Ghana coup attempt appears linked to unrest over austerity plan

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Peace and stability still elude trouble-ridden Ghana following yet another apparent coup attempt last weekend - the fifth since Flt. Lt. Jerry Rawlings seized power 27 months ago.

It is a setback to the military government's attempt to implement an unpopular International Monetary Fund-World Bank austerity program aimed at rescuing the country from economic and political collapse.

Details of the latest coup attempt are unclear, but at least 11 people are reported to have been killed near the Ivory Coast border on the west and on Prampram Beach in the east toward Togo, according to Accra radio.

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The dissidents, mainly Ghanaian military exiles based in Ivory Coast and Togo , were seeking to blow up strategic civilian and military installations, Accra radio said.

Three soldiers, sentenced to death for their part in the last previous coup attempt in June 1983, were captured and executed by firing squad last weekend.

The government continues to hunt for fugitives but appears to have the situation under control. Communications with the outside world were scarcely interrupted, but the former midnight-to-5 a.m. curfew was restored.

Last weekend's coup attempt also marks the first time that conservative, French-speaking Ivory Coast has been implicated in a Ghanaian coup attempt. It will chill the improved bilateral relations with the Ivory Coast that followed Rawlings' meeting with Ivorian President Felix Houphouet-Boigny last December.

One of the main subjects discussed at the meeting was a threat to Ghanaian security posed by the presence of dozens of political exiles in the Ivorian capital, Abidjan. Thousands of Ghanaians are also estimated to have crossed the border to escape food shortages and economic hardship in Ghana.

The possible transfer of Cuban troops from Angola to strengthen Ghanaian internal security was reportedly discussed during a visit to Accra, Ghana, last week by Cuban Foreign Minister Isidoro Malmierca Peoli, according to the exiled Ghana Democratic Movement.

The latest unrest appears to have been timed to take advantage of growing popular discontent at the austerity program introduced by Rawlings last year.

In a remarkable policy shift, the revolutionary, socialist Rawlings turned to the IMF and World Bank for help when Ghana's economy fell to rock bottom. Ghana now is receiving more than $600 million from the banks in exchange for implementing corrective economic measures.

The measures included a 90 percent devaluation of the cedi - one of the most drastic devaluations ever in Africa. At the time the action was taken, there was scarcely a ripple of public protest. Devaluation brought official prices closer into line with the reality of the black market where most goods are bought and sold in Ghana, observers say. But prolonged drought has created severe fuel shortages, pushed up inflation, and fueled demands for large wage increases.

The long delayed 1984 budget, presented Tuesday by Finance Minister Kwesi Botchway, included a 60 percent hike of the daily minimum wage to 40 cedis ($1. 10). Forty cedis, however, will barely buy a tin of sardines. It falls far short of union demands for an increase to 300 cedis, claimed to be the minimum needed to feed a worker.

Government officials point out that Ghanaian workers have never earned a ''living wage'' within memory and that a larger increase would wreck the recovery program.

Ghanaians struggle to make ends meet by trading rice, sugar, and other commodities. Increasing numbers are quitting Accra to return to their farms to grow their own food.

The government is counting on rain and continued support from Western aid donors to see it through an extremely tense time.

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