BNI -Bureau Of National Intimidations?

Mon, 15 Mar 2010 Source: Guure, Brown

The Case For A National Security Strategy.

Guure Brown Guure



Sometime this time last year the Bureau of National Investigations (BNI) came under sustained serious criticism regarding its handling of former members of the Kufuor administration. These concerns which were largely generated by alleged procedural infractions on the part of the BNI were hardly surprising or unexpected to many.

There were similar incidents in 2001 after the Kufuor led government took over. But the question is, is this phenomenon sustainable? Can we/ must we continue to have a security agency such as the BNI embroiled in political mudslinging every time there is a change of government? Quite curiously why doesn’t the agency ever do same to serving members of a sitting government? Answers to these may be found by working around the null hypothesis that the structure, philosophy and methodologies employed by the BNI are anachronistic and do not fit into the current democratic discourse. In a context of profound (and ongoing) political change that has left virtually no institution in the public domain unscathed, Intelligence continues to be excluded from both the democratisation and security sector reform (SSR) agendas. SSR has not received any serious consideration since the passage of the Security and Intelligence Agencies Act of 1996.

It appears governments across time are aware of the inadequacies of the intelligence agencies. But the interesting thing is that when in government, it is often a preferred strategy to do nothing but complain like a patient when in opposition of intimidation. This is due in part to a seemingly pervasive belief that democratic controls will reduce the agencies’ effectiveness and thus governments grip on national security.

In a clear condescension of the Security and Intelligence Agencies Act (Act 526), presidents across time (except president Kufuor for a brief period) failed to appoint a minister for national security. In his maiden state of the nation address, president Mills only devoted a forty-nine word passage to this very important issue- promising a “…series of durbars with the officers and men of the Ghana Armed Forces, the Police Service, the Prison Service and the CEPS to elicit from them directly and at firsthand what their concerns and needs are”. This could hardly be referred to as a national security strategy.

Clearly, government has always lacked and still lacks a clear and coherent view of the nature and priority of risks to the country. Sadly we approach security issues in a fairly ad hoc, reactive and disinterested manner rather than in a strategically coordinated fashion. The Ohene Gyan and Babayara stadium disasters in 2001 and 2009 respectively are cases in point. Government remains structured around functions and services with separate budgets for defence, foreign affairs, policing and intelligence. Intelligence agencies and the forces that make up the security system have changed very little since the beginning of the Fourth Republic. Our intelligence agency- the BNI is often accused of being a poodle of the government of the day thus used to harass, intimidate and embarrass elements of the opposition. To the opposition therefore, the agency is not that of national investigations: instead, it is the “Bureau of National Intimidations”. That the BNI is not a state institution but a ‘government tool’ is not only a literary saying but a truism.

That is to say our national security architecture is flawed in design and has yet to adapt to the twenty-first century. Existing habits of thought and institutions remain powerfully conditioned by the concept that dominated security thinking during the coup d’états days. This is aptly typified by existing security arrangements such as the twenty four hour military presence at the GBC, the concentration of our police force in barracks and quarters and the provision of close protection to every minister and deputy minister in the country, to name but a few. This model may have suited the security environment of the 1960s/ 70s and 80s when the then governments were under constant threat of a coup by disgruntled military adventurists. The complex and uncertain security environment that prevails today demands a fundamental paradigm shift: a shift more in favour of what is now commonly referred to as ‘human security’.

Traditionally the term 'security' was almost monopolised by the academic discipline of security studies. Little effort, (if any) was made to conceptualise security beyond militaristic terms. Militia-Politicians employed it in a rather narrow sense, which happened to correspond to the way analyst tended to use the word, i.e. as almost synonymous with military supremacy. In a sense, the more military power, or rather the more loyal the military personnel, the more secure a country/government was. This was at the height of what Dr Kwesi Aning calls the “endemic process of militarisation” in our country. This was a period where the threat of or actual military ‘take-over’ could not be denied nor the dangers of a civil war underestimated. Now, the coup era has been hallowed out, giving way for other issues to claim security status.

Now the essential question is should we continue to concentrate our attention and resolve on the security of the state? If so, whose security should we be highlighting and from what threat? The discourse of ‘security’ should assert the primacy of the ordinary individual. Security is essentially, human emancipation which should logically be given precedence in our thinking over the mainstream themes of power and order. Emancipation here should not be confused with Bob Marley’s de-westernisation concept but simply freeing people from those constraints that stop them from carrying out what freely they would choose to do, of which civil conflict, poverty, oppression, discrimination and poor education are a few. When thousands of children are selling ‘pure water’ on our roads, they are exposed to two security dangers: not going to school and getting education and the risk of being knocked down by a motor vehicle. These poor kids surely need to be emancipated! Security and emancipation are in fact two sides of the same coin. In other terms, only a process of emancipation can make the prospect of security more likely.

The common threat of a military coup has been replaced by a plethora of security challenges such as trafficking and organised crime, energy security, environmental degradation, pandemics, corruption, poverty, inequality and what I call ‘the road terror’: in view of the motor collisions that have occurred on our roads in recent times. They are dangers that are present, clear and pressing. The government remains faced with these set of problems it cannot solve on its own. In order to respond to the new security paradigm, Ghana’s national security must adapt, not just in terms of processes and structures but in the mindsets of ministers and civil servants. At the same time, it must develop close relationships with the private sector and the wider public, and overcome the challenges of transparency, information sharing and trust. However our problem is further exacerbated by the reality that national security issues remain a subject for a small group of individuals in government. Such is the aura surrounding national security, and the perception that individuals working in the area of national security have an expertise above and beyond other civil servants; that it has been rare for questions to be raised about the state of the national security architecture, especially the BNI- whether it is fit for purpose and what reforms may be necessary.

It appears recent reviews into the capacity of the security architecture have largely resulted in extra resources i.e. TATA pick-ups, 4×4s and Peugeot 605s for the police and intelligence agencies rather than reform. However, although few would question the necessity of these extra resources, the national security architecture lie less with constraints over resources than with the seeming inability of the architecture to reform in light of new security challenges that confront us. So what needs to be done? The following recommendations should suffice if government is to respond to the security issues that are unbounded in time, scope and resources:

? there is the need for a holistic approach to national security, based on systems thinking, which allows individuals, agencies and departments to take a much broader perspective than normal; this includes seeing overall structures, patterns and cycles in systems, rather than identifying only specific events or policy options.

? Government must, as a matter of urgency, adopt a national security strategy that has the potential to transform the way in which government approaches security issues. This document should clearly identify three to five most serious and immediate priorities for our national security community. Currently there is a growing concern that the BNI is steeped in a high level of secrecy to acquire confidential information through the use of intrusive measures; abuse its powers to infringe civil liberties, harass the government’s opponents, favour or prejudice political parties and leaders and thereby subvert democracy. This perception is perhaps due in part to the lack of a clearly articulated account of what national security is and the value it creates for the individual and society in general.

? Government must appoint a minister for national security to take overall political responsibility of the intelligence and security of Ghana.

? The post of ‘spokesperson’ should be created and based in the Bureau of National Investigations: the situation where ministers and government spokespersons speak for the BNI stimulates the perception that the agency is indeed a ‘government’ rather than ‘state’ institution. Furthermore, it is in the mutual interest of both government and the BNI that government extricate itself from operations of the BNI.

? Governance, human rights and the rule of law must be made an integral part of the training of personnel and agents of the national security apparatus. Haplessly our law enforcement agencies are still using anachronistic methods in their duties, oblivious to the fact that we are now in a new system- a liberal democracy, where due process and the rule of law must always prevail.

? And finally, for the purposes of oversight and accountability, a parliamentary select committee on intelligence and national security should be created – bringing together existing select committees that focus on Ghana national interests, security and defence policy. The government must allocate more resources to parliamentary select committees including a panel of national security experts who can be called on to undertake investigations in specialist areas.

The above suggestions are made based on the premise that interestingly, while many have abhorred the archaic norms and practices of the BNI, not a single call has been noted thus far by this author for the disbandment of the agency. The government and indeed the BNI may take solace in this as a clear indication of the public appreciation of the importance of an intelligence agency in our country. However, as the Greek born philosopher Jean Jacque Rousseau rightly opined three centuries ago “... any covenant which stipulated absolute dominion for one party and absolute obedience for the other would be illogical and nugatory.” Elucidating the extent to which pronouncements such as the above helped Rousseau invoke the inviolability of personal ideals against the powers of the state and the pressures of society is beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it however to declare that so long as the BNI (national security) remains in its current Kafkaesque form, the long winding circle of political tit-for-tart is bound to endure.

Columnist: Guure, Brown