31st December: Was there a revolution in Ghana?

Source: By: Kofi B. Kukubor
Date: 31st-december-2017 Time:  9:39:05 am

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Was there a revolution in Ghana?

 Celebrating The 36th Anniversary of The December 31, Revolution

(A retrospect of PNDC, 1981 to 1992)

“Fellow Ghanaians, as you will notice, we are not playing the national anthem. In other words, this is not a coup. I ask for nothing less than a REVOLUTION-something that will transform the social and economic order of this country. Fellow citizens, it is now left to you to decide how this country is going to go from today. We are asking for nothing more than the power to organize this country in such a way that nothing will be done from the Castle without the consent and authority of the people. In other words, the people, the farmers, the police, the soldiers, the workers you - the guardians- rich or poor, should be part of the decision-making process of this country.” Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings (December 31, 1981)

A Revolution

A revolution most often result in fundamental changes to socio-political power or organizational structures over a period of time. This maybe in a form of complete change from one constitution to another, significant modification of existing order, or a complete paradigm shift in socio-political and organizational structure of a society or nation. History is replete with Revolutions and is always characterised at the initial stage by violence and overthrow of an existing order.

Characteristically, revolutions arrive on the back of wide social breakdown, extreme suppression, and excessive corruption by people who have been entrusted with power to govern. A revolution is a process intended to achieve targeted objectives over a period of time.

Antecedents to December 31, 1981 Revolution

Since 1961, economic growth of Ghana was very unstable and unpredictable, fluctuating between negative and positive growth. The volatile economic instability made it difficult for any investment to happen in Ghana. In 1975  Ghana experienced its worst GDP performance which stood at -12.4% and GDP Per capita at -14.5%. As at December 31,

1981 GDP growth was -3.5% and GDP per capita growth -6.2%. Inflation under the Supreme Military Council Regime in 1977 was 116.45%, in 1978, 73.09%, and in 1981 under the PNP (Hilla Liman) was 116.50%.

Kalabule, the jargon for extreme corruption was prevalent. This act was championed by government officials and their associates which brought about untold hardship of the masses. The economy was out of control and the country was described as a collapsed State by some of the international donors.

Political administration of the country was paralyzed as the Hilla Liman led People's National Party (PNP) government due to political  indiscipline, internal division and rancour, and a sabotage by parliament in refusing to approve the national budget submitted for parliamentary approval. This brought the government machinery to a standstill.

On December 31, 1981, a confederation of the military and civilian population led by Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings, launched a revolution by overthrowing the Hilla Liman government. A government of Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC) was born to execute the ideals of the Revolution.

 Major Socio-Political and Economic Changes from December 31, 1981 to January 7, 1993.


Faced with these extreme socio-political and economic challenges, the PNDC tinkered its original Revolutionary Socialist ideals with some liberal economic policies to stabilize the political-economy and to lay sound foundation for economic take of. 

Sweeping economic reforms to revolutionize and to “structurally adjust and stabilize” the economic foundation were carried through the Economic Recovery Programme, (ERP) from 1983 to 1986. The financial sector was also declining and was mainly characterized by ceilings fixed for interest rates, credit guidelines for different sectors, ceilings fixed for credits etc. However, in  1987  the rules pertaining to minimum deposits as well as maximum deposits were abolished. The foundation for the liberalization of the banking, insurance, and financial investment institutions was established through the implementation of the Financial Adjustment Programme  (FINSAP).

In addition, tax reforms were initiated which culminated in later years in the introduction of Value Added Tax (VAT of 10%) 1995 to secure government revenue base, which today funds most government public expenditures. 

These economic recovery programmes liberalized the economy and positively impacted the financial sector, the agricultural sector, foreign direct investments (FDI), etc.  By 1984 GDP rose to 8.6% though it declined to 3.9% in 1992, Ghana’s economy has since not gone back into negative growth since the revolution. By 1992, inflation that was 116. 5% was brought down to 10.1%.


The agriculture sector responded positively to these reforms. Cocoa production that was 246,500 tons in 1981 increased to 312,122 tons in 1992. Cassava production increased from 2,065.000 tons in 1981 to  5,655.000 tons in 1992. Other cash crops for export increased which boosted the country’s revenue generation. In recognition, the Farmers’ Day was instituted in 1985 to celebrate and award gallant farmers and fishermen whose output was about 30% growth in 1984.

The positives of the PNDC agricultural policy and programme extended to the National Democratic Congress (NDC) from which resulted in the recognition of Ghana’s Food Production Index of 148% for 1995-1997 as “the third highest achievement in the record after Jordan (157%) and China (156%) in the World Bank’s “1999-2000 Development Report.

Local government  (Governance Structures)

The political administration of the country was overhauled as decision-making was “moved from the Castle to the people” through the People Defense Committee (PDC) system.

The governance structure which was overly top-heavy in decision-making was devolved through the People Defense Committee (PDC) system. When the Rawlings led PNDC established the People's Defence Committees (PDCs), a system of cooperatives, it became a unique move never before seen in Ghana's political economy, and was a precursor to the decentralisation policy of Ghana. The PDCs were established in every village, workplaces etc. For effective administration, it was structured in unit committees of 100 persons, zonal committees, and the assembly.  This structure later formed the bedrock of the Local Government administration.

As one of the main political preoccupations of the PNDC, in January 1987, Jerry John Rawlings announced radical changes to be introduced in the local government elections. No cash deposits were required of candidates for district level elections, illiteracy in English was no longer a disqualification so as to accommodate non-English speakers in the District Assembly and to make assembly debates accessible to the majority of constituents, and District Assembly elections were to be nonpartisan. 110 district assemblies were created and in 1988 the first District Assembly elections were held. Education, infrastructure developments, and healthcare all devolved to the district level. Annual government subvention were mandated by law to the district. A system uncommon and unimaginable in many other African countries.

The PDC system created political awareness and politically empowered citizens which were denied them by previous governments. By implementing the decentralization concept,  Rawlings inherently instituted a transition from authoritarianism to multi-party democracy

 Infrastructure and Others

The December 31, revolution carried out extensive reconstruction of the country. SSNIT housing projects were undertaken in all the Ten regions to house public sector workers, accessibility was facilitated by constructing roads to link and open up the northern sections of the country such as Brong Ahafo, Northern Region, Upper East and Upper West which were once ignored by previous governments. Pavilion structures were built in all the 110 districts to make basic education accessible to all and two secondary schools per district was initiated. Regional and District hospitals sprang up, and electricity that was ‘housed’ only in Accra, Kumasi, and Takoradi was extended to all parts of the country. Information accessibility was increased by extending Television coverage across the country.

Female entry and graduation rate at basic to tertiary education increased. For example, percentage of female graduates in tertiary education rose from 13.9% in 1981 to 24.4% in 1987. Though it declined to 21.5% in 1992, it has kept an upward trend since the birth of the Revolution.

Rural entrepreneurship among women was vigorously pursued by the PNDC government by empowering rural women, capacity building, and the establishment of cottage industry accross the country. The entrepreneurship drive among rural women was also championed on the other hand by the First Lady, Nana Konadu Agyemang Rawlings through her December 31, Women Movement. The rural women were also easy for political mobilization in support of the Revolution.

The Road To Multi-Party Democracy

After the reconstruction of Ghana which was the objective of the PNDC government,  agitation for the future political direction of Ghana started to emerge. This compelled the PNDC government to begin the process to return the country to Multi-Party democracy.

After internal debates which centred on dissolving the PNDC to allow the two traditional parties (i.e. CPP, and NLM &PP traditions) to continue with the return to constitutional rule, the Cadres of the revolution (revolutionary organs and Rawlings fan clubs) insisted on forming a new tradition and a political  Party that will protect the gains of the Revolution and underpinned by the principles of probity, accountability, transparency, and social justice. The principles that sustained the Revolution. The National Democratic Congress (NDC) was born out of this revolutionary progressive concept. The fourth republic was also born out of the Revolution.

The Political Stability by A Political Personality

The revolution would not have been successful had it not been characterised by the political stability that the PNDC government firmly established. Since the overthrow of Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah, successive governments were changed through the barrel of the gun. The December 31 revolution put a stop to all coups which brought immense growth and benefits to the country.

As Chazan (1983) stated, Rawlings, unlike many other leaders in Ghana's history, subsequently led the country through the difficult years of economic recovery and succeeded in giving back to Ghanaians their national pride. “Without Rawlings' strength of character and unwavering determination, Ghana would not have survived the Economic Recovery Programs (ERPs) of the 1980s put in place by the ruling Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC)." Rawlings saw his leadership role to be that of a "watchdog" for ordinary people and he boldly confronted  issues of incompetence, injustice and corruption.


After over two decades of multi-party democracy, the moral integrity and value systems that underpinned the modest gains of the revolution have fast eroded. Eventually, its corrosive impact on the physical (socio-political and economic) gains of the revolution is also being significantly felt by Ghanaians. Even the NDC that ‘evoluted’ from the Revolution has been battered with the ills of past that compelled the launch of the  December 31, 1981 revolution.

NDC is at a crossroad to either decay, or to restore its value system of probity, accountability, transparency, and social justice which will significantly prop up its social democratic philosophy. The democracy of Ghana was born out the revolution and therefore has its tenets which are in the DNA of the NDC. Within the current NDC "It is rather unfortunate that there are still some of our brothers and sisters who imagine that the past decade can be wished away; simply as an uncomfortable dream and that the new constitutional era, will inaugurate a period of “business as usual” with all the negative practices of the past. These ladies and gentlemen should stop whistling in the dark and realise that they may be condemned to repeat history if they ignore its lessons". Capt. Rtd. Kojo Tsikata (1991).

Some Ghanaian do like the idea of democracy but want to forget the revolutionary origins of democracy, we cannot sanitize democracy without its struggle, without the masses, and without ordinary people. (paraphrased) Kojo Tsikata, 1988.

As the NDC and the people of Ghana commemorate the 36th Anniversary of the December 31 revolution, it is imperative to be reminded of the history and identity of the NDC. It is an identity that has defined the character of the NDC and which has endeared it to the masses. Deviation thereof from these ideals will lead to rejection thereof by the masses. Once more, “we indicate our determination to alter the state of affairs inherited from the past in which democracy meant plenty for the rich; starvation for the broad majority, and a lack for sensitivity for the plight of the poor”.(Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings 1989). Let NDC unite around the principles of probity, accountability, and social justice to reorganize so as to restore the value systems that are critical in the reconstruction of Ghana.


GOD bless the Revolution

GOD bless the NDC

GOD bless the people of Ghana.

Aluta continua! !

* The writer is a Governance and Policy Analyst, and member of the Central Planning Committee of the 36th Anniversary of the December 31 Revolution Commemoration.

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