Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Ghana Exports Revolution to Upper Volta

Elizabeth Ohene

Dr Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's first head of state, was accused by the leaders of neighbouring African countries of meddling in their internal affairs and exporting revolution in the continent. Now, Rawlings has been publicly announced by the Upper Volta leader Thomas Sankara, of having helped him to seize power last year. Is history repeating itself?
IT IS at last official. What people have always known and said among themselves but has never been acknowledged officially.

Captain Thomas Sankara has said publicly that he was helped into power by his comrade brother south of the Upper Volta border - Flight-Lieutenant J.J. Rawlings of Ghana. This admission should not cause much excitement seeing that most people had seen the hand of Flt-Lt. Rawlings in the August 1983 coup in Upper Volta, except, of course, that the hypocrisy of "revolution" claims needs to be stated.

The man who has been loudest in accusing other people of trying to overthrow him, was busy subverting his neighbour and installing in power a person who would have his first loyalty to him. The revolutionaries are the first to point out that survival is their first priority and terror perpetrated on individuals is explained away as excusable for the good of the general public.

Now that Captain Sankara knows where the source of his power stems from, his first loyalty will be to the person who placed him there - Flt-Lt. Rawlings, not to the people of Upper Volta nor to any supposed "revolutionary process". To be fair to Flt-Lt. Rawlings, he did announce right from the beginning of his own declared "Holy War" that his revolution will be for export. It would be very helpful if Capt. Sankara would expand on the form that the help from Flt-Lt. Rawlings took. Was it, for example, in the form of the rumoured arms that the Ghanaian leader supplied?

Flt-Lt. Rawlings will then have to answer to the people of Ghana where he found the money from to finance a coup d'etat in Upper Volta when he has been telling Ghanaians that there was no money in the coffers. He would then tell the donor nations and the International Monetary Fund what he does with the money that he wants from them in the name of Ghana.

He will then have to explain to the grieving mothers of Ghana whose children have died and are dying from malnutrition and starvation how come Ghana has the resources to install somebody in power in a neighbouring country and cannot feed her own children.

He used to dismiss with contempt what he termed "so-called human rights when people are hungry". Does "revolution" and the spread of his personal empire take precedence over the hunger of Ghanaians?

Once upon a time, Ghana used to export cocoa, coffee, gold and at one time even rice, the decline in the production of everything the country produced has been acute for the last decade and more. Flt-Lt. Rawlings has justifiably blamed the past leaders of Ghana for doing nothing to halt this decline.


In two years of having been in power the decline has been even steeper, in spite of a lot of hot air, the plight of the farmer has become even worse. Now the farmer discovers that Fit-Lt. Rawlings and his PNDC put a premium over the export of revolution over and above that of cocoa or any crops that he is urged daily to cultivate The workers of Ghana, whom Flt-Lt. Rawlings claims to champion so much, have had to put up with a lot of some people, quite cheerfully, mostly because they believed Flt-Lt. Rawlings words that he was in there with them. While they have to buy one tuber of yam at C150 and an egg at C13 and one kilo of meat at C83 on salaries that range from C25 to C40 a day, Flt-Lt. Rawlings was expending their money probably and his energies definitely in installing a regime next door.

Whatever happened to the PNDC's claim of peaceful co-existence and progressive African policy - will Ghana co-exist peacefully only with her neighbours that are to the liking of the Flight-Lieutenant?

Did the Flight-Lieutenant consult the people of Upper Volta about their wishes and preferences or could it be that because he has offered his scheme of things as the only acceptable option in Ghana, it follows that the people of Upper Volta too should have that option?

Has Flight-Lieutenant Rawlings traced some of his ancestry to Upper Volta to qualify him to decide for the people there who should rule them and under what political system they should exist?

It was said at the time that Flt-Lt. Rawlings seized power in Ghana that he was helped into power by Col. Gaddafy of Libya, this assertion has never been denied officially and the first year of PNDC rule in Ghana showed quite clearly who the real master was - Col. Gaddafy.


Recently all the indications are that the relationship between the two revolutionary comrades is not as warm as it used to be and the reason for the cooling of emotions seems to be the non-deliverance of the promise of financial help by Col. Gaddafy. But obviously, the period of apprenticeship was none too short. Flt-Lt. Rawlings seems to have emerged from the Gaddafy school with all the proper credentials he is exporting revolution and prescribing his "philosophy" to other people when he has not even begun to grapple with the problems at home.

It wouldn't be surprising if the next scene in the drama is an announcement of a union between Ghana and Upper Volta, seeing that all the proper noises have already been made about colonialism and neo-colonialism.

Flt-Lt. Rawlings might care to remember that the "artificial borders" between Ghana and Upper Volta have been broken down, demolished and abolished before by a Ghanaian leader whose pretensions to grandeur were even bigger and whose claims to leadership were on a much firmer basis. It might have been short-sightedness then but the fact still remains that his enthusiasm for the bigger world outside Ghana brought him to an unexpected end.

There is hunger in Ghana, hunger which cannot be ignored and people are dying and require urgent help. The problems that are inside Ghana are serious and big enough to occupy the attentions of Flt-Lt. Rawlings especially since his is a self-appointed task. It might be that he is so totally overwhelmed by these problems, many of which are his creation, others which he has aggravated by his earlier actions, that he is resorting to a favourite political gimmick - when there is trouble at home, look outside and divert attention.

Unfortunately, the hungry cries of children cannot be ignored forever, nor will the defeated look disappear from the eyes of the men no longer able to provide for their families, nor will the desperation leave mothers who have to look on helpless while their children starve.


Thus the problems of Ghana will not disappear, it does not matter how many "revolutions" Flt-Lt. Rawlings helps to organise in other countries, it will not even matter if he is able to reduce the rest of West Africa to the wilderness that is Ghana today, the day of reckoning will come, as it always does.

If it is the feelings of megalomania that are afflicting Flt-Lt. Rawlings, then it might be useful for him to reflect on the fate of one-time Emperor Bokassa. He proclaimed his small country an empire, crowned himself an Emperor; at the end of the day he was still the pitiable and petty dictator of a poor and small country.

Before Flt-Lt. Rawlings starts congratulating himself and seeing himself in the role of exporter of revolutions and seeing Accra as the capital of Third World progressive thought, he might reflect on the reality - a hungry and dispirited nation unwilling and incapable of managing its affairs.

That is the country he is presiding over, it used to be said in his favour that, at least, he told the people the truth as it is; obviously even that claim sounds hollow now, seeing that he did not ask the people of Ghana before installing his puppet in power across the border and having done so, has not had the courage to tell them about what he has done.

It is rather presumptuous that having been unable to tackle Ghana's problems, he should be meddling in the affairs of his neighbours.


Flt-Lt. Rawlings - troubles at home, revolution abroad.

Late President Nkrumah, first exporter of 'revolution'.

Capt. Sankara - helped into power by comrade across the border.

talking drums 1984-02-20 Facing up to the military - Rawlings exports revolution to Upper Volta