Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Colonel Odjidja And The Ghana Military - A Rejoinder

Kodwo Mbir Bullard

When Ghana had its first coup in 1966, most Ghanains believed then, that because of the training which the soldiers had undergone and which was supposed to equip them with spartan qualities, corruption, maladministration and indiscipline were a thing of the past. But Ghanaians were in for a rude shock
The series of articles on "The Military Servants or Masters?" by Colonel Annor Odjidja in the Talking Drums issues of 23rd April, 30th April and 7th May, 1984, deserve comment.

In these articles Colonel Odjidja is brutally critical in his assessment of the role, function and relevance of the military in Ghana. To give just one example of what he thinks of the army, he writes, "It is clear that the size of the Ghana Armed Forces has no rele- vance to any specified operational needs. What we have today has grown from the relatively small colonial force without rhyme or reason" (April 16th, p.14). He says other things that are not at all complimentary of the profession that he had served with 'distinction' for the best part of his working life.

If Colonel Odjidja had written these articles in 1979 when he was the powerful Director of Military Intelligence, the thrust of these articles would have carried greater weight. These thoughts would have been taken as coming from a very serious-minded patriot who was genuinely concerned about the contradictions inherent in the profession that he loves so well, and the tremendous waste that the profession represents in view of the Ghanaians believed then, that because of the nation's economic plight.

But after being chased out of the Ghana Armed Forces and the country by his erstwhile victims, these comments sound very hollow, notwithstanding the basic truth that Odjidja espouses in the articles, i.e. the apparent uselessness of the Ghana Armed Forces and the need to do something about it.

He can NOW, from the relative comfort of London afford to write
"For a country that has serious economic problems, it is the height of naiveté for us to continue to expect that a large share of our limited resources should be allocated to our defence needs" (April 30th, p.16).
Since when did he adopt this anti military stance?

Has he become the Ghanaian equivalent of Robert S. McNamara who saw the light and virtues of peace and became an advocate for the oppressed in the Third World ONLY after he retired as the war-mongering Defence Secretary of the United States? It is obvious that since Colonel Odjidja no longer belongs to the profession, he can afford to castigate it. He has nothing to lose. This attitude reflects a lack of conviction and principles, qualities which are sadly abundant in the Ghana Armed Forces. According to Odjidja himself, the army has its fair share of "officers and men of doubtful calibre and quality" (April 16th, p.14).

A few of the things Odjidja says in the articles are new. For example, we did not know that under the British Plan for the Ghananization of the Armed Forces, Ghana would have had its first Ghanaian Chief of Defence Staff in 1975! There couldn't have been a more rational plan than that. Thanks to Nkrumah, we are saddled with an Armed Forces whose officer corps comprising Brigadiers, Major Generals and Colonels react to the sound of early morning machine-shots by either hiding under their beds or fleeing their homes and barracks disguised as women and hapless old men! They seldom stay to fight as soldiers worthy of the name.

Some of the 'Facts' he presents are seriously flawed and misplaced. I will give two examples. The first example deals with two 'myths'.

Colonel Odjidja mentions a popular misconception in Ghana which he thinks must be discarded. This miscon- ception is that "coup-makers are disciplined and patriotic, and have a high sense of selfless devotion to duty" (April 30th, p.14). It is true that this is a misconception, but his time frame is very much out of joint. When Ghana had its first coup in 1966, most Ghanaians believed THEN that because of the training which the soldiers had undergone and which was supposed to equip them with spartan qualities, corruption, maladministration and indiscipline were a thing of the past. But Ghanaians were in for a rude shock. Misconception Those who were familiar with the. tortuous histories of the Banana Republics in South America then, know that soldiers were no better than civilians in many respects. For most of us, three years after Kutu Acheampong had seized power, i.e. from 1975 onwards, the MYTH of the selfless and patriotic soldier had been completely destroyed. So the misconception that Col. Odjidja is talking about ceased to exist nearly a decade ago!

The second myth that he writes about and which he disclaims is that people believe that the soldiers possess skills and qualities which make for efficiency etc. Apart from perhaps the medical doctors who serve very ably in military hospitals, the only other contribution soldiers make and which the average citizen sees and appreciates is the occasional bailey bridge that the engineering corps put up when permanent bridges get broken or are washed away by floods.

As regards their promotion of a sense of national identity, nothing could be further from the truth. Afrifa's regime reinforced the cleavage between the CPP and NLM-UP elements in the society. Acheampong's policies heightened class antagonisms within the society when he actively encouraged the rapid growth of the 'nouveau riches' - senior army officers turned farmers, senior bureaucrats and women contractors - on the one hand and the rest of society on the other. Acheampong could not even unite the military itself, the very institution which was supposed to possess the unifying quality! Selfish Motives The second example relates to the personal and selfish motives that have motivated the successful coups that have taken place in Ghana. Indeed, the coup makers themselves never disguised that fact and made that abundantly clear in their first major speeches when they were announcing their respective coups. Afrifa admitted that he and his fellow officers did not want to go to Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, to fight Nkrumah's imperialist battles for him. They preferred the relative peace and comfort of a peace- time non-fighting army.

Kutu Acheampong complained that even the few amenities that Nkrumah left the army were taken away by Busia. His coup was therefore to restore those lost benefits.

As regards Jerry Rawlings' 1981 coup, the blame should be placed squarely on Colonel Odjidja's shoulders. Odjidja and his Military Intelligence outfit brutally harassed and hounded Rawlings between October 1979 and December 1981. The inept Council of State also stood by helplessly while Rawlings, a former Head of State, who had at the time done so much to raise morale and hope in the whole nation, was hounded by Odjidja. The council should accept some responsibility and blame for Rawlings' coup.

Rawlings wanted to save his skin from the torturous hands of Odjidja when he pulled off his coup in 1981. This message was clear when bo lon rights on the radio during the early hours of the morning of 31st December, 1981.

Ghana would have been spared the TRAUMA that it is presently undergoing if Col. Odjidja had performed differently as Director of Military Intelligence, and if he had heeded what some sections of the free press wrote then about what was happening in Ghana and the treatment being meted out to Rawlings under Limann. I am sure Col. Odjidja would argue that he was merely doing his duty as Director of Intelligence. Irony This excuse does not hold any water in the light of his present effusions in the pages of Talking Drums. He did not care about public opinion then, local or foreign. Odjidja's letter 'Reporting Ghana' in Talking Drums of May 7th, 1984 is a little piece of irony. As director of Military Intelligence, every means was justified in the name of 'national security'. As far as Odjidja was concerned, the journalists and masses did not know what they were talking about.

This is the same attitude that post-1981 Jerry Rawlings and his PNDC are adopting and Odjidja can not blame them for this. He dare not! But for Odjidja, Limann and the Council of State, Rawlings would still be running his farm in the Eastern Region, or serving as Limann's Minister for Youth Mobilization and National Development. He would therefore not have had the chance to wreak the havoc that he is presently causing on the whole nation as Ghana's idealistic Head of State, a twentieth century Jeroboam.
Editor's Note: Without any prejudice to the sentiments expressed by Mr. Kodwo Mbir Bullard, it might be worth pointing out that it was well known in Ghana that the Council of State and its Chairman Mr. William Ofori-Atta did try to get the former Head of State Rawlings into the mainstream of Ghana politics. If they failed, it was not for want of trying.

Whether Flt-Lt. Rawlings would have been serving as Limann's Minister for Youth Mobilization and National Development, if he had not been harrassed by the Military Intelligence, it might be recalled that Rawlings announced on many public occasions...

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