Judging from discussions on the conditions for a military coup in Ghana, it appears a plan has been designed to keep hammering on the topic until it captures the psyche of many Ghanaians and, perhaps, become a reality. In media studies, this strategy of capturing media and public attention is termed agenda-setting.
The origins of agenda-setting in political communication can be traced to Walter Lippman’s (1922) observation that the news media filter reality, and that people usually depend on the media to make meaning out of complex issues. The power of the media to transfer salience of issues to the public agenda as first documented by McCombs and Shaw (1972) has proved to positively or negatively affect attitude formation over the years.
The Coup agenda
Starting from a few months ago, when Captain Smart – a TV morning show host – declared that he would support the idea of a military coup, to when Oliver Barker-Vormawor, an NDC party activist, published on social media that he will stage a coup if Parliament passes the controversial E-levy, and the recent statement by Prof. Raymond Atuguba suggesting that conditions are ripe for a coup in Ghana, it can be discerned that a media and public agenda is being set for the unexpected.
In fact, Barker-Vormawor in his inflammatory statement on Facebook warned that “If this E-levy passes, I will do the coup myself”. His statement also included a provocative phrase “useless army” – clearly calculated to provoke the armed forces to prove that they are not ‘useless’. As I stated in a previous article on the issue, the men and women of the Ghana Armed Forces have earned an unparalleled record as the most disciplined and professional body in Africa and will no longer allow selfish politicians to use them to disrupt Ghana’s constitutional roadmap.
In a speech, Prof. Raymond Atuguba made pregnant statements that disguised his call for a military takeover, irrespective of priding himself as a member of the General Legal Council and Dean of the School of Law, University of Ghana. Prof. Atuguba unfortunately equated the trial of people agitating for military rebellion to the return of the ‘culture of silence’, an agenda that Mr. Sam Jonah set in a speech last year. Prof. Atuguba ironically asked, “Where are our Adu Boahens and PV Ansahs?” Yes! The Adu Boahens and PAV Ansahs spoke against the prevailing culture of silence at the time, but I do not recall either of them agitating for a military coup. Ghanaians will continue to remember them as fighting for freedom of speech and a return to democratic rule, as we have today.
State of the economy
In fact, Prof. Atuguba may have a point that part of the reason some coups succeed and others fail is the economic situation at a given time. This was the case when the AFRC government messed up the economy, and after handing power to the People’s National Party led by Dr. Hilla Limann the same military staged a coup – citing the very difficult economic situation they created. The same strategy of using the economic condition as a ruse, and purportedly speaking for ‘vulnerable people’, was used to set the agenda for Jerry Rawlings to overthrow the PNP government in 1981.
Prof. Atuguba alludes to the Minister for Finance confirming that “Soon Ghana will not be able to fund the Free-SHS Scheme; pay the District Assemblies Common Fund; pay the National Health Insurance Levy (NHIL); pay the Ghana Education Trust Fund (GETFUND); pay the salaries of government workers; pay lecturers in the public universities; pay the arrears owed various contractors; build roads and other infrastructure; and create jobs for the youth”. While no one can deny that Ghana is facing some fiscal challenges, the prevailing economic conditions do not support the claims that government will be unable to meet its public obligations.
Strangely, the Minister of Finance and government’s communications machinery have not responded to Prof. Atuguba’s assertions, perhaps for fear of being tagged as promoting the ‘culture of silence’. Prof. Atuguba thus suggests that: “It is very clear that urgent intervention is required to avert a total collapse of the economy”. What type of urgent intervention is Prof. Atuguba calling for? If it is a military intervention he is referring to, I beg to differ – because the military coups of 1966, 1978, 1979 and 1981 only reversed economic progress. On the contrary, I think as a better intervention the E-levy will improve public revenue and enable government to meet its public obligations.
Another low point of Prof. Atuguba’s speech was his narration of how a band of armed robbers robbed passengers of V.I.P buses from Takoradi to Kumasi. Prof. Aktuguba quotes the passengers as saying: “After the robbery, they asked us to pray for them because it was not their will to stop vehicles on the highway and rob passengers of their belongings, but the system has compelled them to do so”. Granted that the robbery actually happened, is this the first time bandits have robbed a bus in Ghana? Will it be the last? Should a so-called armed robbery on a highway be used to judge the state of an economy?
Furthermore, Prof. Atuguba urges Ghanaians “not to accept the lie that the current economic crisis is due to COVID”. According to him: “The injection of cash into the economy from various financial institutions during COVID could have improved our economy if the funds had been better managed”. Prof. Atuguba however failed to provide any evidence showing mismanagement of the COVID funds. In my view, Prof. Atuguba spoke purely as a party foot-soldier and not an academic or a renowned legal practitioner.
What’s more, he indicated Ghana and Africa benefitted from COVID because not many people died. I question Prof. Atuguba’s logic that since many people did not die, COVID benefitted Africa and Ghana. Prof. Atuguba’s notion that COVID has no link to the current economic situation in Ghana appears to be a script written to nurture the coup agenda. It is insincerity for anyone to pretend that COVID did not have any impact on Ghana’s economy.
A discourse analysis of his speech fits the script to present Ghana as a lost cause that needs salvation from the military. In a video, Dr. Arthur Kennedy desperately attempted to do damage control for Prof. Atuguba, but that didn’t wash. Dr. Kennedy needs to be reminded that he has lost the moral voice to convince anyone. For a reminder, despite the so-called economic difficulties Ghana is going through, power supply has been stable for the last five years. At least, Ghana has overcome the erratic power supply popularly called ‘dumsor’ under the government Prof. Atuguba served. A country that is so broke cannot have sustainable power supply, with several car manufacturing companies producing here.
State monopoly over security
In the 1980s and 1990s, the World Bank and IMF and other western donors used economic conditions to attempt a reform of African states. It was thought that a reformed state could steer public policy toward prudent economic management. Areas that were targets for reforms included breaking state bureaucracy and monopoly of public service. This led to decentralisation of government services to make state institutions more responsive to public needs such as education, primary health care and water and sanitation.
Another critical area that could not be divested from the state is the monopoly over national security, maintaining public order and national cohesion and stability. The term ‘state’ is often associated with the term ‘government’. In some instances, the two are often treated as synonymous; and a strong state is often taken to mean a powerful government. That is why in functioning democracies and stable countries private armed forces, private police services and private Immigration services are illegal. The power of the state was invoked when Justice William Atuguba, in presiding over the contempt case of the 2012 Presidential Petition, questioned if anyone (politicians) can contest the power of the state. Thus, it is the duty of the state (government) to sustain the Constitutional rule.
What happened to the PNP government should be a historic reminder to the Akufo-Addo administration and its security apparatus. The Akan saying that “If a blind man threatens to hit you with a stone, he might be standing on a stone”, should be a timely warning to government. For this reason, acting on behalf of Ghanaians the state must uphold and protect our constitutional arrangement for regime change. We cannot afford to allow this country to descend to into the hands of demagogues who use the power of the gun to destroy businesses of their perceived political opponents. Military coups do nothing but destabilise economies and businesses.
As a little boy in 1979 I followed my mother to a venue at Sawla, where her hard-earned ‘five-cedi’ notes were confiscated on the orders of the AFRC government. To date, my mother’s money has never been accounted for. That military directive signalled a collapse of the poor woman’s small-scale business. The collapse of several local businesses under the AFRC and PNDC regimes is a bitter experience many people do not want to recall.
In the name of the so-called revolution, young men (cadres) chased managers of state-owned enterprises away, took over management of the SOEs and destroyed them. The cumulative effect was that those SOEs were sold to political and business cronies of political elites of the time. Also, some chiefs opposed to the revolutions were hunted down as dissidents. Therefore, those advocating for a military coup should spare this country another dark chapter in Ghana’s history.
Defending the constitution
When ex-president Mahama declared that we had “eaten the bone to the marrow”, when the Mahama administration handed our economy to the IMF for policy credibility, with attendant killer conditionalities, when there was ‘dumsor’ for four years, when there was a graduate unemployed association, when nursing and teacher-trainee allowances were cancelled, when economic growth stagnated to 2.3 percent – then, the opposition and Ghanaians did not demand a military takeover.
Since 1992, Ghanaians have used the constitutionally mandated four-year or eight-year tenures to effect regime change in 2000, 2008 and 2016 through the ballot. The year 2024 is another time for regime change through the ballot box, and that roadmap must be sustained. Those who claim to have the ‘divine right’ to rule Ghana forever should not be allowed to use the back door anymore. It is the duty of the state (government) to protect that arrangement. Ghanaians collectively chose a democratic path, and that path should be the only means of regime change. Long live Ghana: Long live the Fourth Republic.