Africa Notes: The Rawlings Revolution in Ghana: Pragmatism with Populist· Rhetoric - May 1985
May 2, 1985
When Flight-Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings seized power in Ghana for the second time on December 31, 1981, his inspirational personality and the new government's populist commitment raised a depressed nation's hopes. An elected but elite-dominated government was replaced by a regime that held out the promise of full public participation in decision making, a redistribution of wealth, a reduction of neocolonialist influence, and a crackdown on kalabule (hoarding, overpricing, smuggling, and other "corrupt" practices). "National reconstruction" would encompass new international alliances with other populist and radically-inclined states (including Libya and Upper Volta), a reduction in the size of the central bureaucracy, and "the creation of the material basis for ensuring a democratic and popular education as well as health schemes, housing, food, and transportation to ensure the physical, spiritual, moral, and cultural quality of life of our people." In brief, popular participation and equality were to be the foundation for economic opportunity and self-sufficiency, without any trade-off between these objectives.
This populist orientation initially attracted enthusiastic backing from both the disadvantaged and elements of the intelligentsia. Over time, however, as Rawlings accepted the necessity of more conventional economic policies, the heady expectations of the immediate post-coup period gave way to disappointment and cynicism.
Even though economic conditions have become somewhat less oppressive in 1984 and early 1985 (in the wake of rains that seemingly broke a severe multiyear drought and some successes in Ghana's trade/ aid dealings with the West), Rawlings is still faced with the problem of resolving the contradictions between his regime's populist stance, at least in its vintage form, and the increasingly conservative decisions taken in the economic sphere. The best that can be said is that the marginal improvement in the economic picture has given him some breathing room.