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Ghana: The 1981 Coup and the Second Rawlings Government
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > The Military and the Government > The 1981 Coup and the Second Rawlings Government


The combination of official corruption, Rawlings's continued political activities, and deteriorating economic conditions doomed the Limann government. On December 31, 1981, Rawlings, supported by lower-ranking soldiers, most of whom served in the Reconnaissance Regiment, seized power. Rawlings then established the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) to rule the country, dissolved parliament, and banned all political parties. On January 21, 1982, Rawlings appointed a sixteen-member civilian government with a cabinet of secretaries and told them to "serve the people sacrificially." The PNDC also assumed control of the Ministry of Defence. The Rawlings regime further consolidated its power by promulgating PNDC Law 42, which suspended the constitution and gave the government wide powers over Ghanaian citizens.

Shortly after seizing power, Rawlings took action against individuals who had allegedly committed crimes against the Ghanaian people. In January 1982, for example, the PNDC ordered former members of the banned PNP and other undesirable elements to report to the nearest police station or army barracks. The authorities detained some of these individuals and released others after registering their names. The police and army continued this roundup by arresting allegedly corrupt individuals who had served in the Limann government, former members of parliament, businessmen suspected of trading on the black market, and alleged coup plotters. On June 30, 1982, one or more members of the PNDC and their accomplices abducted and then murdered three High Court of Justice judges and the personnel director of the Ghana Industrial Holdings Corporation.

Despite the popularity of the Rawlings regime, there were two coup attempts in late 1982 and in early 1983. On November 23, 1982, a group of soldiers tried to overthrow the regime, initiating hostilities at Gondar Barracks. Government forces, however, defeated the rebels and the police arrested more than twenty people. The other coup attempt occurred on February 27, 1983, when security forces arrested nine soldiers and two civilians in Achimota, near Accra. The authorities claimed that they also discovered heavy machine guns, rockets, ammunition, and a list of people to be assassinated. Kojo Tsikata, special adviser to the PNDC, also accused the United States embassy of involvement in the coup attempt, but the Ghanaian government never proved this allegation.

Challenges to the Rawlings regime continued throughout the 1980s. Between 1985 and 1986, for example, there were at least seven coup attempts. On September 24, 1989, two days after Rawlings had assumed direct command of the armed forces, the government announced that it had foiled yet another attempted coup. The attempt was led by Major Courage Quarshigah, a popular officer in the Ghanaian armed forces, former commandant of the Ghana Military Academy, and a former close ally of Rawlings. Quarshigah and four other army officers were arrested. They were accused of planning to assassinate Rawlings as part of the coup, but several of the accused allegedly favored a return to constitutional rule under a civilian government.

Despite the so-called Quarshigah Affair and other attempted coups, Rawlings remained in control of the PNDC and the armed forces, which he commanded from September 1989 until June 1990. An Economic Recovery Program (ERP), supported by the International Monetary Fundand the World Bank, was adopted to improve the lives of Ghanaians. The Rawlings regime also acceded to popular demands for a democratic, multiparty election. Despite these accomplishments, however, corruption, authoritarianism, and incompetence have continued to be significant problems.

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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