Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

The Military - Servants Or Masters?

"Tetteh Hedzi"

The central question is: How do you ensure that this trained group of fighting men and women do not use the means and resources they have to impose their will on the rest of society?

Tetteh Hedzi is not the name by which the writer was known when he served in the Ghana Armed Forces from which he was retired as a full colonel two years ago.
Coups and attempted coups have been a regular feature of Ghana's political history since our independence on 6th March 1957. There has been one such incident once every two years since 1958. This has led some observers of our contemporary history to suggest that Ghana must hold the record in West Africa. Others have interpreted these incidents as proof that our country is ungovernable. There is no doubt that our country has known long periods of instability, caused by the activities of our men in uniform. This has in turn complicated our efforts at creating a modern, prosperous and peaceful society.

The December 1981 coup has created very serious problems and brought cataclysmic complications in our order of things in our country. It has resulted in questions, among many of our people at home and abroad, about the role and position of our soldiers in the state. Questions as to what constitutes their proper role in our society, wheth- er they should adhere to the task of assuring internal peace and defending our territorial integrity. Or whether they should shift from their traditional roles in a political function in the state.

Knowing the problems that military intervention in our politics create and seeking solutions to them is the first stage in the process of dealing with the question of the roles of our men in uniform. Whether this should now start, after so many coups and with a military government in place in Ghana now, need not prevent us from making an attempt and thinking the unthinkable. The search for answers should however be done dispassionately.

It seems to me that these cannot be found in the emotive reactions that Rawlings' second coming have generated among our people and have found space in this journal. The military presence in government is a problem that must be tackled on the basis of the known factors about military intervention in politics. It is therefore essential that we examine the nature of an Armed Force, the philosophical rationale which underpin a military force, the features of the Ghana Armed Forces and the factors that have brought it into government on no less than five occasions!

The basic purpose of an armed force is to train and fight. Towards this end, an armed force should have men and and men. women organised in clearly identifiable groups along functional lines. To make them fight effectively, these men and women must have the means with which to fight and the ability to communicate with each other. This is why an Armed Force has the sophisticated range of weapons and equipment. Thus its monopoly over the means of violence.

Men and equipment do not make an effective fighting force. To enable an armed force to move at a command to engage the enemy, it must be trained to obey. This is where military discipline comes in. To make an armed force take pride in itself and obtain the satisfaction of its members working as a group to achieve the objectives they have been set, efforts must be made to develop their esprit de corps. It is this group spirit which enables soldiers to have the sense of belonging to an organisation and sets them apart from all other groups in the society.


Esprit de corps must exist in other professional groups but in no other group is this at a higher level than in an Armed Force. If all these are topped up with arrangements to cater for the physical and spiritual needs of the soldier, then you have in place a military organization.

The creation of an Armed Force in any state poses problems. The central question is that: How do you ensure that this trained group of fighting men and women do not use the means and resources they have to impose their will on the rest of society? How do you ensure that soldiers are servants of the state rather than its masters? In societies where military intervention is rare, the political wisdom is that the Armed Force must be under civilian political control. This is achieved through legislation, i.e. specific acts of Parliament which give the Armed Force a legal entity and existence and by the control that the government has over the funds it needs to fulfil its tasks. Then there is the tradition which has grown over the years and which is inculcated in every officer or man that civilian supremacy over the Armed Force is a fact and deeply-held principle.

There are other state mechanisms which ensure that in the very unlikely possibility that the Armed Forces should intervene, it cannot do so. In Ghana, the mechanisms of control have never been fully developed. Our national decline has ensured the breakdown of the simple controls that we have. There is no tradition against military intervention among our officers

An armed force will intervene in politics if it has the opportunity and motivation to do so. The opportunity to intervene is described as those set of factors that presents the Armed Force with the feeling that it has a favourable chance, if it should intervene. Motivation is what gives the armed force an excuse or reason for justifying its intervention. Opportunity or motivation by itself alone cannot be a factor for military intervention. Both should combine to make this intervention possible. If an armed force is created without any rationale for its existence, then it is likely to find a justification for its existence. In such a case, it is certain to hold the state and its citizens to ransom. It is this that persuades the political leader to assign specific role areas for an Armed Force.

There are two cases for justifying the need for an Armed Force. The first case is that the world is so unstable that nations are bound to attack each other and therefore every state must raise a force to prevent an aggressor nation from having its own way. Under this assumption the nature and scale of the conflict cannot be specifically determined. Resource requirements for a force under this assumption will be of such a scale that very few nations can provide them. Defence is not the only priority of the state and to create an Armed Force under such an assumption may mean the subordination of all other priorities to the defence of the state. This is impossible and unless the state is to be organised like Sparta in Ancient Greece, a much more rational case will have to be found for raising an Armed Force.

The second case recognises the unstable nature of the world but accepts that there are specific threats which every nation must face and prepare against. The nature of these threats can be identified by regular analyses of inventions and capabilities of potential opponents and the nature of conflict the state may be engaged in.

Armed Forces have the following broad functional roles:

a. Strategic. This is the use of forces for world-wide interests. The strategic role can only be performed by the U.S.A. and USSR.

b. Deterrence. The use of the Armed Forces to deter an identified enemy e.g. NATO against the Warsaw Pact. It is envisaged that the existence of adequate Forces will deter the enemy from taking advantage of the state.

c. Law and Order. The use of an Armed Force to maintain or restore law and order within the state.

d. Modernization. The use of the Armed Forces technical capabilities to help modernize the nation.

e. Ceremonial. Parades and guards of honour. This is what most people see soldiers doing and tend to associate Armed Forces with.

f. Diplomatic, Intelligence and Communications. The use of military personnel and resources to provide aspects of these functions.

It is difficult to accept that the deterrence function has a real application for the Ghana Armed Forces, because we do not have an identified enemy. Even if we accept that our neighbours are our potential enemies, it is reasonable to expect that they do not have the means and resources to attack us nor do they have the intention. If we accept that capabilities must match intentions for a war making potential to be realised, then the most we can expect from them may perhaps be limited to border skirmishes of very limited duration, one which could very easily be diffused by diplomatic or political action. The functional roles of our armed forces will therefore be limited to c-f.

The fundamental problem for the politician and the military leadership in Ghana since independence is that they have not been able to identify the role areas of our Armed Forces. If they did, then the size and structure of our Armed Forces may have been radically different from what it is today. And perhaps the Ghana Armed Forces may not have found itself in a position where it can indulge its taste for intervention. Our colonial masters knew why they had forces in the Gold Coast; that is to use it as an instrument of internal control and to provide reserves for operational commitments in case of a conflict in which they might be involved.

It seems that the rationale for having an Armed Force in Ghana after independence had more to do with providing one of the trappings of a state than to system perform a distinctive role responsibility. Nkrumah's decision to expand the small army of three battalions to an Armed Force of about 40,000 men was founded more on his pan-African ambitions than as a result of an appreciation of Ghana's defence needs. This decision was to have ominous implications for the future stability of Ghana.

The expansion programme was a strain on the economy, just at a time when it had started to show signs of weaknesses. It also introduced into the Ghana Armed Forces manpower mat- erial the British have been successful in preventing. The British officer corps on secondment to the Ghana Armed Forces opposed this programme because they felt that there was no justification for it. Nkrumah was determined to pursue his expansion programme. This clash of views was one of the reasons why he dismissed all British officers and men from the Ghana Armed Forces in 1961.

It is interesting to note that the attitude of the Ghanaian officer corps then was one of enthusiastic support for the decision. It meant faster promotions and greater command responsibilities. Their experience scarcely matched the promotions and appointments they were given, once the British left. It must be noted that under the British plan for the Ghananization of our Armed Forces, Ghana would have had its first Ghanaian Chief of Defence Staff in 1975!

Despite feeble attempts at defining the specific roles of a rapidly expanding Armed Forces between 1961 and 1964, no one, least of all the military leadership, knew what operational uses the huge organisation being created was for, except perhaps what Nkrumah imagined. He himself was not particularly forthcoming on the subject, apart from references to the continental responsibilities of the Ghana Armed Forces. And that, as any professional would you, was a pipe dream.

The resources of Ghana could not support the estimated force of 40,000 men Nkrumah wanted. By 1965 the strains were beginning to show. The system was becoming overheated. Equipment and material could not be provided to support the 25,000 men who had been recruited and trained. The quality and calibre of those recruited was poor in several instances. The existing arrangements for the provision of the physical and spiritual needs of the soldier were under severe pressure.

In 1966 the expansion programme was suspended but it was resumed in less than six months. The NLC did not see the need for a pause and a review of the size and employment of our Armed Forces. It is not often realised how difficult it is for our men in uniform to accept that available resources cannot support the size of forces they want.

They interpret any possible reduction in our Armed Forces as loss of promotional prospects, prestige and reduction in their feeling of self-importance. Therefore when they are in power, our men in uniform cannot and will not countenance any re-organisation of the Armed Forces, even in the face of strong economic arguments.

It was in 1968 that the economic problems of Ghana forced them to look at the force levels of the Armed Forces. It was an opportunity for an exhaustive review of the size and roles of our Armed Forces. After the initial enthusiasm, the exercise was allowed to die. A few cosmetic changes were made but nothing substantial came of this exercise.

The Busia government ordered a review. This was founded on the need to reduce the size of the public expenditure. The review caused deep resentment among our men in uniform who saw it as an attack on the Armed Forces. There is no doubt that this was one of the motivating factors for the coup on 13th January 1972.

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