On December 31, 1981, at about 11 a.m., the voice of Flt. Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings came on air calling for nothing less than a revolution. On the night of Saturday, January 2, 1981, he made a second broadcast on radio and TV in which he accused the Limann administration of deliberately reneging on the pledge to continue the “house-cleaning” exercise.
Rawlings advocated for such an exercise when he first took power through a military coup d’etat on June 4, 1979, with the intention of erasing all manifestations of corruption, profiteering or malfeasance associated in any way with previous governments. As a first step, some senior military officers were executed at the Teshie military range on June 16 and June 26, 1979.
After these executions, the whole country was subjected to a state of terror as the organized violence in the military camps spilled over into the civilian sector. This notwithstanding, majority of Ghanaians saw Rawlings as a blessing to the nation because prior to his taking over power, Ghana was in deep economic crisis. Production of export commodities had decreased, and there were severe shortages of essential commodities such as sugar, soap, bread, milk and even toilet rolls. I remember we had to queue for those items.
As a way of solving this problem of shortages, the Acheampong government adopted the “chit system” to ration the supply of the existing stock of essential commodities, but this system worsened the situation because a few managed to collect large consignments of goods only to sell them at exorbitant prices to the already impoverished citizens of the country. Corruption was at its peak, and the term “kalabule” was coined to denote economic malpractices.
Unfortunately, the then Head of State, General Ignatius Kutu Acheampong was allegedly neck-deep in the rape of the economy. With the stroke of his famous green ink (pen), he ordered Principal Secretaries of the Ministries of Trade and Finance, in particular, to issue import licenses to his favorites – young girlfriends, mistresses and Makola market women.
One of such letters read: His Excellency the Head of State and Commissioner for Finance recommends that import license worth 1,152,000 cedis for the importation of one (1) Ford Cortina Estate Car and six (6) Model 3022T Forestmill portable sawmills be issued to Madam Alice Adae Garbrah of Post Office Box 86, Tepa, for the establishment of a rural industry.
Women, those days, especially those who sold at the Makola market were extremely powerful; there were stories of Makola market women pouring urine on some men in military uniforms whenever these women were dared. It was, therefore, not surprising that some soldiers decided to demand their pound of flesh from these female traders: some were stripped almost naked, and others were whipped openly, during the revolution.
And there were also serious excesses of how people living in the country were maltreated. The story was told of some group of soldiers who went on operation, led by a captain. They stopped vehicles, and asked all passengers and drivers to get down for them to be searched. Each person was asked to mention his or her name before a search, and if you are fortunate not to have any contraband goods on you, you were given one slap on the cheek.
It got to the turn of a man who mentioned his name as Lieutenant General Appiah-Agyei. The soldiers saluted him, and accorded him all the courtesies of a senior military officer. But the leader of the operation observed something unusual about the General: he looked shorter than the 5 feet 6 inches minimum requirement for recruitment into the military service.
The captain became skeptical, and asked the General which of the regiments he was with. He confidently and proudly responded that he was from the Salvation Army! Laa ilaaha ilaa laa, he was beaten to pulp! For those of you who do not know, members of the Salvation Army Church are given military ranks; their leaders or pastors are often given big military titles, and that was the case of Lt. General Appiah-Agyei.
Anthony Obeng Afrane