The Coup Drill

by Elizabeth Ohene

November 27, 1979 editorial in The Daily Graphic, Accra, Ghana

Long before Bolivia set the classic example of how civilians can foil a military coup, the feeling had been prevalent in this country that never again should the citizens sit by and let the military seize and keep power under any guise whatsover.

Attempts were made to entrench into the Constitution of the Third Republic, provisions that would make the staging of coups and the helping of the stagers even after the act, treasonable offences.

Even though the suggestions were scorned away ant it was correctly pointed out that coups are and have always been illegal and stating so in the Constitution would not make much difference to their status, it it easy to see and sympathize with reasons that brought such suggestions into the Constituent Assembly.

Since those early 1978 days when the image of the military was at rock bottom and a day old child was willing and anxious to taunt soldiers, that image has been somewhat redeemed to an extent by recent events.

There is one thing, however, that has not and cannot change; the country is still agreed that coups d'etat have done more damage than what they set out to restore.

This is not simply a civilian sentiment as opposed to the military feeling. Many soldiers, especially those who have any respect for their chosen profession, have said quite firmly that coups are not in the interest of the military. Many of them have acknowledged the fact that military involvment in government has not only brought the country to its present state but has ruined what used to be easily one of the finest Armed Forces on the continent.

It appears then that both civilians and soldiers are agreed that this country has seen enough and endured enough military interventions.

The problem arises because coups hardly ever have the blessings of the military hierarchy until they have been accomplished and as a result of tradition and discipline, everybody falls in line once the deed has been done.

In his now famous rambling talk to Civil Servants in Accra some days ago, the President lamented that almost everyday, he had reports that there was going to be a coup d'etat.

The Chief of Defence Staff himself said some weeks ago that he was getting fed up with the constant talk of "the boys planning a coup: and almost every Ghanaian has heard talk and rumours of coups at one time or the other within the past two months.

Obviously, this is not a situation that can be tolerated; we cannot very well spend each day and night keeping a deathwatch over Ghana; such energies can be better used on something worthwhile. We do not waant a situation in this country again where half the population will be marshaled into looking out for plotters. What is more, no Government can ever get moving as we expect the Limann administration to do when there is talk everyday of coups.

The Graphic believes that this problem must be brought into the open and not spoken about in whispers. The country should make it quite clear to any future adventurers that might have such dreams that we are ready to face the situation.

The Coup Drill must be discussed openly until every citizen knows what is expected of him the next time anybody seizes Broadcasting House and tells us he has come to save us.

The Graphic is of the very firm opinion that such an announcement should immediately mean that all citizens should keep to their homes and not attempt to to to work or any such place.

Those who are interested in disrupting the peace of the nation must be made aware that there ARE other citizens equally determined that there should be stability and are willing to fight for it with weapons other than guns.

We also believe that without necessarily taking up arms against any future coup makers, the soldiers who also believe in stability in this country can also demonstrate their displeasure by at least abstaining from lending their support.

We have no doubts at all that the knowledge that a coup will be met with a spontaneous show of civil disobedience will deter all those who might have such ideas. Such people are brave only when they know that the docile Ghanaian will accept them once Broadcasting House has been captured.

Elizabeth Ohene. November 27, 1979 editorial in The Daily Graphic, Accra, Ghana

Stand up and be counted by Elizabeth Ohene