New Ghanaian

Little Voice from the Forest – Behold Ghana (4)- love, peace, and harmony: democracy, military, youth

Papa Badu Donkoh


20 November 2023

Democracy in Search of Meaning – Coups and Their Celebrants

Since 2020, there have been six coups in West African countries: Mali, Niger, Guinea, Burkina Faso. Gabon – Central Africa – also had one recently. Some countries have had multiple coups. Recent survey by Afrobarometer showed that 53 percent of people across 36 African countries will consider a military government while only 38 percent are satisfied with democracy. A poll, by Premise Data, after the Niger coup found around 60 percent of respondents endorsed the coup and opposed intervention by ECOWAS including economic sanctions. Only Nigerians favoured economic sanctions – Ghanaians were evenly split (Economist, 24th August 2023). These are chilling messages.

These protests should be a splash of iced water on the face moment for Africa’s political class. They have been more interested in the letter of democracy (elections and a charade of institutions) but shown little enthusiasm for spirit of democracy – democracy lite’. Africans want freedom to explore and use their resources (personal and social) to develop themselves and their countries. They shouldn’t be treated shabbily, they deserve better than what they are getting from their arrogant and pilfering leaders. ECOWAS need to develop warning systems to identify early institutional malfunctions and abuses. It should rebuke (in public, where appropriate) governments who undermine institutions, offer support where needed, and enforce sanctions on recalcitrant governments. Ordinary people throughout West Africa have been scathing about the performance of ECOWAS in responding to initial concerns about institutions abuses in Mali, Niger, and Guinea. ECOWAS should be conscious of happenings in Sierra Leone, Togo, and Côte d’Ivoire and act with alacrity.

Proponents of the current craze for coups are right when they point to the sins of democracy’ and question  its benefits. They call for a benevolent dictator, whatever that is, no one knows. Do they mean Museveni, Obiang, Biya or Kagame? These leaders have been at the helm of countries for more than two decades but have little glory to show. Obiang has presided over Equatorial Guinea, a petrostate, for over four decades, enriching his family, with no significant improvement in the lives of Equatorial Guineans. Biya’s rule in Cameron is a basket case. Museveni, a USA and western darling in the 1990s, with his non-partisan elections mantra, has turned out to be a massive failure, wiping up dangerous sentiments in his last attempt to cling on to power. Kagame is in  a class of his because of the very different context of Rwanda, but even here the verdict is open. Sure ‘democracy’ as currently practiced in Africa has fallen short of its espoused goodness – security, rule of law and freedom have been hampered; economic progress have been glacial; unemployment (particularly among the teeming youth) has worsened, with people unable to meet basic survival needs. The political elites have captured the state and enriched themselves and the few politically connected – stifling aspirations of the youth. But before they popped their priced Dom Pérignons admirers would need to pause and ask themselves, what good has ever come out from the numerous coups of the past. 


Some say Mohamed Bazoum’s (deposed President) push for governance reforms and changes in the security echelons rattled the military establishment. The army chief had been sacked, investigations into the misappropriation of half of the defence budget ($125 million) by senior military leaders had commenced, and General Tani (coup leader) was likely to be relieved of his post. Bazoum was not without blemish – benefited from the machinations of his predecessor president and mentor. The main opposition candidate was disqualified by the constitutional court (after the electoral laws were changed) – he had a one year jail sentence for adopting trafficked children. Nonetheless, insurgents and Jihadists attacks were reducing, Bazoum had started engaging with political actors, although there was general dislike of France’s presence in Niger. The reasons put forward by General Tani were bogus and post event thoughts. He was smart to tune up the dial on the pent up anger of Nigerien activists on the presence and outsized influence of France in Niger (not uncommon in west Africa). Reminds one of Ghana’s National Liberation Council (aka Notorious Liars Council)fronted by General Ankrah and Afrifa. In spite of these (Bazoum’s shortfalls and the military’s charges) the cosmopolitan elites in Niamey (not natural allies of Bazoum) and ordinary people came out against the coup (reportedly more than the widely beamed coup supporters on TVs). ECOWAS was right regarding military intervention, although it should have been part of the menu of interventions and a last resort. 

Burkina Faso and Mali

The military regimes in Burkina Faso and Mali have not performed better than the civilians they chucked out. Jihadists attacks and incursions have increased displacing and further impoverishing many people. Safe movement by traders, including those from neighbouring countries, has been subverted by attackers. ECOWAS leaders may need to rethink their position on these countries – new strategy and agreement. However strict their opposition to the regimes and their machinations, they should temper this with the plight of the people (displacement and impoverishment) and the danger of further Jihadists incursion further deep in the region (Benin, Togo, Côte d’Ivoire). Positively, Malians are likely to go to the polls in 2024 – a referendum in June overwhelmingly approved a new constitution. The Burkinabe, Captain Ibrahim Traore, seems determined to help his people and should be engaged.

Love, Peace and Harmony – Military Brutality is Bad

Recent acts of brazen indiscipline and abuse of authority by the military are worrying. The military, an epitome of valour and professionalism, is eroding the goodwill and respect accorded it by society, by the self destructive path it is taking. Cruelties exhibited in Ejura, Wa, Bawku, Garu-Tempane-Bugre, and Ashaiman are abhorrent  and unbefitting the standards required of a high class military establishment. The silence of the Ghana Bar Association and respected statesmen, including the venerable human rights lawyer and lay preacher, Sam Okudzeto (who is fond of touting his human rights credentials during the PNDC era) is alarming. The military high command have no other choice but to lay down a demonstrable route to redemption. It is their duty to do so. That said, the denigrating comments made by analysts, in relation to the Ghana army’s readiness and capability to be deployed by ECOWAS, at the onset of the Niger crisis, were undeserving and appalling. 

On another level, the military can become an important source of foreign exchange (far more than it generates now) and a tool of soft power for Ghana (Osagyefo’s original plan), once they put their act together. Rwanda is going this way, with troops in Mozambique, Central African Republic (CAR), and soon Benin. It is portraying itself as an alternative to mercenary groups like Wagner and others, selling its troops as African, well trained, battle ready and experienced in guerrilla war and bush fighting. In so doing they earning money and influence on the continent and among international partners. Rwanda gets $8.5 million dollars a month from the UN for 6000 troops on UN assignments, payment from in kind or cash from client countries ($22 million from the European Union for Mozambique, mining concessions in CAR). France recently increased its foreign aid to Rwanda from single digit millions(€4 million) to triple digits (€500 million) – suspects for helping fight Jihadists terrorising TotalEnergies investment in Mozambique. Ghana’s population is more than twice that of Rwanda but Rwanda has an army size twice that of Ghana’s. A push for a larger army that commensurates with Ghana’s population size could help reduce unemployment, professionalise the army, expose the army to real world combat (battle readiness) and foreign exchange that can be used to procure modern equipments and facilities (including housing) for the army. Although, Ghana has the fourth largest military in west Africa, it is 40 percent less than Cote d’vioire’s and only 25 percent bigger than Togo’s. 

Young Hearts Run Free – Fix the Country 

The opposition to the demonstrations of youth fighting against causes of social justice is not new. The old order, who are often beneficiaries of the status quo or have been frustrated in their attempt for change and have accepted the status quo, tend to be sceptical of youth agitations. Old civil rights leaders were sceptical about Black Lives Matter protests and dismissed them. Barrack Obama’s run for the presidency of the US was initially scoffed at by the old civil rights establishment including Jesse Jackson (remember his hot mic incident?). The police response to the ‘Occupy Julorbi House’ demonstrations organised by Democracy Hub is not different from the British police response to the hunger marches of 1932. Liberty was founded in 1934, as a response to police brutalities towards protesters. The council for civil liberties had organised signatures from who’s who in the British liberal circles to act as responsible and neutral legal observers on the next marches in 1934. The signatories included Clement Atlee, who later became one of Britain’s most successful prime ministers. Liberty is now the largest civil liberties organisation in the UK, having won many landmark human rights cases in court. Among the leading politicians who have passed through Liberty include: Robin Cook, Harriet Harman, Patricia Hewitt, Sharmishta Chakrabarti. To Democarcy Hub and youth of Ghana keep on dreaming for that dream shall surely manifest. 

Black Sheriff, the young talented musician, was right when he wondered aloud how money from reparations (the President’s UN speech – 21st September 2024) will be used when there is nothing substantial to show for the billions of dollars collected as revenue, loans and grants over the past years. Wofa Kwaku Baako’s belittling response (‘ignorance glorified’) is pathetic. He needs to soberly reflect on it. The young musician asked a question so wouldn’t it have been proper for the documents wielding veteran journalist to provide answers or guide him to where he would have found verifiable evidence to his question? The President complained about financial outflows from Africa but isn’t it government officials who are giving tax waivers and concluding with foreign business in invoicing and transfer pricing schemes, and moving embezzled money into foreign banks account? Did Ghana give tax waivers of $123 million in 2017, $350 million in 2018, and $652 million dollars in 2019 to foreign businesses? In Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s novel ‘Devil on the Cross’ a character recounts a fable told by an elder: The ogre’s job was to eat and thereafter to sleep soundly on the back of the peasant. As the peasant became progressively thinner and more depressed at heart, the ogre prospered and flourished, to the extent of being inspired to sing hymns that exhorted the peasant to endure his lot on earth with fortitude, for he would later find his rest in heaven. 

Even more surprising is the silence and invisibility of the National Union of Ghanaians Students (NUGS) in national affairs. I remember the days of Haruna Iddrisu (recent past minority leader) and Mohammed Amin Adam (minister of state in the finance ministry) during the ‘mmobrowa’ struggles. Haruna, was a known sympathiser of the NDC but that didn’t skew his stance. In 1987 the government ordered the dismissal of the NUGS leadership following the closure of the universities and further banned the ‘trouble makers’ – Akoto Ampaw, Arthur Kennedy, Joe Badu Ansah, Amoah Larbi, and Augustine Adjeiwah – from entering any educational institution in the country. Akoto Ampaw never shied away from his social justice principles, until his recent death – much respect. Following the passing away of Akoto Ampaw I checked the NUGS website to see whether they have a record of the key historical timelines of NUGS – none found. The hall of fame of past executives had only three people – Haruna Iddrisu, Okudzeto Ablakwa and Frank Amoakohene. Where are the other executives since 1962? This list shouldn’t be hard to source. Past executives need to be acknowledged for their role to youth and national development. NUGS has take the lead. Same for the University of Ghana, Legon, students representative council website – no record of past executives. 

Of special mention 

  • Prof. Kwabena Frimpong Boateng – for finding your voice
  • Prof. Emmanuel Kwaku Akyeampong (Ellen Gurney Professor of History and of African-American Studies, Harvard University) – for the insightful lecture “Diaspora Pan Africanism, and Spiritual Awakening: Nkrumah’s years abroad and as Head of State”, at the 13th Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Lecture, University of Cape Coast, Ghana 
  • Democracy Hub – for all your good troubles