Opinions Thu, 17 Dec 2009

Disband The Ghana Armed Forces

The majority of countries around the globe have armed forces to protect their sovereignty and citizenry from external aggression. In many of these countries, the armed forces have justified their importance by their patriotism and professionalism. The heroic rescue of Jewish hostages from their captors in Uganda by the Israeli Defense Force, the repulsion of US aggression by the Vietnamese Army, and the defeat of Ugandan troops in Tanzania are quick references to the importance of the military to some countries. For others like Ghana, the armed forces have not only become a fifth wheel but an albatross and must be disbanded.

The call for the disbandment of the Ghana Armed Forces is motivated by several questions. Should we continue to maintain an army in a sub-region where the threat or prospect of external aggression has never existed for over half a century, not to mention that relations with neighboring states have largely been cordial with no territorial disputes? Apart from its own citizens, which enemy have the bullets of the army killed since independence? Should we tolerate an institution that exits ostensibly to protect our sovereignty, but whose occupation has largely been usurpation of political power and molestation of citizens? Should we accommodate a military that, perhaps, is ready to be civil only when it is earning peacekeeping dollars outside the shores of our land? Is it fair, just and logical to spend taxpayer’s money on an institution that has not only scored zero on patriotism, but has virtually betrayed the cause of its existence? A Frankenstein institution, if you like.

Since 1966 the Ghana Armed Forces has acquired a reputation that is dreaded by many because of atrocities it has committed against defenseless citizens. The argument that elements in the army, not the institution, committed atrocities must be ignored with megawatts of contempt. Isn’t the outright dismissal of recent stories about military brutality by the military high command, before video recordings shattered its credibility, a quintessential example of institutional patronage of wrongdoing and the established permissiveness of atrocious conduct among the rank and file? Where was the institution when innocent citizens, perceived to be enemies of fatuous revolutions, were brutalized in barracks across the country after each successful military coup? What about the period in our history when junior officers in the army wreaked untold havoc on the national psyche after seizing power in a bloody coup and went without punishment? That rape, torture, extra-judicial murder, and gross indignities like stripping of citizens can be perpetrated by personnel of the armed forces under democratic rule portrays the military as a coprolitic institution that has survived the organic process of decay to the detriment of society. Without reservations, the Ghana Armed Forces has become a grotesque anachronism in the midst of civilization.

What about the argument that the discovery of oil in Ghana makes the military indispensable? Doesn’t the experience of oil-rich Nigeria justify the maintenance of the armed forces? Such arguments, in the words of George Orwell, only try to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. Those who take refuge under the Nigerian experience only demonstrate that they are either ignorant about how problems in the Niger Delta arose, or are incapable of learning from the lessons of history. The fundamental problem with the Niger Delta, in one sentence, is that of transparency from the very beginning of oil exploration in Nigeria. People in the oil-rich Delta believe, justifiably or not, that they have been short changed in the distribution of the oil wealth. Granted that we humans are insatiable under any circumstances, there would have been less incentive for an armed conflict had there been transparency at the outset. By the way, what has fighting done to resolve the problems in the Delta? After years of hostilities, rebels and the government are at the negotiating table.

Costa-Rica is a luminous example of the few countries around the world without an army. In a December, 2003 article published in the Daily Times of Pakistan, Economist Ahmad Faruqui says that Costa-Rica, boarded in the north and south by the battle-scarred nations of Nicaragua and Panama, has functioned without an army since 1949. He says: “Abolishing the army has…..established Costa Rica’s neutrality in the region; no aggressor would think of attacking a militarily weaker neighbor, for fear of provoking international condemnation. Finally, abolishing the army has freed funds for human, economic and social development.” Similar examples could be cited but for lack of space and the gravitational pull of issues to be addressed in the remaining paragraphs of this article. How about the spectre of over 12,000 jobless soldiers suddenly unleashed on the country with the disbandment of the armed forces? Wouldn’t that create a frightening social problem for the nation? Protagonists of this argument jump the gun. To begin with, nobody is recommending disbandment of the military overnight. Putting a freeze on recruitment and cutting back government expenditure over a number of years are ways of arriving at our destination. These actions carefully synchronized with the gradual release or retirement of reasonable numbers of personnel provides an additional way. A strong case could also be presented to our donor partners for grants to support the exercise. This should allow personnel to be comfortably settled in a way that would make them feel respected and fairly treated. And of course, there are the examples of Costa-Rica and others to follow.

The incongruous juxtaposition of military brutality with the rights guaranteed under our constitution is a contradiction that must not be allowed to stand. It is time to disband an army that strips us naked, stick guns in our mouths, and subjects us to horrifying beatings and insults. It is time to disband an army that has entrenched a pernicious culture of indiscipline and errant behavior as its prominent insignias. It is time to disband an army whose guns are pointed at its own citizens for want of an aggressor. It is time to disband an army whose beginning was out of circumstances that, perhaps, make it an instrument of oppression than protection. It is time to disband an army that represents nothing but a vortex of negative energy that sucks everything else. It is time for Ghana to don the robe of iconoclasm – the enemy of senseless imitation and thoughtless conformity – and braze the trail to a new Africa that is totally demilitarized. Only we in Ghana can do it.

Let me make a final appeal. If the military, or anybody, is so provoked to respond, let it do so only with words, or even insults, but not with threats or live ammunition. My intention is not to seek martyrdom, though I don’t expect to stir the hornet’s nest and walk away free. Since I have made no subject a taboo, I shall riposte appropriately to any deserving rejoinder with additional arguments and facts exquisitely expressed with kaleidoscopic combinations of adjectives.

Author: Akwasi Yeboah, Tema. crypto_icon@yahoo.com

Columnist: Yeboah, Akwasi