solution to its dilemma was the proposal for district assemblies.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress