Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Why soldiers are back in the Rawlings administration

By a correspondent

After mounting a slick public relations campaign to give the impression that the PNDC was no military government but a revolutionary regime brought to power on the back of public acclaim, Rawlings is now packing his administration with soldiers. This article explains why.
Last year the Ghana government announced the appointment of two senior Ghanaian army officers, Maj-General Arnold Quainoo and Brigadier Mensah-Wood, as members of the PNDC. These appointments underlined the growing influence of the military in Ghana in recent times. They came after a series of appointments of serving and retired officers to sensitive and important public positions in 1984 and 1985. The irony of these appointments was that four years into Ghana's so-called revolution, the military now dominate affairs in Ghana; after years of listening to Rawlings' claim that his was no military regime.

So what brought the soldiers back into fashion? It is a moot point to say whether the military were ever out of the corridors of power. From the moment Rawlings and his supporters overthrew the civilian government, many soldiers were deployed to the government machinery and revolutionary organs to help consolidate the take-over.

As the PNDC settled down and the revolutionary left among the coterie of advisers around the PNDC and Rawlings in particular sought to widen their influence to all reaches of the national administration, this military presence was reduced somewhat to certain specialised agencies under the PNDC. Most of the soldiers were withdrawn. It is significant to note that after the resignations or retirement of the CDS, Brigadier Joe Nunoo- Mensah and other military men from the PNDC, civilians were rather appointed to replace them.

A very slick public relations campaign was mounted to give the impression that the PNDC was no military government, but a revolutionary regime brought to power on the back of public acclaim and very much responsive to popular opinion. The military presence, however much reduced, was still powerful enough to ensure that no major decisions could be taken without the approval of the soldiers. But there were elements in the government who were suspicious of the soldiers and sought to make sure that their influence was curtailed.

The return of the soldiers in numbers to government coincided with the rise in influence of the Force Commander, General Quainoo, who felt that if things were to be properly run, then there was the need to bring into government a dose of military expertise. He had another reason. He wanted to resettle many of the officers and men he had retired from the Ghana Armed Forces. Being the man that he was, he wanted to retain the goodwill of these retired soldiers for the future. Rawlings himself was also reported to have been very much disappointed with the contribution of those he had person- ally recommended for public office and thought that a military input into the national administration will achieve decisive results.

The eminence grise of the PNDC, Kojo Tsikata, was of the view that some soldiers in government would undoubtedly yield beneficial results as the PNDC entered its fourth year in office. There was another factor behind the military's return. This was that certain elements within the armed forces had begun to demand their share of the spoils of office for the support they had given Rawlings and his cronies from December 1981.

This pressure could no longer be resisted if the regime was to continue to count on their support. A considerable amount of the officers brought into the government could also be said to be Kojo Tsikata's men, as most were either con- temporaries at Sandhurst, personal friends or those who had served with him in some units during his chequered career in the Ghana Armed Forces.

To make the above acceptable to their revolutionary friends abroad, Rawlings and his cronies stressed that the paucity of professional expertise in Ghana made the military presence inevitable and used the example of Ethiopia as proof that soldiers in government did not mean that a govern- ment like the PNDC had abandoned its revolutionary credentials. But whatever gloss they put on this, it could not hide the fact that the soldiers were back in style and that the proclaimed character of the Ghana revolution was completely changed.

Where were these soldiers deployed? Apart from the PNDC itself, they were to be found in the regional administrations, public boards and corporations. A con- siderable number of these military men were sent to work in the offices of the PNDC to handle sensitive economic and security issues, either as heads of task forces in the Castle or to work directly to the triumvirate of Rawlings, Quainoo, Tsikata. This group initially included Mr Justice Annan, but there are indications to suggest that he has lost much of his earlier influence, once he had succeeded in bringing a measure of respectability to the PNDC.

Of all the recent appointments of military men or ex-soldiers, the most significant was that of Lt-Col. (Rtd) E.K.T. Donkor as Chief of Staff to the PNDC. His appointment should be seen as part of a major effort to use his organisational skills and experience to end the confusion and disorganisation at the PNDC office, consequent on the sacking of virtually the whole of the old Cabinet Office staff. It would be interest- ing to see what he makes of his new assignment at the Castle. His success in his new job may well depend on how well he handles the prima donnas of the PNDC Secretariat who have developed their own ideas on how the PNDC should be run.

Of these cronies of Rawlings, the most important is Colonel Mensah Gbedemah. A former member of the AFRC, he was brought over from the U.K. at the instance of Rawlings himself, so it was said, to act as a counterweight to the pervasive influence of Kojo Tsikata to whom he is reported to be antipathetic. Reports from very reliable sources speak of him as the most powerful man now, after J.J. Rawlings. A measure of his closeness to Rawlings can be gauged from the report that as soon as he arrived in Ghana he was promoted from retired Major to full Colonel. It is said that he was to have been made a Brigadier, but for reservations from the senior command of the Armed Forces. Obviously a man to watch in the future.

There are signs now that soldiers are being brought into government in increas- ing numbers. The emphasis is on retired military men so, as the argument goes, to prevent jealousies developing between military officeholders and those of their erstwhile colleagues in the barracks. But this problem, one which raises its head when soldiers seize power, is unlikely to go away. If anything at all, the return of the retired soldiers has caused resentment among serving soldiers and could be a cause for future trouble.

To defuse this problem, attempts have been made to bring serving officers and men into the government. And to counter the charge that this regime has become an officers' government, efforts are being made to allow other ranks to take part in the disciplining of troops so as to confer on them a feeling that they are participat- ing in the administration of the Armed Forces.

It is against this background that the decision to give all ranks in the armed forces political education should be understood. The purpose of this decision was ostensibly to enable the soldiers appreciate the process and the difficulties of government. In reality this was to try and win their loyalty and support. Given their daily grind to make ends meet, political education may well have the opposite effect of driving them into mutiny.

To defuse the problem, attempts have been made to bring serving officers and men into the government. And to counter the charge that this regime has become an officer's government, efforts are being made to allow other ranks to take part in the disciplining of troops so as to confer to them a feeling that they are participating in the administration

Available evidence suggests that more military men will be brought into govern- ment this year, whenever the opportunity occurs. We are therefore likely to see a return to the styles of previous military governments - the unintended consequences of this so-called revolution. As the problems in Ghana multiply, expect this syndrome to increase in scope.

The problem for Rawlings and his acolytes will be how to assuage the feelings of officers and men who have not been given any jobs; and how to prevent this from growing into a possible motivation for action against the PNDC.

Rawlings and his advisers are, however, said to be confident that they can counter any military threat to their survival. So confident in fact, that they are said to have openly challenged anyone to dare over- throw them. This confidence is based on the extensive security arrangements the PNDC is known to have made to thwart any coup attempt.

But this emphasis on security may pose a problem for the PNDC itself. The security machine Rawlings has created can and will throw challengers to him. As repression is intensified in Ghana, the influence of this organisation grows in proportion as the Rawlings dictatorship takes firm hold. Due to internal pressures and a growing sense of their power, they may be tempted to substitute the ruling group in Ghana with themselves.

The ostentatious consumption displayed by the new class of military office holders is breeding resentment in the barracks and among the population at large. This is understandable, given the rather difficult existence most soldiers and workers manage to eke out these days. If the economic situation continues to deteriorate, expect trouble of such violent intensity involving all Ghanaians, as to dwarf previous incidents. The mix for a potentially large explosion in Ghana exist.

Unfortunately for Rawlings and his soldier governors plus their civilian supporters, this is something they appear not to notice. They don't even care about what is happening. They are so sure that when trouble comes, they will be able to defeat it with their bewildering array of modern weapons. History has always found a way of deflating such overconfidence

talking drums 1986-02-03 Demonstrations in Accra against Rawlings's economic measures