A history of coups

Print edition : January 20, 2001

GHANA attained independence on March 6, 1957. Kwame Nkrumah, who led the anti-colonial struggle, became Prime Minister in a government formed by the Convention People's Party. On Ghana becoming a republic within the Commonwealth on July 1, 1960, Nkrumah became President, combining in that office the functions of both the head of state and the head of government.

Nkrumah was toppled in a military coup staged by Colonel Emanuel Kwasi Kotoka and Major Akwasi Amankwa Afrifa, both of whom later became lieutenant-generals, while he was in Beijing, on his way to Hanoi, on February 24, 1966. The Constitution was suspend ed and a 'National Liberation Council' under Lieutenant-General J. A. Ankrah was set up to rule the country. This marked the end of the First Republic.

Kotoka was killed in a counter-coup attempt by two lieutenants on April 17, 1967. The two junior officers were executed by a firing squad.

On April 2, 1969, General Ankrah was forced out of office in an internal realignment of power in the armed forces. He was succeeded by General Afrifa as Chairman of the NLC. The new constitution, drawn up by a constitutional commission under the chairman ship of Chief Justice Edward Akufo-Addo, was enacted on August 15, 1969 by the 'Constituent Assembly', a body of 140 indirectly elected members and 10 nominated members established by decree by the military regime. This marked the birth of the Second Rep ublic.

In the general elections held soon thereafter on August 29, 1969, the Progress Party led by Kofi Busia won a landslide victory. Busia (even now mockingly referred to by Nkrumahists as the Best University Scholar in Africa) became Prime Minister with Akuf o-Addowa becoming the non-executive President. The CPP, under a ban, was not allowed to take part in the elections.

On January 13, 1972, the Busia government was overthrown in a military coup staged by Lt. Col. (later General) Ignatius Kutu Acheampong. Acheampong formed a National Redemption Council (NRC), with all its 10 members from the armed forces and the police a nd with himself as its head. Following a well-established practice, the Constitution was suspended, all political activity banned and the opponents of the regime were detained. This marked the end of the Second Republic.

The NRC was soon restructured as the Supreme Military Council (SMC). Later it tried to civilianise itself as the so-called Union Government (UNIGOV), a power-sharing arrangement among the Armed forces, the police and politicians perceived as friendly to the regime. The referendum of March 1978, which is supposed to have endorsed this proposal, was even then viewed as rigged. The Acheampong regime, even by the standards of other military regimes, was very corrupt. It suppressed all dissent and opposition with violence. Beginning with the demonstrations on January 13, 1977 (the fifth anniversary of the coup), resistance to the regime became generalised.

It was against this background that there was another palace coup on July 5, 1978, with General Frederick Akuffo, Acheampong's second in command, becoming the Chairman of the SMC. He abandoned the idea of UNIGOV and set in motion a process to return the armed forces to the barracks. The ban on political activity was lifted on January 1, 1979 (though the ban on individual politicians continued) and preparations for general elections, which were scheduled for June 18, 1979, with the prospect of a return o f civilian rule, were on course.

It was at this point that Jerry John Rawlings, then a 32-year-old Flight Lieutenant in Ghana Air Force, made his dramatic entry into the politico-military arena. On June 4, 1979, a group of young officers loyal to Rawlings - who at that point was actuall y in Army detention, having been arrested in connection with a 'confrontation' he had tried to organise about three weeks earlier between "officers and men to get rid of the bad elements who had led the country into ruin" - released Rawlings from custody and seized power in the name of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council with Rawlings as Chairman. On June 16, 1979, General Acheampong, the former head of state, and Major General E. K. Utuka, a former Border Guards commander and member of the SMC, were executed by a firing squad after summary trial by the People's Court. Ten days later, on June 26, two other former heads of state, Gen. Akwasi Afrifa and Gen. Frederick Akuffo, and four other senior military officers, Major-General R. E. A. Kotei, Air V ice-Marshal George Bokaye, Rear Admiral Joy Amedumey and Colonel Roger Felli, were executed by a firing squad. The People's Courts also sentenced scores of persons, civilians and members of the armed forces, to various terms of imprisonment and ordered t he confiscation of their assets.

Elections were, however, held on schedule. The People's National Party, which traced its origins to the (still banned) CPP, won the majority of seats in the 140-member Parliament, and its candidate, Hilla Limann, won the presidential poll in a run- off. The PNP government assumed office on September 24, marking the onset of the Third Republic.

The Limann government, however, did not last long. Rawlings staged a second coup on December 31, 1981, deposed the President and dissolved the government, suspended the Constitution and banned all political parties, and set up a Provisional National Defe nce Council (PNDC) to govern the country. This was the end of the Third Republic.

A decade later, by which time the Rawlings regime had survived several coup attempts, some serious and some amateurish, a new Constitution drafted by a 'committee of experts' and providing for a multi-party political system, was adopted by an 'appointed non-party consultative assembly' and later endorsed in a national referendum held on April 28, 1992. Thus came into being the Fourth Republic, the present constitutional status of Ghana.

The adoption of the new Constitution paved the way for the revival of free political activity and the holding of elections on November 3, 1992 (for President) and on December 29, 1992 (for Parliament). Rawlings, as the candidate of the newly founded Nati onal Democratic Congress (NDC), was elected President - he won in the first round obtaining 60.7 per cent of the valid votes - and the NDC won 189 of the 200 seats in Parliament. Rawlings and the NDC won again four years later, though with smaller margin s, securing 57.4 per cent of the valid votes in the Presidential poll and winning 133 of the 200 seats in Parliament.