Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

The day after: the military in government

Abdulai Alhassan.

It is often stated that the armed forces bring discipline and efficiency into the administration of our countries. But the fact that armed forces seize power, in spite of their oath of allegiance to the civilian authority, is in itself an act of indiscipline. This is the conclusion of the article first published last week.
There are two organisations, however, whose support the military government will have to cultivate if it is to stabilise its rule. These are the Public Service and the Armed Forces.

The public servants are aware that once they satisfy the military rulers' needs in the administration of the country, their authority, positions and privileges will be guaranteed. The soldiers are convinced that without the cooperation of the public servants, their administration will be inured to failure. Provided they do not cross swords with the soldiers or their personal advisers on major substantive policy issues, the public servants are free to do as they choose.

It has been said that public servants take to military rule like ducks to water because under the soldiers they can wield great political power and influence. They cannot be challenged or criticised by a vigilant legislature or press, nor are they ever likely to be told to confine their activities to policy implementation.

Despite their initial noises, the soldiers have no great reforming ideas of their own, except what the public servants or their advisers suggest to them. This recognition of each other's powers and limitations ensures a situation of mutual dependability.

Thus when the shouting, threatening and "immediate action" phase of the military administration is over, it is easy to observe that the soldiers are as dull as the public bureaucrats. This is because they depend on the public service in a way no civilian political administration ever would, or should.

The most significant constituency of the military government is the Armed Forces. Without their support, the soldiers in government will cease to exist. Military support is dependent on the satisfaction of the armed forces demands expressed in the acquisition of more weapons and equipment for the forces, the recruitment of more soldiers to beef up the strength of the armed forces, the improvement of service pay and allowances, the provision of extra material perks, the appointment of officers and men to man sectors of the public administration, the increased allocation of financial resources to the defence budget.

The military government is careful not to antagonise key sections of the Armed Forces. It seeks to be seen to be taking the advice of the armed services on major issues. Some military regimes go as far as setting up organisations to institutionalise this form of advice. A military government is usually over- thrown because:

The military regime has managed to antagonise key sections of the Armed Forces, creating conditions for change.

Lost touch with the situation in the Armed Forces.

Sections of the Armed Forces feel confident and powerful enough to challenge the primacy of the existing regime.

Sections of the Armed Forces also want to enjoy political power and the fruits of office.

To this extent the Armed Forces remain the most powerful pressure group in the state.

The soldiers in the government, therefore, make sure that they effectively control the Armed Forces to the extent that they cannot be subverted and used by its opponents. The military regime may also establish counter-forces such as a militia, special forces or strengthen the national police force to dilute the weight of their dependence on the Armed Forces or have the capability to defeat any challenge from the Armed Forces.

In this situation, however, whoever wins the battle for the hearts and minds of the Armed Forces holds the key to power in the state.

It is often stated that the armed forces bring discipline and efficiency into the administration of our countries. To the extent that this view describes how the military perceive their own special qualities, this may be true. But the fact that Armed Forces seize power, in spite of their oath of allegiance to the civilian authority, is in itself an act of indiscipline. Once in power, the military make so many compromises in the formulation and implementation of their own policies, firstly to accommodate powerful interests, secondly to appease their supporters that rather than ensure discipline, their actions accentuate indiscipline.

The claim of efficiency often ignores the fact that since the Armed Forces are part of the society in which they exist, their levels of efficiency reflect the levels attainable in the society as a whole. The efficiency skills of the Armed Forces must, therefore, be no higher or lower than the society's expectations of the national norm.

Otherwise our soldiers have to come from an entirely different society. Thus when the drilling and instant orders phase is over, it is evident that the soldiers are not supermen, and that they make the same miscalculations, suffer the same misfortunes and commit the same mistakes as those they overthrew.

If the Armed Forces are imbued with more efficient management skills than those available in the society, they need not resort to the use of force. No good manager ever does, because the real essence of management is the use of skills, means and measures to motivate a group to achieve defined and effective results. In this sense the military men fail because they use coercive methods which only breed fear and encourage apathy.

Whatever one may say, all military governments are apolitical. They may make political sounds but years of military training breed in them habits and attitudes which are unsuitable for the essentially political environment they enter. There is not much difference between seemingly right and left- wing regimes, because soldiers in government are suspicious of politics and ideologies. They may use political and ideological languages for tactical reasons but as soon as their governments are stable, they jettison these for their own perceptions of governing. They have a basic conservatism which is founded on their orientation and ethos. Note how after a time, all military governments, despite their professed political coloration, appear similar in their attitude and approach to government and the solutions they apply to national problems.

The claim of efficiency often ignores the fact that since the Armed Forces are part of the society in which they exist, their levels of efficiency reflects the levels attainable in the society

All our military governments regard their countries as big barracks to be commanded into action. Unfortunat- ely, since the people they rule do not have the same military reactive attitude to orders, it is difficult for them to accept these commands. This is a central problem for our military rulers. When they see this rejection of their orders, they act out their frustrations by giving more orders and introducing new laws designed to show the people the country in a state of tension. Apparently this state of tension compels the people into acquiescing their rule. It helps keep government and the Armed Forces on their toes, ready to face any possible threats to their survival. It also creates the atmosphere which enables the military government to organise campaigns and "wars" that have become an accepted feature of military rule.

Our military governments abhor situations which weaken their political and economic powers. When these occur, they are likely to intervene in the political and economic spheres, creating huge political and economic entities. These creations enhance their power, because they concentrate controls in public institutions that can be easily manipulated. In this sense they attempt a militarisation of the society to conform to their perceptions of the country as a military camp. The direct consequence of this is the erection of bureaucratic regimes which add extra layers to the already burden- some administration structures in our state.

The balance sheet of performance of our military regimes, seen in the histor- ical examples of more than two decades of military intervention in Africa, is anything but satisfactory. The liabilities of military rule have generally outweighed its benefits. When our soldiers leave government or are forced to leave, the problems of economic deprivation, corruption and other ills which they have often used as justification for their interventions remain. In many cases they even increase in virulence. The efforts of our soldiers in government can not, therefore, underpin the reasons for their activist role in our politics. The ends they have so far achieved do not justify the means they have used. The submission of the people to the military's dictates.

The use of force to settle political issues.

Turbulence in the national institutional framework.

The weakening of civilian institutional structures and the paralysis of free political life.

The acceptance of limitations on economic activity.

The growth of a politically-minded soldier class with claims to leadership in the state.

If we are prepared to accept these costs of military rule, then the soldiers should be invited to assume power or whenever they feel like doing so.

If not, then we must work hard to establish a political culture which accepts the primacy of civilian rule. No one said that this was going to be easy. they are still in charge and also to keep It requires years of nurturing and the learning of bitter truths and acquired experience. If, on the other hand, we allow the considerable problems associated with the development of civilian, democratic society to seem un- surmountable and defeat our best efforts, then the guns will continue to rule and we will have abdicated our rights to the soldiers, perhaps forever. There is no knowing what cataclysmic consequences a future anchored to permanent military rule will bring on us.

The question that should engage the minds of our present and future civilian political leadership should be: Do we see a future free from the grip of our Armed Forces? This is central to the problem of civil-military relation- ships in our societies. The answers they provide will determine the future of civilian rule or the permanence of the military rule syndrome

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