Role of the military in modern African states –Case of Ghana

Thu, 8 Sep 2011 Source: Sakyi, Kwesi Atta


by Kwesi Atta Sakyi

Recent events in Ivory Coast, Tunisia, Egypt and Sudan have put in focus the role of the military complex in the internal affairs in a country. Soldiers are not politicians as they are an appendage of the Executive arm of government for protecting the territorial integrity of a country as well as instruments for external aggression. Soldiers complement the work of other state security agents such as the police, the secret service, customs, immigration and the prisons. Basically, soldiers are trained to fight wars to safeguard the territorial integrity and sovereignty. They are as well appendages for promoting the foreign policy of the superpowers. When it comes to the poor developing countries such as are found in Africa, the role of the military assumes a limited focus because of lack of resources. It is expected that top military leaders should be highly educated and trained professionally to be independent, non-partisan and of high national integrity. However, most times the military in Africa face conflicts of interest and ethical dilemmas. The military per se is an agent of the state and they are expected to be loyal first to the state and second to the government in power. Unfortunately in Africa, our military leaders lack professional independence because of poverty. They are often bought and in the pockets of incumbent governments who pay them and appoint them. Be that as it may, it is the thesis of this paper that our military in Africa need to be placed professionally to play a greater role in governance. To achieve the aim of making the military professional and independent, it will require some constitutional amendments to entrench their neutrality and independence. For example, in the recent case of Ivory Coast, the military stood for Laurent Gbagbo who was alleged by the international community to have lost the general elections in November 2010 to his rival, Alhassan Quattara. This was a drama which required careful analysis. In Egypt, the military was deployed onto the streets of Cairo but they declared that they would not use force against unarmed citizens. What a show of decency and high level of professionalism in line with the UN 1948 Charter of Universal Human Rights! The same scenario had earlier on played out in Tunis where the President, a former military man, had held on to power for three decades. Lord Acton once said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. History is replete with myriad examples of military men who metamorphosed into civilian presidents and then went on to overstay their welcome. Cases in point are Mobutu, Abacha, Mengistu, Ben Ali, Mubarak, J.J. Rawlings, among others. Military rule is referred to as khakistocracy or draconian rule where decrees, edicts and fiats are the order of the day. Leadership has many facets. We have situational leaders in history such as Napoleon, Churchill, Stalin, Hitler, Lenin, Oliver Cromwell, Rawlings, Mandela, among many others. Some scholars believe in born leaders or the traits theory. Others believe in contingency theory of leadership. Adherents of this school of thought include Burns and Stalker, and Fiedler. John Adair adopts a pragmatic approach to leadership known as action-centred leadership where leaders have to consider the total situation of the needs of their followers, the task at hand, and the needs of the organization.

In our current situation in Africa where our development needs are legion, we need political stability to achieve our national goals. In South Korea for instance, after the Korean War in the early 1950s, and at the beginning of the Cold War, they had a complex military oligarchy that teamed up with local businessmen to set up complicated business complexes called the chaebol. That period of military leadership and huge FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) from the USA and Japan helped to lay the foundation for their emergence as a modernized industrial giant. I am calling on our military in Africa to seek the best education possible and to act professionally whenever there is a political crisis such as the ones in Egypt, Tunisia and Ivory Coast. They must not act blindly as always the public and national interest should be uppermost in their minds. They should jealously guard our national assets from foreign encroachment and domination and they should not be allowed to be drawn into partisan politics and to be used as rubber stamps or stooges. Total obedience should be to the state and not to individuals. Ghana has recently struck oil and we hope our army, navy and airforce will be sufficiently equipped to protect our strategic assets from encroachers and saboteurs.


The military should keep to their traditional roles of defending our territorial sovereignty, peace keeping, responding to national emergencies and disasters as well as working tirelessly to protect national strategic assets. The Ghana army has in the past distinguished itself in UN Peacekeeping operations in places such as the Congo, Kosovo, Rwanda, Lebanon, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Sudan, among others. Above all, our Ghana military should adopt the helicopter factor of rising above partisan politics so that they can discharge their national remit to the best of their professional excellence and in accord with best practice. It is important for the military in Africa to reach out to the citizens through public relations and sensitization campaigns about their role. THEY NEED TO CONSTANTLY GO ON ROUTE MARCHES to attract to themselves the youth who will like to join them and sometimes, they need to carry out some public relations exercises like open days and fairs to sell themselves to the public and achieve some intercourse and interaction.. They need to be having in their ranks personnel who are politically educated to impart to them some knowledge about political science, economics and universal human rights. They also need geopolitical studies. Not being a soldier myself, perhaps it is preposterous for me to assume that our soldiers are not being offered these courses. If they are, then they need to apply themselves well to these areas in order to have balanced view of issues. It is said that the soldier is not trained to think but rather trained to obey and command. However, in our modern complex world, we need soldiers who can both obey and think. Our soldiers should approach issues constructively and in an enlightened manner. It is important for the government to increase funding to the Ghana military to increase learning opportunities for them, either in our local universities or for them to pursue advanced courses in overseas institutions so that they can broaden their horizons. They need to be properly equipped with modern technology so that they can perform to their optimum best. In this day and age when public private partnerships are common, there could be exchange of programmes between personnel in the military and those in public institutions as well as private sector organizations. Gone are the days when West Africa became notorious for military coup d’états. That era is gone as we look forward to more democratic and legally established procedures for effecting changes in governance. This is the age of placing premium on human security. Human security includes the security of the individual from unlawful arrest and detention, from repression for holding certain political views, from deprivations of basic needs such as food, clothing and shelter. Our soldiers should be deployed in nation building to ensure food security, internal security from armed robbers, and marauders such as the Fulani Janjaweeds. Experience and hindsight teaches us that the military could become worse dictators when they assume the reins of power and so it is better for them to pursue their noble careers of keeping and enforcing the peace. In doing so, they need resources. They also need political correctness on the part of our national leaders so that they are not tempted to step in through the bullet rather than the ballot. Our gallant soldiers in Ghana have distinguished themselves in many fields of endeavour on the international stage as peacekeepers. Now we have to look inward (“Dzi wo fie asem”) to see what they can do to help mother Ghana. I think the government should tap their expertise in drawing up civilian plans such as construction of public roads and infrastructure, railways, irrigation canals, storm drainage systems, surveying and cadastral mapping, among others. Some soldiers can be seconded to private sector areas such as the mines and inland revenue authority so that they can instil some discipline in them. We need their services most at the grassroots, especially in the dysfunctioning District Assemblies. We doff off our hats to our gallant men and women of valour who have helped immensely in the past in carrying out with distinction, such noble national assignments such us constructing bailey bridges during floods, evacuating cocoa beans locked up in the hinterland, quelling riots in the mines, ferrying returnees to safety during wars in neighbouring countries, and countless national assignments, both covert and overt.

Kwesi Atta Sakyi

Columnist: Sakyi, Kwesi Atta