It is troubling that issues on national security and defence usually attract heated politicization among leading political figures and political parties in Ghana. Particularly, the deployment of the Ghana Armed Forces within the territorial borders of Ghana generates controversies and reignite memories of brutalities that were unleashed on Ghanaians during the period of military rule.
Recent examples of controversies of the deployment of the military are the military-police joint task force codenamed, Operation Vanguard to combat galamsey, the joint police-military deployment to enforce lockdown rules as part of measures to curb the spread of Covid-19 a few months ago, and the continuous joint deployment of the military and immigration service to defend and enforce the lockdown of the national borders.
The heated debates in the past week on the joint deployment of the military and the immigration service in the Volta Region, in particular, is the most recent example of the persistent national problem of the everyday politicization of national security. The NDC has criticized the government and led the politicization of the deployment ostensibly to energize its own political base in the region.
It is unfortunate that in spite of the transition to democratic governance and the relative political stability it has engendered as compared to some African states and years of rigorous activities to improve civil-military relations, the Ghanaian military, particularly the army is still perceived by some Ghanaian publics as an object of brute force, or if you will, a suppressor and abuser of human rights. Even more worrying is what appears to be the public perception of the military as a tool of the ruling government to further its own agenda.
This state of affairs does not only tarnish the image of the men and women in uniform but constitute a threat to human and national security. It can likely undermine the morale of the military to defend the state as much as the lack of trust of the military in itself is a threat to the civil liberties of Ghanaians. This, to a very large extent, is a self-inflicted wound which if not treated would fester and threaten the very existence of the Ghanaian state.
To be sure, the root of the problem is not the existence of the military itself but rather the disinterest of any government since independence to develop a Comprehensive and Coherent National Defence Policy document that clearly identifies potential national security threats and articulate the indispensable role of the military in protecting and defending the territorial borders and international security interests of Ghana.
In other words, a defence policy document provides the basis for meaningful discussions and understanding of security issues of the state and the role of the military to combat threats. I must add that a defence policy document can separately be developed but must be linked to a country’s foreign policy document which provides the overall policy direction and strategic focus of the state in the global arena.
Sadly, no Ghanaian government since independence has ever developed and made public a foreign policy document. This state of affairs is particularly worrying given that the existence of the military has been taken for granted and the good people of Ghana are invited to only assume its role without any clear reference to publicized policy documents on why the military exists and the role it plays in the governance of the state. This lacuna in the governance system is partly responsible for persistent politicization of security issues in Ghana.
A national defence policy document provides both short-term and long-term strategic vision of the state. It identifies persistent security challenges and emerging threats to the interests of the state and the investments that the state will make to building the capabilities of the military and other security agencies to combat the threats at the domestic and international levels. To be more precise, we can categorize these threats into conventional threats such as military aggression from other states, and non-conventional threats including acts of terrorism, pandemics, environmental disasters, and illicit trafficking of weapons and human beings.
Moreover, a national defence policy document must clearly articulate existing domestic and foreign partnerships and what the military will likely develop to secure the state, and uphold its international responsibilities. Given that Ghana is an active member of the international society one would have expected that subsequent governments will make it a priority to develop comprehensive and coherent policy documents that are revised periodically to reflect the security needs of the state and the role the military will play.
This is not the first time I am raising the issue of the lack thereof and the need to craft a comprehensive national defence policy document and make it public to Ghanaians. Some readers may recall that at the height of the debate about the leaked Agreement between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Republic of Ghana on Defence Cooperation, the status of United States Forces, and Access to and Use of Agreed Facilities and Areas in the Republic of Ghana in March 2018, I wrote an article which was published by several media houses and drew the attention of the government and the public to this matter.
In fact, JoyNews took my arguments seriously when Samson Lardy Anyenini discussed it on the widely respected Newsfile programme on March 24, 2018. In this particular episode the Minister of Defence, Hon. Dominic Nitiwul admitted that Ghana doesn’t have a comprehensive defence policy document but assured the public that one was being developed. It is very surprising that the document has not been publicized after two years. We do not even known whether such a policy document has indeed been developed or finalized.
A cursory look at the website of the Ministry of Defence reveals the lack of seriousness that this service agency the state gives to the idea of a defence policy document. Although the ministry does not rank its functions in terms of priority, it is surprising that its policy-making role, which is the bedrock of the functioning of the Ghana Armed Forces, is listed second on a haphazard list of functions on its website.
According to the website, the Ministry of Defence works “… in close collaboration with the National Security Council and the Armed Forces Council to formulate National Defence Policies relating to peace-keeping, internal and external security and the total defence of the nation”. None of these sub-policies, in the form of a document, is available on the ministry’s website.
The government cannot assume that the public should know what Ghana’s defence policy is and be able to make an informed analysis of same and whenever there is military deployment in the state or foreign lands when they cannot make reference to existing comprehensive defence policy documents. I must state unequivocally that a national defence policy document is not a secret document. In principle, it is different from intelligence gathering which for the most part occurs in secrecy.
To be sure, intelligence informs the state’s execution of defence policy goals. Using the current controversy of the deployment of soldiers on the borders as an example, keen observers of national security and defence will have little difficulty in assuming correctly that the deployment is premised on good and actionable intelligence. Yet, they would be right to raise concerns due to the lack of clearly defined and articulated national defence policy.
The crafting of a comprehensive national defence policy document will go a long way to limit the overt politicization of national security issues and the deployment of the Ghana Armed Forces to combat domestic and international security threats. Among other things, it will provide information and inform discussions of the threats Ghana face. The existence of a document and the information therein, first, will provide certainty and some level of predictability of the deployment of the military to combat threats.
Second, it will provide assurances of the civilian control of the military in Ghana’s fledgeling democracy and the pursuit of national interests. Indeed, Article 57(1) of the 1992 Constitution makes the president the commander-in-chief of the Ghana Armed Forces. Third, a defence policy document will provide transparency in the operations of the military as the public will have foreknowledge of the basis of their deployment.
Finally, a defence policy document is an important education material for the training of students and the general public on the role of the military, and more importantly why the idea of national security must be taken seriously as a matter of high politics and above everyday politicking. A national security policy document will help researchers to make meaningful contributions to its continuous reform to meet the security needs of the country. In short, as public education material, it will help to limit the needless and persistent politicization of national security issues.
In the run-up to the 2020 general elections, I strongly encourage all the contesting political parties as a matter of urgency to come out with clear plans of crafting and publicizing a national defence policy document. This document must be an integral part of Ghana’s foreign policy document. Let this become one of the serious issues of debate and provide the Ghanaian voter with an opportunity to assess the plans and determine which of the political parties can be trusted as a good custodian of the military to defend the territorial integrity and security of Ghanaians.
Edward Akuffo is an associate professor of international security and international relations at the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada. These are his views and do not represent the view of his affiliated institution.