The Second Coming of Rawlings: The First Six Years, 1982- 87
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
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
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 (see Glossary) assistance to Ghana
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 sellout 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 1980's, 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.
The Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress, Country Studies/Area Handbook Program