The National Redemption Council Years, 1972-79
Despite its short existence, the Second Republic was significant in
that the development problems the nation faced came clearly into focus.
These included uneven distribution of investment funds and favoritism
toward certain groups and regions. Furthermore, important questions
about developmental priorities emerged. For example, was rural development
more important than the needs of the urban population? Or, to what
extent was the government to incur the cost of university education?
And more important, was the public to be drawn into the debate about
the nation's future? The impact of the fall of Ghana's Second Republic
cast a shadow across the nation's political future because no clear
answers to these problems emerged.
According to one writer, the overthrow of the PP government revealed
that Ghana was no longer the pacesetter in Africa's search for workable
political institutions. Both the radical left and the conservative
right had failed. In opposing Nkrumah's one- party state, Busia allegedly
argued that socialist rule in Ghana had led to unemployment and poverty
for many while party officials grew richer at the expense of the masses.
But in justifying the one-party state, Nkrumah pointed to the weaknesses
of multiparty parliamentary democracy, a system that delayed decision-making
processes and, therefore, the ability to take action to foster development.
The fall of both the Nkrumah and the Busia regimes seemed to have
confused many with regard to the political direction the nation needed
to take. In other words, in the first few years after the Nkrumah
administration, Ghanaians were unable to arrive at a consensus on
the type of government suited to address their national problems.
It was this situation, the inability of the PP government to satisfy
diverse interest groups that ostensibly gave Acheampong an excuse
for the January 13 takeover. Acheampong's National Redemption Council
(NRC) claimed that it had to act to remove the ill effects of the
currency devaluation of the previous government and thereby, at least
in the short run, to improve living conditions for individual Ghanaians.
Under the circumstances, the NRC was compelled to take immediate measures.
Although committed to the reversal of the fiscal policies of the PP
government, the NRC, by comparison, adopted policies that appeared
painless and, therefore, popular. But unlike the coup leaders of the
NLC, members of the NRC did not outline any plan for the return of
the nation to democratic rule. Some observers accused the NRC of acting
simply to rectify their own grievances. To justify their takeover,
coup leaders leveled charges of corruption against Busia and his ministers.
In its first years, the NRC drew support from a public pleased by
the reversal of Busia's austerity measures. The Ghanaian currency
was re-valued upward, and two moves were announced to lessen the burden
of existing foreign debts: the repudiation of US$90 million of Nkrumah's
debts to British companies, and the unilateral rescheduling of the
rest of the country's debts for payment over fifty years. Later, the
NRC nationalized all large foreign-owned companies. But these measures,
while instantly popular in the streets, did nothing to solve the country's
real problems. If anything, they aggravated the problem of capital
Unlike the NLC of 1966, the NRC sought to create a truly military
government; hence, in October 1975, the ruling council was reorganized
into the Supreme Military Council (SMC), and its membership was restricted
to a few senior military officers. The intent was to consolidate the
military's hold over government administration and to address occasional
disagreements, conflicts, and suspicions within the armed forces,
which by now had emerged as the constituency of the military government.
Little input from the civilian sector was allowed, and no offers were
made to return any part of the government to civilian control during
the SMC's first five years in power. SMC members believed that the
country's problems were caused by a lack of organization, which could
be remedied by applying military organization and thinking. This was
the extent of the SMC philosophy. Officers were put in charge of all
ministries and state enterprises; junior officers and sergeants were
assigned leadership roles down to the local level in every government
department and organization.
During the NRC's early years, these administrative changes led many
Ghanaians to hope that the soldiers in command would improve the efficiency
of the country's bloated bureaucracies. Acheampong's popularity continued
into 1974 as the government successfully negotiated international
loan agreements and rescheduled Ghana's debts. The government also
provided price supports for basic food imports, while seeking to encourage
Ghanaians to become self- reliant in agriculture and the production
of raw materials. In the Operation Feed Yourself program, all Ghanaian's
were encouraged to undertake some form of food production, with the
goal of eventual food self-sufficiency for the country. The program
enjoyed some initial success, but support for it gradually waned.
Whatever limited success the NRC had in these efforts, however, was
overridden by other basic economic factors. Industry and transportation
suffered greatly as world oil prices rose during and after 1974, and
the lack of foreign exchange and credit left the country without fuel.
Basic food production continued to decline even as the population
grew, largely because of poor price management and urbanization. When
world cocoa prices rose again in the late 1970s, Ghana was unable
to take advantage of the price rise because of the low productivity
of its old orchards. Moreover, because of the low prices paid to cocoa
farmers, some growers along the nation's borders smuggled their produce
to Togo or Côte d'Ivoire. Disillusionment with the government
grew, particularly among the educated. Accusations of personal corruption
among the rulers also began to surface.
The reorganization of the NRC into the SMC in 1975 may have been part
of a face-saving attempt. Shortly after that time, the government
sought to stifle opposition by issuing a decree forbidding the propagation
of rumors and by banning a number of independent newspapers and detaining
their journalists. Also, armed soldiers broke up student demonstrations,
and the government repeatedly closed the universities, which had become
important centers of opposition to NRC policies.
Despite these efforts, the SMC by 1977 found itself constrained by
mounting nonviolent opposition. To be sure, discussions about the
nation's political future and its relationship to the SMC had begun
in earnest. Although the various opposition groups (university students,
lawyers, and other organized civilian groups) called for a return
to civilian constitutional rule, Acheampong and the SMC favored a
union government, a mixture of elected civilian and appointed military
leaders but one in which party politics would be abolished. University
students and many intellectuals criticized the union government idea,
but others, such as Justice Gustav Koranteng-Addow, who chaired the
seventeen-member ad hoc committee appointed by the government to work
out details of the plan, defended it as the solution to the nation's
political problems. Supporters of the union government idea viewed
multiparty political contests as the perpetrators of social tension
and community conflict among classes, regions, and ethnic groups.
Unionists argued that their plan had the potential to depoliticize
public life and to allow the nation to concentrate its energies on
A national referendum was held in March 1978 to allow the people to
accept or reject the union government concept. A rejection of the
union government meant a continuation of military rule. Given this
choice, it was surprising that so narrow a margin voted in favor of
union government. Opponents of the idea organized demonstrations against
the government, arguing that the referendum vote had not been free
or fair. The Acheampong government reacted by banning several organizations
and by jailing as many as 300 of its opponents.
The agenda for change in the union government referendum called for
the drafting of a new constitution by an SMC-appointed commission,
the selection of a constituent assembly by November 1978, and general
elections in June 1979. The ad hoc committee had recommended a non-party
election, an elected executive president, and a cabinet whose members
would be drawn from outside a single house National Assembly. The
military council would then step down, although its members could
run for office as individuals.
In July 1978, in a sudden move, the other SMC officers forced Acheampong
to resign, replacing him with Lieutenant General Frederick W.K. Akuffo.
The SMC apparently acted in response to continuing pressure to find
a solution to the country's economic dilemma. Inflation was estimated
to be as high as 300 percent that year. There were shortages of basic
commodities, and cocoa production fell to half its 1964 peak. The
council was also motivated by Acheampong's failure to dampen rising
political pressure for changes. Akuffo, the new SMC chairman, promised
publicly to hand over political power to a new government to be elected
by July 1, 1979.
Despite Akuffo's assurances, opposition to the SMC persisted. The
call for the formation of political parties intensified. In an effort
to gain support in the face of continuing strikes over economic and
political issues, the Akuffo government at length announced that the
formation of political parties would be allowed after January 1979.
Akuffo also granted amnesty to former members of both Nkrumah's CPP
and Busia's PP, as well as to all those convicted of subversion under
Acheampong. The decree lifting the ban on party politics went into
effect on January 1, 1979, as planned. The constitutional assembly
that had been working on a new constitution presented an approved
draft and adjourned in May. All appeared set for a new attempt at
constitutional government in July, when a group of young army officers
overthrew the SMC government in June 1979.