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Ghana: The 1979 Coup and the First Rawlings Government
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > The Military and the Government > The 1979 Coup and the First Rawlings Government


Ghana's third military coup was planned by a small group of disgruntled officers. On May 15, 1979, less than five weeks before the national elections, Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings and several members of the air force (junior officers and corporals) unsuccessfully tried to overthrow the government. During the court martial of the coup's seven plotters, Rawlings justified his action by claiming that official corruption had eroded public confidence in the government and had tarnished the image of the armed forces. Rawlings also charged that Syrian and Lebanese businessmen living in Ghana had gained control of the country's economy at the expense of the African majority.

On the night of June 3, 1979, a group of junior officers and enlisted personnel of the Fifth Battalion and the Reconnaissance Regiment in Burma Camp staged a coup and freed Rawlings. These individuals then formed the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) to rule the country. The AFRC included a cross section of ranks from private and lance corporal to staff sergeant, airman, lieutenant, and naval commander. Although the scheduled elections occurred as planned on June 18, 1979, the AFRC retained power until September 24, 1979, when President Hilla Limann and the People's National Party (PNP) assumed control of the government.

Meanwhile, the AFRC purged the senior ranks of the armed forces and executed eight officers, three of whom had been former heads of state (Acheampong, Akuffo, and Afrifa). From July to September 1979, special courts held hearings and sentenced 155 military officers, former officials, and wealthy businessmen to prison terms ranging from six months to ninety-five years. Additionally, the AFRC collected back taxes from numerous government officials and threatened to seize the assets of many others unless they refunded money to the state that they had allegedly embezzled or stolen. The AFRC also charged hundreds of military officers with corruption and sentenced them to long prison terms. Many civil servants fell victim to the purge and lost their jobs as well.

Data as of November 1994

Last Updated: November 1994

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Ghana was first published in 1994. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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Section 155 of 181


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