Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

The day after: the military in government

Abdulai Alhassan

This study is based on the assumption that the plot to overthrow the civilian government has succeeded and a military government is in place. It is also based on analyses of military governments, past and present, in Africa.

In the early sixties, Herman Kahn, the American mathematician and strate- gist, set down his thoughts in two books on thermonuclear war. When these were published, he was attacked, not so much for the logic of his presen- tations, as the fact that he dared write about the unthinkable. Try as he did in explaining that his purpose was to help decision-makers understand and so be better able to manage the nuclear crisis, his critics accused him of seeking to suggest that nuclear war was winnable and that he was no more than a mad professor.

The question of the military role in African politics evokes similar reactions. The writer on this subject is likely to be savaged by the protagonists of military rule if he dares challenge the claims of the soldiers. On the other hand he will be smothered by rapturous applause by those who hate the military involvement in politics. After more than two decades of such inter- ventions, we are nowhere near understanding this military role. It seems to me that this is an appropriate time to begin to analyse the military factor in government; if only because we cannot continue to argue on false assumptions or be in the dark about what some will have us accept as esoteric. Those who support the military rule syndrome must be prepared to let us know not only the real justifications for the soldiers in government but also the implications. Those who oppose it must appreciate why the military should not be involved in the essentially political problem of effective government in post independent Africa.

Our armed forces refuse to accept their neutrality in politics which is what it would be in the state. They argue that they have the right to intervene whenever their perceptions of the situation demand it. They claim they have special qualities for solving national problems. These claims would not have counted for much, were it not for the fact that they have the guns to back their bid for leadership in the state. It is on the basis of their special claims that this analysis of the military perform-ance in government is conducted.

This study is based on the assumption that the plot to overthrow the civilian government has succeeded and a military government is in place. It is also based on analyses of military governments, past and present, in Africa.

The immediate success of the coup does not guarantee its stability. The new military government will have to take actions to consolidate their success. These are:

The legal dissolution of the civilian government and its replacement by a military government.

The new government's assumption of legislative, executive and judicial powers. The imposition of security restrictions on individuals, organisations and the whole country.

The effective control of the media and the management of news and other items of information that flow therefrom.

The purge from the public administ- ration of known and suspected opponents.

The purge of key appointments in the Armed Forces.

The insertion of the military government's supporters and sympathisers in key and strategic sectors of the public administration and the armed forces.

Use of the soldiers' political supporters to whip up popular support. This is necessary to demonstrate that the new rulers are in control and to secure eventual diplomatic recognition. The control of the economic and financial systems.

Securing the support of other key members of the public administration and armed forces who have not been purged, by the implied threat of the use of force.

Once the military government achieves the above, they settle to rule the country. If no overt opposition materialises in the short-term, some of the security restrictions are lifted but others are made permanent fixtures of military rule. Sometimes the above do not go according to plan and there may be moments of confusion but once key sections of the armed forces support the coup, the initial problems associ- ared with the takeover can be easily defused.

The following are some distinctive features of military rule:

All military regimes are totalitarian and therefore anti-democratic, even though the personal political liberties allowed may vary from place to place.

There are no conceivable limits on the powers that a military government exercises.

Military regimes have no legitimacy, even though they try to justify this by claims to the moral inevitability of their take-over action.

The effectiveness of a military regime owes more to its capability to use force to compel acquiescence.

The military control of the national institutional framework is not total. It is concentrated in key and strategic sectors of the national administration.

The military rulers depend on an intricate web of sympathisers, public servants and soldiers to ensure their dominance of the administrative structures of the state.

Absolute loyalty to the military regime is demanded, any perceived challenge to the supremacy of the regime is ruthlessly dealt with.

To govern the country, a military committee of all the coup-makers and invited persons is established. This is the hub of the military administration. It exercises overall legislative, executive and judiciary controls over the national institutional framework.

There is a second-tier administrative body which acts as a Cabinet and whose members are assigned ministerial portfolios. Some members of the military committee also belong to this body and hold ministerial responsibili- ties - particularly in the areas of defence, interior, national security and information. For the purpose of co-ordination, members of the military committee regularly meet with this body. This Cabinet normally meets under the chairmanship of the Head of the Military Committee, but there are cases where a member of the Cabinet is nominated to co-ordinate its activities.
There is a small group of advisers who guide the military government through the minefields of national administration. This group is made up of those who provided the soldiers with the motivation and justification for the coup...
The Cabinet is responsible for the day to day administration of the country. Other soldiers and civilians are appointed as regional representatives of the military regime and to run public corporations. Special committees or bodies are also established to carry out specified tasks.

The impression one forms of a military administration is a hierarchi- cal organisation, in typical military fashion, with clear lines of authority. responsibility and co-ordination. The organisation of a military government is simply rule by committee. This may, however, undergo substantial changes, as we shall see later.

There is a small group of advisers who guide the military government through the minefields of national administration. This group is initially made up of people who provided the soldiers with the motivation and justification for the coup. They advise on the formulation and initiation of policies, pronouncement, decrees, policy changes, the sequestration of assets and properties that are the marked features of the early phases of military rule. There are other advisers.

They are:

Personal friends of the coup leaders who assume a measure of political influence in government.

Senior members of the public service who must guide the new regime in the workings of the government machinery.

The groupies - the men and women who love to see soldiers in power and rush in to hang around the corridors of power to offer their advice and services, and act as cheerleaders for the regime.

Note that all these advisers have their own ideas as to what is to be done. There is the inevitable clash of ideas between these groups once the euphoria of success is over. As the military rulers themselves are inexperienced, these divisions in the advisory group ensure a fair amount of confusion and lack of direction in the military government. Because of their control of public information and their intimate knowledge of the decision-making processes, the public servants come out on top in the end. The rise to influence of the public servants signals the end of the dominant role of the initial group of key advisers.

Some leave, but others remain to become permanent fixtures of the regime. Those who leave because they are out of favour, may form a source of opposition to the regime. They may ally themselves with the first casualties of power struggles within the regime and wait for an opportune moment to strike against the military government.

No other crisis concentrates the minds and energies of soldiers in government more than the threats of their removal. The installation of a military government, however, acceler- ates the inevitability of counter-coups. The appetite for power which in a constitutional and democratic frame- work, can be satisfied through political manoeuvering, campaigns for popular support, and political timings, can only be achieved through the whims and fancies of the ruling military elite, when the guns rule.

For the soldier whose ambitions are frustrated or unrealisable, the realistic course of action is to orchestrate a counter-move to remove the existing regime and so achieve his aims. Thus the theory that violence or the threat of violence, is the only operative and effective means for effecting change in this military environment. The rate and frequency of counter-coups and attempted coups are in direct proportion to the inability of soldiers to achieve their ambitions and the length of time a military government continues to stay in power. A military regime is therefore compelled to devote time, resources and energy to the prevention of such attempts.

After sometime, a struggle for power commences between various factions on the ruling junta. The prize? Who is to be the unchallenged leader of the regime. The initial rule by a collective leadership wilts under the impact of claims by the various members for the primary role in the government. It invariably involves the chairman of the military committee who feels he must become the strongman if he is to be seen as a credible leader. Almost always this view is challenged by those factions with the real clout. There may be the invisible strongman on the committee whose move to assert his leadership heralds this struggle. There may be others who may wish for the preservation of the collective responsibility. The struggle for power may be peaceful and behind the scenes but there have been cases where the issue has been resolved by violence.

Next week: The disillusion sets in.

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