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Research Report

From Military Coups to Multiparty Elections:: The Ghanaian Military-Civil Transition

Antoinette Handley
Greg Mills
Copyright Date: Nov. 1, 2001
Published by: Clingendael Institute
Pages: 42
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Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. 9-12)

    Between the time of Ghana’s independence on 6 March 1957 and following the second military coup staged by Flight-Lieutenant Jeremiah John Rawlings on New Year’s Eve in 1981, there had been no less than eight successive governments in Ghana – five military and three civilian – five of which had been overthrown by violence and not through the ballot box.

    Yet following the military-civilian transition in the 1990s, Ghana is frequently cited as a model of how to transit from a military regime to democratic rule. In December 2000, Rawlings handed over power to the rival opposition party, following his...

  2. (pp. 15-18)

    Part of the difficulty of characterising the nature of the Ghanaian transition is agreeing on what the starting point was: that is, what was the nature of the regime inaugurated by a military coup in 1981?

    It was certainly not a democratic government but neither was it a classic military junta in the Latin American style -- in other words, government both by the soldiers and for the soldiers that is intended to serve an agenda developed by the military as a corporate institution. Military governments in Africa have frequently differed from those elsewhere because of the generally lower levels...

  3. (pp. 19-22)

    As is common in many political transitions, the early steps towards political liberalisation in Ghana were taken by a regime that was motivated by a high degree of self-interest. Rawlings and the PNDC regime acted to preserve their political programme in response to a changing set of international conditions.

    By the early 1980s it was becoming increasingly evident that the Soviet economic model was faltering and that Ghana could not rely on revolutionary solidarity from that quarter for rescue. Only the West and its financial institutions, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), could help – and that...

  4. (pp. 23-32)

    Junior-led coups are generally regarded as damaging for the military because hey break down the hierarchy and discipline of military life, with adverse effects for command and control functions. Between 1982 and 1985 a number of senior Ghanaian officers left or were removed from both the military and the country during what was undoubtedly a very disruptive period. Together with the rightward turn in economic policy and the curbing of the Defence Committees however, went an attempt to restructure the army and reverse the harm done by the coup and its aftermath. Many agree that this attempt has been largely...

  5. (pp. 33-36)

    Ghana has a chequered political history, of elected governments that are interrupted by military coups that then revert to elected governments that are interrupted by military coups and so on. This has given rise to speculation concerning the dominant impulse in Ghanaian political life: is it democratic or authoritarian? There is concern that Ghanaians have come to accept elements of authoritarianism as crucial to political stability--and even that they link the recovery of the Ghanaian economy with the somewhat authoritarian style of governance adopted by Rawlings. Other observers argue not only that Ghanaians do value democracy, but also that it...

  6. (pp. 37-38)

    This report has argued that the regimes led by Rawlings and the (P)NDC were authoritarian but were not necessarily military governments. The purge of the military in the early days of the PNDC was welcomed by a large number of those within the military. Certainly those who were purged were those generally regarded as the most corrupt (they were frequently those who had led previous coups against elected governments). While corruption has certainly not ceased altogether within the military, the purge did succeed in eliminating the influence of the most corrupt -- and politicised -- sector within the military. This...

  7. (pp. 39-39)

    At first glance, Ghana has come full circle. At independence in March 1957, it was regarded as the jewel in Britain’s African colonial crown. Its political status was enhanced by the activist continental role played by Kwame Nkrumah, though this was dramatically offset by his (failed) economic policies and subsequent political and economic events.47 Rawlings’ coups d’etat appeared initially to be yet another phase in Ghana’s continued decline. However, his pragmatic economic policies coupled with external and domestic political developments (including, importantly, the 1992 multiparty constitution and the 1996 democratic presidential election), instead led Ghana back towards economic recovery and...