Fifty senior officers associated with Ghana's deposed military government face trials that could lead to their execution next week, the country's new ruler, Air Force Flight Lt. Jerry Rawlings said last night.
Rawlings said in an interview that those found guilty by "people's courts" of stealing from "the nation's coffers" will face the firing squad regardless of international protests.
Rawlings, who turned 32 yesterday, seized power with a group of junior officers in a bloody coup June 4. The new government executed two senior officers a week ago, prompting protests from abroad about absence of fair trials.
Asked if the planned new trials would be open to the public, Rawlings first said "yes" but was contradicted by Capt. Boakye Djan, the reputed intellectual on the 14-member Revolutionary Council composed of junior officers, noncommissioned officers and privates.
"The people's courts are made up of military personnel," said Djan, who had sat quietly during Rawling's rambling, hour-long interview, "and non-military personnel will not be allowed to attend. No civilians will sit on the courts."
Another member of the council, identified as Warrant Officer Obeng, who as also present, at this point interjected that civilian trials take too long.
"They would go on for a year each and then they would let them go," Obeng said. "We've got three months and we want to do it fast."
The council, which is chaired by Rawlings, had promised to hand over authority to a civilian government in three months following a "house cleaning" by execution of senior military officers, top-level civil servants and businessmen who allegedly enriched themselves illegally under the deposed military government.
Ghana held its first elections in a decade last week but none of the 10 presidential candidates won the necessary 50 percent of the popular vote. A runoff election between the two front runners - Victor Owusu and Hilla Limann - is to be held next month.
The interview revealed - as did various conversations during the past week - that disgruntled junior officers who seized power were acting in protest against rampant corruption, economic dislocations and a spiraling inflation rate that now stands at 125 percent annually.
The new leaders maintain that they want to eradicate the internal decay Ghana has experienced since its independence in 1957 by wiping out "corrupt elements" and setting a strict moral tone for the incoming civilian government.
"We have been brought up with certain values," Rawlings said, "but too many people have ignored them. Those that have will have to pay."
Yesterday afternoon Rawlings was cheered by thousands of Ghanaians in downtown Accra after he left a community center where he had given a speech to the managers of the country's public transportation network and told them to reduce their fares.
Rawlings, dressed in his blue Air Force officer's uniform, stood up through the sunroof of a small personnel carrier and benignly waved to the throngs as they chanted "Rawlings, Rawlings." Traffic was stopped as his vehicle, preceded by 12 motorcycle policemen and sandwiched between two large tanks, pushed its way through the crowd.
Last night, the teetotaling Rawlings chain-smoked cigarettes and drank ice water during the interview. He revealed that the deposed military head of state, Gen. Frederick Akuffo, was being kept under armed guard in the presidential residence.
"He'll stand trial with all the rest," Rawlings said. "We're busy now collecting evidence."
"The only thing I have to say about the protests" alleging a lack of judicial due process, Rawlings said in an angry intense voice, "is an Akan proverb" from one of Ghana's ethnic groups:
"If someone is pricking you with a pin, then it is happening to a human being. If someone is pricking someone else then it is happening to a tree."
Rawlings wore an orange Ghana Air Force jump suit during the interview. He alternately shifted his gaze to the floor from the ceiling or to the four other members of the Revolutionary Council who sat in on the interview. One Ghanaian dressed in a grey civilian casual suit, whom Rawlings identified as "a friend," continually interrupted Rawlings' responses with additional interpretations.
"He is more eloquent than I," said Rawlings, waving toward his friend who declined to give his name.
"The revolution is not meant for the armed forces," Rawlings said, "but is a national exercise designed to life the image of Ghanaians through a moral battle."
Leaning back in his swivel chair in the 5th Infantry Battalion headquarters at Burma Camp, Rawlings propped his black boots up on a wooden trash basket containing a black submachine gun. During part of his talk, a bodyguard with an identical submachine gun sat watchfully across from him.
"Have you ever read Frantz Fanon's "Wretched of Earth"?" asked Rawlings. Fanon, a black psychiatrist from the Caribbean island of Martinique, wrote about the dehumanizing process of colonialism growing out of his experiences in Algeria during the Algerians anti-colonial war against France.
"Well that is what we are all about," said Rawlings. "It's not a black-white thing here but the rich suppressing the poor, exploiting us, oppressing us." He slammed an open palm on his desk for emphasis.
"Since independence the Ghanaian has been oppressed by both the civilian and military governments. A man has a right to be angry and why can't you burst out against the system that is tormenting you?" Rawlings continued.
"As things got worse, I mean, we seemed to be getting immune to it. Since [Kwame] Nkrumah's time the people of Ghana had lost their spirit."
Ghana's first prime minister and then president, Knrumah, was overthrown in a military coup here in 1966. He had introduced a Soviet-style socialism to Ghana and jailed thousands of opponents.
As Ghana's economy declined over the past five years, Rawlings said, "the rich became richer, including the high military officers, and most of us were starving. I've always wanted to do something to correct injustice."
Each of Ghana's previous three military governments have claimed they took power to weed out corruption and punish wrongdoers, Rawlings was reminded, but the leaders of each ended up accused of illegally amassing fortunes in overseas bank accounts.
"We're here without an operating budget, without a penny," Rawlings retorted angrily, "and we'll leave here without a penny."
"The "house cleaning" will be completed in three months," he added, before the military hand over power to the civilians."I hope they will have learned something by then because it's not the bullet that will restore the old moral values, it's the people."