After a disruptive 25-year history of five Army coups, Ghana has retaken the leftist path with a coup-installed "revolutionary people's government" whose leaders predict they will reverse the society's moral decay, provide a stable democracy and restore economic health to a country on the edge of financial collapse.

The six-week-old government's leftist swerve has pushed beyond the socialist visions of the late Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's first president, and borrowed from Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi's eclectic model of "direct democracy" through "popular committees" that theoretically will manage all aspects of the lives of Ghana's 14 million people.

The world's former leading cocoa exporter with a still-untapped agricultural potential, Ghana has been dragged down steadily from a relative position of affluence at independence in 1957 to virtual bankruptcy today by the visionary economic planning and venality of successive civilian and military governments.

Revelations in November of widespread corruption in the two-year-old elected government of president Hilla Limann were a major factor in the acceptance by Ghanaian civilians of the bloody coup on Dec. 31 that overthrew him, according to Western and Ghanaian sources. The coup was carried out by a small band of former Ghanaian Army men led by Air Force Flight Lt. Jerry J. Rawlings. Most of the disgruntled regular Army joined in.

"I ask for nothing less than a revolution, something that will transform the social and economic order of this country," Rawlings said in a radio broadcast the morning of his takeover. "Let the world know that Ghanaians are determined to make democracy really work for the ordinary man, not just for a small group of people to exploit them and ride over their misery," he said later.

The 34-year-old Rawlings, an open admirer of Qaddafi, is not unlike other African leaders who started out to create political systems that would eradicate elitist privilege and guarantee an equitable distribution of national income.

Numbers of like-minded African leaders, however, have presided over governments that degenerated into totalitarian regimes. It is too early to predict where Ghana's revolution will end, but early signs have been mixed.

Besides being corrupt, the Limann government proved weak in its efforts to pull Ghana out of a severe economic decline.

A black market flourished for the overvalued Ghana cedi and inflation was as high as 125 percent. A government effort to revive food and cash crop production was a total failure. Limann's officials also balked at the stringent conditions set by the International Monetary Fund to accompany its offer of a $1.4 billion recovery program.

By contrast, the ruling seven-man provisional National Defense Council, which Rawlings heads, has maintained momentum in a series of key moves including sending student volunteers to the countryside to help move the cocoa crop to the port of Tema. For the past two years, a good portion of the crop stayed on planters' farms because of bad roads or lack of transport.

Last week there were long lines of Ghanaians outside banks turning in their 50-cedi notes in exchange for vouchers as ordered by the defense council. "The exercise should reduce by 20 percent the approximately 6 billion cedis in circulation" and help bring down Ghana's inflation rate, a knowledgeable source said.

"People's defense committees" have sprung up in city neighborhoods, in rural villages and in industries to work out problems; they also act as watchdogs against corruption and black market dealings.

But despite nominal backing by the armed forces for the defense council, informed Ghanaians say they have become nervous about military discipline after a chain of rank and file mutinies recently among the 12,000 soldiers and 2,600 Air Force and Navy personnel.

On Feb. 4, sailors at Ghana's Sekondi Naval Base reportedly shot to death three of their officers before soldiers from a nearby Army camp intervened and rescued the remaining naval officers, who then refused to return to their base, sources said. Three days later, soldiers in the central city of Kumasi went on a two-day rampage after an Army major was stoned to death during an altercation at a church. The soldiers killed the pastor of the church,, burned down four churches and wrecked four others, according to a local paper and independent sources.

"Orders for all troops to report to barracks have been greeted with mutinies," said one well-placed source. "There has been an unhealed split between officers and their men since 1979."

Rawlings first came to power in a June 1979 coup that overthrew the regime of Gen. Frederick Akuffo. The coup was carried out by junior and noncommissioned officers and Army privates against the corruption of their officers. Akuffo and seven other high-ranking officers were executed and a number of jailed. Rawlings handed power to an elected Limann government in September.

Last month, unlike 1979, Rawlings' defense council immediately began to consolidate power by bringing most of the relatively independent press under its control. In mid-January, the local press reported a planned U.S.-supported invasion of 1,000 British commandos to be launched from Nigeria to return Limann (who is in detention with 200 other prisoners) to office. All three governments have vigorously denied the reports.

The defense council also has begun to bring the heretofore independent 500,000-member trade union congress under its control.

The defense council recently appointed 18 Cabinet-level department secretaries but has failed to agree on a secretary of finance or an economic recovery plan. The new government faces drastically reduced revenues as Ghana's cocoa crop--representing 70 percent of government revenues--has fallen from 570,000 tons in 1957 down to 250,000 tons exported last year. The drop has halved annual cocoa earnings to $440 million.

The country is $400 million in arrears on short-term debt (total debt is $1.4 billion). Lack of foreign exchange is halting imports and import-dependent industries are operating at 15 percent capacity. A serious food shortage is not far off.

"All of these matters will be taken care of," said new Secretary of Information Attoh Austin. A history of "deep-seated corruption, lawlessness and indiscipline are the real causes of these problems," he added.

On reports of mutinies among the armed forces, Austin said, "There have been some cases of friction, but I think they are isolated . . . ."