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06.11.2008 Feature Article

Coup d'État: The Melody of Cowardly Soldiers!

Coup d'État: The Melody of Cowardly Soldiers!

No matter what one calls it, coup d'état, mutiny, putsch, sedition, uprising ― cowardly soldiers call it revolution ― I prefer to call it rebellion or treason, because it is an ugly thing, really ― such an event is unquestionably a horrific transformation, or transmogrification, of life in any nation, crystallizing in a mélange of intended and unintended consequences. Military takeovers, by design, are bloody and coercive, because an entire nation is forced to surrender its will and tenets of governance to a parochial, ambitious, egotistic ― but generally unqualified and undisciplined ― group of men whose objective simply may be to taste power. To appeal for legitimacy, however, successful putschists tend to immediately roll out a litany of propaganda to evince the “necessity” and “appropriateness” of their course of action. Ghana's history, forlornly, is replete with one coup d'état after another, and it was not until the early 1990s that pressure was finally brought to bear on those then ruling the country by force of arms to return it to majority rule via the ballot box.

A mutiny is analogous to the invasion of a town by thugs, who then suspend the rule of law and drag the town's leaders ― the chieftain and his elders ― to jail without the benefit of a fair hearing, or due process. Which of us would, if the playing field were level, allow a stranger to march into our homes, seize our wives and children and personal property, and then order us out into the cold and unfriendly streets, with a stern warning that should we return, we might end up with a few bullets in our craniums? Successful mutineers are exactly that, taking away the hard work and security of fathers and providers, and turning society on its head via the barrel of the gun, the latter an instrument of terror that is, paradoxically, paid for by the taxpayers!

So, before we call for another coup d'état in Ghana, before we blindly embolden another group of undisciplined and supercilious soldiers to subvert our constitutional rule, under the pretext of freeing the nation from “inept leadership” and “corruption,” we must seriously examine the consequences of such an occurrence, if history is not to be repeated. Let us face it: Soldiers are trained at huge public expense to protect the country primarily from foreign aggression. That said, every soldier at graduation takes an oath to uphold the constitution and to obey his commander-in-chief, the nation's president, so any soldier who veers off and takes part in an abortive attempt to derail the nation's democratic system has committed high treason and should be sentenced to death, after a thorough and fair trial in a competent court of law, which is why having an independent judiciary should be a no-brainer.

Of course, the first successful revolt in postcolonial Ghana was that led by General Kotoka against Ghana's first president, Kwame Nkrumah. While some would justify the mutiny even to the peril of their lives, others simply cannot accept any type of forceful removal of a constitutional government. So, Nkrumah's overthrow continues to be a niggling problem for the scholar and the ordinary man alike, with each person taking an unequivocally recalcitrant stand as to whether or not the Kotoka-led coup d'état was justifiable. Those who argue that the nation's first successful coup d'état was unavoidable point to Nkrumah's pursuit of absolute power and the mistreatment of political prisoners under the Preventive Detention Act, resulting in the death of a particularly important man, J.B. Danquah; those who argue against the putsch point to the fact that Nkrumah would have eventually been removed from office via the ballot box by an electorate whose understanding of the dynamics of power and democratic governance was growing rapidly. And then there are those who are ambivalent about the events of 1966. Irrespective of where each person stood on this continuum of analysis, we cannot truly argue for a permanent democratic dispensation, unless we, even amid the pangs of obvious injustice in days of yore, accept the painful fact that military intervention cannot be the way forward for a modern nation.

Ghana's first successful coup d'état essentially opened the doors to subsequent ones, as soldiers soon realized that they could come to power quite easily, provided they could whip up negative sentiments among the citizenry against the ruling political class, or even against fellow soldiers in power. It was not surprising, therefore, when in 1969 Akwasi Afrifa, just three years after the Kotoka-led coup, installed himself head of state. And while there was a general election later that year, which ushered in another democratic government headed by Abrefa Busia, this new democratic experiment would not last, as, having tasted and enjoyed the trappings of illegitimate power, another group of soldiers, led by Ignatius Acheampong, would seize power in 1972 and, once again, throw the country back into “medieval” times. To prove that there could not be any foolproof alliances of any kind in the upper echelons of the military, Acheampong's own right hand man, F.W.K. Akuffo, who, perhaps, after waiting impatiently for his turn to taste power, would knock off his boss in a bloodless coup in 1978 and take over the reins of governance. That Acheampong became a traveling prisoner, a victim of man's insatiable greed and quest for power, is a well-known fact: Acheampong was moved around from place to place, although he was not physically harmed. By the way, I was lucky enough to have met Acheampong face-to-face a few months before his overthrow!

Had Ghana's history of rebellions ended with F.W.K. Akuffo's military adventurism, I believe that the nation would have healed after a few years. But following the 1978 mutiny would be the one led by Jerry Rawlings, the bloodiest of all the mutinies in the nation's history, after Rawlings had earlier been freed from captivity by a group of his junior officer friends ― at the time Rawlings was on trial for the abortive May 15, 1979, uprising. With his good looks and captivating oratory, Rawlings would ride on the fears of a timid and acquiescent populace ― yes, we were all guilty of not standing up to Rawlings at that time! ― and supervise the killing of some former heads of state and other senior military officers, under trumped-up charges and without due process.

So egregious were those killings that Ghanaians have up to today remained divided along tribal lines somewhat, as the majority of those killed were of Akan lineage. And yet still, Ghanaians may have been willing to look the other way, had Rawlings honored his promise to never usurp power again, after handing over to a constitutionally elected government in late 1979, headed by Hilla Limann. But Rawlings' notoriety will soon be unleashed on unsuspecting Ghanaians one more time! Personally, to see how Hilla Limann was humiliated by this covey of self-absorbed soldiers still remains a vexing issue for me. Like an unanticipated flood, Rawlings' waters of narcissism would drown many an unsuspecting Ghanaian, and the few who navigated to shore would require many years to recuperate.

That Rawlings would usurp the people's power, by overthrowing a popularly elected government was nothing but treason, punishable by death. I really do not care if one military government knocks off another; after all, it is a case of the monkey outsmarting the orangutan in the arena of craftiness. But to subvert a government of the people, for the people and by the people is unpardonably grievous, and can only confirm Rawlings' self-importance and sordid belief that he was, somehow, ordained by some oracle to rule Ghanaians in perpetuity. By 1992, however, Ghanaians once again freely spoke their minds, associated with one another without the fear of disappearing in the middle of the night, and pursued a new fight for self-determination. While Election 1992 turned out to be the beginning of another eight years of a Jerry Rawlings dynasty, albeit a legitimate one, people were by now clamoring for a new face, which they finally got in John Kufuor in 2000. I recently wrote an article in which I suggested to the Rawlingses ― Jerry and Nana Konadu ― to retire from active politics, because their presence on the national stage continually evokes bad memories for many, but I doubt if they will ever listen to anyone!

Yes, Rawlings deserves some credit too. He supervised a peaceful transfer of power to John Kufuor, the first in the nation's history of one popularly elected president handing over to another freely elected leader. And when Kufuor was re-elected in 2004, he became the first president of Ghana, without a military background, to have served a full four-year term and then resumed a second and final one. Yes, the preceding may not have been possible without Rawlings' active participation in the new culture of democracy in the country. But even as Rawlings enjoys his retirement, his relentless assaults on the sensibilities of Ghanaians, via his tirades and angry outbursts, continue to stoke the embers of bitterness in many, especially those citizens who lost everything in those dark days of the Rawlings-led military regimes. If indeed we are reasonable people, then we ought to comport ourselves before, during and after Election 2008, so as not to give any group of cowardly soldiers another excuse to sabotage our democracy.

We ought to constantly remind our military officers and men that they are trained with the taxpayers' money to defend the nation's sovereignty, not to engage in the usurpation of the people's power. While they are also citizens of Ghana, and are free to individually contest the presidency, none can do so in military uniform. Ghanaians no longer want to be ruled by self-appointed, self-righteous military adventurists, who will, under the pretext of some imaginary reformation, bulldoze their way to the seat of political power. We would rather be ruled by an “imperfect” leader we have collectively chosen, than by a “saintly,” self-appointed, priggish tyrant who comes to power by force of arms.

The writer, Daniel K. Pryce, holds a master's degree in public administration from George Mason University, U.S.A. He is a member of the national honor society for public affairs and administration in the U.S.A. He can be reached at [email protected]

Daniel K. Pryce
Daniel K. Pryce, © 2008

This author has authored 105 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: DanielKPryce

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