Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Youth vs Age, Soldiers vs Civilians... (Part 2)

False ingredients in Ghana's crisis

J.H. Mensah

In the September 23, 1985 issue of "Talking Drums" a writer, Ato Imbeah criticised the delegates conference of the Ghana Democratic Movement held in London, and generally took the politicians to task. In this conclusion, Mr J.H. Mensah, chairman of the Movement answers the issues raised in the controversial article..

In 1979, Makola market was seen by the soldiers and youth as a symbol of all that was wrong with civilians and the elder generation and it was dynamited. Today, it flourishes again amid the rubble and the worth of the market women has been realised.

Soldiers vs. Civilians:

It is now common ground among the vast majority of Ghanaians that the intervention of the Ghana Armed Forces in the nation's politics has on the whole been very detrimental and should not be repeated in the future. It should be noted at once that the majority of Ghanaian soldiers, both officers and other ranks, agree with this view and would like to be relieved especially of the opprobrium that attaches to all of them as a result of this latest and most disastrous intervention by the PNDC which was not even led by serving soldiers. So there is a basic unity between soldiers and civilians on the central political issue: Ghana must return to a civilian and democratic system of politics under a proper constitution, and soldiers must return to the profession of soldiering.

The evidence for our assessment of the prevailing point of view on these matters among soldiers is legion. By now one has almost lost count of the number of coup plots and actual assaults by dissatisfied soldiers that the Rawlings regime has had to deal with. Under the Acheampong regime the government could attempt to insulate soldiers from the general conditions of difficulty that beset the country. When there was a shortage of meat they could allocate a cow and many sheep to each camp on every market day to be sold at controlled prices; essential commodities were freely allocated in the barracks and often resold to civilians. But under Rawlings the soldier has not been insulated from the hardships facing the rest of Ghana because the collapse of the economy has been so total. And so now soldier and civilian both understand that they are in the same boat and that to save us all the pilot should be a proven, elected civilian, not a self-imposed gunman.

The evidence for our assessment of the prevailing point of view on these matters among soldiers is legion. By now one has almost lost count of the number of coups...

The GDM has adopted this point of view from the beginning. Soldiers and civilians are in this together. But the problem is that the manifest will of the majority cannot be realised because the PNDC are determined to hang on to power, if necessary by the most ruthless use of the gun. At the recent conference of the GDM we posed the question again: We all prefer the civilian, democratic alternative to the armed dictatorship of Rawlings. But "how is our alternative plan for Ghana to be achieved? And the hard reality behind that question is that Rawlings and Tsikata are prepared to use the most brutal violence to maintain their power and their system. They rely upon the gun: what can be our answer?"

Last year we proposed an answer to that question in the Independence Day message of the GDM:

" the officers and men of the Ghana Armed Forces and Police - avenge the disgrace that has been brought upon your profession by a small minority of undisciplined men; become once more the protectors of Ghanaians, not their aggressors; stand with the people to restore freedom and justice, to build a united and prosperous Ghana."

Against that we now have the advice of ex-Major Sokpor (Talking Drums Sept 23) to the Ghanaian soldier: "Our serving soldiers should... sit up and review their thinking. The other ranks especially should stop building one world for themselves and another for the officers and stick together because given the chance the politician will do away with them.."

The power hunger of a certain type of African military officer is by now a well- known phenomenon on our continent. Their favourite ploy is to take advantage of the inevitable economic difficulties that every country must face from time to time and to exploit the corporate spirit of their colleagues and the loyalty of their men. Every adult Ghanaian recalls the famous "even our few privileges" speech with which Acheampong enlisted the support of the Ghana Armed Forces for his coup in January 1972. What is less well known is the amount of such propaganda that had already been laid out along the same lines in preparation for that coup by officers of the type of Major Sokpor.

For example, in 1971 the world price of our all-important cocoa crop had fallen below £200 per ton (compare that with £1,800 per ton today). The government was having to impose restrictions on all branches of its spending, including spending on the Armed Forces. So when soldiers were bone-tired after a long march in the bush the subversive officers would tell them: "We would have taken you back to camp by trucks, but this wicked government of Dr Busia has cut our budget and there is no petrol." It is easy enough to see how that type of officer could exploit the corporate spirit and interests of the armed forces against the rest of society.

The source of the political ambitions of this type of soldier is also revealed in Major Sokpor's letter. It is the arrogant and completely unwarranted belief that, somehow, he is called upon and mandated to superintend the whole society and its government. Until the likes of Major Sokpor give up this dangerous delusion Ghana will know no peace.

And the depth of ignorance behind that type of attitude is shown by Sokpor's statement that "the conduct of the British politician is such that the British soldier has no cause to question it." He most probably had the opportunity to do a course at a British or Asian military academy at our expense before rising to the staff grade of Major. And yet he never learnt that the basic indoctrination of the British soldier is that, whatever his private views on public matters may be, his unquestioning duty is to obey lawful authority and to defend his country and its institutions.

Ask Major Sokpor: What kind of army will you have when every officer and soldier has to decide for himself whether to obey superior authority up to the government of the day, or to defy and overthrow it?

We in the GDM therefore categorically reject the argument of Major Sokpor and officers like him: "The image which the Ghanaian soldier has now acquired in the eyes of the Ghanaian politician therefore has been forced upon him. They resort to deceit, arrogance and try to stifle all opposition in order to remain in power. In the end the soldier as a part of society and therefore with a stake in society resorts to the unorthodox way of removing them from power. Who is then to blame?"

We say to Major Sokpor: "You are to blame for your complete ignorance of your role as a soldier - and for your consequent subversion and destruction of Ghana."

But we still come back to the proper role of the soldier in Ghana today. It is inescapable that if Rawlings and Tsikata will not give up power voluntarily then they will have to be forcibly removed with guns. But those who carry the avenging guns will also have to be soldiers who accept that Ghana should return to constitutional, civilian and democratic government supported by loyal armed forces. Having used the Ghana Armed Forces without the willing consent of the majority of soldiers to maintain themselves in power for nearly four years, Rawlings and Tsikata have now decided to bring the most senior serving officers - Arnold Quainoo and Mensah-Wood into the PNDC so that the Armed Forces will officially share the blame for all the wrongs that they have inflicted on Ghana.

If these officers retain their own professional discipline, and also listen to the views of their comrades, then they will know that their duty is not to settle down, grow fat and enjoy being members of the PNDC. Their duty is to protect the integrity and retrieve the image of the Ghana Armed Forces, by persuading the PNDC to remove the dictatorship of the gun and restore to Ghanaians their full human, civil and political rights.

There is still a chance to avoid in Ghana a final confrontation between soldiers and civilians as has happened in other countries. History teaches us that always in any such confrontation the civilian majority will eventually win. Even in the cruellest dictatorship like Argentina, the day of reckoning finally arrives. Ghanaians manifestly do not want any more of the Rawlings-Tsikata imposition And that leaves Arnold Quainoo and Mensah-Wood with just a little leeway to decide whether to be soldiers or to be political imposters.

In 1978 the senior officers in the SMC itself were perceptive enough to realise that the Ghana Armed Forces had overstayed its welcome, and backed away after the Unigov fiasco by removing Acheampong and setting in motion a programme for the return to civilian, constitutional government. In Nigeria in August, the officer corps similarly took steps to remove a military government that was fast driving towards a dangerous confrontation with most civilian groups. So far Col. Ewa has been content just to be a servant of Rawlings. One can only hope that Quainoo and Mensah-Wood have a wiser view of their duty to both the nation and the Ghana Armed Forces themselves. iv. The GDM and Political Parties: Some Ghanaians are reluctant to join the battle for the restoration of democracy under the banner of the Ghana Democratic Move- ment because they do not like the CPP or they hate Nkrumah's enemies in the UP, or they disapprove of all past political parties or individual politicians who have. in their eyes, committed this or that un- pardonable offence.

All such objections are completely beside the point. But they merit comment because they can become major obstacles in our fight to restore democracy in Ghana.

First, the GDM is NOT the agent of either the CPP/PNP or the UP/PP/PFP. The founding fathers of the GDM knew from the very beginning that the political parties of which they were leading members had been smashed by edict of Rawlings and Tsikata. And in any case the normal processes of competing for political power for which we use parties are no longer in operation. As shown in the August 1983 announcement quoted above the GDM has sought to political embrace every shade of political opinion subject only to an acceptance of the need for the restoration of democracy.

It follows also that the GDM is not itself a political party vying with other groups for power which is back in Ghana, not here in London. It is not clear whether Ato Imbeah attended the GDM Delegates Conference or only learnt about its proceedings second hand. But the one thing which none of the yesterday's men to whom he objects did at that conference was "calling on the youths of tomorrow to let them try again."

It is inevitable that many of the members of the GDM, being political activists by inclination or accident or choice, will involve themselves in politics again when constitutional rule is restored. And they will have to ask themselves who are the like-minded people with whom they will then want to be associated? There is no unanimity of opinion among members of the GDM on this issue, and one sees the need for much more open discussion.

Our colleague Mr A.S. Abban, who has sadly just died in exile, was perhaps instrumental than anybody else in the formation of the GDM. And he was one of the most senior and longest serving members of the CPP and its successor parties. Yet he was quite definite in his view that it would be undesirable, and perhaps not even politically feasible, to re-establish parties along the old CPP/UP division. There should be a fusion of the mainstream elements of both groups to form a broad based party which could give Ghana's politics that degree of stability and consensus which he saw as being of paramount importance.

On the other hand some people find it much more comfortable to operate within their old political associations. Indeed there are both CPP and UP adherents who will have nothing to do with their former colleagues because they have joined with people from the other side in the GDM.

Personally, I think Ghanaian politicians should be flexible and inventive enough to build whatever new institutions and alignments will best serve the needs of our times. The great leaders of the past will not think us worthy successors if we imprison ourselves in the political moulds which they fashioned to suit the needs of their times and in so doing damage our chances of success in rebuilding Ghana. It is not sufficiently known that in 1978, even while the new constitution was being written, senior members of the main parties were meeting under the chair- manship of the late Imoru Egala to fashion a common front against the forces of dictatorship. What happened there, and even the reasons why people eventually fell back into their old political alignments, persuade me that there are fruitful and exciting possibilities that must be fully explored in order to attain our goal of a free and prosperous Ghana.

The issues of age versus youth, soldiers versus civilians, CPP versus UP, are all potentially dangerous pitfalls in the path towards building a great nation. In some of the instances where differences are being emphasised as the basis for political action, attitude or association, we detect shallow thinking or even selfish motivation. In every other country it would be taken for granted that you need to com- bine the vigour of youth with the experience of age in order to run public affairs most efficiently. In every country that has achieved stability and progress soldiers identify with the general national interest and unquestionably accept civilian control. In country after country politicians faced with a grave national crisis have been able to recombine in new alignments to face it.

It cannot be different for Ghana. Differences there are and will remain. Our duty is to harmonise and reconcile, not to emphasise and aggravate them, or even to invent them where they do not exist. The GDM takes a clear stand in favour of UNITY and calls on all Ghanaians to rally around that principle.

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