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 flow.
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 economic problems.
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.