Resource 3: The June 4 1979 uprising

Background information / subject knowledge for teacher

Soldiers spark mass struggle against corruption in Ghana by P K Acheampong

On 15 May 1979, Ft. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings was named as the leader of an abortive uprising that took place the previous day. The uprising was the result of a conflict between the lower ranks and officers of the Ghana armed forces. There were rumours that J J Rawlings was to be executed if found guilty by a military tribunal. On June 4 1979, the prison gate where Rawlings was, was broken loose and he was released by dissidents from among the lower ranks.

Ghana before 4 June 1979

Ghana before 4 June 1979 was facing acute social and economic hardship, which resulted in massive frustration among the citizenry. There were many events that brought Ghana into hardship. Events such as military coups, military governments, four-digit inflations, massive corruption, acute food shortage, and smuggling black racketeering (kalabule) were ripe in the country. Prior to 4 June 1979, the rains had stopped, and there were widespread bush fires in the country; transportation had become a problem and Ghana was described as ‘a woman in labour waiting in agony for the arrival of a midwife’.

The civilian opposition

By the end of 1976, the ruling Supreme Military Council (SMC) proposed a Union Government that they thought would save the situation. The civilian population opposed the idea. General Kutu Acheampong the then head of state and the brain behind the ‘Union Government’ idea was toppled from power in a palace coup led by his deputy General F W K Akuffo who abandoned the Union Government concept and decided to return power to a civilian government. A new constitution was drafted and a timetable for election and handing over was set for July 1979. Consequently Ghanaians breathed a sigh of relief.

However, the relief was shortlived because on 15 May 1979 an unsuccessful uprising was staged by some men of the air force. The uprising was quickly quelled by the army, led by the army commander General Odartey Wellington.

Ghanaians were angry and disapproved the attempted coup. But at the open trial of the culprits of the uprising, the explosive revelations of the leader J J Rawlings lifted high the reasons behind their action. Several people consequently supported them and wished the uprising had succeeded.

The June 4 1979 uprising

In the early hours of 4 June 1979, J J Rawlings was released from his cell by a group of soldiers. He immediately made a live broadcast to the nation telling Ghanaians that the ranks had released him from his cell and that he was going to deal with the wrongdoers. Ghanaians had mixed feelings about this. Whereas some were gripped with fear, others thanked God for having sent the ‘Junior Jesus’ (Rawlings) to save Ghanaians. However, Ghanaians were confused when the Ghana Broadcasting House became the battleground.

General Odartey Wellington again tried to quell the popular revolt but he was killed in action.

The turning point

There was a period of silence from midday into the evening before General Joshua Hamidu, the chief of defence staff, announced the success of the coup.

In another broadcast, General Hamidu had this to say:

I am happy to announce that the hypocrisy of Acheampong and Akuffo since 1972 has been brought to an end. All members of the regime are to report to the air force station or any nearest police station now for their own safety. We wish to assure you that election procedures will go on as planned. It is in the national interest. We have suffered too long. May God bless the nation.

Let the blood flow

On 5 June 1979 Ghanaians came to understand that the coup was not the normal type when soldiers remove civilian governments. It was rather a popular revolt of the military against the military and the social injustice that had crippled Ghana, a once great and prosperous nation.

Fear gripped Ghanaians. ‘Let the blood flow, action, action,’ were the battle cries of the lower ranks supported by students and the general public. The leaders of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) were tired as tension rose to its limit. Power was in everybody’s hands: students took to the streets and were joined by workers and the rural folks. Demonstrations took place in all parts of the country, and there were calls for justice and severe punishment for all offenders.

The AFRC and the house cleaning exercise

The mood expressed and the battle cry ‘let the blood flow’ extended from the armed forces and the students to the majority of the ordinary Ghanaian, including religious leaders. All these openly voiced the views that things had gone wrong for a long time in the country and that a change of direction would be achieved only by letting the blood flow of those who embezzled money.

Ghana’s march forward

The AFRC fulfilled the promise they had made – to go ahead with the elections as planned by the SMC. Dr Hilla Liman and his Peoples National Party (PNP), won the elections and power was handed over to him. President Liman promised to continue the house cleaning exercise from where the AFRC left. However, the PNP was later saddled with power struggles after Alhaji Imoro Egala suddenly died. Dr Liman was a founding member of the PNP; but he was invited by his uncle Egala to lead the party when Egala was banned from holding any public office. Hence, after Egala’s death, Dr Liman did not possess any power or control over the affairs of the party and the country. Conditions started to return to the pre June 4 1979 era. The scene was thus prepared for another explosive uprising.

Adapted from: Ghana Web, Website

Resource 2: Possible interview questions

Resource 4: The Yaa Asantewaa War of 1900