Jerry Rawlings: From death sentence to President of Ghana
Rawlings grew discontented with Ignatius Kutu Acheampong’s government, which had come to power through a coup in January 1972.
Acheampong was accused not only of corruption, but also of maintaining Ghana’s dependency on pre-colonial powers that led to economic decline and impoverishment.
Rawlings was part of the Free Africa Movement, an underground movement of military officers who wanted to unify Africa through a series of coups. On 15 May 1979, five weeks prior to civilian elections, Rawlings and six other soldiers staged a coup against the government of General Fred Akuffo, but failed and was arrested by the Ghanaian Military.
Rawlings was publicly sentenced to death in a General Court Martial and imprisoned, although his statements on the social injustices that motivated his actions won him civilian sympathy.
While awaiting execution, Rawlings was sprung from custody on 4 June 1979 by a group of soldiers.
Claiming that the government was corrupt beyond redemption and that new leadership was required for Ghana’s development, he led the group in a coup to oust the Akuffo Government and Supreme Military Council.
Shortly afterwards, Rawlings established and became the Chairman of a 15-member Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), primarily composed of junior officers.
He and the AFRC ruled for 112 days and arranged the execution by firing squad of eight military officers, including Generals Kotei, Joy Amedume, Roger Felli, and Utuka, as well as the three former heads of state: Afrifa, Acheampong, and Akuffo.
The executions were dramatic events in Ghana history, which had suffered few instances of political violence. Rawlings later implemented a much wider “house-cleaning exercise” involving the killings and abduction of over 300 Ghanaians. Elections were held on time shortly after the coup. On 24 September 1979, power was peacefully handed over by Rawlings to President Hilla Limann, whose People’s National Party (PNP) had the support of Nkrumah’s followers.
Two years later Rawlings ousted President Hilla Limann in a coup d’état on 31 December 1981, claiming that civilian rule was weak and the country’s economy was deteriorating. The killings of the Supreme Court justices (Cecilia Koranteng-Addow, Frederick Sarkodie, and Kwadjo Agyei Agyepong), military officers Major Sam Acquah and Major Dasana Nantogmah also occurred during the second military rule of Rawlings. However, unlike the 1979 executions, these people were abducted and killed in secret and it is unclear who was behind their murders, though Joachim Amartey Kwei and four others were convicted of four of these murders, which involved all three Justices and Acquah, and were executed in 1982.