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Opinions of Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Columnist: Acheampong, Thomas

Is The Ghana Armed Forces A Mere 'Gangster Group"

Or A Disciplined Unite Of Dedicated Men And Women In Uniform?

African has long been described as the "Dark Continent" by Europeans who first explored, then exploited and colonized the continent. They saw Africans as less civilized, illiterates and brutes. Such an impression, albeit preposterous, by our colonial masters, has never been fully shed by the African. Much as such description makes us grow irascible and ready to fight back, we in many ways sometimes prove them right. Our use of brute force in matters where common sense reason should prevail, our total disregard of social laws in cases where definition of action is so straightforward, believe in our egos in situations where compromise is possible and is the best way to go, etc., all demonstrate that incivility, brute force, arrogance, and naked disrespect for law and order still hold the better part of many of us on the continent. Over 500 years after colonization and slavery, we still have not been able to define our political identity as one race. We adhere strongly to tribal affiliations more than accepting to come under one umbrella as a nation. Our allegiances to the various tribal leaders are still much stronger than our conformity to the ideals and policies of the central governments in most African countries today.

The "dark continent" character almost always manifests itself in the actions of some of our political and social institutions in Africa. Cases in point include the barbaric acts that some soldiers in Ghana, in recent years, have indulged in as a way to flex their muscles against their tax payers whose sweats and toils keep them living and working as soldiers. I don't think those soldiers even understand that they are there for the tax payers and not the other way around. Sometimes I question myself if our soldiers are getting the proper and necessary trainings at the barracks around the country and how they see themselves vis-a-vis the people in the communities. Are they being trained to believe that they must be feared instead of being respected? Are they taught that they are more important than the people in the society? Are the Ghanaian soldiers taught that the only way to settle scores is by the use of force? These and many more questions baffle me about our Ghanaian men and women in uniform parading as soldiers.

In 2008 or 2009 or thereabout, a group of soldiers swarmed on the residents of South Suntreso, a suburb of Kumasi, beat and wounded innocent people whose only crime was living in that vicinity. Their reason? One of their kind was reported to have been killed while gambling with some hoodlums in the neighborhoods. These 'gangster group of soldiers,' without referring the case to the appropriate authorities,(the Police within that jurisdiction), and believing in their false sense of solidarity, descended on the residents to exact vengeance for their 'brother' who by his shameful act brought the dignity of the military into disrepute. My opinion is; if these soldiers did not see themselves as being over and above the laws of Ghana they would shudder to act the way they did. Furthermore, what happened after such barbaric aggression and assault on the people of South Suntreso? Nothing! It came to the usual formalities: "Under investigations."

On June 19, 2009, another 'bigger than the law attitude" of some soldiers was chronicled in the Ghanaian News Media. A Private Military Officer, name given as Nii Adjetey and his companion, whose name was withheld, once again visited brute force on one Miss Ewura Oye Felde, a Voluntary Work Camp Associate who had arrived from Berlin, Germany. Her crime? - Wearing a military camouflage trousers - something abominable to the gods. These two officers, according to the report, were bent on stripping this innocent woman naked. They did not see any need to report what they believed was illegal to the Police but took the law into their own hands and did as they pleased. But for the Police Officers who chanced on the scene, nobody could tell what was going to happen next. So what is wrong with some of our soldiers? How do they see themselves, and how do they regard the Police service in Ghana? Gone are the days when the Ghanaian mentality was that a soldier was 'higher' than a Police Officer. What became of this nasty and unruly behavior of these two officers? Your guess is as good as mine; ‘under investigations.’

As if that was not enough, just last Friday November 18, 2011, another barbaric and uncouth incident happened in Tamale where it was reported that eight 'gangster' military officers descended on three Police Officers, two female and their male counterpart and an assistant who were on duty directing traffic, and brutally assaulted them to the point that the victims had to be rushed to the Tamale Teaching hospital. Their reason? - Some Police Officers assaulted their colleagues. In the Animal Kingdom, such behavior would be applauded. Unfortunately for some of our soldiers who believe in such 'might-is-right Kingdom’, however, we are in the world where reason supersedes 'macho-ism' and therefore the earlier they review their false sense of self-believe, the better. We can’t afford to buy you uniforms, arms and other logistics just for some of you to turn terrorists on us.

I understand the Northern Commands of both the Police and the Army have issued a joint statement on this incident; they owe the people of Ghana a duty to let us know the measures they are taking to end such barbaric acts once and for all.

Our soldiers must be told in no uncertain terms that they have no business meddling in the people’s daily lives unless the Commander-in-chief orders so. Also they should be taught to respect the people and not intimidate them with their presence or by any act without the proper mandate from the Commander-in-chief. Furthermore, if a soldier is involved in any social misunderstanding or conflict with any member of the public, he or she has no special privileges to take matters into his/her hands just because he/she is a soldier. The police and the civil or criminal courts are the ones to handle such cases. ‘All soldiers are ordinary citizen in some sense, just as all citizens are soldiers in another sense.’

In the Western world where all these formal institutions emerged from, hardly does one hear of such incidents involving soldiers. So far as I know, soldiers in these societies highly comport themselves and submit to police arrests once they are cited for any social violations. The citizenry has the right to even bring the entire Armed Forces to the civil courts when they believe their freedoms are trampled upon by these Forces. It is the people who make the Army and not the other way around. May I say here that all Ghanaian soldiers who don’t know these rights of the people, and also don’t believe that the Police have the authority to arrest them whenever they violate social laws, must either quit the Forces or learn them? We can’t accept to be tortured by our own people in whom we have entrusted our securities.

The best way to curtail such ‘gangster-acts’ in some of our soldiers and Police Officers is for the Government to embark on serious education of the people regarding our social rights and obligations. The Constitution of Ghana must be made available to all literate Ghanaians at very affordable price and in simple self-explanatory English and/ or Vernacular. Schools should teach the Constitution to students starting from the middle schools. Also, the Ghana bar association should take it upon itself to litigate such cases in our Law Courts on behalf of all victims of military and Police brutalities. Judges must be bold to arbitrate in such matters without fear or favor.

Ghana doesn’t belong to any Soldier or any Police Officer. We appreciate the good works that the honest ones among you are doing and we honor and salute those Officers. However, Ghana belongs to all born and naturalized people within the confines of the territory called Ghana. Long live the People, long live Ghana.