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Opinions of Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Columnist: African Spectrum

Commemorating a pseudo revolution in Ghana

On June 4 there were some activities in Ghana to celebrate what the organizers called Revolution Day. The celebrations, whose participants came mostly from a particular political organization, marked the day in June 1979 when Fl.-Lt. Jerry Rawlings and a bunch of other junior officers of the Ghana armed forces staged a coup and overthrew the short-lived military regime of Gen. F. W. K. Akuffo, which was at the time in the process of returning Ghana to civilian rule after 7 years of military dictatorship under Gen. I. K. Acheampong. June 4 was celebrated as a national holiday when Rawlings was in power, but it has since been stripped of that honor by subsequent Ghanaian administrations. President John Kufuor didn’t recognize it, and, surprisingly, neither did President Atta Mills nor does the current regime that come from the same political background as Rawlings. It is significant that the civilian leaders don’t regard what took place in Ghana 35 years ago as anything more than just another coup.
Although Ghana has had the misfortune of living through a string of military coups and attempted military coups during her 57 years as an independent nation, there has never been anything even remotely resembling a revolution in any real sense of the word. Just good old-fashioned coups, all of which, including the one on June 4 1979, followed almost the same script: a group of often selfishly-motivated and politically-ambitious junior or mid-level military officers (the most senior officers were always shunted aside) would hatch a plot to overthrow the government, dispatch troops to seize, among other things, the state broadcasting facilities. The leader of the conspiratorial gang would then make a triumphant announcement over the airwaves that the government of the day had been toppled, and that he as head of some fancy-named revolutionary council would be in charge of the government until further notice. None of the leaders of those coups, with the exception of Rawlings, had the audacity to claim that their little mutinies rose to the level of a revolution.
What, then, makes June 4, 1979, so unique as to merit being celebrated as a revolution? Absolutely nothing, if one were looking for a redeeming point of distinction. Whatever difference there was between the June 4 military takeover and the other coups was how brutal it was both during and long after the coup as the regimes it spawned spanning a period of some 20 years – namely, AFRC, PNDC, which came into being following a second coup by Rawlings on December 31, 1981, and a so-called civilian government – unleashed a Stalin-like reign of terror that saw judges snatched from dinner tables in their homes and taken away only to be found later on murdered; preachers hauled from their pulpits, executed on the spot and their bodies set on fire right before their horrified congregants; ordinary citizens dragged from their bedrooms and killed in front of their wives and children. And to crown all that, 3 former military rulers and many other high ranking former officers were arrested and executed after shameful Kangaroo court trials in military tribunals. Rawlings easily became the most blood-thirsty leader in Ghana’s history and was way up on the list of the most brutal dictators on the African continent, if not in the entire world.
If bloodshed is the only thing that defines a revolution, then June 4 1979 certainly fits the bill. But bloodshed isn’t the only criterion of a revolution, and hardly a desirable one anyway. Historically, a revolution is almost always a spontaneous, grass roots uprising by the people that overturns the existing political and social order and fundamentally changes the nature of the society. Among the most famous revolutions in history are the French Revolution in 1789 which abolished the French monarchy and established the republic; the American Revolution in 1776 which got rid of British colonial rule and led to the formation of the United States of America as we know it today; the Haitian Revolution which began in August 1791 when black African slaves defeated the French at the Battle of Vertieres making Haiti an independent country in January 1, 1804; the Iranian revolution in 1979 that overthrew the Shah and created the Islamic republic run by mullahs; the Eastern European revolutions of the late 70s and early 80s that ended communist rule and Soviet domination in a number countries including Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany; and, more recently, the Arab revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt which overthrew decades of brutal and corrupt tyrannies.
In fact, June 4 was the antithesis of all these revolutions, which had one thing in common: popular action. The people of Ghana had practically nothing to do with the so-called June 4 revolution. They were just told about it after the fact and ordered to support it at gunpoint. Any subsequent seeming popular involvement was orchestrated. Furthermore, while all the revolutions cited above wrought positive and drastic changes in their respective societies, the only change noticeable in Ghana after June 4 1979 was things going from bad to worse. Corruption, which Rawlings and his accomplices cited as one of the main reasons for their military takeover, became widespread and rags-to-riches stories blossomed as soldiers’ amassed wealth and had no inhibition whatsoever flaunting it. Mismanagement, another pretext of choice for coup makers, reached crisis proportions as the economy collapsed. Basic goods were hard to find, and severe food shortages almost led to mass starvation – a time when many Ghanaians wore the looks of walking skeletons while military personnel and their families looked quite well fed.
To call the events of June 4 1979 a revolution is a misnomer and does injustice to the word. If it was a revolution, it’s only in the minds of Rawlings and those who support him.