Brigadier Akwasi Amankwaa Afrifa (24 April 1936 – 26 June 1979) was a Ghanaian soldier, farmer, a traditional ruler (king) and politician.
He was the head of state of Ghana and leader of the military government in 1969 and then Chairman of the Presidential Commission between 1969 and 1970. He continued as a farmer and political activist. He was elected Member of Parliament in 1979 but was executed before he could take his seat. He was executed together with two other former heads of state, General Kutu Acheampong and General Fred Akuffo and five other Generals (Utuka, Felli, Boakye, Robert Kotei and Amedume), in June 1979. He was also popularly referred to by his title Okatakyie /ˈoʊkætætʃiː/ Akwasi Amankwaa Afrifa and was in addition the Abakomahene of Krobo in the Asante-Mampong Sekyere Traditional Area of the Ashanti Region of Ghana.
Education and training
Akwasi Afrifa was born at Mampong in the Sekyere West District of the Ashanti Region of Ghana. His basic education was at the Presbyterian Boys Boarding School at Mampong. He then continued with his secondary education at Adisadel College at Cape Coast in the Central Region, where he was between 1952 and 1957, during which he was expelled. This thwarted his original ambition to be a lawyer. He joined the Ghana Army in 1957 and was sent to the Regular Officer's Special Training School. From there, he attended the Mons Officer Cadet School, Aldershot, England in 1958. He then completed officer training at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, England. In 1961, he was at the School of Infantry, Hythe, United Kingdom.
In 1960, Afrifa was commissioned as second lieutenant in the Ghana Armed Forces. From 1962 up to 1964, he was a General Staff Officer in the army. He next attended the Defence College, at Teshie in Accra. Afrifa was one of the officers who served in the Ghana contingent of the United Nations Operation in the Congo. Afrifa rose through the ranks to become a Major. He was also staff officer in charge of army training and operations by 1965. He was based at Kumasi, at the headquarters of the Second Infantry Brigade (now the Northern Command) of the Ghana Army.
While at Kumasi, Afrifa became friends with Emmanuel Kwasi Kotoka, then a Colonel and the Commander of the Second Infantry Brigade. At the time, Ghana had become a one party state, political opposition was effectively removed with the Preventive Detention Act of 1958 and in 1964 Nkrumah declared himself President for Life. Simultaneously, the export price of Ghana's main foreign exchange earner, cocoa, plummeted. This, combined with ambitious domestic expenditure on much needed social infrastructure and on well documented white elephants, led to the bankruptcy of Ghana. There was a lot of discontent among the general population as prices rocketed for basic consumer goods which were widely unavailable, and among the Ghana Armed Forces. Kwame Nkrumah had asked the military at the time to prepare for a possible campaign in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) against the racist régime that had been established there. Under the pretext of a training exercise, Kotoka, moved his troops from Kumasi to Accra for the coup. Afrifa was his right-hand man in the coup exercise. It turned out later that, unhappy with Nkrumah's strengthening ties with Russia, China and other communist states, the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States had been kept updated about preparations for this coup and may have helped create difficulties for the Nkrumah government to facilitate this. The coup plotters struck while Nkrumah was on a trip to Hanoi, Vietnam. Afrifa's brief was to take the Broadcasting House, the base from which the national radio station broadcast its news and programmes. This succeeded after heavy fighting, allowing Kotoka to go on air to announce the coup d'état to the whole nation.
Allegations of atrocities
There have been allegations by members of Nkrumah's Presidential Detail Department (PDD) responsible for the personal protection of Nkrumah that they were physically tortured, some apparently in the presence of Kotoka, J. W. K. Harlley and Afrifa. Martin Okai, a member of the PDD, claimed at the National Reconciliation Commission hearings that his torture was supervised by Afrifa.
Time in government
Following the coup, Kotoka became one of the eight members of the National Liberation Council (NLC). Afrifa also went through a series of rapid promotions rising from Major to Lieutenant General in the three years his government was in power. He was also appointed the Commissioner (Minister) for Finance and Trade. The Head of state of Ghana and Chairman of the NLC, Joseph Arthur Ankrah was forced to resign in April 1969 following a bribery scandal involving Francis Nzeribe, a Nigerian businessman. He was replaced by Afrifa as Head of state. Ankrah was accused of effecting payments to influence the results of a poll which showed him ahead of Afrifa and Kofi Abrefa Busia for the national elections due in August 1969. Afrifa was a supporter of Busia, the leader of the Progress Party who was a candidate in the forthcoming National Assembly elections. Afrifa handed over to Busia who became the Prime Minister of Ghana on inauguration of the Second Republic. He continued as Chairman of the newly created Presidential Commission until August 1970 when he was replaced by Nii Amaa Ollennu, the Speaker of Parliament in the Second Republic.
Campaign for democracy
After the overthrow of the democratically elected Busia government by Acheampong and the National Redemption Council, Afrifa, a known supporter of Busia was arrested two days later on 15 January 1972 and detained until December 1972. Following his release, Afrifa restricted himself largely to farming at his home town of Mampong. In 1978, the Supreme Military Council (SMC) government sought to introduce a new and widely criticized political system called Union Government (UNIGOV) which was to be a military and civilian partnership rather than go back to a multi-party democracy. A referendum was scheduled in March 1978, and Afrifa was one of the leaders of the Popular Movement for Freedom and Justice, which led the opposition to this UNIGOV concept. Joined by students and the intelligentsia among others, the PMFJ demanded a return to constitutional multi-party democracy.
Elected Member of Parliament
Following the fall of Achampong, the new SMC under General Fred Akuffo, organized presidential and parliamentary elections on 18 June 1979 for a multi-party national assembly. The elections were however held under the government of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) as the SMC itself had been overthrown on 4 June 1979. Afrifa stood for and won the Mampong North constituency seat on the ticket of the United National Convention, whose roots were from the Progress Party of Kofi Abrefa Busia. On 26 June 1979, eight days after his election, Afrifa was executed and thus never had the opportunity to take his seat in the Parliament of the Third Republic of Ghana and was succeeded in parliament by Ebenezer Augustus Kwasi Akuoko.