The widely acknowledged adage that opinions are like noses seems credible and true. But nowhere is this saying truer than when it comes to the June 4 Uprisings. The tabloids were littered with various media reportages with headline revisits mainly from pundits in the Ghanaian political background. As usual, the internet and websites with Ghanaian connexions were not spared the blighting bills and pernicious placards called articles with various divergent views on the Revolution. Comments posted by readers normally and miserably either had an Umbrella prefixed to them or had an Elephant transmitting them. I would like to begin by issuing a very uncompromising admonition to those dawdler brains who serve as the means of letting the Elephant out of the zoo or the forest and likewise to those daft ones who are always eager to expose the rather dirty Umbrella in public.
This article seeks to bring about a very sombre reflection—devoid of party politics—upon the momentous events of May and June 1979—incidents which from where one stands, have made or marred Ghana. I invite discerning readers to rid themselves of party politics and make a dispassionate assessment of the incipient events which led to the unrests of 4th June 1979. Once again, I would like to admonish readers that this piece is not meant for the dogmatists of the anti-dogmatists who may represent the twilight of dubiety and whose logic often becloud the effulgence of their intellectual superiority. I have not the slightest resolve to give any dog chance to questionable characters, who united with the requisite modicum of humbug of hypocrisy and perhaps sycophancy, are always ready to descend into the humdrum comments about the 1979 Revolution. I will entreat you to stop reading if you happen to fall into this category.
Honestly, nobody can deliberate on and do ample justice to the 1979 Insurrection without considering all the other coups d’etat, from Ghana’s first of 24th February 1966to the palace coup which replaced the Supreme Military Council 1 with Supreme Military Council 2 after converting itself from the National Redemption Council. The first coup led by General JA Ankrah ended the reign of Dr Nkrumah and possibly his illustrious life. Any coup which topples a legitimate government must be condemned in no hesitant terms—no matter the wrongs of the democratic government. But we cannot behave like the ostrich when it comes to expressing our views. Dr Nkrumah is arguably one of the greatest sons Ghana has ever had but factually, his blunders of turning Ghana into a one-party state, the precariously clandestine activities of the Youth Wing of the CPP, the rather obnoxious Preventive Detention Act of 1958 which sent Dr J B Danquah into a premature grave among others unfortunately fertilised the grounds for his elimination.
The conspiracy theorists have constantly blamed Dr Nkrumah’s demise on the West, especially the US. However, the heroic worship and adoration Dr Nkrumah experienced in his early days as a leader degenerated until he came to represent an antagonist instead of an African hero. This was mainly due to some of the reasons enumerated in the preceding paragraph. Again, his downfall mirrored the discrepancy between his election promises of democracy and liberty and the reality of life under his leadership. For instance, the PDA of 1958 gave the Police absolute powers which led to tyranny. Therefore, even if the US had a hand in his overthrow, Dr Nkrumah more or less contributed to his own downfall like a tragic character. The general mood of Ghanaians especially when Dr Nkrumah declared himself “President for Life” in 1964 was that of despair. In a tribute to Dr Nkrumah, Lt. Gen Afrifa summed up the mood of Ghanaians thus: “Nkrumah could have become a great man. He started well, led the independence movement and became, on behalf of Ghana, the symbol of emergent Africa. Somewhere down the line, however, he became ambitious, built a cult of personality and ruthlessly used the powers invested by his own constitution. He developed a strange love for absolute power”. A lot of Nkrumaists will take this with a pinch of salt but looking at events in those days will persuade everybody that, what Afrifa said holds a bit of water. But can anyone comment on the 1979 Insurgency forgetting that; events which brought Dr Rawlings into the political limelight began as far back as 1960 when Lord Listowel left the shores of Ghanawith Her Majesty’s representatives?
Sadly, however, the 1966 coup did not conclude the military’s unsolicited intervention and subsequent involvement in Ghanaian politics. Perhaps, if the military had conceded that democracy was the way forward for Ghana, Flt Lt Rawlings would never had ventured into politics. Somehow the military found faults with the democratic government of Dr Busia and Edward Akuffo-Addo as untenable. Consequently, a second coup in Ghana’s political history surfaced. Well, the National Liberation Council could not liberate Ghanaians nor could the National Redemption Council redeem anyone. But I can say on authority that if any coup—of course all coups are illegal—legitimised the appearance of Dr Rawlings and made the 1979 Mutiny inevitable, it was undoubtedly the SMC and the despicable military government of Gen Ignatius Kutu Acheampong! What with the corrupt practices which engulfed the whole country, bad economic management, “Kalabule” and the much-touted sex-for-car policy this man and his government instituted! The mass poverty, injustice and the extreme and indescribable abuse of office only justified the uprising of 4th June 1979. Indeed there is not a single military government which is not tainted with widespread encouragement and endorsement of corruption.
It must be understood that I am not in any way justifying the wrongs and perceived transgressions of Dr Rawlings. The point of this piece is about the 1979 Uprising and not Dr Rawlings’ whole political life. I know someone who lived in the 70s and loathed Rawlings with all his heart, soul and spirit. One day, however, he conceded that the coming of Dr Rawlings was both invigorating and expected. Thus, to do a proper appraisal of Dr Rawlings and his eternal June 4 Movement, without any iota of bigotry, one must have lived in the 70s or must have been given very accurate and unprejudiced facts by somebody who lived in that decade. For a sworn nemesis of Dr Rawlings like Kwaku Baako to reiterate even in 2010 his enduring support for the 1979 Revolt and going on to describe it as “unavoidable” should get all of us thinking. Unlike the usual apologists, I would like all of us to mull over the upheavals of 1979 in terms of both its gains and its regrettable excesses and not just one of them.
By deposing Nkrumah and Busia in 1966 and 1972 respectively, the perpetrators benefited immensely. Most of the leaders of those coups and their members promoted themselves in a twinkle of an eye. Most changed ranks with the flick of a finger; from being colonels to Lieutenant Generals and Generals. Looking at various blatant acts of both encouraged and sanctioned corrupt practices including self-enrichment, it is quite right to say that perhaps, all those who were executed deserved their fate. The heat of the moment must also be considered when discussing June 4 which shaped the country’s political landscape. A few people got so stinking rich that, they could hardly tell whose magnificent munificence brought them the wealth. Some owned expensive properties because of their affiliations to the NLC, the NRC and its metamorphosed SMC. Above all, it can be argued that the Revolution brought about the nation’s awareness to its social responsibilities. A lot of people must have been thinking what awaited anyone who raped the country: probity and accountability was going to catch up with everyone.
All said and done, it will be a travesty of justice and a mockery of common sense if the fatal and regrettable overindulgences of the 1979 Insurrection are ignored. In the same vein of talking about things impartially, the disrespect of our cultural set-up where the elderly were remorselessly whipped in public and made to do tediously back-breaking exercises, women stripped naked and publicly horsewhipped in-between their legs, the confiscation of assets of industrious people, the devastation of businesses and so on must be sadly mentioned. However, heaping all the blames on Dr Rawlings is unjustified. Psychologically, whenever there is a mob action or justice, cowards normally undertake very brave and daring acts. Do a flashback of school or university demonstrations and you will realise how some very calm people took the law into their own hands.
The final point is about the relevance of the June 4 Rebellion. Not to take anything away from the achievements of this crucial episode in Ghana’s history, it can be argued that the unrest of June 1979 was a bit uncalled for. The fact is that the country was being prepared for general elections following the massive rejection of the Union Government proposal by Acheampong meant to perpetuate the military in power. Though the referendum was rigged, Acheampong and his followers had to give in to the vehement will of the people. So contrarily to popular perception, it could be inferred that the June 4 Disturbances was not the sine qua non of democracy to Ghana. The consequent 1981 coup went against the pledge of the AFRC that June 4 was to end all coups. Unfortunately for Rawlings—and I must add that perhaps his worst resolution though he will not overtly admit it—he decided to topple Dr Limann’s government—a government he had helped put in place. This is because it is quite evident that; had he been patient, there is no doubt Rawlings would have won the next elections hands down, hugely owing to his popularity after his court speech and June 4.
In the final analysis, the most important question of all is as to whether the events of the 1979 Mutiny should be celebrated. The justification or denunciation of the 1979 Revolution has always been viewed from a political standpoint. Some have described the events as “morbid” due to the melancholic sentiments the Revolution evokes. It is quite comprehensible considering the lives which were lost. Upon a sober reflection, I feel those who milked the country dry—though deserved their fate— should have been imprisoned instead of facing the firing squad. For Dr Rawlings, it was a relief from incarceration and a possible death sentence. Consequently, if he celebrates, it should be understood. Dr Rawlings was ably nicknamed “Junior Jesus” but his detractors have changed it to “Junior Judas”. Even if he has become the despised Judas, it has to be noted that one of the disciples had to betray the Christ to bring perpetual damnation upon himself before mankind could have salvation. If Judas had not done it, it could have been Peter or John. Any balanced argument concerning June 1979 should take stock of the good, the bad and the ugly sides. Seeking to justify all the accomplishments at all cost will be a mockery and the same goes for anyone who damns every part of it.
To sum up, the relevance of June 4 1979should not be discarded; neither should it also be given the flamboyant festivities we are accustomed to. It should however be marked as a National Consciousness Day; a day where we empathise with people who went to prison unlawfully; when we sympathise with those who lost relatives and their property and those who had to go to exile. Ghanaians should remember the public humiliations due to the inhuman treatments which were meted out to people in the frenzy of the moment when people were fed up with all the suppressed anger emanating from the corruption, poverty, hunger, etc called for the blood to flow. Ghanaians should understand that governments will be elected via the ballot box and may be toppled by the power of the thumb and not the barrel of the gun. It is clear what we know of Dr Rawlings: you can love him for his charisma and oratory or detest him for being an enigma. Dr Nkrumah’s overthrow was greeted with a universal approbation but he is now celebrated posthumously. No matter one’s animosity—sometimes Rawlings does invite antipathy for himself— he will be the devil for many and the messiah for many more. Never again will Ghanarepeat the excruciating but somewhat indispensable events of June 1979!
Thomas Dickens (firstname.lastname@example.org). Other writings can be followed at thomasdickens.blogspot.com.