Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Comment - Who are the Enemies?

It is understandably very tempting for those in government to label their critics as their enemies. This stems from the erroneous proposition that friends praise and enemies criticise.

In West African terms, where governments are forever looking for and announcing plots and enemies with monotonous regularity, this means that all those who criticize the government are instantly transformed into monster-sized enemies.

This is a fate suffered by most governments in the sub-region both military and civilian and it is possibly the single most debilitating problem that undermines good government in the region.

We of Talking Drums have been quite unambiguous in our preference for a constitutional democractic form of government and our distaste for military regimes principally because of their intolerant and unrepresentative nature. Having stated that, it has not meant that we have been blinkered in our views and would criticise the performance of military regimes and praise the perform- ance of civilian governments wholesale.

We do not see our role as praise singers and such a role will fit us ill and we are quite unapologetic if governments find us critical, we believe we cannot but be that way.

But governments put themselves in very ridiculous and even dangerous positions when they transform critics into enemies, for not only does that exaggerate the influence of such critics out of all proportion and divert attention from the important duties of state, the danger is that the real enemies of the state - not the government - are overlooked.

Sight is often lost of the fact that as corrupt or inefficient as the top hierarchy of governments in West Africa might be, those who work in the organs of government are usually even more inefficient and corrupt than government officials.

Unfortunately, successive governments fall into the habit of falling for the guiles of these officials. Once a government is seen to be paranoid, there is nothing such officials love more than to fuel such fears by supplying an endless list of enemies to keep the government in a perpetual state of confusion.

Such situations become most profuse when there are changes of government, which in West African terms, often means violent changes, inefficient officials start falling over each other to curry favour with the new authorities. Since such people have nothing to commend them in their work, they have to resort to swearing loyalty oaths and exposing what they imagine to be an impressive quota of enemies. They discover fresh zeal for their work. Members of the security services discover new plots and crimes daily, the customs announce increased tax takings, diplomats bestir themselves to write reports home and those who cannot find eye-catching gimmicks, discover enemies.

We would suggest that such zeal amounts to pitiable attempts at covering the inadequacies of the new zealots. The new rulers might consider that if the security services were any use, they would not have been able to seize power themselves and if the flurry of reports from diplomats had been going on before, their predecessors would have been kept better informed, and possibly still in power.

In Ghana, the commissioner of Income Tax, who ought to have been ashamed of himself for having been paid for years without discharging his duties, is drafted into a Citizen's Vetting Committee to collect tax from people. The government does not consider that the culprit should rightfully be the department of inland revenue itself instead of the people hauled before the vetting committee. Is tax collection going to be the business of the vetting committee from now onwards, and in which case what is the inland revenue department for. Experience has surely shown that the danger that governments face in West Africa comes more from the praise singers and apathetic say-nothings than from open critics, for the praise-singers are as fickle in their loyalties as they are fulsome in their praises.

We would suggest that the enemies of the state are those who will not point out what is wrong and will not allow alternative opinions to be heard.

As we stated right from our beginning, we welcome all shades of opinion on all subjects because we believe that it is only when alternative opinions are aired and discussed that there can ever be the satisfaction of government by the acquiescence of the governed. If governments allow it, there are many willing and anxious candidates to fill the roles of enemy hunters and as has been shown in the past, enemy hunting can and usually becomes a full time and energy consuming occupation into which a government can be sucked. The Provisional National Defence Council of Ghana has been doing it full time for the past two years and the result is the desperate state of the country today.

The Supreme Military Council of Nigeria is exhibiting signs of the same type of paranoia which can be transformed into a full time undertaking and make them forget entirely about the tasks they had set themselves to do Normally the temptation would be to say that if they should choose to hang themselves, there is no point in stopping them. Unfortunately, the victims, as in the case of Ghana, will be the ordinary citizens of Nigeria. There is a sure antidote to the danger posed by enemies real or imaginary and that is the best protection that any government - and that is good government can ever have. More often than not, when govern ments fail in their basic duty then they expend so much energy chasing imaginary enemies.

The army of enemy-hunters will undoubtedly become more shrill as they fail to do anything constructive to ameliorate the harsh conditions that face the majority of our people.

With such friends, we do believe that the governments in West Africa

talking drums 1984-03-26 the march against Rawlings nigeria's short-lived honeymoon