On June 4, 1979, Jerry John Rawlings led a government overthrow after the then military government of the Supreme Military Council (SMC II), led by Lieutenant General Fred Akuffo, was accused of massive corruption.
After leading the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) which governed the country and supervised an election in the same year, Rawlings handed over power to Dr Hilla Limann in September 1979.
Some nine months after handing over to a civilian government, British journalist, Robin Denselow, came to Ghana to document the state of the country at the time and what Rawlings had been up to.
“Today Jerry Rawlings is unemployed, he was sacked from the forces by the civilian government which he handed power to. He now lives in a small flat with his wife, a designer and spends his time driving around on his motorbike trying to keep alive the ideals of his June the 4th Revolution,” the journalist narrates in the documentary.
Intermittently, Denselow plays his interactions with Rawlings who sounded clear in his disappointment over the turn of events in the country after he handed over power to the Dr Hilla Liman-led civilian government.
On the actual state of the Ghanaian economy, the British journalist painted a picture of a country returning to the pre-June 4 days where prices of goods and services skyrocketed under a system called “kalabuley.”
“The main aim of Jerry Rawlings and the AFRC was to stamp out Kalabuley, an all-too-common Ghanaian word for profiteering, racketeering, and corruption. Market women were accused of hoarding food in order to force up black market prices.
“Kalabuley was checked for a time but not for long. The new civilian government has only been in power for nine months but inflation is over 100% and food is being sold way over recommended prices,” Denselow narrated.
The documentary highlighted the result of the situation in the country in some civilian agitations including strike action by workers of GIHOC, a state-owned beverage manufacturing company.
“Workers from GIHOC, Ghana’s biggest state holding company are striking over the government not approving their 15% pay rise and the fact that only managers are being given an extra cost of living allowance.”
“They are angry but by British standard, not exactly militant. They lobbied parliament and there was trouble when hungry workers grabbed for MPs’ breakfast. The government’s reaction was to sack all 8,000 GIHOC workers and asked them to reapply,” Denselow said.
A frustrated Jerry John Rawlings expressed further disappointment in the hostile attitude of the government towards him.
In the words of the British journalist, Rawlings was “officially no public enemy, but the government are frightened of him.”
“They are paranoid, it’s an expression of their paranoia about me. But even if I am supposed to be enjoying this kind of respect or popularity with the people, let’s at least put it to some use, you understand.”
“I am not asking to be the agriculture minister or anything like this. (But) You can keep me in the forces, I mean detach me to mobilise people all over the place. They say a hungry man is an angry man. The least you and I can do is to do something about their stomachs, you know. And they seem not to see the priority,” a livid Rawlings lamented.
Rawlings who had been relieved of his position in the military accused the leadership of the day of being separated from the citizens and ignoring their plight.
“It’s becoming explosive as far as I can see. And one; it could be so because they are ignorant of the mood of the people for a lot of reasons because they have enough in their stomachs and are making the mistake of equating their feelings to that man’s. But that is where they are wrong because that man is hungry,” he said.
The AFRC in its crackdown on the menace of corruption seized several properties of persons who it deemed to have profited from the Kalabuley system.
However, some of the frustrations shared by Rawlings in the documentary was how the civilian government was handling the issue of confiscated assets.
An example was a seized mansion which belonged to a European who used to guard the house with Doberman dogs and even a cheetah.
Whereas the AFRC committee that was responsible for confiscated assets recommended that the house be given to the state Tourist Development Company, the then Vice President, J.W.S. de-Graft Johnson had asked to be allocated the house as his official residence.
Asked if he was ever concerned about reassuming power, Rawlings after a long pause replied in the negative adding that he was more concerned about enlightening the citizens’ push for what they deserve.
Denselow, in his report, also underscored that he still had a liking for a civilian government but also highlighted what the economic and governance situation at the time could possibly result in with the popularity of Rawlings growing at the time.
Rawlings would go on to seize power again on December 31, 1981, under a military structure that became known as the Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC).
The PNDC ruled for over a decade before transiting Ghana into the Fourth Republic under the 1992 Constitution.
The PNDC era ended after the 1992 General Election which Rawlings won on the ticket of his political party, the National Democratic Congress.
After winning a second and final four-year term under the Constitution, Rawlings exited the presidency after a combined 19 years, handing over to the then opposition candidate John Agyekum Kufuor who won the 2000 elections.
Rawlings died in November 2020 having served in the army between 1968 and 1992, he exited the army with the title of Flight Lieutenant. He was buried in January 2021 after a national funeral at the military cemetery at Burma Camp in Accra.
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