Opinion: The “demilitarization of the military” in Ghana

Army storms parliament

The purpose of Ghana Armed Forces, and for that matter, armed forces all over the world is to protect and defend the country and its interests by land, sea and air against external forces. Their training is unique and the roles clearly defined.

The military is not trained to engage in domestic affairs until they are called upon to do so; it has to return to base immediately after executing the task.

In some countries, it is rare to see soldiers in uniform on the streets. Even if they do, they are either passing through or attending to personal needs. You won’t see them dressed in full battle order with their rifles slung behind them walking in the streets.

In Ghana it is the opposite, especially these days. Fully dressed combat ready military men are often seen on the streets of Accra, chasing hawkers, motorists, stopping civilians who are not wearing masks, serving as “bodyguards” to politicians, etc. Reports suggest that some are even made to serve as errand boys to anybody who seems to have connections with government officials or politicians in power.

Recently, soldiers were officially deployed in one of the Akyem towns as land guards; the Armed Forces is yet to come out with who authorised that operation. Independent sources have unearthed soldiers who have, apparently, been officially detailed to provide security for Chinese miners and their local Ghanaian cohorts. As if these are not enough, there have been two most shocking videos recently – the deployment of soldiers under a whole Army Colonel to invade Parliament house and a soldier assigned to a private legal practitioner as his bodyguard and errand boy.

Soldiers were deployed, and in some cases, used to intimidate voters prior to and during the recent election. The on-going election petition has also revealed another abuse of the military. During the first lock- down, a military man, either accidentally or deliberately, shot a civilian in Ashaiman. It is an eye sour to see about platoon strength of battle-ready troops assigned to the Electoral Commissioner as personal security, a duty that should be provided by the Ghana Police Service.

The question that readily comes to mind is whether the roles of the military have changed? What are the duties of the police these days? Who is behind all these military deployments?

Sometimes, people wonder why the Military and Police are having problems with each other. It is simple: somebody is breaking the rules. Soldiers do not enforce laws; it is the duties of the police service. Soldiers are not trained to perform police duties. So when soldiers are deployed to “take over” police duties, it is sign that the police are of no relevance.

It is said that familiarity breeds contempt. The continued presence of the military in harmless domestic matters is breeding disrespect among civilians for the military.

Several questions need to be asked. Why should soldiers be seen on the streets chasing non-mask wearing civilians in Accra and some Regional capitals? Why should soldiers dressed in full musketry order be seen driving hawkers off the streets? Why should soldiers be used as private security personnel? Why are soldiers deployed to perform non-military duties? When have those assignments become military duties?

It is said “when a man is dancing offbeat, it is the relatives who burry their faces in their palms”. The government and the military high command must wake up before the image of the military goes into the drain.

The military must be called upon, if and only if, there is civil disobedience and the police are incapable of handling the situation. In any case, why won’t the government recruit and train more police officers to improve upon the population-police ratio?

I call on the Military High Command to quickly address these issues before the military completely loses its respect.

By: Nana Kofi Odikro II

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Joe Bright Nyarko Journalist/Communication Researcher. Environment & Sustainability Advocate. Managing Editor of aptnewsghana.com, a non-profit news portal with bias towards environment and sustainability issues, rural development policies and gender & inequality.